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Author Slams eBook Piracy, Son Outs Her As a Music Pirate (torrentfreak.com)
192 points by lockem on Dec 13, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 170 comments

I've seen the following argument a thousand times:

"Well the marginal cost of a copy of [some digital good] is 0 so it isn't stealing!"

That argument is actually completly irrelevant.

I took a train the other night, and there were only 2 people in my whole car. The previous week it was packed. Both times I had to buy a ticket at the same price.

If you don't see what that has to do with pirating music (or software, or movies, or TV), then you don't really understand economics.

Everyone compares it to widgets where there is some fixed cost and some marginal cost, and suddenly the marginal cost is 0 so we should be able to have it for free right? Right?

Wrong. The train has 0 marginal costs, and all fixed costs. Whether that train is empty or full, they pay for the conductor, the engineer, the maitanence and the gas. But you are expected to pay for your ride whether you are 1/1000th of the total population on the train or 1/20th. And if you don't pay, you are breaking the law. Stealing services.

Digital goods are things with a high fixed costs (software developers, authors, directors, actors etc) and 0 marginal costs. There are plenty of other things out there with the same economic model and you are expected to pay for all of them. The only difference is that it is far easier to steal from content creators than service providers.

So please correct everyone you see making that arguement. The fact that copying the music costs nothing really doesn't matter. It comes down to dividing the fixed costs by a certain amount of customers, or there simply won't be content creators anymore. Maybe the songs need to be 2 cents each, I don't know, but the fact is there are high fixed costs and they need to be covered somehow by someone. The lack of marginal cost just doesn't matter.

You're repeating the big media newspeak. "Breaking the law" is not identical to "stealing." If you enter a place you are not allowed to be but do not deprive anybody else of property already in his custody, you are committing trespass and any number of other crimes, but you are emphatically not stealing. So please correct everyone you see making that argument.

> ""Breaking the law" is not identical to "stealing.""

You are technically correct (according to Futurama, the best kind of correct).

But you're also repeating the digital-communist newspeak also. "Piracy is not stealing" is not identical to "Piracy is not wrong". I realize that's not the position you're trying to push, but bear in mind that "Piracy is not stealing" is way too often used to justify piracy itself, as if mere infringement makes it morally acceptable, but stealing is not.

Associating piracy with stealing is problematic, technically incorrect, but is not entirely without merit.

Similarly, dissociating piracy from stealing is problematic but not entirely without merit.

The "I'm just copying your couch" argument that the internet likes to make is about as sensical as the "You wouldn't steal from a store would you?" that the MPAA/RIAA like to make. Both are attempting to use weasel words to justify their own position.

They really do have a different moral status though. Copyright and IP are purely pragmatic commercial arrangements. Any wrongness in infringement comes solely from it simply being against the rules of a particular game we have decided to play. If we had different rules, such copying would be harmless.

The copyright-based industries have tried to present infringement as a fundamental moral wrong. It is not. Quite the contrary, communication is good, as people unconciously know and feel.

"They really do have a different moral status though. Copyright and IP are purely pragmatic commercial arrangements. Any wrongness in infringement comes solely from it simply being against the rules of a particular game we have decided to play. If we had different rules, such copying would be harmless."

You're making his point. You could also the same thing about anything.

> You could also the same thing about anything.

That is not accurate. Many laws -- those we probably most respect -- are grounded on actual basic factual effects. They have a justification prior to conventional or legal constructs.

For example, if you take a material object from me, you deprive me -- directly and physically. That is the core justification of normal property, and there is no such justification for IP.

"For example, if you take a material object from me, you deprive me -- directly and physically. That is the core justification of normal property, and there is no such justification for IP."

What about identity theft? You aren't actually "stealing" anything. The original identity is still there.

Counterfeiting (currency and things like ipods) is another example. It's illegal and you aren't actually depriving anybody of anything.

"Identity theft" per se is rarely the problem, it's the credit card (and other) frauds committed using the 'stolen' identity that cause issues. And obviously those frauds deprive both the actually-defrauded party and rightful 'owner' of the identity of the opportunity cost of sorting it all out.

See, the issue here is one position is correct, and one position is incorrect.

Music "piracy" is copyright infringement in the eyes of the law. End of discussion.

Agreed, but what word would you use? We aren't trespassing when we use bittorrent. And I know people who have been attacked by pirates wielding guns onto their ships, so I just feel strange equating clicking on a link with a guy shooting a civilian with an AK47.

So I equate it to "theft of services". Let's say I get a massage, and then I just walk out the door and don't pay for it. I have clearly stolen that person's valuable time. Which isn't a perfect analogy becuase they have finite time vs being able to make infinite copies, but either way someone worked hard with the intention of getting paid for it, and there are people out there depriving them of the money they would have gotten (and please don't say "but I wouldn't have bought it anyway! which is also crap, becuase most people are downloading music they would have bought, its just the nature of blockbusters vs the long tail). So I don't know what the word is, but it is definitely closer to theft of services than anything else I can think of.

It's copyright infringement, that's what it is. If it were stealing, you wouldn't be able to get million-dollar verdicts against the people who do it.

Ok, but I think the point being made is that the artists (ignore the record companies, they're idiots) feel as if they are being stolen from.

Not just in monetary cost.

So; ethical theft?

We've all heard that record companies are evil, but then again they often pre-pay an artist to produce a record, pay for studio time, mixing, mastering, etc. There's a lot that goes into producing music, videos, and books than you see. Open up a book and look at the production credits. People do indexing, typesetting, copy editing, distribution, translations, artwork, and on and on. So if nobody's buying books, those people get hurt. But let's look at the author directly.

Authors often get advances against royalties. Let's say BigPublishingCo pays you $10,000 to write a book. Let's say your book doesn't do well. What are the odds you'll get to write a second book? As an author, you're looking at your future and trying to figure out how you can increase sales.

One way to do that is to make the pirate copies disappear.

That's what publishers try to do, so they can stay in business.

The artist pay for the pre-recording not the label. The cost will often be deducted from their share of the revenue.

Record companies work in a similar fashion to the way company store farms and factories work. A typical music recording contract will involve an advance given to the artists which they must pay back via their earnings on a small percentage of the total revenues from their album sales (perhaps 7%). They must use this advance to pay for studio time, music video production, and other expenses. The studio receives a larger percentage of album sale revenues while also "recouping" the amount of the advance by taking the portion of revenue that would normally go to the artists.

Let me know if you see any issues with this arrangement.

Typically, by the time a band has "recouped" its advance and has only began to start earning for the artists and has theoretically broken even according to the bizarre accounting of the studios in actuality it has resulted in a return on investment to the studios of several hundred percent.

Book publishing is similar but generally not quite so evil.

I don't believe intellectual property is a matter of ethics any more than arguing whether it is right or wrong to drive down the left side of the street.

The basis for IP law is to encourage the production of creative works. The moral imperative is to allow science and art to improve people's lives. IP law should be a practical set of rules to create a free market for these works.

Does the current system do this? Not very well. Neither does infringement in most cases.

> they're idiots

The idiots are still laughing all the way to the bank.

> So; ethical theft?

No, copyright infringement.

I've worked on numerous music recording projects. In many cases, I did everything by myself. In one case, I hired (and learned from) some of the very best in the industry, and between my partner and I, incurred approximately $20,000 in costs... and had an awesome time doing so.

But even when I do everything myself, I'm using high-end equipment and software that I've paid thousands of dollars for. It's not free of charge for me to be able to record music. And even if I were to deem those to be irrelevant sunk costs, to assume that my recordings ought to be free of charge just because they easily can be copied suggests that my time and expertise is worthless, if nothing else.

[Edit: of course, I'm just some random guy on the internet, and certainly not nor attempting to be a full-time musician. I'm presently content to make money building software, and any income that results from my music is just a bonus. Full-time musicians surely feel even more strongly about such matters.]

Exactly. I'm not a muscian (I'm freaking terrible at anything involved with music), and I have no stake in this game. But software development is the same freaking business model, but for some reason we don't collectively take a stand against piracy.

