Digital Freedom

Piracy is Progressive Taxation

There’s a raging copyright debate between the entrenched forces of the music and movie industries and a raft of folks who either for market or political reasons want far more freedom in how a user can interact with content. In “Steal This Essay 4: Are We Just Rationalizing Theft?”, I covered some of the arguments against treating unauthorized use of a pure public good like content as theft.

(Separately, I also mention that the recording industry routinely refers to copying music as piracy, trivializing a real crime in which hundreds of people are killed every year on the high seas. Piracy on the seas is violent as a direct result of the fact that physical goods are rival.)

Tim O’Reilly makes a fascinating argument that “piracy is progressive taxation” and that “obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy”. However, I wonder whether his arguments aren’t too focused on “rationalizing theft”.

I think that although morality is almost always linked to economics (generally in terms of torts), they are hardly one and the same. Just because I may not be hurting (committing a tort against) an artist whose music I download (if I would never have otherwise bought their CD), it doesn’t necessarily make it OK if I know (or suspect) that the artist would not want me to use her work in this way.

Instead, I assume a simple cop out in “Steal This Essay 1: Content Is a Pure Public Good”, by taking a “hard technology determinist viewpoint”. That is, whatever the individual moral thing to do might be, if neither prevention nor punishment can stop the behavior (as I argue in “Steal This Essay 2: Why Encryption Doesn’t Help”), then that behavior is going to proliferate and we better figure out how to deal with it.

At the end of the day, I think we need to assume that the vast majority of college students (and almost everyone else) doesn’t care about the morality of using Gnutella, and figure out a system by which artists can be compensated (which is what I discuss, somewhat pessimistically, in “Steal This Essay 3: How to Finance Content Creation”).

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Steal This Essay 4: Are We Just Rationalizing Theft?

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Steal This Essay 3: How to Finance Content Creation

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Steal This Essay 2: Why Encryption Doesn’t Help

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Steal This Essay 1: Content Is a Pure Public Good

I’ve decided to “republish” some essays here that I wrote last year on the subject of the death of copyright. These will, at the very least, make my linking to them simpler, and may even inspire me to continue the series.

The first essay is titled: Steal this essay, or, why these sorts of essays represent the future of all publishing. (Hint: I’m not getting paid for them).
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The Supreme Court will be

The Supreme Court will be hearing Lawrence Lessig argue against Solicitor General Ted Olsen this Wednesday, in the most important constitutional challenge to copyright in history. The LA Times Magazine has a nice background piece on The Cultural Anarchist vs. the Hollywood Police State. It describes Jack Valenti, head of the Motion Picture Association of America, calling unauthorized copying a “terrorist war” and asserting that “the movie industry is under siege from a small community of professors.”

An industry with about $70 billion in worldwide revenues being thwarted by a handful of scholars, none of whom could get within a mile of Morton’s on Oscar night? “When I read that,” said Duke law professor James Boyle, “I had a Monty Pythonesque image of a siege of this massive castle by a tiny number of individuals armed only with insults. ‘Now open your gates,’ they were yelling, ‘or we shall taunt you once again.’ “

All of the filings and background for the case are at eldred.cc.

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Arguments for the wacky p2p

Arguments for the wacky p2p “self-help” bill. Of course, everywhere you see “self-help”, read “vigilante”. It really is amazing that the music and movie industries would try to go against several hundred years of jurisprudence arguing for justice provided through neutral third-parties, and bring us back to the vigilante days of cattle lynchings and retribution murders.

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This is the first counter-FAQ

This is the first counter-FAQ I’ve seen. The MPAA published a misleading FAQ about the broadcast flag and the EFF gives their own (much better) answers.

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Congressmen in the pocket of

Congressmen in the pocket of Hollywood have proposed a histrionically absurd bill to enable the music and movie industries to hack into people’s computer who they think are illegally trading music: “Under the bill, companies would not be required to warn users in advance of their actions. A user wrongly attacked could sue only if he or she suffered more than $250 in economic losses and obtained the U.S. attorney general’s permission to file a lawsuit.” Kudos to AP for mentioning how much Hollywood bribed — I mean donated — to the bill’s backers.

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John Gilmore writes on Intel

John Gilmore writes on Intel selling out your rights to the Hollywood oligopoly:

What really saddens me is that Intel has no need to buy off that oligopoly. In fact it’s quite the opposite. Intel’s efforts to suck up to that oligopoly have CREATED the perception among policy makers that “something needs to be done”, since Intel and the oligopoly “agree on the problem”. Intel and other honest manufacturers should stand fast and say, “We are not the world’s policemen. We sell general purpose equipment and we make it as flexible as possible to attract the broadest range of customers. You can’t hold the man who makes pencils responsible because a bookie used a pencil to write down a bet. And you can’t demand that he design a pencil that can’t be used to write down a bet.” If you answered the oligopoly demands in those terms, there would be no political “problem”. And you would have good Supreme Court law behind you — the Betamax case.

Instead, you are working to undermine the Betamax case, the competitiveness of your own industry, the interests of your own customers, and the foundations of your own free society.

Sony v. Universal Studios Decision (1984) is universally known as the Betamax case. Here is a summary. Digital Consumer is a great advocacy site on the issue.

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