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Maybe next time you shouldn't rationalize your theft with a "manifesto"...
July 1, 2010 1:29 PM   Subscribe

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has shut down nine websites in connection with an ongoing crackdown on internet film and TV piracy. The sites seized are Movieslinks.tv, Planetmoviez.com, ZML.com, Thepiratecity.org, Filespump.com, TVShack.net, Now-Movies.com, NinjaThis.net, and NinjaVideo.net. The feds also seized related Paypal accounts and bank accounts as part of the operation. Ninjavideo was the most notorious of the group, and its admin, Phara, went so far as to record a manifesto in praise of internet piracy.
posted by Pastabagel (197 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Glad I got caught up on Sons of Anarchy first.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:30 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


It took me far too long to figure out what ICE was doing shutting down websites. Then the word "customs" finally hit me.
posted by wierdo at 1:31 PM on July 1, 2010


Previously (but not really.)

I am anti-law enforcement targeting people for copying invisible bits, but I don't have a dog in this specific fight.
posted by paisley henosis at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe next time you shouldn't rationalize your theft with a "manifesto"

Shit. And I'm all out of popcorn.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:35 PM on July 1, 2010 [7 favorites]


What I find particularly ironic is that almost exactly 24 hours beofre making this post, I wrote this comment linking to ninjavideo and another place. The other place is still running.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:37 PM on July 1, 2010


huh, so those are the sites I should have been going to all this time.
posted by shmegegge at 1:39 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


What I find particularly ironic is that almost exactly 24 hours beofre making this post, I wrote this comment linking to ninjavideo and another place. The other place is still running.

The Gummint only has so many padded mallets with which to whack.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


So were these private tracker sites or public sites? I don't really torrent, but a move from targeting public trackers to private invite-only sites would seem like a major shift in policy and procedures.
posted by Shepherd at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2010


Glad I got caught up on Sons of Anarchy first.

Yeah, but the ending was brutal. I think I would rather have waited until next season was finished.

As soon as content producers realize it is in their best interest to get their content online quickly, easily, and cheaply the better.

You can't tell me that ABC makes $2 an episode from me watching LOST in prime time and seeing the commercials. So if you make me wait a week before I can buy it I probably won't. If I can't discuss it with the other people that watch the show I'm probably not going to bother.

I don't want to keep the file forever and ever. I just want to watch it and trash it. If I have to "buy" it I'm going to be reluctant to trash it.

I'm all in favor of copyright holders controlling the distribution of their content though (even if I think they are shooting themselves in the foot).

I am one of those people that actually like the idea of this paid Hulu option if it means I don't have to wait a week to see House.
posted by cjorgensen at 1:51 PM on July 1, 2010


So were these private tracker sites or public sites? I don't really torrent, but a move from targeting public trackers to private invite-only sites would seem like a major shift in policy and procedures.
posted by Shepherd at 4:51 PM on July 1


There were all public sites that hosted divx or HD quality video or that linked to other sites that did. You'd stream them through the divx player or download them. They had nothing to do with torrents.

My own personal analysis of the sites taking down compared to those that are older and still standing is that the ones taken down were the most brazen about making money off of the downloads through ads.

In the end, though, this is going to push more people to use off-shore seedboxes and VPN. If people were pirating TV when Hulu was free, you can be sure that they'll continue to do so now that it's not.
posted by Pastabagel at 1:58 PM on July 1, 2010


I find it distasteful at best when people charge money for illegally distributing stuff that isn't even theirs.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:00 PM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


You know you're getting old when U.S. Customs knows more pirate video sites than you. :( These sites must breed faster than damn rabbits on viagra!
posted by jeffburdges at 2:00 PM on July 1, 2010 [11 favorites]


The way that the article is worded makes it sound like they just seized the domain names and not the actual servers, which would mean the owners could just get a new domain name assuming they haven't been arrested.

I find it distasteful at best when people charge money for illegally distributing stuff that isn't even theirs.

It's not really looked highly upon in the piracy world either. Most sites pay for hosting costs using a voluntary donation system, and release groups of pretty much any kind of content don't like seeing it sold rather than given away for free.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:11 PM on July 1, 2010


Whether you think it's horribly evil and dishonest or not, it's factually incorrect to refer to copyright violation as theft. It's not. It's violating a temporary (well, getting less temporary as the laws keep changing) monopoly, which is granted by the government as an effective means to a desirable end, rather than as a recognition of a basic property right. It's all there in the U.S. Constitution, kids.

Copyright violation may be dishonest, illegal, unethical, and may make the Baby Jesus cry, but it's not theft.
posted by edheil at 2:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [15 favorites]


Never heard of NinjaVideo before or any of those other sites (though I do torrent stuff often), but man is that Phara person a moron. The manifesto is hilarious.
posted by dobbs at 2:26 PM on July 1, 2010


Copyright violation may be dishonest, illegal, unethical, and may make the Baby Jesus cry, but it's not theft.

Well, sure, but "theft" is an easy shorthand for "taking that for which you did not pay" and therefore the usage works well (for people who take to one side of the argument).
posted by Bookhouse at 2:59 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll never personally pay for pirated content, but I've not personal problems with paid pirated content existing. We're usually just talking poor tech savvy people in poor countries who find an easy living, great reward em' for being tech savvy, otherwise they'll write fucking spam botnets.

You say you detest piracy, well people all over the world are buying into the silicon valley dream. Do you want them hijacking your bank accounts? Or do you want them selling movies to morons?

We're facing one hard truth, hollywood isn't even a drom in the bucket economy wise, but hollywood buy us considerable soft power abroad. America's world power and the American way of life would benefit from nationalizing those fuckers, and giving away the content.. And eventually spending that international good will on cooperative tariffs with Europe that make highly automated manufacturing cost effective.

Anyone who tell you that intellectual property is the future of western civilization either doesn't understand economics or lies through their teeth.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:00 PM on July 1, 2010


jeffburdges... umm.. no? see, the problem is people stealing (let's avoid the fucking stupid semantic argument, shall we?) something and selling it again, without permission. If you don't see a problem with this then we live on different planets.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:06 PM on July 1, 2010


Copyright violation may be dishonest, illegal, unethical, and may make the Baby Jesus cry, but it's not theft.

I saw a banner graphic somewhere recently that read,

"If file sharing is stealing, then photography is kidnapping."

It made me laugh, even if I didn't find it a compelling argument one way or the other.
posted by nomisxid at 3:11 PM on July 1, 2010 [16 favorites]


tvshack was pretty rad. and most sites like this take donations for keeping the lights on and fighting hte eventual legal battle. i don't know that i've ever been to one that charges for content.
posted by nadawi at 3:18 PM on July 1, 2010


If you wish to avoid the fucking stupid semantic argument, then stop referring to the act with the T-word or the S-word. Call it "GRARing," if you like, but selecting "stealing" by fiat is a little uncool.
posted by adipocere at 3:23 PM on July 1, 2010


"This battle won't be won in the United States," Morton said. "We have to wage this war globally."

Right. Another war. Great.
posted by Trochanter at 3:27 PM on July 1, 2010


Bleh. Nobody ever got arrested for being too discreet.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:38 PM on July 1, 2010


OK, just watched the "manifesto". Pretentious, ego-driven crap. I won't specifically mention the layers upon layers upon layers of the "online video community" that are more vital than Phara and her garbage site, because I'd rather keep them closed to publicity-seeking idiots. But this is the weakest-sauce combination of self-promotion and off-base cultural criticism I've ever seen.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:13 PM on July 1, 2010


If you wish to avoid the fucking stupid semantic argument, then stop referring to the act with the T-word or the S-word. Call it "GRARing," if you like, but selecting "stealing" by fiat is a little uncool.

In reply, I give you Bookhouse's words:
Well, sure, but "theft" is an easy shorthand for "taking that for which you did not pay" and therefore the usage works well (for people who take to one side of the argument).
Taking something you didn't pay for is theft. Okay? Can we move on now? Or does it make all the piraters too uncomfortable to use accurate words to describe their actions?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:25 PM on July 1, 2010


Taking something you didn't pay for is theft. Okay? Can we move on now? Or does it make all the piraters too uncomfortable to use accurate words to describe their actions?

By that definition kids are thieves when given gifts. Definitions are important.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:42 PM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


dirtynumbangelboy wrote: "Taking something you didn't pay for is theft. Okay? Can we move on now?"

No, theft implies depriving the rightful owner of the use of the item, which illicit copying does not do. Thus, it is not at all settled that illicit copying is in fact theft as the word is commonly used.

That's not to say that it illicit copying for monetary gain shouldn't be against the law, but it is not at all the same as theft.
posted by wierdo at 4:56 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Indeed, if you want to use that Bookhouse definition, let's talk about take.

If I take your car, you no longer have use of your car.

If I copy a CD, does the original owner still have use of that CD? Yes.

"Take," therefore, does not apply, and so, under the definition you propose, copying a CD is not theft.
posted by adipocere at 4:58 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


is recording music on a cassette tape that is played over the radio theft? i mean, you can't take it and they can't give it to you, but you can capture radio waves they freely transmit.

is DVR'ing tv shows theft? the station tells the advertisers that they will get eyes on their commercials and by recording them and watching them without commercials you are circumventing this agreement. is this taking something you didn't pay for?

is bootlegging a concert theft? is buying a copy of a bootleg theft? is uploading a video to youtube that you make zero profit off of theft? i mean - you paid or the show and they weren't offering a recording of the show for sale, so it's not like you took something from them, unless you consider the implications of artists not being able to try stuff out on stage for fear of a recording surfacing.


this argument is as old as the technology to record or copy. reducing it to "Taking something you didn't pay for is theft. Okay?" is naive.
posted by nadawi at 5:01 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


...and that's why "taking" somebody's picture "steals" their soul.
posted by kevin is... at 5:02 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


While I think the extreme criminalization of file-sharing and the heavy-handed tactics corporations have thus far employed (including this recent bringing of the federal government to do their bidding), the acquisition of creative work without fair compensation to the producer remains a pretty big problem. I know many people who make their living producing creative work (and are very good at it, and are only as good at it as they are because that's what they do for a living), and this is an immediate, daily concern for nearly all of them.

Composer Jason Robert Brown recently contacted people file-sharing his sheet music directly by email, and asked them to stop giving away his copyrighted work. This led to a fairly interesting email conversation with a 14-year-old about whether or not she should pay for his work. I think that the conversation highlights the sense of entitlement common among many who have grown up with file-sharing, as if they have a right to own others' work. I know I encounter this attitude fairly frequently among undergraduate students. It is not a sustainable perspective, culturally speaking.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:06 PM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


BRING BACK TV-LINKS.CO.UK
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:46 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Serious question: ICE "has no plans yet to go after and punish individuals that download such content", but how long until they do? When tvlinks was novel I never would have thought to worry, but when a pal told me about ninjavideo recently I couldn't believe he wasn't using a proxy. Since this "business" model isn't going to disappear, won't the big boys be turning to scare-suits against the users?

More serious question: "Operation In Our Sites"? For real? When did operations stop having cool names like Eagle Claw and Frequent Wind and start being really really stupid puns?
posted by Chichibio at 5:47 PM on July 1, 2010


I find it distasteful at best when people charge money for illegally distributing stuff that isn't even theirs.

No website exists for free. Piratebay for example hosts ads and gets paid for it. All of these websites suck money from one source or another for traffic, subscriptions, or other compensation derived directly due to interest in copyright infringing works.

What I suggest is that people dislike directly paying anybody for infringing work. They probably don't even think hard enough to understand that the pirate websites are making money all the same, even if there isn't a direct charge.
posted by Muddler at 6:03 PM on July 1, 2010


Lighting a bonfire is not arson, though both are generally illegal.

Names for things matter.

Also, saying 'this is a stupid argument - let's just make it that I'm right' is a little immature.
posted by Sebmojo at 7:23 PM on July 1, 2010


No, theft implies depriving the rightful owner of the use of the item, which illicit copying does not do. Thus, it is not at all settled that illicit copying is in fact theft as the word is commonly used.

Well, there's the thing. "Theft" isn't a fundamental principle of nature handed down by God on stone tablets. Human society defines what theft is and what the word means. It's simply factually wrong to assert (as people do above) that copyright infringement is not, can not be, and never shall be considered theft. It is theft if society deems it to be theft. It is not theft if society deems it not to be theft. Making a blanket assertion that IT ISNT THEFT YOURE WRONG NEENER NEENER is begging the question.

In any case, jumping on anyone who calls it stealing when everyone here knows what is meant is kind of a dick move. It is an attempt to "win" the discussion by defining the terms in a favorable manner through confrontation.

My own opinion is that, as with virtually any aspect of society, the concept of "theft" will have to change with the times. Defining theft in such a way that downloading media you do not have the legal right to download is considered theft strikes me as a reasonable modernization.

I wonder if the people arguing that copyright infringement can't be theft because it wasn't defined that way a century ago would allow the same argument to be made about other facts of the law. Somehow I suspect this is less a principled stand than one driven by the I LIKE DOWNLOADING FREE SHIT instinct.

