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SOPA is dead, long live PIPA (or: Computer Armageddon, here we come!)

The SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) is an empirically bad thing. Cory Doctorow has an hour-long talk explaining the road to this onerous set of laws, this spider-swallowing to catch a fly to borrow Doctorow’s analogy, but the route to this terrible toll bridge on the information superhighway is less interesting than the toll itself. It is a toll that seems easy enough to swallow, like the spider, where all you have to do is accept that companies have the right to assert their copyright and unilaterally have websites removed from the internet. The spider’s consequences on the body of the internet will however be destructive and ultimately deadly.

First, before you’ll be willing to swallow that spider, you have to accept that the fly in your stomach is a large enough problem. There’s significant reason to think piracy does not significantly diminish sales, and in some scenarios improves them. Despite this, the fly is made out to be a monstrosity that will end intellectual property as we know it. While I don’t believe in intellectual property, I can understand that some people do. And that some people think that the scourge of piracy — which has happened and will continue to happen despite every measure ever taken, which has caused untold frustrations in even the most law-abiding computer user — is more important than the ramifications of a little-understood law is not surprising, but I suspect these people believe software piracy is something akin to high seas piracy where one person is deprived of life, limb and loot to fund another’s prosperity.

This is not the case, though. Software or media copyright infringement does not, in actuality, deprive a content creator of a sale, only of a hypothetical potential-sale. It is every bit as likely that this person who is “consuming” the free copy of your media without paying your requested toll, would never go on to consume that media if copyright infringement was impossible. When you understand that this person did not actually mug a buyer of your CD and steal their physical media, depriving a paying customer of their physical media, the scope of this “crime” is significantly downplayed. Owning that CD, by the way, under modern copyright laws is not actually the same thing as “owning a copy” of the song — you actually own a physical delivery medium and the license to play it for yourself, and that license can be revoked and you could be every bit a criminal for playing your physical medium without that license.

So, knowing that making copies of media is such a Big Onerous Thing for intellectual property owners, where they’re making a monster out of a fly, and that all these Potential Sales are never coming to fruition, along comes the Stop Online Piracy Act. The SOPA proposes that the internet should be subject to top-down DNS cache censorship at the discretion of the United States government. If they decide that, say, the pirate bay dot org is an illegal website, they can cause the DNS servers — the lookup tables that allow computers to find websites — to purge those records for that website. And that purging will, in fact, ripple back up through the rest of the internet, especially for any website that’s actually hosted within America’s borders.

China pulled an identical stunt recently, so that they could censor dissenting views to their dicatatorship with some surprising choices in how they performed that censorship. The rest of the computer world was outraged and built the new DNSSEC protocol, which prevents this kind of top-down imposition of poisoned DNS results by a unilateral and petty dictatorship. The SOPA would give America identical powers — and would also destroy that DNSSEC in the process, because DNSSEC would prevent the application of the new law. Guess which of the two would give, between the DNSSEC protocol and the law?

SOPA was, thankfully, just killed in the US House by two Republican opponents. I hate that the Republicans are the good guys on this one, but I suppose it happens now and again. They’ll be back to toadying up to corporations soon enough. And anyway, by “killed”, I mean hearings have been indefinitely delayed, so the option still exists to resurrect this bill.

The bigger problem we face presently, though, is the fact that a nearly identical bill, PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act), was not killed, and in fact survives presently in the Senate. It’s generally understood that the intent of PIPA is to effect the exact same measures of corporate and governmental censorship, perhaps excluding the unilateral destruction of the DNS system underpinnining the internet as a whole. It is also expected that PIPA will be viewed as the “compromise” bill, as a bill that is less onerous than SOPA in only that it is not explicitly shooting for unilateral American control over worldwide internet name server resources and therefore won’t trigger Obama’s planned veto of any DNS-related measure. And despite the fact that it will have the same detrimental net effects on the whole world’s internet with regard to freedom of speech, this gigantic Trojan horse could very well be passed as a “compromise”. This bill, written by companies to give them exclusive rights to convict anyone of thoughtcrime, will effectively give the US government a veto on anything that happens on the internet.

The major problem this poses to the computing world is that any such imposition over the internet will, unless other countries step in to enact anti-poisoning measures, affect every other country on the planet. Whether by DNS poisoning or other takedown mechanisms, entire swathes of the Internet could chance to disappear at some corporation or government entity’s whim. And in the case of websites hosted in the United States, well, they’re completely subject to getting blacked out. Once a site has been censored by the US government at the behest of the corporations that have the government’s levers of power under strict guard, the rest of the world is subject to that dictum.