As a professional software developer, I've given my software work away free of charge, e.g., as a volunteer for Project GNU. I see nothing wrong with that, but I think it ought to be my own choice if I want to spend time working on something and then make it available free of charge, or if I want to sell copies of it.

Likewise, I see nothing wrong with musicians giving away copies of music free of charge (and I've done so), but it should be their choice.

It's very simple. If you don't want the music you created to be available free of charge, don't release it!

It's absolutely your choice. If you want to keep control of it, keep it private.

But once you (by your own choice) make it available, don't be shocked or surprised if people share it without sending you money for every copy.

The system we have for paying artists is clearly broken. It has been for a very long time. The digital revolution is just putting the final nails in the coffin.

But even before filesharing on the internet, artists were getting screwed left and right, and very very few could make a living creating art.

Now it's clearer than ever that we have to find some other ways to compensate artists for the work they do. Some suggestions that I've heard along these lines are:

  - Put a PayPal (or choose your favorite non-evil payment system) icon
    prominently on your home page and ask for donations.

  - Release your music for free, but ask for money
    so that you can work on your next album.  Don't release
    your next album until you've gotten enough of a payment
    to make it worthwhile.  If you're good and have developed
    a large enough fan base, this should be quite
    a reasonable business model.

  - Give away the music for free, but charge for
    live appearances (make money touring).

  - Make it clear to your fans that you are giving away 
    your music for free, but need them to chip in by buying
    tangible merchandise like t-shirts.
Ok. None of these are perfect. And they all work best when the artist is already well known and has a large fan base. But relatively unknown artists have always struggled to get by, and filesharing does not change that equation.

At least with all of the suggested payment methods above, the artist gets to keep a lion's share of the profit, instead of begging for pennies on the dollar when going through the established record company system.

>It's very simple. If you don't want the music you created to be available free of charge, don't release it!

If you don't want your car to be stolen then don't leave it in the street. If you don't want to be run over then don't walk anywhere. ...

Seriously, if you one day forget to lock something up do you really think people should be free to help themselves to it?

If you don't like the current music regime, don't buy music from those who've established it and maintain it. If you want free music then only get tracks that artists are giving away as free and/or licensing with free-gratis licenses.

"If you don't want your car to be stolen then don't leave it in the street."

There are a number of underlying assumption in your analogy.

- The first is that, like the car, the music you create is owned by you.

- The second is that, like the car, the music you create can be stolen.

- The third is that it is as unethical to share music as it is to steal cars.

All of these propositions are very debatable.

"Seriously, if you one day forget to lock something up do you really think people should be free to help themselves to it?"

I think you're missing my point. I wasn't trying to be a moral arbiter regarding the ethics of sharing music. I was merely trying to say that in the world we live in, you'd have to be pretty naive to release your music to the public with the expectation that people wouldn't share it without compensating you for it. If your goal is to keep your music from being shared, your best bet is not to release it at all.

I wasn't aiming for a perfect analogy but it stands up better to scrutiny than you assume also. The car is owned by you just as the music is - you can assume that music can not be owned, but the sorts of arguments that work there also work for cars (which is fine by me, I've got a communist streak in me for sure). The important point is that you are in control of the car except for forced use against the law (in most jurisdictions) just as you are in control of the music excepting illegal (OK tortuous) use.

I wasn't saying that the music could be stolen, just taken in a way that is against the law. Equally the car can be "borrowed" it can be taken without denying you use - we still find it illegal even if your car is taken against your will when you wouldn't have otherwise be using it (perhaps this is wrong but I wasn't expanding the locus to consider alternate legal/societal structures). This speaks then to your final point.

You deliberately scope the use of copyright works without permission as "sharing" because this is almost always used in a positive sense. Well taking your car without asking is also sharing if you wish to spin it that way; I didn't say they damaged the vehicle, you still can have it later when you wish to use it.

For sure the analogy breaks down but not as badly as you portrayed.

You may have been attempting to withhold moral judgement but your tone conveyed the sense that the onus is with the creator of artistic works, the copyright holder, to hide their work and not with the public to not rip off that work. Note that we as a society (at least those countries that are democratic and signed up to Berne Convention and TRIPS IP provisions) have made a deal that we will protect creators of artistic works from being ripped off and ensure they get paid fairly as long as they will release their works to the public domain after a given period but before that we will enable them to enforce a monopoly on control of those works. This deal has been sullied over time by big business but it's still in place.

Yes, if no one can be trusted to keep to their promises or indeed to obey the law then it's naive to assume the law will be obeyed. I'm not at that place where I assume everyone in a democracy is so uncivilised and self-seeking that they care nothing for the rule of law.

> If you don't want your car to be stolen then don't leave it in the street.

A car is a locked(presumably) metal box, it would be more apt to say: "If you don't want your cds stolen, don't leave them in the middle of the street"

> for some reason we don't collectively take a stand against piracy.

You're assuming we want to 'take a stand.' You're assuming 'taking a stand' would actually do anything. You haven't said what 'taking a stand' actually _is_, other than some vague idea of 'doing something!1!1'

I, for one, will be very sad if our industry tries to 'take a stand' against piracy. It's a fool's errand.

The complexity of software changes the equation dramatically.. When you buy a piece of software, outside of games and certain embedded apps, you're typically investing in the longer term life of the product. You expect the owners to update, fix and enhance the product. Free software takes that to the extreme, you pay for support and nothing else. There might be some other exceptions but whether or not it's a conscious part of the decision you sort of expect it. The SaaS model also takes it to the extreme, there are often some other value-adds for doing things in the cloud but a big one is they are constantly improving your apps. Back in the day there were more efforts to fight piracy and there were copy protection schemes and all that ilk.

Books and music are in kind of a funny space, the costs of production have fallen through the floor; you can literally buy a computer and some fairly in-expensive equipment and record good quality recording. If you have a little more money you can do a completely professional top of the line recording.. Second, the industry is completely built around selling a finished commodity, you buy the book or the CD and it's done, there is no more business. Third that comodity is very easy to pirate. With music it seems like they could put concert tickets in with the CD or coupons to get them more cheaply or buy other merchendise, that caters to a fairly small market though. Some other sort of value-add that justifies the expense seem like the only options with the industry as it is. Maybe they could not distribute recordings and make a subscription radio service that played the content exclusively (that seems lame though, but people didn't like the idea of SaaS or pay per cycle in the old days either)

Personally, I bought the pick-axe book a handful of years back, read it, did some stuff, put it on the shelf. Then the 2nd edition came out, I bought it, unfortunately life and other things got in the way of that one so it just sat on the shelf. Now there is a 3rd edition.. I'd have paid maybe $15 more the first time around if I got some free upgrades, I'd have probably paid $15 more the first time AND paid $5-10 for an upgrade when it came out. The $40 or $45 each time though.... It doesn't feel like you get that much. I'm not going to pirate it but I can't say that I don't see why people would.

But software development is the same freaking business model, but for some reason we don't collectively take a stand against piracy.

Free Software/Open Source.

There is a large amount of software developers who have a completly different attitude from the music industry towards people digitally copying stuff.

I don't think many people make only the case that the marginal cost is 0. But when the marginal cost is zero, and I wouldn't have bought the thing anyway (e.g. Photoshop), and when it's a non-scarce good, I really struggle to see the harm.

It's astonishingly easy to convince yourself that you "wouldn't have bought the thing anyway". The best way to be sure that you aren't lying to yourself is to not pirate things.

I pirated Photoshop for nearly all of my young life, since the release of 1.0. The day my business made its first dollar from photoshopped images, we bought the entire Adobe Creative Suite.

Not have bought it anyway has a strange way of turning into bought the whole damn thing.

I have no trouble at all with people who pirate to dabble, but I do have trouble with people who pirate software and then use it to make money.

Oh, agreed. If I ever needed Photoshop at work, I'd buy it. Apologies if I didn't make that clear above.

Actually, I don't use Photoshop at all these days, and haven't installed it on my last couple machines. Paint.NET meets my meager needs.

