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Old 03-29-2009, 05:16 PM   #1
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Is Piracy Progressive Taxation ?

a serious thread...

I recently came across an article by the very respected Tim O'Reilly called "Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution". Provocative title, to say the least. Although it was written in 2002, it's amazingly pertinent to the debate which continues to rage on the topic today.

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The continuing controversy over online file sharing sparks me to offer a few thoughts as an author and publisher. To be sure, I write and publish neither movies nor music, but books. But I think that some of the lessons of my experience still apply.
Lesson 1: Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

In 7 "Lessons" O'Reilly turns conventional "wisdom" about piracy being the death of creative endeavour and whole industries (music, film, publishing...) on its head :

Lesson 3: Customers want to do the right thing, if they can.

Lesson 6: "Free" is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service

We've heard many of the same arguments here in various discussions but the article is well worth a read. long, but very very interesting.

Read the whole thing here.

thanks to Ralph Sir Edward's thread about copyright reform for reminding me.



So, thoughts ? is piracy actually a positive vector in the digital age ?



NB this article was linked in an article in french called "Portrait of the pirate as library curator" which i mentioned here. If you read in french or want to try out google's translation tools, it's also an excellent read.
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:30 PM   #2
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Positive or negative, it's an unstoppable reality of the digital age. The only way you'll ever stop it is to scap digital technology. That's not going to happen.
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:35 PM   #3
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very true : but what i found most interesting in the article was the idea that piracy can actually be turned to serve the interests of the very people it's supposedly harming. cory doctorow is an obvious example, although i doubt he'd claim to be a victim of piracy, however he does benefit from the free diffusion of his books via p2p channels.

and before someone jumps in to point out that doctorow is using free ebooks to promote his paper book sales, O'Reilly itself (one of the most respected technical publishers, including in e format) is widely available on p2p sites yet they're still thriving...

how about the idea that piracy can actually be a tool for gaining an audience ? i found it very telling that Tim O'Reilly himself claims that "people want to do the right thing".
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:37 PM   #4
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Piracy, although I hate that word for what is essentially "sharing" is, or at least was, part of our cultural heritage. Campfire stories and music, oral tales passed on from generation to generation, embellished or rather, remixed as they passed from one creator to the next. We lost sight of this at some point, our culture was reigned in, stamped with a pricetag and carefully controlled by gatekeepers and taste makers, in the hopes of maximising profits.

Now we're coming back to those old times where culture is once again a shared experience, and even more, a geographically unrestricted experience. The creator in this instance has the ability to tell their campfire story to an audience far surpassing any reachable beforehand.

"Piracy" in this brave new world we're living through is no more than a societal backlash to restrictions that no longer hold true. A return to what once was, and will be again. The means of production are now in every single person's hands. Creator and audience are no longer separate entities, but both at the same time.

Is this positive, very much so. Culture doesn't grow too well when its restricted, given free reign, the possibilities are endless. Speaking as a writer, or writer-in-waiting, I'd much rather be at the top of the Piratebay or Mininova or Demonoid's download list, than I would be reviewed in a print journal or on the best-seller list. That to me, monetary issues aside, is where the culture is most relevant and where any writer, new or old, should want to be if they hope to keep writing in the future. The downloaders are the audience of the future. They're the ones, through donations most likely, who will support the writers in the future. And even if they don't donate a penny, isn't it better to be read, than linger in some bargain bin at a local supermarket, or pulped into oblivion?
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:42 PM   #5
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a serious thread...
Ahem!

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So, thoughts ? is piracy actually a positive vector in the digital age
My upbringing (most people's, I'm sure) makes me skeptical of comments like "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." It strikes me as an easy way to rationalize one's theft - a bit like saying that if we steal lots of oranges from the grocer everybody will want some from him. But, to avoid prejudging, I'll shut up and go away and read the article and think about. Thank you for posting the links.
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:51 PM   #6
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Ahem!



My upbringing (most people's, I'm sure) makes me skeptical of comments like "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." It strikes me as an easy way to rationalize one's theft - a bit like saying that if we steal lots of oranges from the grocer everybody will want some from him. But, to avoid prejudging, I'll shut up and go away and read the article and think about. Thank you for posting the link.