At that point, welcome to the real New World Order. It will not come with blog owners putting certain users into spam, as some trolls would have you believe. It will, rather, come with a government deciding that a website — ANY website — violates some corporation’s rights and it will be black-bagged and removed from the entire world’s access.

This sounds hyperbolic, I know. It is as close to 100% accurate as I can manage, though. If people have any real corrections, I (as always) welcome them. The situation is, I’m terribly sad to report, very likely as grim as I paint it.

With all of the ins and outs of the problem we’re all facing, and all because of the coroprate fascism to which America has fallen prey, I am strongly urging Freethought Blogs to participate in the anti-SOPA blackout this Wednesday. Wikipedia and Reddit are both joining in.

If anyone has skin in this game, it’s us freethinkers. We could, by any particularly theistic American government, be deemed to commit thoughtcrime and our site could be disappeared into the night. And with the current trend toward ridiculous levels of theocracy amongst the political class in America, this ain’t something I’m leaving to chance.

Comments

  1. unbound says

    Sniff, sniff. Is that an element of fascism I’m smelling coming from SOPA and PIPA?

    So very sad that corporate profits have become the primary concern (and sometimes sole concern) of the US government anymore. Can anyone read the preamble the US constitution anymore and take it seriously?

  2. 24fps says

    While I agree with you that SOPA and PIPA are more than a little problematic, I Think your assertion that having your content pirated on the ‘net is not nearly as simple or harmless as you say. I am a documentary filmmaker. I occasionally have people download and put up my work on YouTube, which, if left up there, affects my ability to interest a distributor – or of my distributor who is trying to convince a broadcaster to pay for the privilege of having my project on their delivery channels, which often/usually includes digital streaming or download. Why would they pay me when it’s being accessed for free? In my case, it doesn’t matter if the people pirating my work are the same ones going to the licensed website, the damage to me is done. I can’t chase down every download medium, but I at least have to keep down the perception that my work is rampantly available for free.

    I also really,really hate it when people profess not to “believe” in my right to make a living off my work. Artists eat, too and sometimes intellectual property law allows us to continue to do so.

  3. The Vicar says

    Yes, the “it’s only a digital copy, so nobody is harmed if the artist isn’t paid” bit is a disingenuous argument. If the work in question were non-digital but effectively “useless” (that is, something with no practical use beyond its aesthetic values, such as a statue or a performance of a play), you would never see these same people arguing that the artists should not be paid, and yet as soon as the medium is digital, that is effectively what they do. (And in fact Richard Stallman has come close to saying it explicitly a couple of times, just as he has come close to saying that programmers should not be paid.) (He has definitely said that programmers should not be paid more than McDonalds employees. I wonder how many of the 75% of Linux kernel contributors who are corporate employees specifically hired for that work would agree with him.)

    Nevertheless, we should be against SOPA, PIPA, and the Research Works Act as well. (See PZ Myers’ post on it at http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2012/01/16/elsevier-evil/.)

  4. says

    24fps and Vicar: please note I did not suggest that artists should not be paid. I said that a person pirating software/media is not depriving someone of money or goods necessarily; they would probably not consume that material otherwise. And in some cases, “honourable pirates” might learn of materials and buy them after being exposed to stuff they might otherwise have never tried.

    Beyond that, the RIAA and MPAA make the economy of being a media producer significantly different than it might be in their absence. While an artist ought to have ways to create themselves a revenue stream, e.g. performances, selling media and licenses, et cetera, why should a middleman? How is that situation any different from, for instance, middlemen inserted into the health care system (aside from the immorality of depriving people of health care)?

  5. 24fps says

    I understand your argument, Jason. My point was that your argument is facile and that there are real detriments to content creators, particularly in my field, if the idea is to get people to “not believe” in intellectual property. I’ve just explained how the perception of value, whether the audience that is accessing the content is likely to pay for it, is damaged by having the work available without having to pay me. If Johnny Pirate doesn’t have to pay a license fee, why should they?

    Here’s an interesting wrinkle: Most of my licensors will make my work available free of charge via download or digital streaming. The different is that they will pay me for the privilege and to drive traffic to their site in addition to having the right to broadcast the program through mainstream channels. There is an enormous difference to me between the people who think my work has actual value and are interested in seeing me run a viable business so that there’s more where that came from and some douchebag who “doesn’t believe in” my right to own my own work and figures he sHould be able to distribute without my permission. And we haven’t even touched on the context my work may be placed in – there are some people and sites that I may not wish to be associated with.

    And that is the bit of this argument that gets glossed over. As I said in my first comment, the situation is far more complex than your argument allows for.

  6. says

    MichaelD and sqlrob: you are both absolutely correct. And I just posted Lamar Smith’s press release proving it.