I did this exact same thing, and I'm an "information wants to be free" hippy at heart, so for a long time it was my favorite debate point in favor of piracy. But, Adobe really pushes the "Student" version of their products nowadays, and they are way more affordable as well as completely identical to the real thing. The only difference is the licensing.

However, I guess the argument still exists for anyone who still can't afford it, or who wants to learn but isn't a student.

Or just not lie to myself. I have sufficiently high confidence that I wouldn't have bought Photoshop that I can sleep at night. :)

We are inherently irrational creatures susceptible to dozens of cognitive biases. As a consequence, we are very good at rationalizing things we want to do but would otherwise judge wrong. That was the point neild was making - in that context, saying you will "just not lie to myself" does not address his point.

In the sense I meant it, it does, though I guess my comment was ambiguous. I believe I am sufficiently introspective and aware of my own biases to determine whether I'm making such a basic rationalization, especially when the question is made explicit. If I make the question to myself explicit before pirating something, I feel secure.

> We are inherently irrational creatures susceptible to dozens of cognitive biases.

Well then, apply that to your own reasoning.

From the article:

>“Books are priced too high,” said Berntsen when justifying his work. “One of the reasons why the pirate world is so big, is that publishers take crazy prices for something that isn’t even in physical form.”

This is actually one of the better arguments in favor of piracy I have seen, though I'm sure most people don't see their pirating this way, pirating books isn't really the solution, and it is quite a bit misguided.

The specifics of digital books is a little bit different from music, you do have those fixed costs but the argument is that the marginal costs make up for it. What a good amount of people don't realize is that with many books the marginal costs are actually pretty close to zero so an ebook doesn't really cost that much less to make.

My personal problem with digital books, which I avoid by going to used book stores (So I guess I'm not really supporting anyone other than the book store), is that some publishers think there should be a convenience charge to the customer in order to obtain a digital copy, I believe in no way should an ebook cost more than the cheapest copy (be it paperback or hardback) available from the same store new.

>My personal problem with digital books, which I avoid by going to used book stores (So I guess I'm not really supporting anyone other than the book store), is that some publishers think there should be a convenience charge to the customer in order to obtain a digital copy, I believe in no way should an ebook cost more than the cheapest copy (be it paperback or hardback) available from the same store new.

Which, if you think about it, seems totally backwards. A paper or hardback book can be sold secondhand, and some of the value recouped. With an ebook, there's no way to resell and regain some of what you've spent. However, if you aren't discussing reselling, this is kind of a moot point.

Arguments about marginal cost of production don't matter when the cost of enforcement is high. The issue of piracy ultimately comes down to whether agreements are enforceable. In the long run society won't help people enforce the unenforceable. If we come up with some form of technological fix that "knows" when an agreement has been broken then piracy will dwindle. Otherwise these laws will eventually be taken off the books, like adultery and other former crimes.

That's not meant as an ethical argument. Simply a forecast.

For some deontologists, one key difference is that (they claim) you have a natural right to how your physical property is used, but you do not have a natural right to how your intellectual production is used. Rather, intellectual property is a device created by the state to foster intellectual production. One consequence is that right to your shoes never expires, but patents only last 17 years.

So trains are fundamentally different, because to ride one is to use someone's property against their will, and so you violate a natural right. When you pirate music, you are only breaking laws. Although breaking the law might be considered immoral, it is for a fundamentally different reason. There are definitely more cases where people think it's acceptable to break the law, especially if there net utility to society goes up. Examples of this would be

(1) parking in one of many handicap parking spaces at night when there is negligible chance that they will all be filled

(2) pirating music that you would not buy if you had to pay for it (you sincerely claim!).

You're attacking a straw man. Here are some arguments that people do sometimes make, and that somewhat resemble your straw man, but are less ridiculous:

- Making a copy of a file isn't stealing because it doesn't deprive anyone else of the good.

- When vendors claim that X pirated units of a product whose retail price is Y amount to X*Y of lost sales, they are full of shit, because this assumes that all the pirates would have bought copies at full price had piracy been prevented.

- If the product were reasonably priced I would buy it, but it's not, so I steal it. This is the argument of the 19 year old in the article, and probably the one you're reacting to, but it's not the same as your straw man. Your straw man says, "it's not stealing," whereas the real person says "yeah, it's stealing, but it's stealing from thieves, so it's morally acceptable."

I don't mean to advance any of these arguments personally, just to point out that they're arguments that some people actually make, unlike the one you so convincingly refute.

I agree with all of this, but what bothers me is that the record industry is using a form of reverse pie fallacy in which they claim that they would have had X amount of sales, if only those darned pirates hadn't stolen the music. A more sophisticated (but still fallacious) version goes: Album Y has been pirated Z times, therefore we lost Z * (retail price of the album).

This is blatantly wrong. They do not know that they would have sold X albums if it weren't for pirates. Furthermore, if a person pirates an album, it does not mean that they would have bought it if they couldn't pirate it or if they were more ethical.

The people I know who horde large amounts of music do it exactly because it doesn't cost them - if they had to pay for it they simply wouldn't have even close to that much music. They wouldn't go and buy all the same albums. They also wouldn't be enthusiasts at that scale.

tl;dr: Fallacies exist on both sides.

There are still a fixed number of seats on the train (or plane). If someone "steals" a seat then that's a seat that someone else cannot have. This is dramatically different from the case of digital media where there is no similar impact.

For music piracy the only cost is the potential lost sale of the music to the "pirate".

Edit: to follow up, I'm a music pirate and proud of it. In my experience there are three types of people who pirate music. There are casual pirates who occasionally download the most popular songs of the day. There are hardcore pirates and digital packrats who refuse to pay for anything they don't absolutely have to and download music they might not even like, just to have it. And there are music lovers who have an insatiable hunger for lots and lots of music and enjoy discovering new music. From a financial perspective for the artists piracy is not generally a serious problem. Casual pop-music pirates generally download only songs that are already mega-hits, and the artists have been compensated thoroughly from. Hardcore anti-business pirates aren't necessarily a significant impact on artists because they wouldn't have paid for the albums they've pirated regardless.

The really interesting aspect comes from the 3rd category of pirates. Music lovers may "pirate" music but they also buy music too, and being exposed to more music means only that they end up buying more music (and going to more concerts), which is nothing but good news for those artists. Some of my favorite music I've discovered only by first pirating it, and in many cases this has lead to supporting artists financially (through album sales, merch, and concerts) that I never would have known about and never would have given a dime to previously. I can't see that as anything other than a good thing.

The current hypothetical non-piracy model for music is broken, and it always has been. There is too little variety on the radio and 30 second or 1 minute clips of songs don't cut it. Sometimes you just need to borrow an album and listen to it a few times before falling in love with it. This is the way it has always been. There's always been borrowing and copying in music, but the internet has made it infinitely more effective and so cast the issues into much sharper relief.

There is an even more important point at play here. And that is that a train line can prevent you from sneaking onto a train without a ticket fairly easily, but it is nigh impossible to put the music piracy genie back into the bottle. Music piracy is going to happen. The technology makes it too easy now, and there is a cultural desire for it. There is no choice to stop it, the only choice is to figure out how to live with it.

P.S. Some people might enjoy listening to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdRAQWp73S4

P.P.S. http://www.gemm.com/item/GEINOH--YAMASHIROGUMI/ECOPHONY--RIN...

(perhaps this is an experiment?)

If someone "steals" a seat then that's a seat that someone else cannot have. This is dramatically different from the case of digital media where there is no similar impact.

True, but:

a) when you sneak onto a train and get a free ride, it only works once. If you make a habit of this, you'll probably get caught. If you download a song illegally for free, you can listen to it for the rest of your life unless you lose or delete the copy you have.

b) the exclusion of another passenger in any case only becomes significant when the train is full. If the train is half-empty, you're riding for free but nobody else is worse off because there's an abundance of seats. Of course you have a tiny negative effect on the fuel consumption of the vehicle, but that's much less important than the principle.

c) In any case, when you ride without a fare your offense is against the train operator. You don't get sued/prosecuted by the passengers who had to wait for the next train. The issue is not whether or not there was a seat available to someone else, but whether or not the service provider received the due cost of the ride/song/whatever, which cost is levied for market availability rather than for availability to an individual buyer standing in line behind you.

