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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...


There's a vast difference between investment and profit, Jen. To try and boil it down to the basics, though, profit is what you make selling your products after you've paid costs. Investment is money given to you by others to let you make the products in the first place. Now, if you are a small company who keep costs down, you can stay safe in terms of operating budget for a long time off of having gotten investment capital, even if you never show a profit. But there's a difference between "we can pay our bills for a long while if we keep costs down" and "we're in the black in profit." :)

But if you don't make a profit, sooner or later your investors go away, and your company goes buh-bye when you run out of money. So 'why do they need to make so much money' is easy to answer, at least for smaller companies; you need to get enough money that you can either pay the investors back or survive without their flow of cash.

Witness Quicksilver, for instance. Had a lot of money in the bank, investors loved us. But the company was badly mismanaged, we never managed to show a profit, and after a while people stopped investing. Poof. Quicksilver is no more.

People like to make the argument that software is /hugely/ overpriced. It's not. People like to show that distribution could be cheaper if it was all done online and not in stores. That may well be true (though I think people with dialup would scream), but that vastly oversimplifies it. The cost of paying folks to create the software, paying folks to continue to maintain it and create patches, is a real thing. You don't get a paycheck only when a new version comes out, or else you'd never be able to pay bills; that means you need money in the budget to hire people and keep them paid /between/ releases, since any software sales drop off right after a release.

So, no. Software may be slightly overpriced, and it may be able to cut costs by distributing entirely online, but you can't slash prices to like $5 a copy for Microsoft Office as some folks like to claim. Not and still pay the developers, the QA testers (and people whine if stuff isn't heavily tested!), the folks who the company contracts and pays to do phone tech support (like wonderwombat, who probably likes getting a paycheck, even if she hates her job), and so on. People like to ignore those costs.

And even if you feel something is overpriced, that /still/ doesn't change the fact that to then go and steal it is not justified. Period.