    24fps: I strongly believe you glossed over my arguments in order to tell me that they’re wrong. You have every right to monetize your efforts. If you believe you can stop piracy, though, you’ve got a whole ‘nother thing going on there and it’s bordering on delusion.

  7. 24fps says

    No, I can’t stop piracy and did not make the claim that I can. There is a certain amount of it I can’t do anything about – or could, but can’t afford the time. I limit myself to the most obvious. Which I explained in my first comment.

    I will freely admit that this is a hot button issue for me. When someone says they “don’t believe in intellectual property”, it grates big time and I will cop to having been a little sharp in my comments. Yes, I do have the right to monetize my work (if you want to put it that way… I call it feeding my kids…) but when you say that intellectual property is imaginary property, you are implying that I should not have that right. now, if I’ve missed your point or misunderstood, I’m open to being corrected, but this is how it came across to me.

    I also think you’re dodging my main point, which is that it isn’t the online user who generally pays me, it is the licensor who pays me and most of the time puts up the content without charge. People who put up my work without permission or license give my work a perceived lesser value. In your post you claim that this isn’t a real loss of sale, but in my experience (15 years in television production), that claim is in itself an oversimplification or misunderstanding of how media distribution works.

    As I said at the outset, I think SOPA is deeply flawed and not a good thing at all, but I’m also not in favour of chucking out all intellectual property law because it leaves content creators in a very precarious position.

  8. The Vicar says

    please note I did not suggest that artists should not be paid. I said that a person pirating software/media is not depriving someone of money or goods necessarily; they would probably not consume that material otherwise.

    And what would be wrong with them not consuming that material? Where is it written that you have a right to consume (view, listen to, read, etc.) as much as possible, regardless of whether or not it is done with compensation? As I said: if these items were in any non-digital format, you would never accept that you have a right to them — otherwise you would shoplift from music and book stores.

    The idea that the creator of the content isn’t losing a sale isn’t really valid, either. How do you know? You can’t see into some alternate world in which there really is some kind of magical perfect DRM and say “look, sales were no higher here”. In fact, there is some good evidence against your assertion: when music started to become available for sale in digital form without incredible barriers to popular acceptance — a process which is basically entirely thanks to Apple, by the way — sales went up. In other words, the argument that “people who listen to music digitally wouldn’t buy it anyway” was proven to be false. The equivalent claim about software may be proven false soon, too, now that both the consumer OSes are getting fairly hassle-free software download online stores.

    Furthermore, it is highly suspicious that the “I’m not hurting anyone” argument is almost exclusively trotted out by people who are pirating, and was invented by them, like the way you seldom see anyone championing big-L Ayn Rand Libertarianism who isn’t already greedy and sociopathic. If the argument in favor of infringing copyrights on digital media were more than just a sophistry, it would be likely to pop up spontaneously among people who were not interested in actually doing downloads themselves.

    All that being said, SOPA and PIPA are bad responses to the problem. They give too much of the wrong kind of authority to the wrong people, and restrict recourse terribly, and they are written by people who don’t understand the problem and don’t understand the ramifications of what they’re doing. The DMCA has enough authoritarian nonsense in it already, without threatening to undermine the technology of the Internet completely.

  9. says

    Thank you for impugning my motives without any sort of evidence, Vicar. I have had a Netflix account for quite some time, and the last time I illegally downloaded a song from any sort of file sharing site or what have you, I was still in university. I buy all my games legally for my unmodified PS3, and that’s the primary mode of entertainment in our house.

    But of course you’ll never believe that. You’ve already damned me as a dirty dirty pirate for saying piracy statistics don’t show what anti-piracy groups want you to believe.

    Especially since these industries are making record profits.

  10. The Vicar says

    I’m impugning your motives? The only place where I mentioned motivation at all was where I said that the argument was where I said that only people who pirate things argue that sales are not lost due to piracy, and lo and behold you have admitted that you once pirated music as a college student. Admittedly, you aren’t still pirating (unless you still have those MP3s, in which case you technically are), but I’d be willing to bet that the argument about sales not being lost was introduced to you when you were actively doing it.

    As for those links: yes, it’s true that the MPAA and the RIAA exaggerate and make unsubstantiated claims. But to say “the MPAA says X without proof, and is probably exaggerating, and they’re evil” does not mean “it must be the case that X is false”. If those are the best links you can provide, you have seriously undermined your own argument — the government study mentioned in fact concluded that problems due to piracy are real, but that the MPAA and RIAA are exaggerating them. (Seriously, that’s what the linked articles say!)