Now I quite agree with you that there are so many economic incentives in favor of digital piracy and such perverse incentives for the publishers' preferred way of doing business, that something has got to give and that's why we're seeing such upheaval in the media industry. I just think that one a philosophical level the argument isn't as clear-cut as you are suggesting.

The fixed seats on train is only relevant if it fills up. So just imagine the case where it doesn't totally fill and consider his point again and you should see the parallel.

There are parallels, but surely there's a large, morally important difference between sneaking onto a half empty train with $50 seats, and stealing $50 from someone's wallet.

Surely it's important to pay attention to what is actually said in discussions. What was being said is that taking a train seat with zero marginal cost to the train owners is parallel to downloading a song which has zero marginal cost to the band or record label. Both are taking something with no marginal cost.

The point was that stealing that train seat really is stealing. That means that the argument "there is no marginal cost" is not a sufficient defense of music piracy. It does not exclude some other defense of music piracy.

My interpretation...

krschultz: "Trains have zero marginal cost. We call them stealing. Therefore, zero marginal cost does not prevent something from being called stealing."

InclinedPlane: "Trains are different from music, in that the latter never fills up. Therefore, it is possible for zero marginal cost to be a defense."

You: "InclinedPlane, just imagine a train which doesn't fill up."

Me: "You are right that the half-empty train and piracy are similar. This still doesn't justify calling it stealing."

You: "[Snarky comment]. All I was claiming is that they are similar."

...and I agree. I wasn't saying you were wrong in your initial comment, I was saying that you were right but it doesn't complete krschultz's argument.

No need to get snarky. Not every reply to your comment is an assertion that you're wrong.

Your comment was completely off topic. You said there was a big difference between zero-mariginal-cost stealing and entirely-mariginal-cost stealing. Of course there is, but that has nothing to do with the arguments in the discussion. That's why I said you weren't following the discussion and explained the discussion to you.

Now you've rewritten your comment to remove the part about taking money out of someone's wallet and summarized it as "Your statement is true but that doesn't justify a conclusion [that you never asserted]". But the wallet part of your comment was important to your comment and is the reason I replied as I did.

The topic of my comments was about the parallel btwn no marginal cost activities (someone denied it with a bad argument, and I said so), so your reply to me (yes it was a reply to me, or you wouldn't have it nested under me) was off topic and missing the point of what I was talking about. It now sounds like you wanted to be talking to the original poster, krschultz, not me, which would have made more sense.

Is there such a large, morally important difference?

I am going to simplify a lot here, but let's say that the train operator has a fixed operating cost and has a profit target, from which they know the gross revenue that they want over the next quarter. They know how many rides they expect people to pay for, so they divide the target gross revenue by the number of trips to get the ticket price. Assuming that the train timetable is fixed, more paying passengers means they can charge less per ticket and still hit their targets.

So in the case of stealing from someone's wallet, the victim takes a $50 hit. In the case on not paying for a train ticket, the operator will have to charge a slightly higher rate to paying passengers, so between them, the paying passengers take a $50 hit. If there's only one person not paying then that doesn't make much difference. But if 1% of passengers aren't paying, or 10%, or 50%... then that can start to affect the paying passengers quite significantly.

Or if the train operator is a bit less charitable and doesn't raise/lower the price in response to number of passengers, then the train operator's profit takes a $50 hit, which is passed on to the share holders, who may well be (in part) yours and my pension fund.

I would say that just because the $50 loss is divided by a large number of people, it doesn't make it any more morally defensible.

This would be a good (though not airtight) argument if the person would pay the $50 if he could not sneak on. But in fact, most people who torrent gigabytes of music would not pay for it if they couldn't get it for free.

In fact, piracy in this case seems to partially solve the fundamental economics problem. The marginal cost of music is zero, so if people who wouldn't pay full price aren't getting the music, then there is lost utility for society. By giving those people music for free (and, unrealistically, holding everything else constant) it's a Pareto improvement.

(And I'm not trying to avoid the argument that stealing $50 from society is morally he same as stealing $50 from a single person; it pretty much is. I'm just saying that the reason that we correctly intuit that sneaking on to a train is less worse than stealing from a wallet is because of considerations like those I've described.)

That's a bit too far into abstract hypotheticals for me. If I steal a candybar from a convenience store and it just happens to be a candybar that wouldn't have sold before it expired and had to be thrown out, is that stealing? If I shop-lift a screwdriver from home depot and then return it a week later is that stealing?

I think you've misunderstood my position. That candy bar thing is stealing, and stealing a seat on the train is stealing too. This is not abstract or anti-common-sense.

The parent to my comment had made a hypothetical more complicated by adding a special case (about the train getting full) and I suggested he reconsider without that complication.

> If I shop-lift a screwdriver from home depot and then return it a week later is that stealing?

Actually, no. If you intend to return it in the original condition, so they can still sell it, then legally speaking it isn't theft. (It may still be illegal, I don't know.)

Just to clarify, I'm not claiming anything about piracy here.

So, if I beat the crap out of you, but take you to the hospital later and pay all your bills, it's OK?

Actually, legally, it is theft. The crime is taking the property from the store without their permission. Whether or not you intend to return in its original condition is beside the point.

"A person is guilty of theft, if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it".

Actually, I'm not sure that US law is the same. But that's how it is in England.

That's close to the "Restatement" (law school) definition of theft in America. In practice, the statutory definitions of theft are far more expansive, and even where they aren't, case law has made the standard for "permanent deprivation" ridiculously low.

Fair enough. Thanks for the correction.

Even if the train doesn't fill up, you still need to pay for your ticket to compensate for the fixed costs.

The current hypothetical non-piracy model for music is broken, and it always has been.

I agree with that. My main concern is not people who make unauthorized copies of music and then later buy copies; I personally think that's great, and ought to be somehow legal. I am concerned about people who make unauthorized copies of music with no intention of ever paying for it and just flat out don't care because they don't feel it's worth paying for, even though they clearly see it as something of value, since they listen to it.

The huge difficulty is, how can you reliably discern between these classes of unauthorized copying?

It would be better to step further back and separate copying from production. People should contribute to production and be able to freely copy what is produced. The two are not really in conflict, in fact they are mutually supportive. Copyright artificially induces this opposition when it has no absolute need to. We now need a better arrangement.

I'm not sure I understand. Can you provide an example?

Any system where support or funding for production does not depend on restricting copying: those should be inspirations for alternatives. Open-source/free software, Wikipedia, the BBC, science/academic research . . .

The internet is a communication device, and we should be using to its max. All questions about distinguishing different kinds of copying, and whether one is moral or not, do not reach the real heart of the matter. All copying (assuming good stuff) is good, ultimately, and we ought to fit our commercial system to that, not the other way around.

I totally agree.

The problem is how do you make it possible for the best people making music (or whatever other internet good) to completely sustain themselves via things they put online.

Are you implying this isn't happening already?

"Open-source/free software"

This isn't true freedom. I am not allowed to copy open source software into my commercial application without releasing my revisions.

It's also funny that you mention open source, because it's eventually going to bring down the wages of developers. This is because the difficult parts (IE: the software that needs to be engineered) is given out for free and businesses only need the mechanics to make changes (lower education, skillm and pay requirements).

It's not all about costs. In music there are many people who love to write and record songs for fun. This devalues music regardless of costs. In fact I think most music in itself is practically worthless. It's the face and name of musicians which are worth money, usually because of successful marketing.

For books it's a little different. Few people write long stories for fun and it's much harder to write a good book then it is to make a good song. Thus, there are not that many good books around and their value is higher. In this case, I would say copying is bad.

However, my own opinion is that the world just has to adapt to it's own developments. Copying is easy? Writers get less money for their books? Then writers will have to change their profession. Sometimes markets shrink or disappear.

Few people write long stories for fun and it's much harder to write a good book then it is to make a good song.

Probably. It might be more equivalent to compare a book with a whole album, or a chapter with a song. I'm not sure what quality of music you have in mind, or what quality of book, but I don't think writing good prose is of necessity significantly more difficult than producing good recorded music.