But you, and I, were brought up in an analog world (I assume from your statements). The generations coming after us have a different concept of "theft". You equate digital content to physical objects, but the generations now growing up don't have this equation on hand, because of their own experiences. it's taken me a long time to shake off my own ideas from my own upbringing, but I finally understand that "Piracy" has nothing to do with theft in any way shape or form. Pirates buy a lot of products, some would say a lot more than the average consumer. Also, what of those who can't afford these artifacts of culture, these experiences that might become shared experiences over time? We already have libraries, where books, dvd's and music can be had for no money at all. Are they also thieves, or not because we only 'loan' from them? What is "Piracy" if not the sharing of information freely without restriction to anybody who can get connected? What if there was no money to be had at all in the creation of culture, would it suddenly stop and cease to exist? I doubt it. Creators create because they have to, because it's a need inside them, not just a want.

Now let's say those oranges of yours were self-replicating and the stealing of one didn't lessen the number of oranges available on the stall, then how could it be theft? If nothing is taken away from the whole, then nothing is missed, nobody is deprived. You can't be deprived when the product is infinite.
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Old 03-29-2009, 05:54 PM   #7
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Piracy, although I hate that word for what is essentially "sharing" is, or at least was, part of our cultural heritage. Campfire stories and music, oral tales passed on from generation to generation, embellished or rather, remixed as they passed from one creator to the next. We lost sight of this at some point, our culture was reigned in, stamped with a pricetag and carefully controlled by gatekeepers and taste makers, in the hopes of maximising profits.

Now we're coming back to those old times where culture is once again a shared experience, and even more, a geographically unrestricted experience. The creator in this instance has the ability to tell their campfire story to an audience far surpassing any reachable beforehand.

"Piracy" in this brave new world we're living through is no more than a societal backlash to restrictions that no longer hold true. A return to what once was, and will be again. The means of production are now in every single person's hands. Creator and audience are no longer separate entities, but both at the same time.

Is this positive, very much so. Culture doesn't grow too well when its restricted, given free reign, the possibilities are endless. Speaking as a writer, or writer-in-waiting, I'd much rather be at the top of the Piratebay or Mininova or Demonoid's download list, than I would be reviewed in a print journal or on the best-seller list. That to me, monetary issues aside, is where the culture is most relevant and where any writer, new or old, should want to be if they hope to keep writing in the future. The downloaders are the audience of the future. They're the ones, through donations most likely, who will support the writers in the future. And even if they don't donate a penny, isn't it better to be read, than linger in some bargain bin at a local supermarket, or pulped into oblivion?
Moejoe, you make some very good points, particularly about the importance of sharing culture and participating in it.

i actually also disagree with the word "piracy" used in this context : *real* piracy is something completely different, an act of violent theft committed at sea ; i think the use of the word in this context both trivialises *true* piracy which is a grave problem even today in some parts of the world, and also tends to be used in an alarmist manipulative way by huge corporations intent of maximising profits, usually with little to no respect either for the creators or the consumers of the media they are selling ; however since it's the term used in the article i preserved its use here.

i think the large-scale sharing we're experiencing is a direct reaction not only to restrictions that no longer hold true but more specifically to restrictions who *never* were true, and which have become so abusive and unrealistic that they are completely detached from the reality of culture and society. when the first copyright laws were being discussed, Macauley argued that if copyright is extended beyond what the average person considers reasonable, they will stop viewing it as a "necessary evil" and see it only as evil (sorry, i can't find the exact quote just now... i'm sure you've read it elsewhere anyway). in this case, copyright loses its meaning and the respect of the population.

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My upbringing (most people's, I'm sure) makes me skeptical of comments like "Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy." It strikes me as an easy way to rationalize one's theft - a bit like saying that if we steal lots of oranges from the grocer everybody will want some from him. But, to avoid prejudging, I'll shut up and go away and read the article and think about. Thank you for posting the link.
thanks for not prejudging. and i'll point out that the article was actually written by an author and publisher whose works are often the object of online p2p sharing. come back and let us know what you think after you've read the article.
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:10 PM   #8
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We are in a hybrid age. The analog world follows the rules of scarcity, and the digital world follows the rules of plenty. They are completely different sets of rules.

Let me have all of you think about the following Star Trek, The Next Generation background prop, the matter converter. The person goes up to the machine, tells it what kind of food the person wants, and the machine create the food out of energy (or something like that). Think about it. As long as there's plenty of energy, there's no shortage of food for anybody. Should they pay a royalty? To whom, for how long? Public domain receipes?
It's an example of the digital world encroaching upon the analog world. It hasn't gotten there yet, but look at the idea of a 3-D printer. They aren't very useful yet, and very expensive, but someday it'll get much better. The digital world is slowy encroaching upon the analog world, which in the long term makes us all richer. It the hybrid period, though, there are winner and losers.
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:17 PM   #9
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We are in a hybrid age. The analog world follows the rules of scarcity, and the digital world follows the rules of plenty. They are completely different sets of rules.