Also: copyright and infringement-as-theft have a very old pedigree. It is not actually a new concept even though I am arguing above as though it is.
posted by Justinian at 7:38 PM on July 1, 2010 [6 favorites]


"Take," therefore, does not apply

Anyone can play semantic word games. If I take a test, have I deprived everyone else the ability to take the test? No? And yet I've still taken it.
posted by Justinian at 7:41 PM on July 1, 2010


BRING BACK TV-LINKS.CO.UK

Psst
posted by shii at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2010


In any case, jumping on anyone who calls it stealing when everyone here knows what is meant is kind of a dick move. It is an attempt to "win" the discussion by defining the terms in a favorable manner through confrontation.

Quite. Which is what I was attempting to bypass, but the I LIKE DOWNLOADING FREE SHIT people really don't like to be reminded that they are receiving the sweat of someone else's brow without doing a single thing for it beyond clicking the mouse.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where this conversation tends to go wrong is with some variation of this argument: "copyright infringement is theft, and theft is wrong, so copyright infringement is wrong." That line of reasoning tends to be unhelpful, because infringement is only somewhat like taking physical stuff without permission, and taking physical stuff is only sometimes agreed to be morally wrong. So there are a ton of hidden assumptions in the argument, and neither side makes much progress.

Personally, I call infringement "stealing" (because it's convenient shorthand) except when I'm trying to have a productive debate about ethics, and then I pick words that are more precise and less distracting.
posted by jhc at 7:55 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Which is what I was attempting to bypass

You weren't trying to bypass it, you were trying to do the exact same thing in the other direction. And still are.
posted by ook at 8:11 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


>If I take your car, you no longer have use of your car.

If I copy a CD, does the original owner still have use of that CD? Yes.

"Take," therefore, does not apply, and so, under the definition you propose, copying a CD is not theft.


I can't believe that this argument is offered honestly. It obviously mistakes both what has been taken and who has been affected. Using the above example, the "thing" in question is not the CD itself, it is the music that is on it. Now, calling music a "thing" is, strictly speaking, a semantic trick, a reification of that which is intangible, but songs don't write themselves and they obviously exist so it's not much of a stretch to consider an individual musical creation a "thing".

The person being harmed is not the purchaser of the CD you are copying, it is the producers of the creative work encoded on that piece of plastic. That is who you are stealing from. They produce creative work to make a living (you know, to eat and have a home and stuff), not because it's fun or because they love you and want to share.

So if you copy a CD (or download a file), you are acquiring music without compensating the producer(s) of that creative work. That is theft. You didn't break into their house and take a concrete object, but you took their work without paying the price they required, AND THAT IS STEALING.

I mean, the idea that file-sharing of copyrighted work is OK because a physical object hasn't been taken is just so stupid that it's astonishing to me how many smart people I hear repeat it. Are the penalties for such theft wildly out of proportion? I think they are. Has the enforcement of copyright become ridiculously heavy-handed? Perhaps, and that's the question that the situation in the post raises. But these questions are orthogonal to the question of whether or not this is theft, and are the much more salient ones to consider. Those arguing that file-sharing isn't theft sound to me like so many spoiled adolescents, whining that they are entitled to creative work free of charge because they like it so much. Or hate it and wouldn't buy it anyway. Whatever. The sense of entitlement in these arguments is overwhelming.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:13 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually, dirtynumbangelboy, I'm against copyright infringement, but I absolutely loathe the use of "theft" as a term because copyright infringement is not theft, for the reasons we have discussed (again and again).

Insistence on using wrong terminology in an attempt to oversimplify or "win" does more harm than good. Whenever I hear someone say "downloading is stealing," I care just a little bit less because I know the person saying it is not telling the truth.
posted by adipocere at 8:14 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


You weren't trying to bypass it, you were trying to do the exact same thing in the other direction. And still are.

Actually not the case, but thanks for playing.

Insistence on using wrong terminology in an attempt to oversimplify or "win" does more harm than good. Whenever I hear someone say "downloading is stealing," I care just a little bit less because I know the person saying it is not telling the truth.

Don't you ever fucking accuse me of lying again, is that crystal clear? I am not lying. I very firmly believe that according to the everyday usage of the words 'theft' and 'stealing' to mean 'taking without permission or recompense' downloading very much is stealing.

Good Christ, what is wrong with you people?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:22 PM on July 1, 2010


adipocere, let's say you build houses for a living. I ask you to build me a house and you tell me that it will cost $200,000. If you build a house according to the terms we agreed to, and I refuse to pay you but move into the house and use it anyway, what word would you use to describe my treatment of you? Have I stolen from you by not paying? What did I steal? Now substitute "website" for "house." If you build me a website and I refuse to pay you but use the site files anyway, have I stolen from you? What did I steal?

The price of a music download is a contract offered by the producers of that work. It says, if you want this work it will cost $10.00. If you disagree with those terms, you are free not to use their services (creative and intangible though they may be). But if you want their services, you must pay the price they have asked, otherwise it is stealing from them. If you use someone's work without compensating them you are stealing from them and listening to music is 'using' someone's creative work (specifically, you are using those sounds to give you a temporal experience you desire). A physical thing need not be stolen for it be theft.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2010 [4 favorites]


Actually not the case, but thanks for playing.

You have convinced me of the correctness of your position with this cogent and well-supported rebuttal.
posted by ook at 8:30 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I gave your comment precisely the attention it deserved.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:31 PM on July 1, 2010


Loosefilter — you should probably check the part where I said that I disagreed with copyright infringement. You're kind of preaching to the choir.

But you're using the wrong terms.

There's the free rider problem, "theft of services," (which is slightly closer), and what you're describing, in terms of downloads, is breaking a contract. Which isn't theft. In your house example, that's a breach of contract, just the same as your website example.

After I steal something from you, you no longer have it. I have deprived you of your property.

Intellectual property is different and continually attempting to map it onto the physical world is doomed to failure. I happen to disagree with most file sharing (orphaned works, items which have been allowed to go out of print, those violate the basic purpose of copyright and I consider them fair game). However, I do not call it theft and I will point out that it is, in many ways, not like theft at all.
posted by adipocere at 8:54 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


dnab, you insist on using the terminology that favors your position. They insist on using the terminology that favors their position. The only difference is that you're doing it in such a ranty I AM RIGHT BECAUSE I VERY FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT I AM RIGHT SO THERE manner that you're only going to make people who might be on the fence about the issue less likely to agree with you.

So carry on with that strategy if it makes you feel happy, I guess.
posted by ook at 8:57 PM on July 1, 2010


If by 'favours my position' you mean 'accurate and not particularly kind to people rationalizing their way out of getting something for nothing', sure.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:02 PM on July 1, 2010


adipocere, then what do you call it? I suppose I'm perplexed by your vehemence on this point because it seems to me that breach of contract is very often described as theft, in all situations. What is stolen is the money that should have been paid--an odd way to consider it, but a very common one. I suppose my sense is that you're making a mighty stand on what is basically a semantic point, one not really worth the energy and conviction you've put behind it. You obviously feel otherwise, and I respect the semantic distinctions you describe.

If your real conviction is that intellectual property is fundamentally different from physical property, and that this has important implications for how we consider and protect it legally, then I think your energy much better spent explaining and advocating those points rather than raging against a common usage of the term 'theft.' Pick your battles and all that, it just seems easier to me to say "well, it's a different kind of theft because intellectual property is different in these ways" etc. etc. (I'd love to hear you elucidate that point actually).
posted by LooseFilter at 9:14 PM on July 1, 2010


"If you use someone's work without compensating them you are stealing from them and listening to music is 'using' someone's creative work (specifically, you are using those sounds to give you a temporal experience you desire). A physical thing need not be stolen for it be theft."

{sigh} And that's when I realized that the record industry has managed to win it's goal of re-defining the law based on an aggressive marketing campaign.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:15 PM on July 1, 2010


Indeed, [insert clever name here], brainwashing by the RIAA is the only possible reason why people might think it's wrong to take something for nothing. Why didn't I think of that before?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 9:21 PM on July 1, 2010


I know there's a popular Biblical bit about all of the Ten Commandments boiling down to theft, and that's interesting, but I never bought into that, either.

I called it just what I called it. At the beginning of a theft, Party A has a property and Party B does not have that property. At the end of a theft, Party B has the property and Party A does not have the property. At the end of a copy operation, Party A and Party B both have the same property. Instead, when someone copies a CD, there's a third party, Party C (Lady Gaga, in this case), who performed the CD. Of course, since this is the music industry, there's Parties D, E, F, and so on, but you get the idea. This looks different than theft to me.

Heck, let's hit Wikipedia: "The actus reus of theft is usually defined as an unauthorised taking, keeping or using of another's property which must be accompanied by a mens rea of dishonesty and/or the intent to permanently deprive the owner or the person with rightful possession of that property or its use." Emphasis mine. Since the owner still has possession and use, that doesn't map to theft for me.

Of course, you could try to make the argument that I have deprived C of a revenue stream. Aside from the part where not all people who copied a CD would have necessarily bought the CD, and therefore there was no revenue stream in those cases to be deprived of, that would also make such things as slander into theft. If I slander your good name and deprive you of income by besmirching your good name, is that theft?
posted by adipocere at 9:39 PM on July 1, 2010


>[insert clever name here], I'll take that as the insult you intended and remember the character your comment exhibits when I see your screen name in the future, and discount everything you say accordingly. Despite your delightful affectation of world-weary cynicism (it's even in your username!), I am not brainwashed by corporations or anyone else. In fact, I'd wager that if you knew my professional background, you'd be embarrassed by the assumptions evident in your comment. Or at least you ought to be.

Also, to return the dickish spirit of your comment, you wrote:

has managed to win it's its goal

FTFY. Please learn basic grammar, it is a courtesy to others and to the language. I'll help you get started.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:42 PM on July 1, 2010


Well, dirtynumbangelboy, consider that legally, the definition of theft and copyright infringement are two different things. Also consider that the RIAA and MPAA have aggressively marketing to conflate infringement and theft. Also consider that before these campaigns that infringing on materials, such as photocopying a book was never considered theft, I am not sure what other conclusion could be drawn.

There is a clear legal definition of theft, it is a criminal offense. There is also a clear legal definition of copyright infringement, and it is a civil matter, not criminal. Various groups that represent copyright holders are trying to blur the lines though not only in common language but to change the law so it becomes a criminal matter. Part of that attempt is to change the definition in the minds of people to garner support.

This has been explained ad nauseum on metafilter, and explain much better than I am doing now. I'm surprised to see so many rush to the "Its theft"! defense.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:46 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Aside from the part where not all people who copied a CD would have necessarily bought the CD, and therefore there was no revenue stream in those cases to be deprived of, that would also make such things as slander into theft. If I slander your good name and deprive you of income by besmirching your good name, is that theft?

That there may or may not be a revenue stream is not relevant to whether or not it's theft (or breach of contract or whatever it is you'd call it. What would you call it again? I think I missed it.). I think a more appropriate example for your point than slander is libel, but both slander and libel are defamation and are violations of lots of laws. So yes, if you deprive me of income because you spread and broadcast lies about me, and I can prove that in court, you will have to pay me actual money, because some sort of crime against me has occurred. It's semantics as to whether or not that damage is called theft. In the case of slander, I think 'harm' is more appropriate; in the case of downloading, I think 'theft' is appropriate, because an actual person(s) is being deprived of specific, quantified/quantifiable compensation, not something more nebulous like damage to character as with defamation.

The only time the terminology really matters is in court, and I am not a lawyer or a judge so I have no comment on the appropriate legal terminology. But the vernacular usage of theft in my estimation clearly covers the meaning "depriving someone of deserved compensation." You disagree. I don't think it's worth quibbling about, so if you'd like to discuss the actual issues at hand, please let me know what term you'd prefer so that I can use that and we can talk about what matters.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:55 PM on July 1, 2010


"In fact, I'd wager that if you knew my professional background, you'd be embarrassed by the assumptions evident in your comment. Or at least you ought to be."

"FTFY. Please learn basic grammar, it is a courtesy to others and to the language. I'll help you get started."

I never put much thought one way or another into how susceptible to brain washing grammar nazi's were. But okay.

. . .

Now that troll is out of the way, LooseFilter, I strongly suspect regardless of what profession you are in, you are not well versed in the legality of infringement vs. theft, considering what you said here:
"If your real conviction is that intellectual property is fundamentally different from physical property, and that this has important implications for how we consider and protect it legally, then I think your energy much better spent explaining and advocating those points rather than raging against a common usage of the term 'theft.'"

(Emphasis mine).

That is exactly true, and that is exactly why one is a civil matter and one is a criminal matter as I just said in my most recent comment. And that is, to be frank, why infringement isn't theft. Because as a society, we have deemed them to be different things. There is no reason to advocate those points because they already exist. Instead, I challenge you to explain why, in spite of a legal definition to the contrary, why do you insist that theft and copyright infringement are the same thing?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:59 PM on July 1, 2010


There is a clear legal definition of theft, it is a criminal offense. There is also a clear legal definition of copyright infringement, and it is a civil matter, not criminal. Various groups that represent copyright holders are trying to blur the lines though not only in common language but to change the law so it becomes a criminal matter. Part of that attempt is to change the definition in the minds of people to garner support.