Sometimes markets shrink or disappear.

Certainly. But when markets disappear because the producers in the market say "I would like X dollars in exchange for this product" and the consumers say "No, we'd rather violate copyright law and procure your product free of charge", it seems to me that something is going on beyond the simple disappearance of a market.

Consumers still want recorded music, and written prose, and all sorts of things that are easy to copy. Many of them just don't feel compelled to give the producers anything in exchange for their work [if they can avoid doing so]. Their work must have value, or else the consumers wouldn't want it.

If their work is of sufficiently high value that the consumer is willing to pay for it, then it will survive.

isn't that capitalism 101?

In a traditional model, if the consumer is not willing to pay for the product, then they don't get it.

With digital products, consumers have the (possibly illegal, unauthorized) option of getting a copy free of charge from someone other than the producer.

If consumer is willing to pay for the product, and if the producer is not authorizing copies of it, then the consumer (in theory) ought not get the product. But yet they are getting the product, because they are sidestepping the producers copyright.

Yes, you're right. The more I've thought about it over time the more I realize that your point is right, but the problem isn't the rational cost over here; it is the perceived cost of the good.

People pirate things, because to them in their minds, emotionally, it isn't like stealing. After all, who are they stealing from? It's extremely hard to put a face on an entity like a record corporation and it's just that psychologically people can't relate to or grasp the concept at work over here.

Our sense of morality is closely tied with our sense of empathy, but when there is nothing to empathize with what happens then? The central problem with the systems we now create is that our brains still look at it emotionally, while being unable to grasp at the true consequences of them intellectually. Think about the stock market; it operates on rational principles and belief, but now do you think anyone truly understands it? All that's left is messy human belief in a system no one truly understands. In shorter terms, we've created a recipe for disaster.

I think that all of the problems we see today is a symptom of our short comings as a species. I really wish I knew how to solve this, but then again I have faith that someone else will. ;)

There are two sides to the market though as well. What the music industry wants you to pay, and what you think you should pay. The music industry would like to get every penny it can from you, as would any share-holder based profit seeking company. It used to be able to dictate what we pay via the cd hard format industry.

Paying $30 for a CD with 12-19 songs, and not all songs being equal, it seems that there would be some dissatisfaction with the price per product.

You could view the current pirating activity of the general public as a back-lash to this long lasting penny pinching business. Couple this with the celebrity high-life led and promoted by the musicians and record industry, I for one don't want to be lining the pockets of these rich people. When I only get paid the equivalent of $30/h before tax, why the hell should I spend several hours of my time working in order to support the lives of richer people. Producing a remixed version of an old 80's song and adding the words 'dirty beat' does not mean you deserve several cars and houses and gold teeth. Its the fight club generation that does all the hard work, so we are going to take what we can from the corporate overlords.

Pirating will lessen when the market properly reflects the actual value of these products, and the industry embraces the ease of the digital format. Online subscription services should allow several cds worth for $5/month. If they are worried how easy it is to copy mp3's, then find ways to make the actual music a by product. Offer sneak previews to new albums, and discounts on concert tickets and merchandise. Imagine if I was one of 50 people to attend a private gig of some awesome band. It would make a lot of other people sign up as well.

I can't seem to pick out the argument that you're making here, other than that it begins with an assertion that no one who "really" understands economics can dispute it.

I'm going to guess out loud at it, and hopefully somebody will jump in and help me.

1) In the case of goods or services with minimal marginal costs and large fixed costs in proportion to total costs, you are expected to pay for them.

2) If you don't pay for them you are breaking the law.

Therefore, the argument that if marginal cost is zero on some digital good, then [something number 1] isn't stealing is completely irrelevant to [something number 2].

I'm sure that "something number 1" (referred to as "it") is related to free riding, due to a shared metaphor, and I'm going to assume that it is "a use of that good or service without paying," again due to the metaphor, where a single person took a single train ride without paying.

Does "something number 2" = "whether a use of that good or service is illegal or not"? Because that seems to me to be setting up as a straw man a question that no one is asking, then begging the question with an answer that is identical to your second premise.

Without commenting on IP piracy itself, I don't think the train analogy works for the additional reason that it certainly costs less to transport a train with (say) zero people than a train at full capacity. Fuel cost is probably the biggest issue.

Others have already pointed out that a train has a finite capacity, unlike copies of digital media.

That’s a negligible difference, irrelevant as far as this discussion is concerned. The marginal cost of an additional passenger on a train might no be literally zero but compared to the fixed costs it very nearly is.

I agree in general but IMO its even simpler than that. If you are taking someone else's work that they asked you to pay for, then you are STEALING. Its plain and simple.

"Well the marginal cost of a copy of [some digital good] is 0 so it isn't stealing!"

Many things DO work by this model.

ie, art. Someone may pay for the 1st copy of a Picasso at 100 million dollars (the copy that actually required talent to make), but everyone else gets it at the marginal cost, free.

I think that humans have an inherent problem with seeing piracy as theft unless they are the victims. Theft in a traditional sense is almost always zero-sum, and piracy isn't. We weren't really built to deal with this. The closest thing that I can think of is having someone sleep with your spouse—it's kind of like stealing, but it's not zero-sum. And it's not illegal.

It also doesn't help that our intellectual property laws have a lot of inconsistencies. If I steal your ideas for a startup, that's ok unless you have patented technology. But if I make a copy of something that I own and share it with a friend, that's illegal.

Up until now there had never been a way to take a material possession and duplicate it at essentially no cost. I think that we have a long way to go before we develop strong cultural norms on how to deal with intellectual property.

Duplicate it at no cost to anyone except yourself, I think you mean.

It often does cost time and money to pirate things.

And now that RepRap and similar 3D object printers are becoming more popular, they will continue to come down in price. It won't be long before printing physical items is a possibility, and then wholesale pirating of things that used to be protected by patents will start.

And if you're having trouble imagining that happening, don't worry. It was just as hard to imagine music piracy before MP3s. It happened on a VERY small scale before that due to difficulty and media cost.

Can you actually think of any examples where "printing" 3D objects that are protected by patents is likely to be a problem in the foreseeable future?

I think that it depends on your definition of 'foreseeable'.

One of the first markets I can see this disrupting are things like war-gaming miniatures, and board gaming pieces, which have a HUGE markup, but could be reproduced in plastic relatively easily after a more few generations of this tech. I'm not sure about patents per-se, but it's certainly an intellectual property issue.

Once these printers gain the ability to draw circuits and build or insert basic electronic components, things will really take off, but even before then there are some big markets for what are basically hunks of plastic and metal that are only expensive because they're well designed/marketed.

Will you be printing off an iPhone in 5 years? Of course not. But that fancy $60 paperweight on your boss's desk? There's a big market for those too.

This made me think of what is potentially a very large market - kids toys. As any parent will tell you, an awful lot of toys (especially for young kids) are cheap bits of plastic where the only "value" is the associated licensing of a brand/character from someone like Disney.

The relevant patents on Lego® bricks expired decades ago, and you would think clone bricks would have flooded the market by now. And yet Legos still sell—even the sets that aren’t licensed brands. My experience with Mega Blocks, cheaper bricks that are supposed to interlock with Legos, is that they don’t interlock very well—the tolerances are just far off enough to cause frustration. There must be something in Lego’s manufacturing process that keeps their quality high even though, on paper, nothing could be easier than replicating their technology.

Lego bricks are easy to replicate on current-generation 3d printers. It's nothing to do with the manufacturing process, it's just that making the molds a bit looser makes them much easier to separate, and cheaper. They also tend to round the peg size up to 5mm, when actual legos are around 4.9. This http://www.thingiverse.com/thing:1005 is a lego-compatible part designed from scratch that describes the issue. Using that, it's easy to make custom parts that attach to legos. Here's one that I designed and someone else printed: http://www.thingiverse.com/derivative:5042

There was also an attempt by Lego to trademark the blocks. That would have prevented competitors from creating compatible designs. However this was recently struck down by the European Court, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/eu-judges-rul...