    And now you’re impugning my motives. You have decided that since I say copyright infringement is bad, I must approve of the RIAA and MPAA. I don’t. This is an example of what I have taken to calling the Libertarian Fallacy: that if you don’t want to abolish every possible bit of regulation, then you must be in favor of complete authoritarianism. This is a false dichotomy, along the lines of saying “if you don’t want your house to freeze in the winter, you need to burn it down”.

    In fact, nobody who is in favor of compensating artists fairly and who is familiar with the facts can be in favor of the MPAA or RIAA (or, for software, the SPA/SIIA). These groups have been ripping off the creators whose works they effectively own — while using their leverage to keep independent creators locked out — for decades now, and the best thing about the various digital publishing mechanisms being put in place is that they allow artists to publish directly without having to join the industry groups. But it does not follow that because these groups are evil, the cause they falsely claim to be upholding is wrong. With the official excuse of “spreading democracy” the U.S. has repeatedly overthrown and suppressed elected representative governments in several countries; this does not make democracy wrong.

  11. says

    No, I’m not a pirate. Not even by admitting that I downloaded MP3s in the past. Not even if I never paid for them.

    Mostly because I’ve bought blank media in the past, and Canada has had, for almost twenty years, laws that impose a gigantic levy on blank media which is paid directly to the CRIA.

    If the argument in favor of infringing copyrights on digital media were more than just a sophistry, it would be likely to pop up spontaneously among people who were not interested in actually doing downloads themselves.

    And by my telling you you’re impugning my motivations, I’m telling you that it has popped up as an argument in someone not interested in doing downloads themselves. I’m also against the criminalization of marijuana but I do not partake, and against the institution of hate speech laws but will fight against hate crime with all my heart.

    The MPAA/RIAA are arguing that piracy hurts sales. The links I gave you — the third one especially — shows that piracy has not hurt sales. I’m glad that you are against the MPAA/RIAA. I’m glad you’re against SOPA/PIPA. But you’re arguing against ghosts here. You’re giving full-throated defense of the ability to make money off your product and I’m telling you that you’re missing the mark entirely because nobody’s arguing against it, especially not me.

    If you’d like another instance of piracy increasing sales, I’d be happy to comply. And another.

    Your “billions in lost sales”, which may or may not be actual sales to begin with, might just improve your brand and expose more people to your work who would be more than willing to give you money for it.

    And you CAN, in fact, compete with piracy, as iTunes and Netflix have both proven. And by competing, by giving people an easy recourse to buy your works, some of those pirates will give you money who might otherwise never have bothered.

    Evolve or die.

  12. says

    Additionally, to the earlier claim that Linux kernel programmers are paid by companies to do just that: and yet the software use itself is still free, isn’t it?

    I am a huge proponent of open source software, mostly because the software itself — which can be copied at almost no cost because electrons are so easy to move around — has no value license-wise, only in its usefulness for the particular task. If a company wants to use Linux, they are making use of the open source license which demands that it be freely duplicable if you make modifications and try to distribute those modifications to the public. If you hire someone to make those modifications so your stuff works better, and you decided to release the software into the public domain (which open-source software “kinda” is), then you’ve paid a person to make that public domain better for everyone, with the side effect of making it better for your own specific usage scenario.

    The really nice thing about this model is that it proves that you don’t have to monetize the “point of sale” exclusively. There are lots of other places you can make money.

  13. Usernames are stupid says

    I occasionally have people download and put up my work on YouTube, which, if left up there, affects my ability to interest a distributor – or of my distributor who is trying to convince a broadcaster to pay for the privilege of having my project on their delivery channels, which often/usually includes digital streaming or download. Why would they pay me when it’s being accessed for free? — 24fps

    You are having problems because the business model you are relying on (scarcity = value) is/was destroyed by the internet. No one should pay you because your work is scarce, because it isn’t and never will be.

    They should pay you because you offer something of value to them that they perceive as worth sending you some money. It could be a book/pamphlet that supplements your documentary. It could be “sponsorship” that results in the sponsor’s name in the credits, etc.

    Yes, I do have the right to monetize my work ~. — 24fps

    Absolutely. You do not, however, have the right to toss your sabots into the gears of the internet because you want to make money ‘the old fashioned way’ before the cost of distribution was nearly $0.

  14. says

    just for variety’s sake, I’ll comment too, since I’m a content creator (digital art) who thinks we’ll actually need to abandon the scarcity-based system of remuneration. The Internet has made something that once was a natural private good into a natural public good, and all we’re doing now is trying to artificially turn it back to a private good, at ever-increasing cost to everyone; including us content-creators. Ultimately though, that sort of regressive/conservative behavior is going to fail. either it will fail because it will become entirely unprofitable to be a content-creator, or it will fail because of increasingly oppressive laws that are expensive and stifle creativity and information-flow. either way, professional content-creation will come to a screeching halt.