Now that's a response that actually says something and doesn't insult anyone, thank you. Copyright infringement deprives content creators of income they deserve and have rights to. Many of the creators (I mean individual people, not corporations) consider this theft from them. What term(s) would better be used to describe why downloading creative work without paying for it (when payment is required by the content creators) is wrong and not OK? Because we seem to have a whole generation of young people who think they are entitled to creative work of any kind free of charge, and are outraged to be told otherwise.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:01 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


"What term(s) would better be used to describe why downloading creative work without paying for it (when payment is required by the content creators) is wrong and not OK?"

Copyright Infringement?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:03 PM on July 1, 2010


Instead, I challenge you to explain why, in spite of a legal definition to the contrary, why do you insist that theft and copyright infringement are the same thing?

Please see my above reply. I don't insist that they are the same thing legally, haven't ever in this or any other forum. I am only saying that it is theft in a vernacular sense, and many people see it that way. Your insistence on a legal distinction ignores the larger point, that many people do not see downloading creative work without paying for it as in any way wrong, as demonstrated by the manifesto linked in the post. This is a problem that needs to be addressed and if the vernacular usage of some words is in your estimation too imprecise or just plain wrong, I think your energy better spent simply using better terminology and not insulting people who are making honest arguments.

And my reply wasn't a troll, it was an in-kind response to an insulting comment. See, you insulted me and I think you're an asshole, but was sort of trying to be clever about it, but nevermind.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:09 PM on July 1, 2010


Copyright Infringement?

Theft more succinctly conveys the deprivation of compensation to the creator and the violation of the creator's rights (even if lawyers may decide to use a different technical term for the same thing).
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:13 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Exactly, BP. Y'all are fighting your own strawmen here. I have not said that it is theft in the legal definition. Instead, I have explicitly stated that it is the way most people use the word. That seems to have escaped you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:30 PM on July 1, 2010


Theft is not a "deprivation of compensation". Find me some definition of theft that says otherwise and maybe I'll buy your argument.

I am referring back to the legal definition because it does draw a very clearly laid out difference between the two that has not been muddled (yet) by the politicizing of file sharing. But that difference is based on how we as a society feel different acts should be treated. Or do you suggest that copyright infringement should be criminalized?

I'm not arguing that filesharing is okay; but rather that copyright infringement is not the same as theft, nor is it as bad as theft. Society backs this posit up by treating it as a civil matter that pays compensatory damages to the infringed upon part.

You would call the cops if you saw someone stealing a car. You wouldn't call the cops if you saw someone downloading music illegally. Why? Because the latter is not theft, and no crime is being committed.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:51 PM on July 1, 2010


LooseFilter wrote: "The price of a music download is a contract offered by the producers of that work. It says, if you want this work it will cost $10.00. If you disagree with those terms, you are free not to use their services (creative and intangible though they may be). But if you want their services, you must pay the price they have asked, otherwise it is stealing from them."

Copyright does not create a contract obligation on anyone. You think that by writing this message, I can say that everyone in the world has to give me a hundred bucks and they have a contracted obligation to do so? No.

Illicit copying is and should be against the law, but calling it theft requires tortured logic, as you've just so amply proven.

There is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement, by the way. It's still not theft.
posted by wierdo at 11:21 PM on July 1, 2010


Copyright does not create a contract obligation on anyone.

It does if you wish to partake of the copyrighted material legally.

But nobody wants that; they want to get whatever they want, when they want it, and not give a flying whosit about the people who actually created it.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:23 PM on July 1, 2010


If you build me a website and I refuse to pay you but use the site files anyway, have I stolen from you?
No, you have violated a contract with me. Unless of course you didn't have a contract with me, in which case I was dumb and built a web site for you, just hoping you would pay me for it after I gave you those things.

I don't disagree with your main point: many people attempt to gloss over the fact that unauthorized distribution of copyrighted works is legitimately illegal by playing semantic bob-and-weave. But drawing fundamentally flawed analogies doesn't help that point.

For better or worse, this is a legal issue in our nation and legal issues tend to involve subtle but important distinctions. Legally speaking, what you're saying is no different than wandering into a discussion about manslaughter and announcing, "Look, I don't care about your definitions - if you hit a guy in a car and he dies, that's murder!"

(See that? Right there? Hyperbolic analogy. I'm part of the problem!)
posted by verb at 11:33 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Theft is not a "deprivation of compensation".

Yeah, it sure is. If you don't get a paycheck for something of value you've done for someone else, where — beyond legalese — there is an accepted social contract of fairness, to compensate and be compensated for work done, it is depriving you of money or other value-in-kind that would otherwise be in your pocket.

Anyway, this is just not something I want to hash out again, as it is tiresome reading rationalizations for ripping people off in Yet Another Metafilter Copyright Thread.

You can go over this for another 500 comments if you want, but basically you may just have to live with the fact that:

1. Not everyone is cool with ripping off creative people.
2. Folks sometimes call ripping people off "theft", among other things, even if lawyers call it something else to be lawyerly, and it is no less accurate for being called that.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:33 PM on July 1, 2010


^ Lighting a bonfire is not arson, though both are generally illegal.

What! Could you explain please? Bonfires illegal?? What kind of despotism do you people live under? I can understand not being allowed to light them in the dry season ...but illegal?
posted by adamvasco at 11:35 PM on July 1, 2010


Let's just all agree that abortion and euthanasia are murder, and call them such for the remainder of the discussion.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:37 PM on July 1, 2010


Speaking of hyperbolic comparisons...
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:41 PM on July 1, 2010


But nobody wants that; they want to get whatever they want, when they want it, and not give a flying whosit about the people who actually created it.

Nobody is required to give a flying whosit for any of the producers of the things they consume. Hell, I don't even know who made my shirt. They might be a bunch of total jerks. We don't live in a society where goods are traded for whosits. It's not a moral failure to lack deep respect and affection for the people who made the stuff you want. It's the way the world is currently structured.
posted by stammer at 11:43 PM on July 1, 2010


Let's just all agree that abortion and euthanasia are murder, and call them such for the remainder of the discussion.

That slippery slope tactic works well for opponents of same-sex marriage who predict that mass bestiality is shortly on the way. But then they're not interested in having a discussion with others in good faith, either.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:44 PM on July 1, 2010


It's not a moral failure to lack deep respect and affection for the people who made the stuff you want.

It is, however, a moral failure to say "I want that, I'm not paying for it, I'm taking it anyway."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:04 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You think that by writing this message, I can say that everyone in the world has to give me a hundred bucks and they have a contracted obligation to do so? No.

Of course not, don't be ridiculous. But if you thought your comments were wonderful and witty enough to sell and told me "if you want to read my comments it will cost $10," and I said "well, I want to read your comments but fuck you I'll just take them without paying," that would be analogous to what I said. By writing them here your comments are clearly offered freely. It's easy to call my logic tortured if you misrepresent what I wrote.

No, you have violated a contract with me.

Yes, and the violation of that contract has deprived you of compensation to which you are entitled. Many people call this theft, no matter what the specific legal distinctions or terms may be. Just like lots of people call manslaughter murder because the distinction is not really important to them, only to what happens inside the court room. Specific distinctions in terminology are not important to non-specialists, and I think people miss the point when they pedantically point out and insist upon such distinctions. The vernacular use of the term theft as described by me and others is clear, and I have made it clear that that is not what my point is about. We are arguing past each other.

My concern is that a whole generation of kids seems to have grown up with a value system that holds that violating contracts through copyright infringement, thereby depriving content creators of just compensation for their work, is not a moral, ethical, or legal wrong (did I get all the bolded terms right?). Many think they are entitled to others' creative work, free of charge--as anecdotal illustration, I again offer this email exchange between a composer and a teenager stealing his work infringing upon his copyrights. In my experience teaching undergraduates over the past decade, the attitudes apparent in this girl's messages are quite common, and becoming moreso.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:12 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nobody is required to give a flying whosit for any of the producers of the things they consume.

No, but they are required to pay me for my work.
posted by LooseFilter at 12:14 AM on July 2, 2010


" If you use someone's work without compensating them you are stealing from them and listening to music is 'using' someone's creative work (specifically, you are using those sounds to give you a temporal experience you desire). A physical thing need not be stolen for it be theft."

This extreme position completely ignores fair use.
posted by Mitheral at 12:15 AM on July 2, 2010


dirtynumbangelboy wrote: "It is, however, a moral failure to say "I want that, I'm not paying for it, I'm taking it anyway.""

Has someone in this thread said otherwise? We're saying that taking is not the appropriate word. Copying is.

If I take a dump, slather it on a canvas and call it art I've got a nice copyrighted thing. You can take all the pictures of it you want, but I'm still the one with the smelly painting. In any event, my creating the painting doesn't entitle me to anything other than the right to control the copying of my work, enforceable by copyright law, not theft.

This distinction is very important because you're being deprived of control, not a physical good.

I'll repeat again in case you missed it: There is such a thing as criminal copyright infringement. Additionally, if someone copies your work without permission, you can sue them for damages. None of that makes it theft.
posted by wierdo at 12:25 AM on July 2, 2010


Has someone in this thread said otherwise?

Yes, the concept was challenged, and for my part my response to that comment helped draw us into the conversational eddies of overthought dumbness in which this discussion currently whirls. I failed to use the correct nomenclature as determined by the language police in this thread, despite my clear explanations of what I meant and others' comments also pointing out the obvious vernacular use of the words we were using.

But I shall repent of my ways and avoid the Hot Button Words when discussing Copyright Infringement on the blue in the future.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:01 AM on July 2, 2010


That challenge of the concept looks more like exactly what I just stated. Copyright infringement is not theft because nothing is taken.

adipocere's later posts bear that view out.
posted by wierdo at 1:29 AM on July 2, 2010


And with my brain engaged, let me add the rest of that thought. adipocere was not at all saying that copyright infringement shouldn't be a tort. (and possibly a crime, but I don't want to put words in someone else's mouth)

Nobody has been arguing in favor of a rampant free for all when it comes to copyright infringement, with the exception of orphaned/out of print works. Not that that has anything to do with copyright infringement being or not being, by definition, theft.

My quibble is just in the nomenclature. Call it what it is, don't lump it in with something that is significantly more of a direct harm and ought to be punished differently. It just clouds the issue.
posted by wierdo at 1:35 AM on July 2, 2010


Great. The feds found a new dike that has an unlimited need for expensive fingers to appear to plug up. Full retirement in 20 years and in the meantime just keep the headlines in the newspapers about huge, pointless busts that everyone can morally agonize over. I decline to join the party this time. Screw everybody, "cops", "pirates", "artists", fuck 'em all. I've stopped torrenting because there is little worth sharing in p2p land...not because it's "stealing" or whatever.
posted by telstar at 2:20 AM on July 2, 2010


You wouldn't steal a baby...
posted by SyntacticSugar at 4:10 AM on July 2, 2010


My concern is that a whole generation of kids seems to have grown up with a value system that holds that violating contracts through copyright infringement, thereby depriving content creators of just compensation for their work, is not a moral, ethical, or legal wrong (did I get all the bolded terms right?).

My concern is that a whole generation of adults seem to have grown up with a value system that holds that violating fair use rights and first sale doctrine through poorly implemented DRM schemes, thereby trampling consumer rights (and denying future historians access to our culture), is not a moral, ethical or legal wrong.
posted by stringbean at 4:29 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


What! Could you explain please? Bonfires illegal?? What kind of despotism do you people live under? I can understand not being allowed to light them in the dry season ...but illegal?

Section 23 of the Forest and Rural Fires Act 1977 (NZ)
posted by Sebmojo at 4:37 AM on July 2, 2010


And... yes. EVEN IF IT'S NOT THEFT THAT DOESN'T MEAN IT'S A GOOD THING.

But a non-rivalrous good cannot be stolen.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:39 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


This extreme position completely ignores fair use.

And libraries.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:01 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


And again (I will keep repeating this until you lot understand), we are using the words 'theft' and 'stealing' in the common everyday sense which everybody understands, and not the very specific legal term which is only properly understood by experts. But the pro-theft crowd is much happier bickering about semantic nonsense, because it absolves them of their responsibility.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:33 AM on July 2, 2010


You are using 'theft' and 'stealing' as a rhetorical bludgeon. Enjoy.
posted by Trochanter at 6:39 AM on July 2, 2010


No, I am using them to mean what everybody uses them every day to mean, to wit taking something that isn't yours without permission or recompense.

But of course that doesn't matter, because as I just said, the pro-not-paying-for-what-they-want crowd finds it much easier to rationalize away their wants when it's just 'infringement'.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:45 AM on July 2, 2010


But the pro-theft crowd is much happier bickering about semantic nonsense, because it absolves them of their responsibility.

If it's all so much semantic nonsense, couldn't you be the one to concede your terminology in order to have a more substantive conversation?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:57 AM on July 2, 2010


No, because doing so is precisely part of the problem--see what I said about rationalization.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:08 AM on July 2, 2010


I am using them to mean what everybody uses them every day to mean, to wit taking something that isn't yours without permission or recompense.