Let me have all of you think about the following Star Trek, The Next Generation background prop, the matter converter. The person goes up to the machine, tells it what kind of food the person wants, and the machine create the food out of energy (or something like that). Think about it. As long as there's plenty of energy, there's no shortage of food for anybody. Should they pay a royalty? To whom, for how long? Public domain receipes?
It's an example of the digital world encroaching upon the analog world. It hasn't gotten there yet, but look at the idea of a 3-D printer. They aren't very useful yet, and very expensive, but someday it'll get much better. The digital world is slowy encroaching upon the analog world, which in the long term makes us all richer. It the hybrid period, though, there are winner and losers.
Couldn't agree more. We're on the cusp of something truly revolutionary, or maybe in the throws of that progression already. Analog rules don't fit the digital age. Any writer now who's approaching their output in the 'old' way is already losing as far as I'm concerned. Those already established don't have to worry too much, their bank accounts will keep them going even if their writing doesn't sell. But those who are barely getting by on their writing will have to adjust sooner rather than later. And the ten-percenters, the go-betweens and the rest better start looking for something new to do, because their kind are on the brink of extinction.

Whatever happens, it's all very exciting
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:26 PM   #10
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ZP, I think you have the right of it. Some people use derogatory words applied to others in order to appeal to the emotions of the masses. In the USA, at least, political correctness tells us that this is discrimination and should be avoided. However it is OK under certain circumstances and this is considered to be one.

If we think of piracy (as on the seas), there were pirates that stole from "innocents", often inducing harm (both physical and emotional) and fear. If we look around at our society, we can find a very recent case where fear and emotional harm was induced (apparently quite legally) on us here at MR by Amazon and the DMCA. Does that make Amazon pirates? I'll leave the conclusion to the readers.

In a so called democracy (the USA is a republic although we like to think of ourselves as a democracy) the governing of the people is supposed to be "by" the people and "for" the people. All too often is is "by" & "for" large corporations who send $$$ & lobbyists to our Congressional Leaders who actually make the laws.

Bottom line is; "'cause it's legal, don't make it right!"

Just one man's opinion.
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:28 PM   #11
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An example closer to home, so to speak. I like a glass of fine wine with my evening meal (tonight is Linderman's Clancy 2005). Someday, probably within the next 50 years, a vintage will be able to be completely anaylsed, with every type of molecule determined and the exact proportions measured. The you will be able to reproduce, say Mouton Rothschild vintage X, for say, 5 cents on the dollar. What will happen to the wine producers? I will be able to produce that "vintage receipe" for 500 years or more. Will we be worse off for having all the Bordeax producers failing? And yet, everybody will have better wine than they ever could have afforded under the old analog world. The same thing happened when the industrial age started and hammered individual craftsmen....
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:31 PM   #12
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An example closer to home, so to speak. I like a glass of fine wine with my evening meal (tonight is Linderman's Clancy 2005). Someday, probably within the next 50 years, a vintage will be able to be completely anaylsed, with every type of molecule determined and the exact proportions measured. The you will be able to reproduce, say Mouton Rothschild vintage X, for say, 5 cents on the dollar. What will happen to the wine producers? I will be able to produce that "vintage receipe" for 500 years or more. Will we be worse off for having all the Bordeax producers failing? And yet, everybody will have better wine than they ever could have afforded under the old analog world. The same thing happened when the industrial age started and hammered individual craftsmen....

That'd be great Well it would be to a wine connoisseur, but as I can't tell one kind of wine from another, they may as well give me a glass of anything
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Old 03-29-2009, 06:45 PM   #13
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That'd be great Well it would be to a wine connoisseur, but as I can't tell one kind of wine from another, they may as well give me a glass of anything
Like a glass of beer? Would be my preference!
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Old 03-29-2009, 07:00 PM   #14
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Bottom line is; "'cause it's legal, don't make it right!"

