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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.

Grawwwwrgh.

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...

Comments

My original comment was aimed at the twin beasts of the MPAA and the RIAA, not at small companies.

However, with Cerulean, the sales figures with which I am familiar seem to indicate that even without investors, your overhead is sufficiently low that EVEN FACTORING IN the generous salaries, benefits, technology allowances and travel your company gives its employees, Cerulean is in a good state of solvency.

But look at EA Games. Where does the money generated by that company's dominance of, well, the games industry, go? Certainly not to the salaried grunts working code in their offices. It goes into the coffers of the parent companies and the corporations and more and more crap gets thrown back out again in response.

My original point stands. If your company can't make a product that people are willing to pay money for, it should fold.
I don't think you're actually familiar with any sales figures? Regardless, we're lucky -- moreso than many small companies -- inasmuch as we can make our bills and so we're not about to vanish. We are not, however, a company that's raking in the profits. We keep costs down; folks telecommute rather than relocating, the office is a teensy little space above a dance studio in the middle of nowhere, we make sure to book the cheapest tickets we can and use frequent flier miles when we do the 'get everyone together to brainstorm for the next version' meetings, and stuff like that.

Your argument that if people aren't willing to pay for your product you deserve to go under is sadly shortsighted. There are excellent programs out there, shareware, worth every penny people charge... even when it's only $5. And people still crack it. Because, when you get down to it, the majority of pirates are not people stealing because they want to make a point about the quality of modern commercialism, viewing themselves as some sort of digital Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to themselves.

They may justify it that way. But the majority of pirates are people who just want something for free, and like to seize on those arguments as justification. And "free" is a price no company can beat; that's a market reality.