I'm not 100% sure you've successfully demonstrated that common everyday usage of these terms is applicable to unlawful copying.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:24 AM on July 2, 2010


Copyright infringement describes this offence better than theft, that's why the courts use it. It's not legal mumbo jumbo.

This isn't hard to understand:
interference with copyright does not easily equate with theft, conversion, or fraud. The Copyright Act even employs a separate term of art to define one who misappropriates a copyright: ... 'an infringer of the copyright.' ...

The infringer invades a statutorily defined province guaranteed to the copyright holder alone. But he does not assume physical control over the copyright; nor does he wholly deprive its owner of its use. While one may colloquially link infringement with some general notion of wrongful appropriation, infringement plainly implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud.
—Dowling v. United States, 473 U.S. 207, pp. 217–218
That's not impenetrable. It's pretty easy.

What the term copyright infringement lacks is rhetorical heft. So you use the less accurate term.
posted by Trochanter at 7:33 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, I am using the perfectly accurate term, again as used by people every day to mean 'taking something without permission or recompense.'

Of course now you're going to argue that a digital file isn't a 'thing,' so go on and have fun with that.

Y'all are kind of sad really. You'd rather play wordgames that comfort you and help you ignore the fact that getting the results of hard work from someone without permission (as in CC or free licencing or libraries) or recompense (money) is wrong.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:38 AM on July 2, 2010


You'd rather play wordgames that comfort you and help you ignore the fact that getting the results of hard work from someone without permission (as in CC or free licencing or libraries) or recompense (money) is wrong.

I haven't said word one about filesharing in this thread. I'm just reacting to your line of argumentation, which I find condescending and unpersuasive (and the condescension seems to be gauged to compensate for the lack of persuasiveness).
posted by shakespeherian at 7:56 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No, I am using them to mean what everybody uses them every day to mean, to wit taking something that isn't yours without permission or recompense.

But of course that doesn't matter, because as I just said, the pro-not-paying-for-what-they-want crowd finds it much easier to rationalize away their wants when it's just 'infringement'.


That's fine if you want to keep having the exact same argument in every thread between people who see piracy/file-sharing as theft and those who see it as an illegal act fundamentally different than theft. The argument is never going to be resolved, because each side is never going to accept the other's definition, any more than sides of the abortion debate will start identifying as anti-choice or pro-baby-murder. Personally I would rather talk about more substantive issues, which is why I don't engage in these types of discussions if I can avoid it.

Y'all are kind of sad really. You'd rather play wordgames that comfort you and help you ignore the fact that getting the results of hard work from someone without permission (as in CC or free licencing or libraries) or recompense (money) is wrong.

I don't think that's a fair characterization of why the topic gets hashed out so much. Any time opposite sides of a debate use different definitions for important terms it has the potential to derail the discussion into an argument about what words mean. It happens all the time when people use "fascist" or "socialist" to describe politicians and policies, which has nothing to do with either side purposely trying to avoid discussing the issues because they are in the wrong.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2010


Can we get away from the moral discussion and focus on the real issue: Where do I have to go to download Dancing with the Stars?
posted by joecacti at 8:14 AM on July 2, 2010


>stringbean, thank you for responding to my central point rather than continuing the nomenclature tangent.

My concern is that a whole generation of adults seem to have grown up with a value system that holds that violating fair use rights and first sale doctrine through poorly implemented DRM schemes, thereby trampling consumer rights (and denying future historians access to our culture), is not a moral, ethical or legal wrong.

I agree with you, and in my very first comment in this thread said that:

While I think the extreme criminalization of file-sharing and the heavy-handed tactics corporations have thus far employed (including this recent bringing of the federal government to do their bidding), the acquisition of creative work without fair compensation to the producer remains a pretty big problem.

I haven't been able to follow up on that because I've used words in a vernacular instead of precise legal sense, and have been thoroughly flogged because of that. Anyway, you raise a very salient point. This is bad all the way round, but in my experience, not many adults have had their views of intellectual property shaped as profoundly by the internet (for good or bad, through file-sharing or PR campaigns by the MPAA/RIAA) as have had young people. I do not see middle aged adult friends and colleagues loudly proclaiming a value system that holds what you assert above--my experience is that these corporations have easily persuaded as many adults against them as to their points-of-view (how many people have you heard excuse downloading/file-sharing by saying "well, if they wouldn't put all that crappy DRM on it, I'd pay for it," or "I'm not paying Sony for anything because they're aggressively prosecuting grandmas," or something similar?).

These rationales assert a moral equivalence between the actions of heavy-handed enforcement and copyright infringement that does not exist, and are an excuse to allow individuals to download creative work without compensating the producers of that work. And it speaks of a tremendous sense of entitlement, and that's what I see over and over again among the young adults I teach. My sense is that the attitude among young adults that there is simply nothing wrong with file sharing, etc., is prevalent and widespread.


Oh, also: And libraries.

Libraries actually support my point, they are legal, clearly negotiated means of loaning creative work that has been purchased by the library and that libraries have permission to share in certain, limited ways. In fact, public libraries are a legal borrowing system put in place to allow people access to creative work who may not be able to purchase (or not want to purchase) it. Libraries are an argument against file-sharing, because they make work available to citizens free of charge, and do so legally. Again, not arguing against fair use, libraries, and certainly not arguing in support of copyright laws as they currently exist. But they're all we have, and as a creative worker myself, I am alarmed at the self-entitled value system toward creative work I see maturing around me.

In fact, this comment, just a few up in this thread, demonstrates exactly the sense of entitlement of which I speak:

I've stopped torrenting because there is little worth sharing in p2p land...not because it's "stealing" or whatever.

No concern over the legal or (more importantly) moral and ethical issues. Yes, enforcement is waaay out of control, and yes, copyright law in the U.S. needs tremendous revision, absolutely. But I perceive an emergent value system that simply sees no need to compensate content creators, a disconnection of things and those who make them. That, to me as a creative worker, is the biggest problem. The legal things can be sorted out in a (more or less) orderly way, we have a system of courts and legislation to do that. That system is not working for the consumer currently, but that's just because corporations run the government, just like they seem to in all quarters--that's hardly a problem limited to media companies.

But there is no cultural court, there is no place to change the way people place value on creative work, and it is my sense that the widespread practices of file-sharing and torrenting and etc. have in fact devalued creative work overall (in financial terms), created a strong sense of entitlement--especially among young people--that they somehow have a right to creative work they like, and I know for sure it's made far harder to make a living producing creative work, as I see that every day among friends.

I react very badly when someone privileges their right to hear my work above their obligation to compensate me for that work. If an industry is wrong- or heavy-handed in their prosecution of those infringements upon my rights that is a separate issue, and conflating the two does not justify acquiring creative work for which you did not pay.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:06 AM on July 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, look! More analogies!

Imagine I own an infinitely large tract of land. Some people come and camp out on it without my permission, and this angers me, because I wanted to charge them for camping on my infinitely large tract of land.

Was what they did 'theft' or 'trespassing'? One can argue that, at least in theory, it was theft -- they deprived me of the potential revenue that I would have gained had they paid me. But they did not in fact take anything from me, because I still possess an infinite amount of land beyond what they used. It IS in fact a crime, but it is NOT in fact the same thing as 'theft.'

This reminds me of growing up evangelical and trying to parse through the study of ethics. People I knew from church would toss out crazy statements like, 'All sin is ultimately the sin of pride, because sinning comes from thinking you know better than God.' Sweeping equivalencies require tortured logic, and also dillute the importance of understanding the many different kinds of ways that one can break the law.
posted by verb at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2010


Regarding the 'infinitely large' part of that last analogy, it's also where the public perception of copying vs. theft gets complicated. The amount of work necessary to produce a work is still considerable, but as the cost of reproducing it has dropped to effectively zero, public perception of the harm done by copyright violation has diminished greatly. "Hey, no harm no foul -- you have an infinite amount of land and I just camped on it! You're not out anything."

I'm not attempting to justify anything, by the way -- I co-authored a reasonably successful tech book and it helped pay for repairs and household stuff that would have been tough to swing otherwise. Today, I get to see google alerts every morning telling me that I can download it on Rapidshare. Should I invest another few months writing a second edition, or will people just dupe the eBook version and hand it out to their friends? These are real considerations, but as content creators we must also accept that calling copyright violation something different does not solve the problem.

Remember after 9/11, when everything 'bad' was somehow linked to terrorism? People were saying that child trafficking was 'terrorism' because children were terrorized in the process, etc? That's what calling copyright violation 'theft' sounds like to anyone who isn't actively trying to pay their rent with royalties. Content creators -- the people with skin in the game and actual product that consumers want -- need to figure out how to articulate their case without resorting to flawed "THIS IS THEFT, JUST LIKE CAMPING ON MY LAWN" arguments.
posted by verb at 9:47 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


verb, thank you for those comments, you have given me food for thought, especially this:

That's what calling copyright violation 'theft' sounds like to anyone who isn't actively trying to pay their rent with royalties.

Thank you for a clearer perspective on an issue I obviously care deeply about.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:52 AM on July 2, 2010


you all missed this exact same discussion from Wednesday?!

(It's still open. Maybe this post would have worked better as a comment there.)

I think we've spent enought time on analogies and definitions. There is nothing new to discuss here. Flagged as noise.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:29 AM on July 2, 2010


I think we've spent enought time on analogies and definitions. There is nothing new to discuss here. Flagged as noise.

But, but, my spleen! It's not vented!
posted by Trochanter at 10:33 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


you all missed this exact same discussion from Wednesday?!

Yes, actually I did miss that. (I know I'm weird, but I don't read Metafilter every day. I'm pretty shocked it took this long for someone to point out that other conversation, though. I would've headed over there instead.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:44 AM on July 2, 2010


I actually like these copyright/copyright/IP/file-sharing free-for-alls, but when I kept reading comment after comment about theft and infringement I wanted to punch myself in the stomach.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:59 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Trochanter's post really nails it. He quotes Dowling v. United States 473 U.S. 207, pp. 217–218, wherein the vital distinction between theft and copyright infringement is explicitly addressed. It's really crystal clear, and nobody can equate the two from a legal point of view.

And that brings us to colloquial use. This is determined simply by preponderance of users, whether it is right or wrong in its legal details. If most language users decide to call legal abortion "murder", then its use of "murder" will move from its present fringe of extreme christians to common use, and we'll start saying things like "that woman legally murdered her child" when f.ex. someone has had an abortion after her father raped her.

Same here, if the preponderance of language users call copyright infringement theft, then regardless of legal distinctions, that's what it will be called. It's the same as piracy - in this case, the definition of piracy: "a war-like act committed by private parties (not affiliated with any government) that engage in acts of robbery and/or criminal violence at sea." has been successfully shifted from it's dire original meaning to something ludicrously removed, like copyright infringement.

Are we at that point already with copyright infringement = theft, in common usage? I think not, and that's part of the reason why there is such an intense fight here over these terms. It's a fight between those who want to obliterate in practice the careful distinction made by the legal system. Of course the "theft" proponents will claim to hold the moral high ground, just as the abortion=murder christians do for theirs. But the fact remains, is that both are trying to conflate these terms for the impact, never mind how dishonest it may be, or how unjustified legally (piracy!).

But why is it important to keep these terms separate? If the content creator is being hurt, what's the harm of a little bit of linguistic dishonesty, doesn't the end justify the means? Isn't the end effect really like theft? Fair question. And the answer is that the reason to keep that distinction is because there are very real practical differences in those two events - the theft and the copyright infringement.

If you steal a CD from an artist, you deprive them of property and make it impossible for them to sell that CD at any point in time. You have hurt that artist to the tune of $X. If you infringe the copyright - copy that CD - the artist still has the CD and can still sell it, he has not been deprived of its use. But isn't the artist deprived of the sale of the CD to the party that copied it, so again, isn't the artist still missing out on the $X? And that's where it gets complicated, and why it is worth keeping the distinction. First, because even though the CD has been copied, you still have it and can sell it, thus you are not deprived of that option, unlike in the case of theft. But second, and most importantly, the artist only potentially, loses out on the revenue of $X from the copyright infringer. Vast numbers of infringers would never, ever purchase that CD, or very expensive application, or book. If your CD or book is stolen, you already sustained a loss. But that is NOT the case with a copyright violation - you may, but more often than not you probably don't.

Now, it is therefore possible - indeed highly plausible - for the copyright infringer to never subject you to any economic harm. Theft definitely does. That's a crucial distinction and one that's applicable in everyday life. It is therefore a distinction worth keeping.

But what about the infringer that would have otherwise bought? That's a loss. But if you want to account for the economic harm from copyright infringement in general, you open up the discussion - because now you must also account for the full range of effects, like the economic gain from those who learn your software, hear your music and then publicize it, or drive demand for your software as now they know how to use it and so on. In other words, you need to account for the fact that copyright infringers are bigger buyers of music than those who don't.

For these and other reasons, I oppose the dishonesty of calling copyright infringement "theft" or "piracy" (and oppose other politically motivated attempts to shift language usage as done by many conservatives for so many things).