    Pretty much the only way out is to stop reacting conservatively/regressively and accept the change in the economic nature of our work and instead try to figure out how to pay content-creators for the act of creating, instead of the end-product itself, the way we do with other natural public goods. To use some somewhat flawed analogies, we don’t pay scientists by the paper, teachers by the graduated student, firefighters by the number of fires they put out. Instead, we pay them so that they will perform their jobs of researching, teaching, firefighting, etc.

  15. The Vicar says

    Mostly because I’ve bought blank media in the past, and Canada has had, for almost twenty years, laws that impose a gigantic levy on blank media which is paid directly to the CRIA.

    I can see two immediate flaws with that argument:

    1. You are saying “since there is a compensatory fee added in to related purchases in response to a crime, the crime itself must be okay”. See how far that gets you with other such crimes, like insurance fraud. And the two are not ethically the same, either.

    2. The CD fund does not in fact justly compensate the artists whose work you pirated. Suppose that instead of downloading MP3s you had purchased the artists’ works on CD. I don’t claim they would have gotten a very large chunk of the purchase price, but it would be larger than what they got from the fund. If you spend $10 on an artist’s CD, the artist may make $1 out of that. (The amount varies depending on whether the artist is signed with an industry group, the terms of the contract, etc. etc. etc.) If you spend that same $10 on the extra fees added on to blank CDs, your artist will be lucky to get one cent of your money; the connection between whose work you like and whose work you compensate is completely gone.

    The MPAA/RIAA are arguing that piracy hurts sales. The links I gave you — the third one especially — shows that piracy has not hurt sales.

    No they don’t. Let’s see what the links actually say, in tl;dr fashion:

    1. (slaw.ca): The MPAA and RIAA claim that they are losing billions. Government studies show that piracy is causing lost sales, but that the MPAA/RIAA figures were pulled out of their asses.

    2. (geekosystem.com): The MPAA is claiming that they lose $58 billion per year to piracy, but that number does not hold up against the amount of piracy apparently committed.

    3. (themarysue.com): The MPAA has repeatedly made record profits, but still complains about piracy. The article admits that average ticket prices have risen, which is a major source of revenue.

    4. (cnn.com): Canada has decided that the punishment for copyright infringement should be placed on people who make the material available, rather than on people who download it. In order to offset the fact that consumers are complicit, they are penalizing consumers by making them pay extra for digital music-related physical purchases to go into a fund to compensate artists.

    5. (techdirt.com): One particular comic book which was not selling well sold really well for a brief period after the artist discovered it had been pirated and spoke with the forum on which it was hosted.

    6. (infopackets.com): Microsoft’s software is frequently pirated. Microsoft is the dominant player in the market. Piracy is going down. The author asserts that these facts are related.

    #1 actively contradicts your point. It says that piracy is a problem.

    #2 is irrelevant — it merely says that the estimates provided by interested parties are too high.

    #3 is an unsupported conclusion: just because the MPAA’s profits are rising, it does not follow that they are not being hurt by piracy. (For one thing, inflation is removing at least some of the increases. For another, more people are watching movies in theaters recently, which is a distinct source of income for the MPAA as compared with DVD/BluRay sales, which is where piracy would influence things).

    #4 is likewise irrelevant. Read the article, and you’ll see that not only does the legal decision not claim that downloaders are innocent, merely that it makes no sense to prosecute them. Downloaders are being penalized by the addition of a fee onto the physical objects they use, meaning that they are still viewed as doing something wrong which requires punishment.

    #5 is a single anecdote, of which the plural is not “data”. Furthermore, since the author apparently came onto the board on the same day that the images were posted, there is no way to prove that the increase in sales came about strictly because the author gained exposure; it may have been a guilt reaction from speaking with the creator of the works. It would have been vastly more convincing if the bump in sales had come about without the author’s intervention. (And in fact, given how many works are pirated and do not experience a bump in sales, it appears that “exposure” has nothing to do with it. Claiming that this is a model for how things should work is equivalent to saying “content creators must be prepared to constantly police the Internet and act as salespeople if they want to sell their works”. Which is likely to make a lot of content creators just give up, since policing the Internet takes time away from actually creating.)

    #6 is a ball of false syllogism. “X happens. Y happens too. Therefore X causes Y.” That does not follow.

    So no, you haven’t proved a thing.