Just one man's opinion.
yep, i agree with that completely in the context of, for instance, the dmca (we've had a recent example of how that can be abused... ). what about the opposite ? "because it's illegal, don't make it wrong" ? moejoe made a very strong point about sharing being part of our cultural heritage. content providers are currently trying to prevent even sharing among your immediate circle of friends and family through use of drm schemes. many people would say that file sharing is just an extension of that culturally ingrained tradition being adapted to the new digital world we live in, where thanks to internet and other technologies the world is growing progressively smaller. on this forum, for example, i can discuss from people from places like texas and australia where i've never been. i now consider a lot of the members here my friends. i share plenty of things with my friends who live in the same city i do ; books, cds, dvds... so why should i not be able to share a book with a friend who lives in a different city ?

i think the point that business models have to evolve is the most important thing to bear in mind. O'Reilly makes a very strong case that "people want to do the right thing". people want to support that authors and creators whose work they appreciate. but i think they also don't want to feel like they are being taken for a ride by content providers.

some people have argued that piracy is actually encouraged by drm. that goes back to the notion that sharing is part of our culture ; we're encouraged to share our belongings from childhood, yet now with the advent of digital media we are supposed to suppress what is not only ingrained in us from a young age but is also a natural reaction of generosity (when i lend a paper book to a friend, i do it because i enjoyed it and think she will also enjoy it, and i want her to have the pleasure of discovering the author). and that brings us again to the ideas that people want to support the artists they appreciate, and also that obscurity is a bigger danger : if i share a book with a friend, and she likes the author, chances are she'll buy more books by that author. whereas if i had not shared my book, perhaps she would never had heard of the author at all...
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Old 03-29-2009, 07:16 PM   #15
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Posts: 5,113
Karma: 72193
Join Date: Feb 2009
Location: South of the Border
Device: Coffin
Quote:
Originally Posted by zelda_pinwheel View Post
yep, i agree with that completely in the context of, for instance, the dmca (we've had a recent example of how that can be abused... ). what about the opposite ? "because it's illegal, don't make it wrong" ? moejoe made a very strong point about sharing being part of our cultural heritage. content providers are currently trying to prevent even sharing among your immediate circle of friends and family through use of drm schemes. many people would say that file sharing is just an extension of that culturally ingrained tradition being adapted to the new digital world we live in, where thanks to internet and other technologies the world is growing progressively smaller. on this forum, for example, i can discuss from people from places like texas and australia where i've never been. i now consider a lot of the members here my friends. i share plenty of things with my friends who live in the same city i do ; books, cds, dvds... so why should i not be able to share a book with a friend who lives in a different city ?

i think the point that business models have to evolve is the most important thing to bear in mind. O'Reilly makes a very strong case that "people want to do the right thing". people want to support that authors and creators whose work they appreciate. but i think they also don't want to feel like they are being taken for a ride by content providers.

some people have argued that piracy is actually encouraged by drm. that goes back to the notion that sharing is part of our culture ; we're encouraged to share our belongings from childhood, yet now with the advent of digital media we are supposed to suppress what is not only ingrained in us from a young age but is also a natural reaction of generosity (when i lend a paper book to a friend, i do it because i enjoyed it and think she will also enjoy it, and i want her to have the pleasure of discovering the author). and that brings us again to the ideas that people want to support the artists they appreciate, and also that obscurity is a bigger danger : if i share a book with a friend, and she likes the author, chances are she'll buy more books by that author. whereas if i had not shared my book, perhaps she would never had heard of the author at all...
Piracy is, I think, spurted on by DRM. Not only that, the slow pace these publishers have at adapting. If I can get the full series of author X free and without encumbrances from file-sharing, but can only get books 1 and 4 of author X legally and full of DRM, what am I likely going to chose? The file-sharing option is cheaper, more convenient and without any useless restrictions.

You know, they could have stopped piracy dead in its tracks when Napster was being sued. They could have introduced a whole generation, and the generations that followed into a subscription model of payment, and micro-payments. Instead they chose to kill it and spawn countless angry imitators who wanted their new method of discovering music returned to them. Filesharing is as much the fault of the content providers as anyone else. They had a choice to embrace the digital age, a window of opportunity they chose to close shut. Now they're running around like headless chickens trying to figure out where the head is and how they might reattach it.

But it's too late for them, maybe the whole entertainment industry. The booksellers are going the same way, locking down, acting like children who won't share their toys, placing ridiculous restrictions on their products. Five years from now I'd expect books would be in the same place as MP3's, and they could have stopped that from happening. They could have expanded their markets and gained lifelong advocates. But no. Just another round of headless chickens, unable to see where they might have gone.
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