We always gain, when we try to respect the language, and respect precision. Deliberately dishonest usage, or usage that merely springs from ignorance and lack of precision, both ultimately harm the discourse, whatever the topic may be. Because today you do it for your cause, and tomorrow somebody will do it against you. It's a bad practice. Let us not do it. And when you do it, I and many others will be there, every step of the way, opposing you.

All of this is quite apart from the harm, or moral or legal consequences of copyright infringement.
posted by VikingSword at 11:28 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


But there is no cultural court, there is no place to change the way people place value on creative work, and it is my sense that the widespread practices of file-sharing and torrenting and etc. have in fact devalued creative work overall (in financial terms), created a strong sense of entitlement--especially among young people--that they somehow have a right to creative work they like, and I know for sure it's made far harder to make a living producing creative work, as I see that every day among friends

I agree with you in that in an environment where creative works are available to everyone for free, that necessarily makes access to new creative works less valuable on a financial level. If you look at something like the open source community on Linux, it's much harder for a professional development team to sell an application on Linux than on other platforms, because the community expects to get applications for free without paying. You could make the argument that if everyone switched to open source, alternate business models like the donations that current open source projects receive would not be enough to make it as easy to make a living as a software developer. But even if that's the case it doesn't necessarily mean that open source is a bad idea, as long as there are other benefits from the system. The whole concept of open source requires a strong copyright system and the producers of open source software participate willing, so I'm not arguing that it's the same thing as file-sharing, but I think it's a similar situation in terms of the financial value of someone's work.

The sense of entitlement to distribute content without compensating the creators (or companies that the creators have exchanged their rights to) is basically a sense that all works are in the public domain. I'm not going to pretend that this is a conscious philosophical decision they are making rather than a preference for getting a lot of free stuff, but it's not a given that such as system would be terrible, even if most of the people with that point of view have never really thought about the consequences. There were obviously reasons for establishing the copyright system in the first place, but that system was designed around commercial manufacturers and distributors that to a large extent no longer need to exist today. Since distribution is more or less free, having a huge collection of free content (such as most of the Internet) is a much bigger benefit than public domain works were when someone had to pay to physically produce and ship a "free" copy. If someone goes to a book store and buys a public domain book for the same price as an older book still protected by copyright, it doesn't matter to them very much when the government extends the length of copyright term to ridiculous lengths, but it looks like an unfair deal in retrospect when technology suddenly becomes available to get public domain books for free. It's possible that the consequences of a system that effectively treats everything as public domain will be harmful and there will be a bigger backlash against it, but it's also possible that such a system will be better for society as a whole than the previous one.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:49 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]




OK, I do not know all the ins and outs of arguments regarding the theft of intellectual property and music, print etc in digital form. However I am hard pressed to see why this definition of theft from the Ohio Revised Code does not include digital reproductions

2913.02 Theft.
(A) No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:
(1) Without the consent of the owner or person authorized to give consent;
(2) Beyond the scope of the express or implied consenyt of the owner or person authorized to give consent;
(3) By deception;
(4) By threat;
(5) By intimidation.
(B)(1) Whoever violates this section is guilty of theft.

One can certainly argue that music or creative print is not a service, however 2903.1 defines services as:

“Services” include labor, personal services, professional services, rental services, public utility services including wireless service as defined in division (F)(1) of section 4931.40 of the Revised Code, common carrier services, and food, drink, transportation, entertainment, and cable television services and, for purposes of section 2913.04 of the Revised Code, include cable services as defined in that section.

Now there may be something that excludes "services" music, etc in digital format but I do not see it. I realize this is a State definition can certainly be litigated but I am confident that most persons with no axe to grind either way would literally and figuratively define what we are talking about as theft. If it is not theft then I encourage any poster who disagrees to cite references from law and not opinions or academic interpretations
posted by rmhsinc at 12:52 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


THIS THREAD AGAIN
posted by tehloki at 1:50 PM on July 2, 2010


THIS THREAD AGAIN

As a modest proposal, there should be copyright protections on this and all previous discussions of copyright on Metafilter.

The immediate consequence is that any future tiresome discussion of copyright on Metafilter will infringe on users' rights and be unauthorized, resulting in an immediate cease-and-desist sent to everyone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:08 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


rmhsinc, I think that digital music would be a service, certainly. However, I think you bolded the wrong part.
(A) No person, with purpose to deprive the owner of property or services, shall knowingly obtain or exert control over either the property or services in any of the following ways:

That just leads right back into the discussion above, which I'm not going to re-hash: is the digital reproduction depriving the owner of the service?
posted by Lemurrhea at 2:34 PM on July 2, 2010


THIS THREAD AGAIN

I know, it's like some people don't read all of Metafilter every day.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:42 PM on July 2, 2010


I know, it's like some people don't read all of Metafilter every day.

I hear you, but every time this discussion comes up, without fail, it invariable divides participants into two camps: a majority that argues against any negative aspersions on ripping people off — because, let's face it, who wants a side of guilt with a plate of free stuff? — and a minority that argues futily to recognize people's rights. It then quickly becomes a dance over the delicate choice of phrasing, as opposed to the more important question of why it's okay or not okay to rip people off. Metafilter doesn't seem to do copyright well. It's just one of those things.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:03 PM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


And there are some of us who object to homesteaders putting up fences on the range, and telling folks who've been using the land for generations that they're thieves for hunting it. Which is to say, the argument around claiming a piece of the commons as property and using the weight of the law to defend it is not a new one.

Ultimately that's what this fight is about - some folks want you to be able to own ideas in the same way you own land, and some don't think you can own either of those things. Lately, I've noticed that most of us seem to have ended up renters.
posted by mock at 8:05 PM on July 2, 2010


shakespeherian wrote: "I haven't said word one about filesharing in this thread."

Nobody has. That's what's so infuriating about DNAB's assertion that the only reason to call copyright infringement copyright infringement is to somehow make the user of the term feel better about themselves and the other similar comments that have been made. Unless I missed somebody, everyone who has chimed in on the side of using the term "copyright infringement" has also stated that they think copyright infringement is and should continue to be against the law.

Ironically, it's not a very long logical leap to come to the conclusion that the people arguing in favor of calling copyright infringement theft are doing so because it upsets them when they see that their works have been copied and so they call it theft to validate those feelings. That line of argument is obviously then a load of horse shit.

I'd rather be having a discussion about appropriate penalties for copyright infringement or even completely different systems of copyright that would harness the desire of the infringers to possess the work. Maybe busting balls really is the way to get it under control. Perhaps not. Perhaps artists are just going to have to stop doing what they love for a while to show people what it's like without someone making all these nice things for us.

I think there's some similarity between the drug war and the current workings of the copyright system. Both are ignoring the reality on the ground.
posted by wierdo at 8:36 PM on July 2, 2010


a majority that argues against any negative aspersions on ripping people off

This is disappointingly unrelated to reality.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:22 PM on July 2, 2010


I'd rather be having a discussion about appropriate penalties for copyright infringement or even completely different systems of copyright that would harness the desire of the infringers to possess the work. Maybe busting balls really is the way to get it under control. Perhaps not. Perhaps artists are just going to have to stop doing what they love for a while to show people what it's like without someone making all these nice things for us.

This is the conversation I was attempting to have in this thread, and it seemed that no matter how clearly I conceded the point and changed my language, not many were interested in discussing the salient issues; there was far more activity when the nomenclature police were actively commenting. I suppose they have no thoughts on these issues beyond clarity about the offense itself?

This recent comment expresses the real danger I see:

And there are some of us who object to homesteaders putting up fences on the range, and telling folks who've been using the land for generations that they're thieves for hunting it. Which is to say, the argument around claiming a piece of the commons as property and using the weight of the law to defend it is not a new one.

Ultimately that's what this fight is about - some folks want you to be able to own ideas in the same way you own land, and some don't think you can own either of those things.


This is a false dilemma, to say that creative work is either a thing that can be owned or is not a thing and is owned by everyone, and one I fear is becoming widespread. The reality of the problem is more nuanced than that. What creative workers like me see is a two-front battle: I feel like I have to convince listeners (consumers, audience, etc.) that they should not take things without paying for them so that the people who make them can continue to eat and have a home. We also (many of us) desire sweeping copyright reform, because the extreme proprietary nature of their current state coupled with draconian penalties and enforcement are actually making it harder to do creative work, not to mention poisoning audiences. But we still deserve to be compensated fairly. (This is counterintuitive for many people, because when you love a song or a movie or something, you really do feel like it's part of you and start to feel like you own it a little bit. And in terms of feeling and imagination, you DO own that experience. But you don't own it to the degree that the person(s) creating it do not deserve compensation for nor rights to their creations.)

Culture should be free, it is owned by all of us. But individual creative works are not, they are produced by the sweat of a person's brow. This is a seeming paradox that is difficult to resolve, but on these issues we can't even seem to get to the conversations we need to have, let alone have them successfully. Like so much else these days, I suppose.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:33 AM on July 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


LooseFilter wrote: "This is a false dilemma, to say that creative work is either a thing that can be owned or is not a thing and is owned by everyone, and one I fear is becoming widespread."

Well, a large problem is that there are such a wide variety of copyrighted works, many of which are unavailable at any reasonable price through legal means because they are abandoned or out of print. Many are unwilling to make the distinction between works actively for sale and works intended for public sale which cannot be purchased.

I think a reasonable system would entail differing levels of protection depending on whether a work has never been published, has been in print or otherwise available for sale recently (for some definition of recently), or whether it is currently in print and actively for sale. In the case of recently authored but never published works, strong copyright protection is in order. The same goes for works currently in print and available for purchase. I'm not convinced that abandoned works should be treated that way. A large part of the illicit copying (at least that I see) that goes on happens because the work isn't available in any other way.

DRM is another huge issue that drives illicit copying. It gets in the way of things that should probably be fair use, like ripping a Blu-Ray to one's hard disk solely for personal use, which is against the law in the US.

It's a thorny issue with lots of facets, and I don't have the coherency right now to think it through all the way.
posted by wierdo at 6:11 PM on July 3, 2010


A large part of the illicit copying (at least that I see) that goes on happens because the work isn't available in any other way.

"At least that I see" is a rather major caveat. Most pirating of copyrighted material has nothing to do with abandonware, it's of stuff that is very much available for purchase.
posted by Justinian at 6:43 PM on July 3, 2010


As I said, "a large part," not "most." Obviously, what one sees depends on what circles one moves in. My personal favorite materials are documentaries which are not commercially available. If they were commercially available, I'd buy them, since the quality of a reasonable size download is usually crappy.

I'm sure there are jackasses downloading new release films, video games, or whatever else, but you missed my point entirely and instead chose to quibble about degree.
posted by wierdo at 7:10 PM on July 3, 2010


Individual creative works are absolutely free. We, the people, have a deal with you, the creator, where for a limited amount of time we pretend they aren't free, to reward you for creating the work, and to hopefully convince you to make more. After that limited time is up, those works go back to being free. You (collectively as creators) broke that deal, and I see no moral reason why we the people should continue to respect it if you won't.

Ask yourself this - how much of my work will ever be free?
posted by mock at 2:15 AM on July 4, 2010


That's bullshit playground nonsense right there. "She pushed me first!"
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:33 AM on July 4, 2010


Please explain this statement, because I find it absurd:

Individual creative works are absolutely free.

How so? How is my work less valuable than yours? Or a plumber's? Or a lawyer's? Or a teacher's? In fact, how is that, according to you, my work has no monetary value at all?

You (collectively as creators) broke that deal, and I see no moral reason why we the people should continue to respect it if you won't.

Really? Seems to me that corporations are the ones acting poorly and abusing both creators' and consumers' rights. But frankly I don't give a fuck if you see a moral reason to pay for my work, that's a perspective that leads to the need for ridiculous and punitive legislation and enforcement in the first place. Further, your moral obligation to pay for something that is offered for sale is not dependent upon my or anyone else's behavior. Is it OK for you to kill people, as long as they're mean people? Is it OK for you to lie to people, as long as you they're dishonest themselves? Is it OK for you to hit people, as long as they've hit others? Your statement of contingent morality is frightening and repulsive to me, and clearly doesn't stand a moment's scrutiny as a defensible position, morally, ethically, or intellectually.

But you continue to use a convenient "hurt feelings" rationale to take things without compensating people for the work and talent that went into them and see nothing in the world wrong with it. THAT attitude is what pushes people like me to say "THEN YOU ARE STEALING FROM ME!!!!" because mock clearly feels perfectly justified in his behavior.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:42 AM on July 4, 2010


Also, mock's comment perfectly demonstrates the precise concern I've been articulating for most of this thread:

These rationales assert a moral equivalence between the actions of heavy-handed enforcement and copyright infringement that does not exist, and are an excuse to allow individuals to download creative work without compensating the producers of that work. And it speaks of a tremendous sense of entitlement, and that's what I see over and over again among the young adults I teach. My sense is that the attitude among young adults that there is simply nothing wrong with file sharing, etc., is prevalent and widespread.
posted by LooseFilter at 8:49 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


How so? How is my work less valuable than yours? Or a plumber's? Or a lawyer's? Or a teacher's? In fact, how is that, according to you, my work has no monetary value at all?
It's certainly no less valuable!