Execution is everything, even in something as apparently simple (it isn't!) as a lego brick.

The tolerances, the plastics used, the pigments, all add up to a quality product. The difference is so large that you can tell the 'real' from the 'imitation' just by looking at them, you don't even need to do a trial fit to see which one is which.

Yes, yes. It's not patents that will be the issue for 3D replicas, but branding/trademark/licensing. I can make the Toy Story action figures for my kids, rather than pay Pixar for the rights. I can make Thomas the Train toys.

It's not that there's anything patentable in these items, but the licensing deals associated with things like TV shows and movies takes a serious hit.

In the transformers toy world I have been watching this and wondering what it will do. What does it mean to collectors when anyone can just print off that old toy they had as a kid? How about the brand new toy that just came out? On the flip side it opens the world for accessories and addons to existing toys like never before. Or even for all new toys that fit into the existing toy worlds, enhancing the brand if you will.

More down to earth and something you can make today with any of those: cookie cutters in any shape you want.

Games Workshop already asserts things like this, they get really touchy if you talk about casting models, and they only allow 'official' plastic in tournaments, etc...

The next version of RepRap will supposedly draw circuit traces. It is designed to have interchangeable extruders.

The current one can do that already, with a sharpie. It has managed to replicate its own electronics in this way.

The technology is further along than I'd realized. Probably not economically feasible except for the most marked-up items.


It depends on how you define 'problem', but here's one small example ( http://fabathome.org/?q=node/110 ) and I've been reading recently about others. e.g. all kinds of small kitchen, bathroom, and utility items that are currently sold at relatively high margins in stores.

I remember when mp3s were too big to store or move easily, and couldn't be played portably. Piracy was purely a geek thing then. That situation changed incredibly fast.

How about the Glif? http://www.theglif.com/ - They were a Kickstarter project and the actual prototype was made on a 3d printer. The costs to pirate one don't quite make sense yet (I'm pretty certain that even with markup it will be cheaper to buy one from them than print your own currently), but the threat is clearly there.

I also wonder about things like: if you downloaded a file to print your own Glif, but tweaked it for your android phone and made it a different color you're starting to get a transformative work out of the thing.

Maybe the future is mixed atoms and bits (like when you buy a BluRay and it also has a "digital copy" on it for use on your PMP). Maybe when you buy a Glif they'll email you the plan to print your own that you can tweak up.

I don't know, but the underlying problem is very real: counterfeit goods.

If the Consumer Is Not Deceived, It's Not "Counterfeit"


I agree in general, however there are circumstances where it's rather a different story: http://news.thomasnet.com/IMT/archives/2009/04/closing-the-d...

I don't see traditional counterfeit goods like watches and perfumes being printed any time soon.

The economic harm caused by both actions is analogous; "printing" goods is basically a more sophisticated way of counterfeiting them.

Counterfeiting implies the intent to deceive the customer. I'm not counterfeiting when I burn a copy of legal music to put in my car's CD changer. If I made many copies and sold them at a flea market, that would be counterfeiting.

"The closest thing that I can think of is having someone sleep with your spouse"

That's a pretty horrible analogy. It's not like you have a deal with the RIAA/MPAA equivalent to a marriage contract. The sole idea of that scares me. Also, if you ripoff your spouse and make her pay extra to get anything from you and only on terms that lets you control you forever, I think you deserve the cheating. You can go on exploiting your spouse like that and no expect issues.

In retrospect, might not be such a bad analogy ;p

I think most humans default to disregarding the other end of most relationships unless something urges them to.

I disagree, it's the same as any other situation where people act unethically just because there's low risk of getting caught.

People steal items from hotel rooms, catch a train without buying a ticket, hack cable TV circuits, use others' unprotected wifi, keep a 20 when they were expecting a 10, insure items after they're damaged, etc etc. My last two flatmates have left without paying their share of the utility bills and ignored my messages. None of this is piracy but it's similar behaviour.

A lot of people just have no spine and only the threat of prosecution keeps them in line. Which makes it hard to swallow any of these elaborate justifications of media/software piracy.

There is a fundamental difference: copying, in itself, renders no such harm as normal property infractions. Consider the underlying necessary facts. If you take a material object from me, you have deprived me. If you copy that object, you have done no such harm. The 'harm' of copying/infringement depends solely on the laws. If we didn't have the laws there wouldn't be the harm.

People know this unconsciously. A few million years of evolution have made us want to communicate. People copy because of the natural tendency to do something that is good for all of us.

My point was that, in response to the GP, plenty of folk have 'inherent difficulty' respecting other peoples' property in many situations outwith the copying/piracy issue. Which is to say, the lowest common denominator is simply 'can I easily get away with this?' Piracy, regardless of anything else, is incredibly easy to get away with.

But as far as the broader issue of copyright violation, to my mind it's really no different from any other type of property violation. Property is stuff we control and use to make a living, if we lose control chances are we can't make a living - which is why the law enforces your property rights. Whether it's stealing a possession, or renting something then straying from the terms of use, or copying a film, it's all the same. Property isn't the object itself, its your right of disposal (which sometimes might mean consuming, which physical deprivation would make impossible, or sometimes might mean distributing, which copying would make impossible, or sometimes mean privacy, which trespassing would make impossible, etc.)

> if we lose control chances are we can't make a living - which is why the law enforces your property rights

That is a circular justification. People can only make a living from IP because of the law, so one cannot then justify the existence of the law because it helps people make a living.

IP law, by definition, invents an artificial obstruction of other people's rights to copy. There must be a good reason for that.

Consider if you made a living selling tea, but then a personal tea-making gadget is invented. Are you then justified in stopping people walking home with their newly bought tea-makers and removing them -- because they are impeding you in earning a living? No. You just have to make a living in a different way. People's general fundamental freedom trumps your right to particular commercial advantage.

Because IP is so long-standing we have become accustomed to expect it, to assume it as a fundamental right. This is mistaken. It is provisional and must answer to real fundamental rights.

There is a rational case for IP: that it is pragmatic. It does harm by restricting people's freedom to communicate, but overall it increases production and so serves the public's interest -- that is the proposition at least. This is the only argument for IP. But given the changes in technological circumstance it must be radically reassessed, probably best replaced.

It's only a circular argument if you take property as an arbitrary axiom that can't be investigated further.

People need to use their mind to survive --> people must be able to reap the benefits of their mind/creativity to survive --> people must control the produce of their work/creativity to survive --> people should have property rights protected by the government

Property, including IP, is just a natural extension of freedom and living, it's about as fundamental as it gets. Of course it's hard to protect IP, but that's one of the benefits of having a highly civilized nation. They have the right to benefit from their creativity, and you're obliged to respect that. The law allows them to make a living, yes, just like the law allows most of us to make a living without people ripping us off or stealing, thank goodness. It makes perfect sense to have these laws.

The point of IP is that it's the produce of someone's mind, as direct a product as you can get. If you copy it without permission you know without doubt that you're undermining somebody's ability to benefit from their creativity, ultimately undermining their livelihood. That basically makes you a hypocrite.

The pragmatic argument (that without copyright/patents, innovation and investment would dry up) is secondary.

> people must be able to reap the benefits of their mind/creativity to survive --> people must control the produce of their work/creativity to survive

There is the flaw: the second does not follow from the first. There is no necessary requirement that produce -- in this context copies -- be controlled.

Consider the basic logic/physics of abstract goods. There is no necessary dependence of production on subsequent copies. In fact it is the opposite: the copies depend on production. It is perfectly conceivable that things be produced -- and the producers paid for that -- without any restriction of copies.

And this is clear in practice. Take an architect for example. They are commissioned and then design a building: they have done intellectual work and been paid for it, and so 'reaped the benefits' of their creativity to survive. Yet there has been no need for restriction on copies of their designs.

> The point of IP is that it's the produce of someone's mind, . . . If you copy it without permission . . . you're undermining somebody's ability to benefit from their creativity

But as explained above, this is not essential: it is only true for a particular, contingent, commercial arrangement.