  16. says

    Extraordinarily different interpretations of all those links than my or others’ readings of them, Vicar. I wonder if you’ve got a cognitive bias toward reading things that way? Or if you’d say that our differences in opinion are solely due to MY cognitive bias toward piracy, as you’ve alluded to in the past?

    My interpretations of your numbered links are thus:

    1. The government agrees that piracy is a problem but that the statistics proffered don’t actually show that, and more studies are needed.

    The government agrees, therefore there IS a problem, despite a lack of reliable data? THAT actively contradicts my point? I don’t care what the government says is true if they say the data doesn’t support the stance, quite frankly.

    2. The MPAA is actively engaging in inflating their numbers (see 1) to bolster their case — so is their case, without exaggeration, even remotely as dire as people like you would claim?

    When you combine that fact with the corollary fact that artists have revenue streams outside of the point of sale as I have argued, and as Jadehawk (another content creator) agrees, then perhaps “piracy” is not so big a problem as they are making anyone believe — and considering they are one of two big entities actively lobbying government to make laws like the SOPA/PIPA debacle, perhaps you should look after the people “on your side” who are actively damaging freedom, instead of us “dirty pirates” who keep telling you to evolve your monetization scheme.

    3. The rising prices and increase in profits proves that consumers are still willing to pay money for these goods in, e.g., movie theatres. Seeing a movie in a theatre is a different experience from downloading a crappy camrip and playing it on your computer screen. There is a premium on quality. Providing quality increases sales. The increase in prices may be justified as a way to combat lost sales by piracy, but *prove that that’s what’s happening* before you make that assertion.

    4. The levy came first, when the CRIA lobbied for levies for blank cassette tapes because nobody in the entire world uses a blank cassette for anything other than copying music amirite? This law entrenched the idea that copying digital media is an aspect of fair use, paid for by that blank media levy (since it was a sop to get CRIA to stop lobbying for more nonsense). That grandfathered across many other media. The CRIA wanted to go after P2P downloaders as well, and a judge said “no, you already have your blood money, people can download all they want. The individual infringers are not liable. You can go after the ‘big pirates’, the people copying then selling your works, since that’s what your laws were made for, but you can’t go after people who just want to consume it.” That may make me a pirate but it does not make what I did back in university illegal in any way.

    5. Rather than screaming ‘copyright violation’, and going all DMCA takedown on 4chan, a comic book creator engaged with the fans who pirated the work, and the work experienced a gigantic spike in sales — probably because the copyright owner proved himself to not be a total douchebag. How much bigger or smaller would that spike in sales have been if he’d gone the cease-and-desist route?

    Well, we’ll never know in that case, but maybe ask Lars Ulrich how his attacks on Napster hurt his sales and his confidence that the new Metallica CD would sell really well (e.g. better than some old albums, even!) despite being fully pirated in advance of sale day proved to be correct.

    I’m sure that’s just anecdotal too. But then again, you’d obviously rather trust made-up statistics than obtain real ones. At least anecdotes are better than statistics invented from whole cloth.

    6. If you know anything about the computing world, you’ll know that Microsoft gained its stranglehold on the market thanks in large part to the prevalence of piracy. If people were forced to pay $200 to get Windows 3.1 on their 386 computer, rather than just installing it and having it insidiously become the primary operating system such that they could then bundle it with OEM machines because demand was so high, then we’d have a totally different desktop economy right now. We’d have UNIX, or Linux, as the de facto operating system, the one in most demand because it was easily copied and thus easily distributed to all computers. Execs within Microsoft have said this themselves.

    Allowing piracy while putting up appearances of combatting it to protect their copyright won Microsoft the day. Deal with it.

    On a personal note, if you want to keep talking about this stuff, fine. However, I seriously get the feeling that anything I say is “piracy apologism” to your ears. You’ve tried to put that shiv in my back oh so subtly several times now, and rankled when I called you on it.

    Perhaps you should look to my actual arguments, e.g. that you cannot eliminate piracy, you can only curtail casual piracy at the cost of inconveniencing your paying customers, and the digital era has eliminated scarcity as a monetization strategy, so you’ll need to come up with other ways to make money.

    Your profitability is not a right, and laws like SOPA/PIPA are trying to artificially recreate scarcity but will not work.

  17. says

    Additionally, I must note that the increase in prices has a lot to do with 3D tech. 3D movies have price hikes of up to 50% off normal ticket prices, and no matter how gimmicky it is, it drives sales. Prove that there are fewer overall ticket sales, and that these drops in ticket sales are because of piracy, rather than the hike in price. It should be simple division for the first part, but you’ll have to offer some actual evidence for the second.

  18. The Vicar says

    Additionally, to the earlier claim that Linux kernel programmers are paid by companies to do just that: and yet the software use itself is still free, isn’t it?