And, like plumbers, we content creators are well within our rights to only work on projects that someone pays us to work on. That's how Open Source Software works. It's not a very good model for a lot of other kinds of creative works, but for better or worse 'Software as an artifact of paid work' has replaced 'Software as a product to be rented' in those circles.

It's interesting that you mentioned lawyers, too. The approach that one lawyer uses to win a case -- the combination of research, rhetorical framing, and so on -- cannot be "claimed." Once it's in the public record, and anyone else can use the same approach without paying tribute to the original lawyer. In addition, the legal profession has been forced to adjust to the fact that automation has eliminated the need for actual legal services in simple matters like incorporation.
posted by verb at 10:19 AM on July 4, 2010


we content creators are well within our rights to only work on projects that someone pays us to work on.

Yes, I think that these kinds conceptual changes are inevitable, if only because necessity will soon insist. But you and I recognize that creative work has value, however one is compensated for it; my sense is that mock (used as synecdoche for a larger, growing perspective) doesn't think that creative work should be compensated at all. That's the sense of entitlement that worries me greatly.

The OSS model is interesting, because it answers the dilemma of skilled/creative work that becomes used by many: it is in many ways owned by all, but also allows those that create the work to be compensated for their expertise, skill, talent, and time. It's the model that has (roughly speaking) been in place for most of the time that artists have been paid for their work as well, and has worked for most of it. My understanding is that a lot of rights management actually came about because of a corporation's ability to leverage creative work exponentially--they were taking creators' work and using it over and over and profiting enormously from that, so the creators had to say, hey, you can't take this idea and work you paid me for in one context, and use it over and over again in other contexts--that's analogous to unpaid work.

This ability to leverage, reuse, and recontextualize creative work on this scale and for profit is new (Bach never had to worry about his music being used to sell soda) and many of the intellectual concepts around copyright and ownership came about to protect artists from their employers, not from consumers. That worked OK until the media through which such creative work is disseminated became infinitely reproducible at no cost, and principles that started out to protect creative workers became used to criminalize and punish consumers.

An important difference with the Open Source Software model is that developers are not making work for a for-profit corporation, so they know that it will not be used to earn someone else millions of dollars with none coming their way. If creative work could be limited to its initial manifestation, or if subsequent manifestations were only not-for-profit, then 'art as an artifact of paid work' could replace 'art as a product to be purchased/rented'. This is what the Creative Commons movement has been after, and why, for my part, my website is published under a share-alike-attribution license. But because artistic work is reused and remixed and etc., and others may potentially profit from that, it seems a more complex question than with open source software or the practice of law.

Further, if I say 'I don't need a corporation, I have the internet," this ethos of "culture is FREE" makes it hard for independent artists to get paid in the first place. And though content creators are well within our rights to only work on projects that someone pays us to work on, the reality is that creative work in the United States has always had to compete in the free market; we have never developed anything like the patronage system that produced much of Europe's great cultural works. (I have heard countless times, "well, if it's good PEOPLE WILL PAY FOR IT. The truth is, no, they won't, not if they can get it free.) As a musician, if I only produced music that people paid me in advance to produce I would be very very hungry (and if all musicians followed that path, we would be without some of our greatest, most loved music).
posted by LooseFilter at 10:55 AM on July 4, 2010


(Anyone curious about how deeply free enterprise has affected the development of music in the United States should read Richard Crawford's seminal work America's Musical Life: A History.)
posted by LooseFilter at 11:00 AM on July 4, 2010


Which is to say, no one suggests that artistic work is not valuable. Rather, it's that the work is completely done by the time copying occurs. The work of creating duplicates of a given piece of art is in fact worthless, because today it is something anyone with twenty dollars worth of hardware can do. It is something that we accidentally do in the process of simply enjoying most artwork.

Look at it this way: why is a poster with one of Picasso's paintings on it "worth less" than an original Picasso? Picasso's painting is still just as beautiful. Why are numbered prints of a particular work "worth more" than unlimited runs? Digital duplication -- and high quality digital display -- has revealed cracks in the system. We have, for many many years compensated artists by charging money for things that have nothing to do with their actual work. That does not mean that their work is valueless, but it does mean we may need to figure out new ways to attach cost to the work they actually do, rather than the new zero-marginal-cost duplication that we used to leverage to make up for the original "R&D".
posted by verb at 11:01 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


posted by dirtynumbangelboy Good Christ, what is wrong with you people?

We're just beginning to wonder if there's something wrong with you, since we've explained to you--at least four or five times--that copyright infringement is not equivalent to theft, no matter how many times you use your poorly-considered logic to shriek that it is.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:08 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


An important difference with the Open Source Software model is that developers are not making work for a for-profit corporation, so they know that it will not be used to earn someone else millions of dollars with none coming their way.
Quite the opposite, actually: one of the primary drivers for the growth of Open Source software these days is the fact that companies don't have to pay millions of dollars in licensing fees to use, or even resell OSS in many cases. It's a double-edged sword.

Recently I wrote software for a project I was working on -- and a better-funded competitor took that software and used it to launch its own service first. It was a small piece of the larger service, but it was a specific, visible feature and they are now making money off of my work without compensating me. While it was a bit galling, at the end of the day I have no legal complaint: I released it under an open source license. I was paid for the time that it took to create it, and the fact that they were able to leverage that work faster than the company that had originally hired me is a secondary matter.

This is where intellectual property starts feeling a bit like gambling. No one expects plumbers to work without pay, but plumbers also don't expect to hit the jackpot if they fix one toilet really, really well.
posted by verb at 11:12 AM on July 4, 2010


We have, for many many years compensated artists by charging money for things that have nothing to do with their actual work. That does not mean that their work is valueless, but it does mean we may need to figure out new ways to attach cost to the work they actually do, rather than the new zero-marginal-cost duplication that we used to leverage to make up for the original "R&D".

I agree with this completely and am trying to participate in this conversation, working to find new ways myself (though through institutions, which means it's in slow motion).

It's a double-edged sword.

I didn't know this--it seems that developers may be tackling issues analogous to those mid-20th-century artists did; hopefully they find better solutions.

This is where intellectual property starts feeling a bit like gambling. No one expects plumbers to work without pay, but plumbers also don't expect to hit the jackpot if they fix one toilet really, really well.

Yes, and I think that may be an unspoken reason so many successful artists just don't want to address these concerns. It may very well remove the possibility of exponential wealth generated by one good creation.
posted by LooseFilter at 11:22 AM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


LooseFilter wrote: "my sense is that mock (used as synecdoche for a larger, growing perspective) doesn't think that creative work should be compensated at all. That's the sense of entitlement that worries me greatly"

I don't think mock was saying that creative work shouldn't be compensated for, but that you have no inherent right to control your creative works once you release them to the world. Obviously, a person couldn't, even in the absence of copyright law, steal a physical copy of your work, but as far as duplicating your ideas? That would be fair game.

A lot of creatives seem to think of copyright as something that is as inherent or settled historically as physical property (hence the rebranding to "intellectual property"), which it is most decidedly not. Keep in mind that even during most of the period since physical property rights became well established and (mostly) well protected, your only protection for intellectual property was to not share it with others.

It's an understandable view. After all, copyrighted works are their currency. Without copyright, they starve, absent a commissioned work situation.
posted by wierdo at 2:14 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


I said THIS THREAD AGAIN because this exact discussion between many of the exact same users happens on what I would conservatively estimate to be a monthly basis.
posted by tehloki at 2:15 PM on July 4, 2010


since we've explained to you--at least four or five times--that copyright infringement is not equivalent to theft

No, what you have done is asserted that the legal term of art 'theft' is different than the commonly-used word 'theft'.

I have never said otherwise.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:31 PM on July 4, 2010


When one is trying to have a clear and cogent discussion, don't you think using words as they are defined is probably the best course of action? Or does everything have to be about attempting to frame the discussion through misuse of the English language?
posted by wierdo at 2:40 PM on July 4, 2010


Also, other than in this sort of thread on the Internet, I have never heard anyone use the term "theft" to describe being deprived of an uncertain income.
posted by wierdo at 2:44 PM on July 4, 2010


Except, wierdo, I have been crystal clear about what word I am using and how and why. That you lot get all bent out of shape about it is telling; using stark words makes it so much harder to rationalize away the theft.

But whatever, nobody around here, except LooseFilter, seems to have much interest in any discussion that doesn't involve "well i want free shit so I get free shit and that's perfectly okay."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:51 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


dirtynumbangelboy wrote: "But whatever, nobody around here, except LooseFilter, seems to have much interest in any discussion that doesn't involve "well i want free shit so I get free shit and that's perfectly okay.""

You keep asserting that, but aside from possibly one person now, nobody has claimed or even hinted at that. Stop with the spittle, or at least read the thread before projecting it everywhere.
posted by wierdo at 3:03 PM on July 4, 2010


That you lot get all bent out of shape about it is telling; using stark words makes it so much harder to rationalize away the theft.
That you don't understand the difference between 'distribution monopoly' and 'physical possession' is also telling. Perhaps we could call the RIAA terrorists, because they instill terror via their lawsuits? Language has meaning, and the fact that using it incorrectly feels better to you does not change that fact.

As someone who makes his living creating intellectual property, I definitely have a horse in this race. I have no interest in rationalizing "I should get it for free, because I want it!" selfishness. However, I've also been creating intellectual property and attempting to make my living with it before pervasive networks and digital duplication changed the game. I've watched the shift as it happened and I've been very interested in figuring out how to make a living doing what I enjoy.

Analogies are the bane of IP discussions, because IP is unlike any other type of property. The "It's just like shoplifting!" people and the "It's just like buggy-whip manufacturers" people are both just as guilty of collapsing the complexities to simple-but-incorrect ideas that favor their own conclusions.
posted by verb at 4:20 PM on July 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


That you equate copyright with RIAA is even more telling.

Whatever. I'm clearly wrong. Free stolen shit for everyone! It's not like artists need to eat or have the time to create!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:36 PM on July 4, 2010


dirtynumbangelboy wrote: "Whatever. I'm clearly wrong. Free stolen shit for everyone! It's not like artists need to eat or have the time to create!"

You being wrong about the language does not mean free shit for everyone. It means we can talk about an appropriate copyright regime without using inaccurate and possibly confusing terminology. Why don't you try to join in?
posted by wierdo at 4:57 PM on July 4, 2010


Except that it is not inaccurate, and any confusion can only be yours as I have explained quite clearly and simply exactly what I mean.

That you have absolutely no interest in actually discussing the issue, preferring to harp on my crystal fucking clear language is your problem, not mine.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:02 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


That you equate copyright with RIAA is even more telling.
I did no such thing, and either you're spleen-venting without bothering to read what I say or you're deliberately misrepresenting it to score cheap points. Step back, and read carefully over the things that have been said here over the last couple of days. You'll find that the active participants in the conversation are not in fact apologists for the rape and pillage of our civilization.

To reiterate: I was a freelance writer in the 90s. I paid for my computer, this year's car repairs, and my utility bills with book royalties. One of my co-workers was the singer for a reasonably popular rock band in the 90s, and music royalties paid for his house's down payment. Today we work together creating copyrighted videos and selling them to people. My day job consists of writing software. I have skin in the game of intellectual property, and figuring out how "compensation for creators" can be kept sustainable is of great interest to me. Shouting, "Duplication is theft!" does not help. In fact, it makes things worse because it is factually untrue and distracts people whose livelihoods depend on figuring out how to make the system sustainable from actually doing that.

At the moment, you're just people names because they disagree with you about the nature of the problem.
Free stolen shit for everyone! It's not like artists need to eat or have the time to create!
The current system we use to compensate certain types of content creators is a house of cards. We've spent a couple of technology generations convincing artists that "creation time" is a loss-leader, and that they can only recoup their costs by licensing their work to middle-men who then sell the service of duplication and distribution. That approach was a very interesting development, and it worked well for a while, but it relied on the difficulty of large scale duplication and distribution. That difficulty has vanished, for better or worse, and the middlemen who staked out that part of the process ignored it until it was too late.

Recognizing that shift, and encouraging others to try to figure out what things look like on the other side of the shift, is not "free shit for everyone, artists don't need to eat."
posted by verb at 5:12 PM on July 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


dirtynumbangelboy wrote: "Except that it is not inaccurate, and any confusion can only be yours as I have explained quite clearly and simply exactly what I mean.

That you have absolutely no interest in actually discussing the issue, preferring to harp on my crystal fucking clear language is your problem, not mine.
"

You might scroll up to where I have actually participated in the discussion about the issue.

If you want to continue using the word theft and thieves to describe copyright infringement and infringers, you are certainly free to do so. It muddies the issue for people not aware of your specific use of the language, however. I know what you mean, but it makes it harder for others to jump in. Moreover, it makes productive conversation more difficult, since the analogy is not at all a one to one correspondence.
posted by wierdo at 5:18 PM on July 4, 2010


Or you could stop harping on my language choice.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:23 PM on July 4, 2010


posted by dirtynumbangelboy you could stop harping on my language choice.

