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Glare, Grouchy

[Rant] Copyright

As this has been getting discussed in the discussion groups of both Katherine Kerr and Megan Lindholm (Robin Hobb) over the past few weeks, it's been on my mind lately. Today I got a note on a game I help keep running that a couple users were using one of the communication venues in the game to discuss how best to trade around cracked games and whatnot.


There are some zealots, I admit, who really do believe that authors should release books for free and copyright shouldn't exist at all, or that all software should be free. Putting aside the question of 'if it's free, you are unlikely to make money on it, and there's no incentive to actually work on it as opposed to getting a different job,' there are other considerations.

Without copyright, for instance, someone could take a book and decide they want to publish their own version of it. They alter it -- cutting scenes, and adding a few they think are better -- and release their own revised edition with the same byline. The author's message is no longer there, and you no longer have any guarantee that you're getting the actual /book/ and not just someone's mutant edited copy.

Add to that the fact that our copyright laws were specifically altered some time ago to adhere to the Berne Convention guidelines, so that our copyright would be enforced and upheld by other countries who are signatories to it.

Really, what it boils down to, I think, is that the majority of people who pirate stuff do it because it's simple (just download something!) and it's free (and people are all about the free stuff). And all the arguments about how it 'doesn't hurt anyone' or how it 'only hurts the publishers' are largely just justifications. And 'I wouldn't have bought it anyway' doesn't really count for anything. If you wouldn't have bought it anyway, that's no excuse for theft. Hey, I wouldn't have bought that DVD player, but that makes it okay to steal it! Bzzt.

If you can convince yourself you're taking a Moral Stand against Big Business or whatever, you don't have to think about the fact that you are stealing from the people who wrote that game you're enjoying so much, that piece of software you use every day, composed and performed those songs you just downloaded in MP3, or wrote that book you just downloaded in eBook format.

The immaturity shows in a number of ways in the pirate community. Witness people who cheerfully accept acclaim and praise for making pirated goods available; the eBook scanners who cheerily accept the acclaim and thanks of the various pirates, acting as if the books were their own work. Hell, think about our Russian hacker friends who have an entire site devoted to Trillian as if it were their work, when all they're doing is distributing pirated copies of Trillian Pro and plugins.

I'm halfway tempted to talk to some of the authors, game developers and so on who I know, and ask them each to write a short essay on copyright and piracy, and collect them into a freely-available eBook to distribute on the net...


Because honestly, if you liked it enough to download it and buying it was your normal only recourse and you get enjoyment out of it, you're gaining a profit without any expense which is technically the same as being at another's expense. It's fuzzy, but it's accurate enough.
With some ninja-like cutting and pasting skillz:

It's fuzzy, but it's accurate

Oxymoron, anyone? :P
Actually, it does. Aside from the sheer 'no matter how you try to justify it, it is still wrong' factor. Think about it like a movie theater, for instance. If you go in and watch a movie without paying, and then when you get caught you say 'well, if I had to pay for it, I wouldn't have watched it anyway, so it's not like it cost you anything.' Should the theater folks go 'oh, well, you're absolutely right! Carry on, then!' or are they going to throw you out of the theater? My bet's on the latter, personally.

And the 'it costs nothing' is a fallacy as well; the programs, if you are playing a game or using a program, you're probably putting a load on the patch servers, eating bandwidth and resources which cost the developer or publisher money. So you gave them nothing (didn't buy the game), and are costing them money. It may be very little money on an individual basis, but add up, say, a 800,000 pirates each downloading a 50 megabyte patch, and that's gonna add up to a spike in someone's bandwidth costs. Period.

And further, market success and value are calculated by the number of copies in circulation. Which is determined by sales. Future advances for authors, willingness to invest in a sequel for video games, and things like that are in large part based on the sales figures. So if there are 800,000 copies in circulation, but only 200,000 of them were purchased, you're basically causing inflation.

Think of it like the economy; we have a certain amount of gold which backs our national currency. If you have 1,000,000 bars of gold and you print 1,000,000 pieces of currency, each piece of currency is worth one bar of gold. But now you print 1,000,000 more pieces of currency, without getting more gold. Voila, now each piece of currency is worth only half a bar of gold; you've decreased the value of all of them. (Yes, that's a vastly simplified argument, but still.)

So, it does have an effect. Those who claim it doesn't, that piracy hurts no one, that piracy is morally justifiable... they are either misinformed, or deliberately ignoring those facts in order to avoid feeling guilty.