You see that production is good, and also that copies are good too. What I ask is that you see that there is no essential need that one should restrict the other. And since both do us good, surely we would want to do both. What we want is a system that supports people to produce and allows freedom of copying.

This is why the pragmatic argument is the only plausible one. If we don't need, for practical reasons, to restrict copies, why would we? How can it be moral? What good does it do us? The idea that people have some intrinsic right to interfere with others, based merely on creatorship, is nonsensical and utterly self-destructive.

Just compare the limit cases (and since it is already established there is no necessary dependence of production on copies, we can look just at the copying aspect). Either: with free copying/sharing, we all greatly magnify our access to good stuff, at no cost to anyone. In a group of 100, if each of us makes some music, everyone has 100 pieces of music to listen to. Or: with absolutist IP, we all keep our own stuff (our own 'property') to ourselves, and so we all have much less stuff available to us. If each of us makes some music, everyone has only one piece of music to listen to. -- And what could be the justification there? that we 'know without doubt' we are doing the right thing? -- Which community to join is an easy choice.

It is not possible to say a priori what particular structures of organisation or commerce are efficient. But it is possible to say the moral essentials mean we should prefer free-sharing rather than copy-restricting.

You seem to be suggesting we should learn to submit to IP and its restriction on copying. This would be a sad and very wrong direction.

We should have cultural norms that encourage and support both production and copying -- they are both good, and mutually reinforcing. And we should build commercial systems around that, not warp our innate moral sense to fit some arbitrary market arrangement. If certain corporations don't like it they are the ones that need to reform themselves.

Ideas for a startup are just ideas. Music and books, regardless of form, are implementations and execution. I say that the actual execution of the idea is what's important. Code piracy's probably a better comparison.

That said, as an artist I'm not too worried if somebody rips off my work to print for a personal hanging.

It reminds me of some welfare recipients claiming welfare should be cut for others. As long as it's someone else benefiting from an action it's ripe for cutting but if I'm benefiting then it's justified.


>"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."

>"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"

>"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life."

>I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"

>Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!

I feel for the kid. I still grimace when I think of bragging to the game warden when I was 4, about how my dad caught a salmon with his bare hands. Of course, it wasn't fishing season, nor did we have a license. Even at 4, as soon as I said it, I knew I had screwed up. Luckily, everybody just laughed, as the game warden was a friend, but to this day, that slip of the tongue reminds me to think before I speak.

Yes the kid 'outs' her, however she also digs her own grave and makes some points that can easily be used to justify book piracy.


“Pirated handbags? Yes, I do buy them,” she said. “I feel that the genuine Prada bags have such an inflated price.”


“You have a pirated MP3 collection,” Jo added, helpfully. “We copied the first 1500 songs from one place and 300 from another.”

“Yes,” admitted Ragbe. “There were a lot of things on the iPod.”

>“Pirated handbags? Yes, I do buy them,” she said. “I feel that the genuine Prada bags have such an inflated price.”

I feel that lumping handbags in here is wrong. There's probably a trademark infringement as well with the handbags. But, whilst there is copyright infringement in the design does the design have an artistic quality or is it "just" a design. The fact that there is a skill and materials expense in producing the handbags gives it a different quality IMO.

The important part with the handbags is the infringement of the Prada trademark whilst with the books and music it is the copyright infringement.

A fashion designer would probably disagree?

I never thought of it, but poaching is a lot like piracy. I don't think your intent was to make that analogy, but there are a lot of similarities.

Except that wildlife is a limited resource that needs to be protected from poachers. It's only like piracy if you think there is an unlimited supply of wildlife that anyone should be able to take as they like.

As an avid fly fisherman, I completely agree; however, it's often very difficult for people to conceptualize that wildlife is a limited resource. How does my taking a fish that is a half inch under the limit really hurt anyone? What about an extra fish? Or fishing after dark when it's illegal? The negative effects are often extremely far removed from the initial act. That doesn't make it ok, but it does explain why many people who would never steal from a store will break all kinds of Fish and Game laws.

This is tragedy of the commons -- if one person does it, there is no real harm but if everyone does it then there will be no fish left for anyone. A lot of people can conceptualize this but many others rely on the fact that other people don't break the rules.

Music piracy is similar. Piracy works right now because there are enough people buying music and the margins are high enough that those legitimate buyers are supporting the pirates. Only at the point that creating music is unprofitable will piracy be affected (no more fish in the sea). I don't see that happening for a long time.

Even erstwhile pirates often buy music. In fact, studies have shown that pirates are actually the music industry's biggest supporters: http://arstechnica.com/media/news/2009/04/study-pirates-buy-...

There are some devout pirates who simply will not buy, but I suspect they would not buy even if they had another option — these are the people who would tape songs off the radio and copy their friends' CDs. They're either people who just refuse to pay for things or too poor to pay for things. But you can't generalize this to "pirates."

"Only at the point that creating music is unprofitable will piracy be affected (no more fish in the sea)."

Many (most) musicians/artists create music/art for the love of it. They make very little if any money doing it. Often, they even do it at a loss.

It has been this way since long, long before the internet and filesharing existed.

The zillions of unsigned bands wailing on guitars in every bar from Thursday to Sunday suggest that there'd still be plenty of music, even if there was no way to sell recordings.

True, but those breaking the fish and game laws may not be hurting anyone. They may disagree with the law. Especially because the fish and game laws only apply to public property. It'd be more analogous to going to a private reserve or piece of land and disregarding the owners regulations.

An ebook, mp3, or other digital object can be considered an unlimited resource, the creator of said object is a limited resource, and they do deserve protection.

That said, authors and artists like the lady in the article are hurting themselves when they choose not to make their works available to people in the format they want, especially when it is very easy to convert those works into different formats, or at least easy enough that people are willing to do it.

This is really an excellent observation. Thank you for sharing.

One consequence, it seems, would be that a work would enter public domain as soon as the creator dies, since the only remaining resource (the digital work) is unlimited.

There definitely needs to be meaningful copyright reform. Having works of art enter the public domain upon the death of the creator seems pretty fair, although there should probably be an extension for cases where children under the age of 18 are involved. And, of course, there should be an absolute time limit on all copyrights in the cases where they're assigned to corporations.

The problem most authors (artists) face is not piracy, but obscurity.

Not condoning piracy, but simply an observation. (I'm skeptical that people who pirate the e-books would necessarily otherwise purchase them, so I'm always uncertain about estimates of "losses" like in this article. Many times someone will download it to just check it out, similar to flipping through it in a bookstore, which you don't have to pay for.)

I feel it is instructive that we remember Tim O'Reilly's incisive piece titled "Piracy is progressive taxation"[0].

It makes little sense to claim that an author/musician is losing money through piracy when the likelihood is that the [majority of the] pirated copies would not have otherwise been bought.


[0] http://tim.oreilly.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/11/piracy.html

This still doesn't change the fact that piracy does hurt authors.

The sad fact is that piracy is only getting worse. Even when you can get a song for 99 cents with no DRM or restrictions, music piracy is still rampant. I'm waiting for the next set of excuses.

In '99, it was because music was too expensive and the artists were getting screwed (which is a funny excuse, because 1% of something is something, but 1% of 0 is 0). Later, it was because DRM made it too difficult to play music. This is why you don't negociate with criminals. They will just keep bleeding you dry. The music industry is learning this lesson at the expense of their profits.

Now there is a new generation of kids that feel entitled to music, software, and movies for free.

This is one of the main reasons why I no longer sell applications. I have converted them all to services. This way, there is no way someone can pirate it.

Music piracy has always been rampant

I can remember being a kid in the 70s and 80s and we all borrowed albums from friends and made copies on cassette tapes.

Or at least all my friends did.... ;-)

I once had a polygraph interviewer tell me this exact same thing and "not to worry about small shit like piracy."

I'm waiting for the next set of excuses.

I use an operating system (Ubuntu Linux) that doesn't support the main digital music download software and live in a country (Ireland) where choice is limited.

There are easily a billion people who can't legally purchase mainstream american music.

Then don't. You don't have to. Listen to the radio. Record the radio (in many countries that is legal). Listen to Youtube or streams. Listen to free music!