As we've repeatedly explained to you, your choice of language is precisely the problem.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:31 PM on July 4, 2010


Funny, I thought the problem was people taking shit that wasn't theirs and not paying for it. Boy, you showed me! If I just use a different and less accurate word, the whole world will change!
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 5:36 PM on July 4, 2010


Funny, I thought the problem was people taking shit that wasn't theirs and not paying for it. Boy, you showed me! If I just use a different and less accurate word, the whole world will change!
Your anger does not make your statements accurate. It doesn't make your inaccuracy helpful, either, for those of us who are interested in figuring out how to survive as content creators in a post-marginal-cost world.
posted by verb at 5:49 PM on July 4, 2010


Angry? Hah! I'm laughing at your obstinate refusal to actually discuss the issue, in favour of castigating my perfectly accurate language choice.

It's cute.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:06 PM on July 4, 2010


The point is that your choice of language is not perfectly accurate, but is instead made in order to frame the debate in an emotionally manipulative way. This is not a side issue.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:49 PM on July 4, 2010


Um well actually, as I have explained multiple times, it is accurate.

Allow me to be clear. I am not going to change the way I describe illegal downloading just because a bunch of you who would rather talk about that than the actual issue at hand have decided I must.

So the choice is yours: discuss the issue, or keep whining that I am using language to accurately describe what illegal downloaders are doing and making it hard to rationalize away.

It's up to you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:58 PM on July 4, 2010


posted by dirtynumbangelboy as I have explained multiple times, it is accurate. Allow me to be clear. I am not going to change the way I describe illegal downloading just because a bunch of you who would rather talk about that than the actual issue at hand have decided I must.

But your language is not accurate--you're using your own personal language and definitions to discuss a subject the rest of us are addressing with standard, commonly-agreed-upon language and definitions. Several people have explained to you why you're wrong in this thread as well as here and here, where you've made exactly the same incorrect "copyright infringement is theft!" assertion.

So your declaration of intending to remain wrong demonstrates you're either lying about wanting to have a discussion about the topic, or you're just trolling. In either case, you're once again unwilling or unable to have a discussion without derailing the thread.
posted by mattdidthat at 11:49 AM on July 5, 2010


I'm doing neither. Others here have supported my language usage. You're derailing. If you want to discuss the issue then--oh here's a shocking idea--discuss the fucking issue and stop harping on and on about my language choice.

The decision is yours to make, and it is immensely revealing that you'd rather attack my language--and accuse me of lying and/or trolling, don't ever fucking do that again--than actually discuss the issue at hand. Perhaps you do, somewhere inside, feel bad for stealing content.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:56 AM on July 5, 2010


posted by dirtynumbangelboy discuss the fucking issue and stop harping on and on about my language choice. The decision is yours to make, and it is immensely revealing that you'd rather attack my language

We can't discuss the issue with you, because--as we keep telling you--you're using your own personal language and definitions to discuss a subject the rest of us are addressing with standard, commonly-agreed-upon language and definitions. As others have repeatedly explained, you're talking about is a distinct body of law, and you simply can't declare it "is" something it's not, especially not with your own personal definitions of words, since you're not talking about the law and what it actually says. If you're going to insist on remaining wrong and using your own personal language, then yes, you're either lying about wanting to discuss the topic, or you're trolling. Please stop.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:08 PM on July 5, 2010


Here's something that may help you. No, really, go ahead and try it.

Read, again, the many number of times I have stated that I am not using the legal definition, I am using the commonly-accepted everyday definition of the word theft. I understand that you may have missed that in your self-righteous drive to put me in what you think is my place, but it should be rewarding to you to, for a change, actually pay some fucking attention to what I have written.

Stop accusing me of lying. Stop accusing me of trolling. I am doing fucking neither.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:14 PM on July 5, 2010


And by 'rest of us' you are clearly ignoring the people who have agreed with me. But then, attacking them wouldn't satisfy your need to needle Mefi's favourite needle target, now would it?

So, yet again, it's your choice: discuss the fucking issue and drop the stupid goddamn semantic bullshit, or admit that you would much rather do the latter than the former.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:18 PM on July 5, 2010


posted by dirtynumbangelboy I am not using the legal definition, I am using the commonly-accepted everyday definition of the word theft.

Yes, we know you're not using the legal definition. That's the problem. You're using your own personal definition of the word, which makes its use in your arguments meaningless, because you're not talking about the law and what it actually says. You need to stop the hysterics, stop trolling or lying about wanting to discuss the topic, and stop with your absurd and incorrect declarations that a body of law "is" something it isn't by using your own personal definitions of words.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:37 PM on July 5, 2010


Perhaps I should have been more clear:

STOP CALLING ME A FUCKING LIAR

And AGAIN FOR CHRIST'S SAKE, READ it this time: I AM NOT USING THE LEGAL DEFINITION. I AM NOT TALKING ABOUT THE LEGAL DEFINITION. WHEN WILL YOU COMPREHEND THIS AND START TALKING ABOUT THE ACTUAL FUCKING ISSUE INSTEAD OF REPEATEDLY CALLING ME A FUCKING LIAR FOR FUCK'S SAKE.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:45 PM on July 5, 2010


Feel free to contact me via Mefi-mail.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:00 PM on July 5, 2010


dnab, you're either a liar or you don't know what you're talking about.

your choice.
posted by shmegegge at 1:02 PM on July 5, 2010


How about you feel free to not call me a fucking liar, mattdidthat? You know, Like I have told you several times? Gee, that would be a shocking idea.

And shmegegge, it's cute you're trying to frame it like that but neither is in fact the case.

So, again, stop calling me a fucking liar.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:05 PM on July 5, 2010


dirtynumbangelboy:

If you want to have a discussion, you need to stop trolling by using your own personal definitions of words.

If you insist on using your own personal definitions of words, you need to stop lying about wanting to discuss the topic honestly.

If you can't do either of those, feel free to send me Mefi-mail.
posted by mattdidthat at 1:13 PM on July 5, 2010


aw, you said it's cute! I think you're cute, too, dnab.

for instance, it's adorable how nothing you've said in this thread has contributed positively to the discussion. equally adorable is how your viewpoint on the issue is either totally uninformed or a willful fabrication.
posted by shmegegge at 1:14 PM on July 5, 2010


What part of 'stop calling me a fucking liar' was unclear to you? Seriously, what did you not fucking understand about that simple goddamn statement?

And I find it fucking fascinating to note that when LooseFilter said the exact same fucking thing that I am saying, nobody felt compelled to call him a liar. But MeFi's favourite target? Oh yes, pile the fuck on.

You're fucking pathetic. I keep saying: discuss the issue. You keep claiming you want to discuss the issue. And yet you are the ones who, in between bouts of attacking my integrity, refuse to discuss the issue.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:26 PM on July 5, 2010


So what would be a better distributive model that might account for the reality of the way in which digital intellectual property is shared?
posted by shakespeherian at 2:01 PM on July 5, 2010


So anyway, does anyone have thoughts on why so many see copyright infringement as an OK thing in all instances? Is it a reaction to changes in copyright law or is it just that it's much easier now?

Is there something we can do short of these great masses of lawsuits to increase respect for copyright? Perhaps making it seem more balanced would help. Right now it seems like the law is tilted very far in favor of content creators, even though circumstances have conspired to render the law toothless.
posted by wierdo at 2:18 PM on July 5, 2010


It's probably fully derailed at this point, but while dnab yells I'll return to an interesting point that LooseFilter brought up:
This is where intellectual property starts feeling a bit like gambling. No one expects plumbers to work without pay, but plumbers also don't expect to hit the jackpot if they fix one toilet really, really well.

Yes, and I think that may be an unspoken reason so many successful artists just don't want to address these concerns. It may very well remove the possibility of exponential wealth generated by one good creation.
I think that might be part of it; I remember the shocking moment when I realized that most novels never netted their authors more than a couple thousand dollars, and that even very successful ones would only really give the author the equivalent of a year's living wage. Friends of mine have been in and out of various bands for the past fifteen years, and I've watched them go through the realization process as well: they've launched side businesses, started doing freelance studio work, held down second jobs, etc. to keep things going. This isn't really

To some extent, I think a lot of creators (myself included) stick with it because they buy into the hit-it-big dream. Young bands hoping to be the next Decemberists, authors hoping to be the next JK Rowling, Compsci dropouts hoping to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, etc. John Scalzi has some very interesting insights; he's a successful genre novelist, but talks quite a bit about the fact that authors have to find boring copywriting gigs unless they want to live on ramen in Mom & Dad's basement while working on the Great American Novel. He's a vigorous defender of IP rights, as one might expect from someone who makes his living writing, but he's also very matter-of-fact about the sea changes going on in the world of distribution and the need for creators to move beyond the dream of the Full-Time Artiste.

That isn't directly related to te issue of copyright infringement, but it's interesting: it feels like the zero-marginal-cost shift has bitten music and video hardest because they have been the most reliant on distribution channels to recoup investment. I could be wrong, though -- as I hinted earlier the vast majority of my creative experience has been with written words and software.
posted by verb at 2:19 PM on July 5, 2010


To me it boils down to the fact that copyright is not a "right". It's a temporary monopoly granted by government. The natural state is sharing and reusing ideas and creations.

It's our greed that propels copyright, but it is unnatural in every sense of the word.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:28 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was writing songs, twenty years ago, there was NO way to get your stuff out other than through a record company. None. I never made money writing songs. I had to gig. Everybody had to gig.

When folks say that it's harder to be an artist these days, I'd like to ask compared to when? I'm not being rhetorical, I'd seriously like to ask that.

It seems to me that this brave new world presents a world of opportunities, but that it will probably remain hard to be an aspiring artist.
posted by Trochanter at 2:38 PM on July 5, 2010 [2 favorites]


And it will continue to be driven by dreams.
posted by Trochanter at 2:40 PM on July 5, 2010


The natural state is sharing and reusing ideas and creations.

It seems like this comes down to a conflict between the idea of the creator as a capitalistic entity and the idea of common social goods. Right now, our current model keeps intellectual property et al. almost entirely in the realm of capitalism, meaning that of course these distributive monopolies need to be defended, because Joe Artist can't be expected to create Citizen Kane II while also working a day job, and he has to eat and pay his rent, so he needs to be financially compensated for his creative work-- creating intellectual property is his job.

I think maybe this: If we want to argue that ideas and creations and other forms of intellectual property should by all rights belong to society, then we are going to have to somehow account financially for the work that artists and creators put into those ideas and creations. And if these are things that belong to the people, then The People, writ large, will have to pay for them, via government grants or something. The issue that arises from this is that I, personally, don't really want my tax dollars going towards Transformers 3, because it's a waste of a shit-ton of money, and I think it's stupid. Of course, if artistic compensation is socialized, Michael Bay probably has a lot less incentive to create lowest-common-denominator bullshit, but I'm still not sure how best to decide, as a society, which art and artists are deemed valuable enough to society to fund them.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:40 PM on July 5, 2010


If we want to argue that ideas and creations and other forms of intellectual property should by all rights belong to society

Do we want to argue that? Do we want to argue that the creator of a piece should not have a say as to whether it's used in a car commercial?

I wonder more whether the right of control over a creation is a commodity that can be bought and sold, and one that can outlive the creator.

There are several issues in this debate.
posted by Trochanter at 3:29 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


For instance, the strange, surreal case of Winnie the Pooh. What does this mess have to do with encouraging creative people?
posted by Trochanter at 3:35 PM on July 5, 2010


but it is unnatural in every sense of the word.

So is the notion of property itself. It is also a state mandated monopoly. I would say that both are equally unnatural. One just doesn't make sense anymore if it's purpose is to "promote the arts and sciences". Whereas the justification for physical property in the constitution is non-existent. It's seen as having intrinsic value.
posted by zabuni at 3:50 PM on July 5, 2010


zabuni wrote: "So is the notion of property itself. It is also a state mandated monopoly. I would say that both are equally unnatural. One just doesn't make sense anymore if it's purpose is to "promote the arts and sciences". Whereas the justification for physical property in the constitution is non-existent. It's seen as having intrinsic value."

There's one big difference, though. At least in the US, physical property rights are almost universally culturally accepted. There are a few exceptions, but they seem to be rare. To be fair, much of it is anachronistic. The idea was that land is essential to survival, since we are (or were) primarily agrarian, leaving aside the folks who were here before us that we mostly killed off.

These days, at least for the vast majority of us, if we own any land at all, it is not enough to grow enough food to feed ourselves with, if that's even allowed in your particular locality.

My meandering point being that intellectual and physical property are quite different concepts.

More generally, I think that the phrase "information wants to be free," while rather annoyingly used is basically correct, aside from the anthropomorphizing of information. If you tell me a secret, it's not exactly secret any more, is it? I can pass on that secret to someone else and it does not deprive you of anything other than the exclusivity you gave up when you told me the secret in the first place.

Copyright is what takes us from that natural state to one in which creators of content should be rewarded for the use of their works if they so choose.

