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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

You have the right to...

It's amazing what academics can come up with. The latest bit of blather is a series of books in support of plagiarism/intellectual property theft. (Thank you to Anne for the clarification. :o))

Go ahead. Read that again. People are saying that it's good to steal. Encouraging piracy and theft. Because the end result doesn't leave artists or authors poorer for the theft.

Quoting freely from the article:

Comedian Mindy Kaling revealed what she felt was an absurdity inherent to the theft-is-theft argument in a standup routine (which, naturally, is available to be viewed for free at YouTube).

Performing for an audience at Ohio State University in 2008, she meditated on a public service announcement that equated digital file sharing with theft. “The way they did it was they were like, ‘You wouldn’t think of stealing a purse, would you? You wouldn’t think of stealing a car.’ And I was thinking about that as I was watching it, and you know what? I would steal a car — if it was as easy as touching the car, and then 30 seconds later I own the car. And, like, I would steal a car if the person who owned the car got to keep the car.”

Ms. Kaling is missing something here, like all the people who will now be laid off of work because they aren't being paid to build cars.

Sure, the owner of the car isn't taking a loss, but the guy struggling to send his children to college by working fourteen hour days at a car factory is going to feel the pinch. That's the thing about theft, somewhere along the line you are hurting someone. There is a victim.

Another academic is quoted as saying this in the article:

Further complicating questions of morality and copying, University of Ottawa law professor Ian Kerr argues that by taking the responsibility for duplication decisions out of the user’s hands, so-called digital locks have the potential to stunt the moral development of generations of technology users.
As I read that Mr. Kerr is advocating letting the video game industry teach moral correctness to the rising generation.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you wanted a child to learn morals of some form wouldn't that be the place of the parents or a church? Even if you want to argue the moral correctness if the responsibility of society as a whole I'm not sure you can convince me that the video game industry, known for their graphic and often violent offerings, is a group I want held responsible for the raising of a future world leader.

And I don't understand how leaving off digital locks will encourage honesty or moral uprightness. Leave me a message if you do.

While I'm all in favor of free things, I can't support the idea that digital theft is good. There are too many people trying to eek out a living on the margins of the digital age. People that need those eight dollars for their work so they can make the rent, get a flu shot, or eat this month.

I love when authors make chapters of their work free for the public. I think it's a great way to advertise. But I don't think the same copyright ideals that make it feasible for a musical artist to give all their music away for free because they make money at the live shows is something that translates well to the situations of artists or other, non-performing, creative persons.

Where are you on all this? Did you cry when Napster started charging for downloads? Do you think e-book is just another word for free-book? Give me the arguments!


  1. When I hear these "throw open the doors of all intellectual property rights" arguments I just want to slap the speaker. But since the voices of stupidity are usually coming out of my radio and I tend to bruise my fingers when I go slapping that box, I resist the urge.

  2. For clarification: Illegally acquiring a book for free is not plagiarism. Plagiarism is the act of trying to pass off someone else's work as your own.

    Should the intellectual property laws loosen up a little bit for some media? If it will not hurt the creator of the work, yes.

    The trouble with intellectual property rights is that they seem to be designed primarily for the benefit of the distributor (publishing house, record label, producer), rather than the creator. The distributor wants to keep getting his slice of bread for his work and is able to make it happen because he already has a lot of bread to begin with; the creator also getting a piece of bread is just a plus.

  3. I think it might help to keep the focus on the creator of the work. Surely that is where intellectual ownership starts, and any rules or mechanisms for distribution should respect that.

    Some people are happy to make their work available for free. That's up to them. But if someone has made their work available through "traditional" channels with a reasonable expectation of being paid, then any acquisition that avoids payment is theft.

    Just because the technology makes it easy doesn't make it right.

    Just my (ill-informed, to be sure) 2 cents worth :D

  4. I'm so with you. I've struggled a bit as I think about how I share my books with my MIL who has now gone to getting things digitally.

    Is it the same thing to borrow her e-copy as it was to borrow her hard copy? I say yes...As long as another ecopy wasn't made for me to keep...

    Also, does anyone know, can you give ebooks away? Say you're done with it and want to give it away? (I'm assuming you're not keeping a copy for yourself!) Would that be the same thing as with paperbacks? I'm poor so getting to read is sometimes dependent on the fact that my MIL reads a lot of the same books I do...

  5. As far as I'm concerned, infringing someone's copyright is infringing their copyright, and if you do it to get something for free which you should have paid them for, you're effectively stealing the fee from them.

    Also actual plagiarism steals from the original author the credit for their own work, so could be seen as a kind of reputation theft or something like that.

    One aspect you haven't mentioned is whether the material copied is something which the person would otherwise purchase, or whether it simply means they now have access to some material which otherwise they wouldn't have—that could bring it a little closer to the situation with musicians regarding copying more as publicity than as stealing.

    But yes, it's basically theft: if not of the material, then of money or reputation.

  6. Anne - Thanks for the catch! The article had me so angry I was using the words interchangeably. Bad author! No cookie for me. :o)

  7. Tim J, I'm not about to purchase an Aston Martin in the near future, so if I see one by the roadside with the keys in does that mean I'm free to take it?

    OK, I know that's not quite the same as we're talking copies here, but I still think that whether or not it's OK to copy should be determined by the author, not by the potential purchaser (or not).