    True but totally irrelevant. Leaving aside the motivations of those companies for the moment, those companies are explicitly not expecting to receive direct compensation for their work. If they choose to say that the value of the work is zero, that’s their problem, and has nothing to do with cases where people want to be compensated for their work. As I said before: you are arguing that just because the output is digital, the labor should be free. If they were producing statuary, or furniture, or machinery, you would almost certainly insist that they be paid for their labor.

    I am a huge proponent of open source software, mostly because the software itself — which can be copied at almost no cost because electrons are so easy to move around — has no value license-wise, only in its usefulness for the particular task. If a company wants to use Linux, they are making use of the open source license which demands that it be freely duplicable if you make modifications and try to distribute those modifications to the public. If you hire someone to make those modifications so your stuff works better, and you decided to release the software into the public domain (which open-source software “kinda” is), then you’ve paid a person to make that public domain better for everyone, with the side effect of making it better for your own specific usage scenario.

    Well, there we go. I am a huge opponent of… well, not Open-Source software in general, but certainly the GPL, and Linux as well. There are several problems:

    1. Open-source software most commonly comes in the form of blatant copying of the functionality (and usually the GUI) of closed-source work. There are essentially no completely original OSS products. Linux and the GNU toolset? Started off as (and remains, to a very great extent) a reverse-engineered copy of Unix. Firefox? Came out of Netscape, which was originally closed-source. OpenOffice? Originally came from StarOffice, which started off proprietary and was an attempt to reverse-engineer the functions in Microsoft Office. GNOME? An attempt to rebuild KDE from scratch, which was itself originally an attempt to mimic the Windows GUI. The list goes on and on; this is a strong suggestion that if proprietary software were to go away, there would be little or no innovation in software, and that the “innovation” would be ephemeral and ultimately useless (like Compiz). The fact that most of Linux is still using X11 — a window manager which was an outdated pile of hacks in 1990 — doesn’t bode well, and neither does the fact that nearly every large project has had a schism over purity (GNOME vs. KDE and OpenOffice vs. LibreOffice are prime examples). These schisms mean that there is more duplication of effort, not less, when the products in question are already behind the proprietary equivalents in terms of reliability and quality of GUI.

    2. The motivations for using open-source software are not always so pristine as OSS proponents like to pretend. IBM primarily switched to Linux from its own AIX so that it could replace its experienced engineers (who got high salaries with good benefits) with cheap recent college grads and outsourced programmers in other countries where wages are lower. They could do this because they were not actually selling AIX licenses but selling access to services which run on top of AIX. These services are, naturally, closed-source and entirely proprietary. Similar stories come from the other major Linux contributors, like HP. (Google is supposed to have the largest number of Linux installations in the world, and highly customized to boot — but since they only provide a service to the outside world, and not a Linux distribution, they have never released any of their modifications.) Leaving aside the ethical implications of using Linux to strike at labor, this is bad for diversity of software, which Linux advocates usually claim is a Good Thing.

    3. The nature of the GPL is such that if you choose to use Linux and want to make improvements, you effectively cannot sell your work. In fact, the choice will not be yours, even if you are the sole originator of the code: the Busybox lawsuit showed that if you use the GPL, you cannot give someone permission to use your product without distributing the source code, and you won’t even get the proceeds of the lawsuit if someone tries. (Apparently, even though lawyers provide services which are even less tangible than software, they are worthy of being paid for their labor.) Richard Stallman once admitted in an interview that the terms of the GPL were deliberately left vague (as to what constitutes use of code covered by the GPL) so that they could reassure people into using the code and then later sue them if they didn’t make the results GPLed. (This is why companies who actually sell software — as opposed to access to services — have entirely abandoned trying to work with anything covered by the GPL. Mac OS X, for example, contains no GPL code; it has some LGPL code, but you’ll notice that Stallman and the has been trying to phase out the LGPL for years now precisely because it allows this.)

  19. says

    Completely incorrect. You can sell your product even though it’s GPL’d. It’s just that you can’t include proprietary code in it and call it GPL-compliant. Your choices are to sell the proprietary code separately, and the end user has to assemble the two parts themselves, or release the code when you sell it and you can include the rest of the GPL’d product. Think Red Hat. They sell their software, period.

    Buying a programmer to improve Linux so it works for you does not mean you put no value on the code, it means you put the value on the code as being important enough that you want it to work in your specific border case so you bought a programmer to do it.