Also, I have a strong aversion to the idea that ideas are somehow naturally the sole province of their originator. It's not as if independent invention hasn't been seen in many cases throughout the years. I have a hard time believing that just because someone comes up with an idea first that it should be theirs alone even if it is otherwise later independently invented. Granted, this doesn't apply to copyright, but it applies to the entire foundation of the concept of IP.
posted by wierdo at 4:11 PM on July 5, 2010


More generally, I think that the phrase "information wants to be free," while rather annoyingly used is basically correct, aside from the anthropomorphizing of information.
It's also worth remembering that the original formulation of that quote was more complex: "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

Collapsing it to the 'wants to be free' portion does bring us much closer to that devaluing of creative work that LooseFilter and others are concerned about. Intellectual Property is basically a giant attempt to resolve that tension, and I think what we're learning is that the "best" solution might change over time.
posted by verb at 4:27 PM on July 5, 2010


Intellectual Property is basically a giant attempt to resolve that tension

Yes, that's the core issue in a nutshell. Making art in a capitalistic society is, I think, inherently conflicted because the basic drives of culture and commerce are often opposed (outward-directed sharing vs. self-directed work, to be terribly reductive). With IP and copyright law it seems clear that we have yet another system that worked for a while but has become unworkable.

The concept of state support of creative work is anathema to most Americans, so I worry that we have before us a period of time when it is not possible any longer to be a professional creative worker and we will simply have shitty creative work until we make it an important value again. For myself, as an optimist I agree with what Trochanter said:

It seems to me that this brave new world presents a world of opportunities, but that it will probably remain hard to be an aspiring artist.

In spite of these challenges--and they're big ones--my opinion as a musician is that this is one of the most exciting times in human history to be alive. The free sharing of culture and the inexpensive and increasingly accessible means to it are truly unprecedented.
posted by LooseFilter at 6:25 PM on July 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a hard time believing that just because someone comes up with an idea first that it should be theirs alone even if it is otherwise later independently invented.

I'd have a hard time believing that as well, if it were actually the case. Patents don't last very long; 14 or 20 years, depending. After that they belong to everyone.

I don't see that as particularly onerous. Copyright, on the other hand, keeps getting extended beyond all usefulness. I think copyright serves a public good when it, like patents, lasts for a reasonable length of time. What we've got now is not reasonable. I think 25 years or so would be more than long enough for copyright. 20 years, even. Life+75? Absolutely ludicrous.

But that doesn't apply to patents, which you don't seem to understand. Patents are already short.
posted by Justinian at 6:33 PM on July 5, 2010


Justinian wrote: "I'd have a hard time believing that as well, if it were actually the case. Patents don't last very long; 14 or 20 years, depending. After that they belong to everyone."

That is correct, but the same logic that is used to argue for the inherent ownership of one's creative works also implies the perpetual ownership of all ideas. I was illustrating the illogical end of that line of reasoning, not the current state of the law.

That said, it strikes me that perhaps such a regime could work, if you had "IP rent". I'll limit the thought experiment to copyright for now. Say that one gets copyright at no charge for five (10, 20, whatever) years from the date of the work's publication and afterwards one must pay rent to avoid having that work lapse into the public domain. The longer since the work has been published, the higher the copyright rent. The problem would, of course, be in determining the amount of said rent and administering the system.

It would, of course, mean that the copyright on any given comment of mine on Metafilter would lapse after five years unless I thought it had enough value to actually pay for it.

Maybe it's not workable, but it's got the right elements, IMO. Society is providing a service by allowing IP and enforcing IP law. Perhaps if the beneficiaries of that service paid for it they would abuse it less.

Then the question becomes whether it seems reasonable enough to the infringers to cut down their numbers or how we can apply leverage in a more reasonable way to get most of them to knock it off.
posted by wierdo at 7:13 PM on July 5, 2010


Just to make my apparent conflation of copyright and patent a little more clear, while it is true that copyright applies only to a fixed medium of expression and patents apply to machines, processes, and the like, they are both based on the concept of the ownership of an idea (although a mere idea is not sufficient for either!), as all IP is.
posted by wierdo at 7:16 PM on July 5, 2010


The concept of state support of creative work is anathema to most Americans, so I worry that we have before us a period of time when it is not possible any longer to be a professional creative worker and we will simply have shitty creative work until we make it an important value again.
It's funny that you should mention that -- I was just thinking about programs like the NEA and other large-scale patronage systems. They're far from perfect but they have always been an attempt to get art that would not otherwise be "Commerce-Friendly" funded.
For myself, as an optimist I agree with what Trochanter said:

It seems to me that this brave new world presents a world of opportunities, but that it will probably remain hard to be an aspiring artist.
Absolutely. I'm fascinated by Trochanter's comments above about the difficulty of getting distribution -- any distribution -- outside of labels a few decades ago. Print publishing is in a similar spot these days. Thirty years ago if you didn't get a publishing contract you either sucked it up and went back to your day job, or you invested thousands up front with a "vanity press" and sold books out of your trunk. Today print on demand, online serialization, and so on are all opening up doors -- hell, cutting doors into the wall.

Turning the creative act into rent money is still hard, but there is a world of heady possibility for someone who is passionate about what they do and what they love.
posted by verb at 7:25 PM on July 5, 2010


"Do we want to argue that? Do we want to argue that the creator of a piece should not have a say as to whether it's used in a car commercial?"

Thirty years after the work was originally released? Maybe. It wouldn't be outrageous to suggest that music popular enough or that resonates with your target audience enough even a generation after creation belongs to the culture as much as it belongs to the original creator, maybe even more.
posted by Mitheral at 8:25 AM on July 6, 2010


I think if the creator is around to bitch about it in person, he should get a say. The final say.

That's in the case of the car commercial. I would say the same would be true if the creator didn't want his song to be used in the sound track of a porn film, or "Stretch Armstrong II."

I'm trying to think of an instance where I would agree with you -- where not using the song would be a public detriment -- but I can't think of one. There are lots of songs out there. Use something else.

I think the Winnie the Pooh case is where it gets dumb. If Joe Strummer had sold the rights to London Calling some time ago, I would totally be with you, and all bets are off. In fact, I think if the creator sells the rights, then all this "life time of the artist plus such and such years" stuff should go in the can, and the buyer only has some very limited time to exploit the work before it becomes public.

Others above have been extending the argument into the area of patents, and there I would be more on your side. Especially in the case of pharmacological innovation. If you're keeping the price of a medicine high, you're doing a public harm, and screw you. (even in the case of me not being able to get a stiff willy)
posted by Trochanter at 8:54 AM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone disagrees with the idea that creators should be compensated for their work. But at a certain point a work or an idea should be available to all. If copyright worked like patents (in the limited term aspect), I think it would work a lot better.

I also strongly believe that those rights should not be transferable. I don't mind paying an artist for his work, but when a corporation takes ownership of a work, and is not the creator, then all bets are off.

I also think that people and corporations that can't vote (or at the very least aren't residents) shouldn't be able to donate money to politicians. Get rid of all lobby groups, corporate donations, and foreign control of politics. For the people, BY the people.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:10 AM on July 6, 2010


I also strongly believe that those rights should not be transferable. I don't mind paying an artist for his work, but when a corporation takes ownership of a work, and is not the creator, then all bets are off.
Sure, but that's also an artifact of the compensation mechanisms that we've been talking about. Corporations are good at supply chains, not so good at creation. Artists do the 'R&D' of developing new creative works, then license them (or sell them completely) to the corporations, who can turn those works into money via duplication monopoly.

The idea of corporations continuing to do so after the Artist has left the picture makes sense, technically.
posted by verb at 9:33 AM on July 6, 2010


I was just thinking about programs like the NEA and other large-scale patronage systems.

Yeah, I was too, thus my comment. The NEA is a tiny shell of what it could easily be with not really much more of a financial commitment from the federal government. The NEA does a terrific job (mostly) with the funds it does have, but I can't think of any grant-giving or other kind of public-funding organization that provides anywhere near the amount of funding a full-on non-profit arts culture would demand. I used to want to pursue that as a remedy, but seeing what's happened in much of Europe the past few years, I don't think a state-support system is really dependable or sustainable either (musically, cities/countries have been slashing the amount of state support the arts receive, causing entire orchestras and the like to fold because they have no idea how to exist without it). My worry on that front, quoting Richard Crawford again, is that if you depend upon the benevolence of the institution for your existence then you are in terrible trouble if the institution decides to withdraw that benevolence.

So my sense is that the future lies in much more entrepreneurial work from artists and arts orgs, but also clearly a huge rewrite of copyright laws to the extent that the idea of copyright needs to be reconsidered fundamentally. (As you well know I'm sure, creators are as constrained by copyright law as consumers, if I want to be of my culture and share, remix, etc., I run into the law just like everybody else!)

Like wierdo mentions, the concept of IP can easily be redefined: author's life only? No more than 20 years for any work? Etc., no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. But CLEARLY the bathwater needs to be changed. Also, verb, you said:

Turning the creative act into rent money is still hard, but there is a world of heady possibility for someone who is passionate about what they do and what they love.

That's what I'm on about--I've only recently fully realized that these problems are creative challenges too, and that's exciting. Really exciting.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:40 AM on July 6, 2010


The idea of corporations continuing to do so after the Artist has left the picture makes sense, technically.

Yes, this. What the corporations in the RIAA and MPAA are screaming about (really on about, I mean, not on the surface) is that their role has suddenly been made redundant. Those corporations are no longer needed, at least in the same ways and certainly not as fundamentally, for production, distribution, promotion, sales, etc. They are scared shitless and rightly so. Now that technology has made much of their role obsolete, the idea that rights are transferable becomes a different proposition.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:45 AM on July 6, 2010


Trochanter wrote: "I think if the creator is around to bitch about it in person, he should get a say. The final say."

So you think that the copyright term should be for the lifetime of the author? What do we do about corporations?

What is it that brought you to the conclusion that a musical arrangement, speech, or whatever should be owned solely by its originator, even after said originator has made it public?

As I implied earlier, I think copyright length is utterly out of whack in this country. I think 20 or 30 years would be quite sufficient to allow the author to make a reasonable return if that is their desire, yet not so long as to make it impossible to build on those works.
posted by wierdo at 3:25 PM on July 6, 2010


As I implied earlier, I think copyright length is utterly out of whack in this country. I think 20 or 30 years would be quite sufficient to allow the author to make a reasonable return if that is their desire, yet not so long as to make it impossible to build on those works.
Sure, but that's separate from the underlying casual infringement issues. Kids aren't generally digging around looking for Torrents of silent movies and Citizen Kane; new releases and current material is the vast majority of illegally distributed content.

Even if we solve the duration issue, we'll be faced with the distribution and compensation questions that LooseFilter is considering. A shorter monetization window is likely to cause some content producers to crack down even HARDER on anything that doesn't directly result in cash, because they have to make their limited time count.
posted by verb at 3:52 PM on July 6, 2010


Again, I think there are several issues.

Yes, I think as long as the creator is alive, it's probably proper to have the work considered his. And probably for some time after. Twenty years seemed like lots to me, and the Sonny Bono law blows.

However, it's dicey. What if The Rolling Stones had absolutely hated Devo's cover of "Satisfaction" and vetoed it? I think we'd be the poorer. There are some tough calls, and my mind is not made up.

Kiff? What makes a man turn neutral?
posted by Trochanter at 5:35 PM on July 6, 2010


verb wrote: "Sure, but that's separate from the underlying casual infringement issues. Kids aren't generally digging around looking for Torrents of silent movies and Citizen Kane; new releases and current material is the vast majority of illegally distributed content."

Very true that the usual targets of infringement are newer releases, but I still think that the issues of term and rampant infringement are inextricably linked. I can't help but think that some part of the sense of entitlement people have related to copyright infringement comes from the plainly ridiculous length we currently employ. Right now, the legal balance, if not the practical balance, is so far tilted in favor of copyright holders that in most people's minds it is no longer an equal exchange.

I don't consider a term of the life of the author to be ridiculous, but I do think it's too long. If you're looking for control, you shouldn't publish your work in the first place.

It's a hairy issue, and I don't think that the current situation is something that can be fixed with changes around the periphery. I think the whole system, other than its underlying rationale is broken and needs to be redone from the ground up. Other than that, I really don't know what the best course of action is.
posted by wierdo at 6:19 PM on July 6, 2010


I can't help but think that some part of the sense of entitlement people have related to copyright infringement comes from the plainly ridiculous length we currently employ.

I think that's sort of naive. My strong hunch is that the vast, vast majority of infringers have absolutely no idea how long copyright lasts and wouldn't care if they did.
posted by Justinian at 9:17 PM on July 6, 2010


It would make an interesting research paper.
posted by wierdo at 9:40 PM on July 6, 2010


Kiff? What makes a man turn neutral?

Lust for gold, mostly.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:42 PM on July 6, 2010


It would make an interesting research paper.

If the MPAA or RIAA wants to fund me a couple million I'm sure something could be arranged. I pinky swear not to let the funding source bias the objective results I obtain from my new office on Maui.
posted by Justinian at 10:28 PM on July 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


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