Indeed, he follows your advice, "then don't [purchase the music]." Instead of that unavailable option, he takes the most convenient one available to him. There is a lesson in this.

>Then don't. You don't have to. Listen to the radio.

Here's a good one - listening to the radio at work in the UK is illegal unless you have a license from PRS or it's impossible for anyone else to hear the same radio (it never is).

Yes, when you listen to commercial radio where they've paid already to play the music and the radio station is selling you to their advertisers, it's still considered copyright infringement. So, listen to non-music stations? Still illegal (tortuous) as the PRS get to assume you're guilty if they can show you have a radio on at work.

They get schools too - schools here have to have a PRS music license if they want to show TV programmes in case any of the TV programmes have music in them (eg background music or interstitials, etc.). Crazy.

So, there's no way I can purchase music then? So there's nothing unethical about me pirating, then? Since it can't be a lost sale? That argument doesn't fly with the people who own the copyright and your argument doesn't fly with me.

Youtube blocks most music videos here (Peru).

I'd still like to know how much piracy is due to friction. The First Friction being the inability to take cash and turn it easily into digital payments.

The sad fact is that piracy is only getting worse. Even when you can get a song for 99 cents with no DRM or restrictions, music piracy is still rampant. I'm waiting for the next set of excuses.

I rarely pirate music but, if I bought all my music on Amazon or iTunes I'd be paying thousands of dollars a year. For a large subset of the population, this is simply an unacceptable expense. Hence: piracy.

"My time is worth it. Take comfort knowing that it's okay for me to do this, because I've gone ahead and assessed that yours is not. Cheers."

In high school and college, I pirated plenty of music, because I was dead broke. Now that I'm older, and have a job, I'm buying a lot of the music that I downloaded 10 years ago. $1 a song is still too much, but when Amazon has digital albums for $5, I'll buy a few.

I've always gone to shows, though, to support the local artists as directly as I can.

"$1 a song is still too much"

too much??! really? $1 is hardly a lot of money for a good song.

I also forgot to mention that we now have the ability to preview almost any song before buying with services like Grooveshark.

In many cases you don't know that it is a good song before you purchase it. I'm happy to spend a few dollars on an album, but not at $1/song if 70% of them are poor at best.

It doesn't hurt them. It fails to help them, which isn't quite the same thing. What we need is a way to compensate creators that doesn't require damaging the social utility of their work.

"It doesn't hurt them. It fails to help them"

This isn't true. When you don't attempt to prevent piracy, people think it's okay. They then feel they are entitled to getting your stuff for free...and the value will approach $0 (because nobody will be willing to pay you anything). This is already happening.

It's very similar to currency. A $100 bill is really just ink and paper. If society didn't believe it was worth this much, it wouldn't be.

I sell e-books and they almost all get pirated. I don't care, I just focus on the people who want to pay for my stuff. No skin off my nose if they don't.

Same here. A file that can be copied infinite times without cost is not worth much. I put 2 years of work into a book that gets pirated all the time. I have no problem with it at all.

I think we would be better off reevaluating business models rather than suffering the effects of trying to preserve out-dated ones.

> I think we would be better off reevaluating business models rather than suffering the effects of trying to preserve out-dated ones.

What sort of business model do you think would be effective?

What mediums do you two sell your books through?

Lots, but it's the PDFs that normally get copied.


That's probably the best attitude to take since you can't ever stop the infringers. And if you do try to stop them you're only making it more complicated on the people who do want to buy your content.

I buy lots of ebooks and music and the key for me is making it easy to pay for (Amazon and ITMS are great for this). I don't want to jump through hoops to give you my money.

Contrast this with the movie industry who I think are setting themselves up in a way that's pushing infringement with all the rules around renting, buying, streaming, and NetFlix. For example, I see a commercial that a movie now 'in stores' so I check NF. If it's not there and I really want to see it, I'll check the iTunes and xbox marketplaces. When I can't find it there I wonder if they really want my money? They are pushing me to buy the movie, but I don't want to buy the movie I just want to rent it and see it once. I think they are pushing many potential renters to just torrent the movie because they have made it so hard to actually give them money. By this point I'm usually so fed up with looking for the movie I forget about watching it until it shows up on NF.

> “Books are priced too high”

I don't think he (the "pirat") has an idea of how much time has to be invested in the production of good books. I personally think that books are drastically undervalued and that people are not willing to pay enough for good books which has the consequence that they are either served well targeted bestsellers, which can be produced at that price, or junk. Big publishing companies and bestseller authors don't have that much of a problem selling their books at a lower price so that people are less inclined to download a pirated book.

I don't think he means books in general, but ebooks, as compared to paperbacks/hardbacks.

I recently bought a Kindle, and every ebook in the Amazon store, without exception, is more expensive than the cheapest paperback version available at Amazon.

That's just ridiculous, and no matter how "close to zero" any marginal costs of a printed book might be - and I'd like some proof of that, because I find it hard to believe that handling, shipping, storage, printing, testprinting, typesetting, missed shipments etc, are so cheap - an ebook should never be more expensive than the same physical paperback.

Yeah, that's one quote I just can't agree with. The amount of value I get out of a good book always hugely exceeds what I paid for it.

The App Store has proven that most software is overpriced. If there was a book store with $.99 and $1.99 books, I think we would discover something very similar.

The question could be argued about if software was overpriced, or were there too many layers in the distribution chain that all wanted to make something off the software sale. The iTunes App store has collapsed the distribution chain. The OS X App store may do the same.

.. no one possesses the less because everyone possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me receives [it] without lessening [me], as he who lights his [candle] at mine receives light without darkening me. --Thomas Jefferson

And so the progress of virtual goods has turned their producers into teachers. The consequences are still unknown.

What struck me most was this passage:

In order to thwart piracy, she refused to allow her latest novel to be released as an audiobook since the format is popular with file-sharers and also denied the publication of Russian and Chinese versions.

Isn't it like taping on the cover of the book: "Only for white"?

"Only for white"

hmm..so there are no whites in Russia?

Most e-commerce companies where I've worked block both Russia and China due to massive piracy or credit card theft.

Oh come on. It's easy to call someone a hypocrite -- everyone agrees its wrong, whatever their other moral principles might be. The failures of an individual don't really have much bearing on whether the individual's moral beliefs are right.

EDIT: changed "everyone agrees its wrong" to "everyone agrees hypocrisy is wrong"

The failures of an individual don't really have much bearing on whether the individual's moral beliefs are right.

If you assume they're failures, they don't have much bearing. If, however, you assume that people's actions reflect their beliefs more closely than their arguments do, the fact of hypocrisy regarding a given belief suggests rather strongly that even the person making the argument doesn't believe it. When an argument's proponents don't even believe it, I think it's reasonably strong evidence that it isn't true.

I actually disagree that people's actions reflect their beliefs more than their arguments. I suppose these are fundamental assumptions that you can't really present much evidence for either way, but I do think that people try to hold themselves to standards that they can't often achieve. To take a simplistic example: suppose I'm trying to stick to a rigorous diet, but I lapse every so often. Does this mean that I really don't believe the diet is important? Or if I'm trying to learn a new programming language in my spare time, perhaps I'm not as studious as I'd like... but that doesn't mean that the language isn't worth learning. It just means it's hard, and people tend to give in to laziness.

everyone agrees its wrong

Are you saying everyone agrees piracy is wrong? In my mind that's very much still open to debate.

No, not at all. I certainly agree that piracy is open to debate. I meant to say that everyone agrees hypocrisy is wrong.

If that's the most obvious reading of my comment, the downvotes make a little more sense...

Everyone agrees there are no absolutes.

I think you'd find there are many people who find it acceptable to act contrary to how they expect others to act and moreover acceptable to pretend to be that which they are not.

All I can say is: ha ha ha. And: we need to come up with a better system for selling intellectual art these days!

Bogus Prada bags hardly seems to compare. Maybe if one took fancy dust jackets (Hennessey and Patterson, Musil, whatever) and wrapped them around Readers Digest condensed books one might have a comparable case.

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