    And forking code, creating competition within the ecology itself, has only led to improvements. Sure, we’re always chasing the latest user interface trend, but the open source world is miles ahead of the game when it comes to supporting hardware. I’d rather have an architecture that has received ten years of care than one that was refactored from scratch every few years introducing the same bugs over and over again. How many buffer overrun vulnerabilities does the kernel need to have in each iteration of Windows before people wise up to the fact that open source is superior BECAUSE it’s open, and BECAUSE refactors happen seldomly and when they do they compete with one another as KDE/GNOME have?

    Jebus, Vicar. What do you actually know about the open source ecology?

  20. says

    Actually, it occurs to me that you’re just trolling. Like, you have a trolling routine for copyright, and no amount of honest argumentation will ever penetrate your routines, and you’ve discovered that a whole separate subroutine for open source software can be accessed knowing now that I’m an open source advocate.

    If you are, in fact, not just trolling me, then walk away right now and we’ll chat another time on another thread about another topic. If you’re just trying to spike my blood pressure and see how much whargarbl you can extract from me, then keep arguing the way you have.

  21. says

    Want to know how I know you’re trolling? Several clues:

    a reverse-engineered copy of Unix.

    Wrong. A completely written-from-scratch POSIX-compliant system is not a reverse-engineered copy of another POSIX-compliant system.

    Firefox? Came out of Netscape, which was originally closed-source.

    Wrong. Firefox was built from the ground up by several of the original Mozilla developers after AOL squashed the project. No code was reused. I’ve run Firefox 0.1 and looked at the source code — there was hardly anything there.

    OpenOffice? Originally came from StarOffice, which started off proprietary and was an attempt to reverse-engineer the functions in Microsoft Office.

    Not, say, trying to duplicate the functions of WordPerfect? Or Lotus 1-2-3? Or, say, “generic spreadsheet and word processing program”? Do you think Microsoft invented the word processor and the spreadsheet program or something? Seriously.

    Beyond that, Sun owned StarOffice, and decided to give it a new lease on life by stripping out some proprietary bits and opening the rest as OpenOffice. They continued to package in the proprietary bits back into StarOffice and sell it, even though the rest of the code was released under a more open license. It has now been forked to LibreOffice, which is not owned by Oracle (who bought Sun) any more. LibreOffice features cannot be backported into StarOffice.

    GNOME? An attempt to rebuild KDE from scratch, which was itself originally an attempt to mimic the Windows GUI.

    Which in itself, as of Windows 95, was an attempt to mimic the Mac OS 89. Once computer usage metaphors become entrenched, either you continue using them, or you alienate users, no matter how much better your new metaphors happen to be. And anyway, look at all the GUI adaptations that Windows has ported into Windows 7 and 8 which originated in the open source world. Application bars that give you information about a program’s status, folding applications together, rearranging them on your “program bar” (whatever shape that takes), pinning applications to different windows, having multiple workspaces that you can page between, rearranging the program bar itself, all of that originated in open source software first. You cannot use the memetics of the computer metaphors as proof that open source does nothing original, if all you see is Microsoft’s version and assume that the open source world copied it instead of the other way around.

    IBM primarily switched to Linux from its own AIX so that it could replace its experienced engineers (who got high salaries with good benefits) with cheap recent college grads and outsourced programmers in other countries where wages are lower.

    Citation needed. Not that I doubt that a company might do something underhanded in order to pay less money than people deserve — but you came in here telling me that every human being was paying you less money than you deserved, so I don’t see why you’d count this as a blot against open source software rather than human beings who prefer money to doing what’s right.

  22. says

    If they choose to say that the value of the work is zero,

    they aren’t saying that, actually; they’re merely not stuck in the past.

    that’s their problem, and has nothing to do with cases where people want to be compensated for their work.

    as I noted in my post, being paid for an artificially scarce, artificially private good is not the only way in which content-creators can be compensated, and it’s a way that won’t survive long in the digital age; we can either adapt to the new model, or risk an age of diminished content-creation. being almost-literal luddites about this ain’t going to help any of us in the long-term.

    As I said before: you are arguing that just because the output is digital, the labor should be free.

    no he isn’t. alternative forms of payment != no payment.

    If they were producing statuary, or furniture, or machinery

    if they were any of these things, they’d have excludability and rivalry, which digital products don’t. and that’s the difference between a natural private good and a natural public good. artificially creating excludability and rivalry merely creates more costs and more negative externalities, it doesn’t actually turn a digital image into a physical painting.

    Apparently, even though lawyers provide services which are even less tangible than software, they are worthy of being paid for their labor.

    because their services are excludable and rivalrous, their services are natural private goods and can be compensated by the old-fashioned method of paying for the output, rather than for the act of creating the output. If you’re creating digital content, you’re not creating something that possesses excludability and isn’t rivalrous. Basic economics, this.

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