08 September 2009

Someone Has a Man with a Red Flag Moment

This is so misguided:

Digital personal property (DPP) is an attempt to make consumers treat digital media like physical objects. For instance, you might loan your car to a friend, a family member, or a neighbor. You might do so on many different occasions and for different lengths of time. But you are unlikely to leave the car out front of your house with the keys in it and a sign on it saying, "Take me!" If you did, you might never see the vehicle again.

But that's the whole point about digital content: you *can* leave it out in front of your virtual house, and allow people to take it, because you *still* have a copy. It's non-rivalrous - that's it's amazing, wonderful, nature. Trying to make it rivalrous is like putting a mad with a red flag in front of a motor car because it goes too fast: it's *meant* to go fast.

And to those who riposte: What about the creators?, it's the usual answer. Being able to give away copies of your work freely is an opportunity, not a threat: it's called marketing, and it's cost has just gone down to nothing.

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27 comments:

David Gerard said...

Using the "broken windows" fallacy is really quite a creative solution to the manufacture of snake oil, now that even the majors are realising that DRM doesn't work. It's still snake oil he's selling, but he gets full points for packaging.

Julius Beezer said...

Naturally I agree with the tenor of your remarks, Glyn, but I'm always uneasy about motoring metaphors--they are usually problematic at some level. And I tell you what: the death toll on the roads in the early years after the abolition of the man with the red flag was truly horrendous, not to mention the environmental degradation that is sending motor culture into its death slide. So I'm on a little internet comment campaign to expose the false consciousness induced by motoring metaphor wherever I find it.

I admire the way Stallman avoids this trap with his cookery/recipes stories: there's a perfect example of a rivalrous good--perhaps a cake--and the non-rivalrous good--its recipe, right there.

glyn moody said...

@David: what's sad is that he seems to think he's "solved" the problem with digital content...

glyn moody said...

@Julius: OK, point taken. The "man with the red flag" bit wasn't so much the non-rivalrous nature as the stupidity of being constrained by a previous technology. Any suggestions for a better metaphor?

Crosbie Fitch said...

1) DPP is snake oil.
2) Motoring/speeding analogies are indeed wholly inappropriate.
3) Intellectual property is natural - it's the 18th century privilege of a reproduction monopoly that isn't.
4) Copies of intellectual works are rivalrous - you can't use my copy at the same time I am.
5) Digital, intellectual works can be secured from unauthorised copying, as easily as putting a memory stick in your locked briefcase.
6) DVDs can be loaned, but you can't be effectively alienated from your natural liberty to produce one or more copies of the DVDs loaned to you (by law, contract, or technology).

Embrace nature, don't fight it.

glyn moody said...

@Crosbie: well, I must at least take issue with point 4.

As an ex-particle physicist I've always tended to the view that the reason all electrons, protons and neutrons have the same mass, charge etc., is because they *are* the same electron, proton, neutron etc, winding their way through space-time.

This means that your copy of a digital file, provided it is identical to mine, is in fact coincident with it. So it is clearly a non-rivalrous good...

maninalift said...

The metaphore of stallman is not perfect either. Whatever your position on IP and open* it is not helpful to dismiss work such as software that takes a huge amount of time to create as being akin to recipe.

Any metaphone for the broken idea of DRM would have to encapsulate the arguments over intellectual property. I think any metaphore is doomed to fall well short of the subtleties of that argument.

Does this person really think that this idea is less broken than DRM?

This is like "everyone can have the cake recipie but it's a recipie for a poison cake and you have to buy the antidote". Except more stupid than that.

glyn moody said...

@maninalift: I rather like your metaphor of the poisoned cake...

Crosbie Fitch said...

Ah yes, the IP nihilists' strawman that IP comprises an 'ideal object', the collapse of indistinguishably similar copies into a single supernatural entity, physically distributed yet spookily, a singular manifestation.

No wonder they claim that a monopoly is only a poor and limited approximation. QED IP is bunk.

It is peculiar how readily people can believe that two similar pieces of source code can be distinct given small differences between them, but should those differences be edited away, kaboom! The two source files collapse into a singularity, a single source file manifested in two places.

Change 'source file' to 'limerick' and you get the same thing. Two slightly different limericks collapse into the SAME limerick. Where before each had a separate owner, afterwards, each owner must duel with the other, because with one limerick, there can only be one owner.

I'm happy with EPR spookiness, but not with it applying to intellectual works. It's completely and utterly bonkers.

maninalift said...

@Crosbie Fitch "Intellectual property is natural"

What does that even mean? I could be glib and say that scratching your intellectual property in the dirt with a stick is also natural but that wouldn't get us any closer to a consensus.

There is no point arguing about what is natural. It is at best irrelevant and more likely simply meaningless.

We are now in a position where copying of the things we are discussing is almost zero cost. We want to be able support professional creators but it is stupid to do so by removing all the advantages of the world we live in.

I think the dividing line is between those who wish simply for IP laws to be constructed however best benefits everybody, including the creators and those who believe in the concept of ownership as fundamental and absolute.

glyn moody said...

@Crosbie: actually, this is me speaking (slightly tongue in cheek) as an ex-physicist, not your average eye-pea nihilist. As I say, it comes to down to a theory of the natural universe - certainly nothing supernatural....

Crosbie Fitch said...

@glyn, I recognised your tongue-in-cheekness. I was pointing out that your amusing suggestion that indistinguishable similarity constituted identity (as well as physical congruence) was actually a theory that was alive and well, but used as a strawman by those attempting to discredit IP in totality, not just reproduction monopolies.

Crosbie Fitch said...

@maninalift,

By "IP is natural" I mean that it is the monopolies granted to its creators that are unnatural, not the ability of people to create, possess, secure, and exchange their intellectual works as property.

There is indeed a very good point in arguing about what is natural because it gives us a clue as to what the law should be governing the protection of people's natural rights.

The facility of our information technology reveals to us the nature of information and why attempts to prohibit its duplication without license from the copyright holder are doomed. The law can only protect our natural powers, our natural rights, it cannot give us unnatural power (the privilege of a reproduction monopoly) and hope to protect that (at least, not in the long term).

Law is not enacted to serve corporations or to grant monopolies as rewards, but to represent the natural law of people living in natural harmony. The law comes from the people, it is not made to harness the people.

Crosbie Fitch said...

@glyn, unless, you are actually proposing a natural theory of morphic resonance underlying all arrangements of matter in the universe...

...that there is a 'spooky action at a distance' kind of connection induced by similarity of arrangement.

I think it's hard enough trying to explain why copyright and patent are unnatural, let alone counter-productively entertain the possibility that ownership can indeed be communicated by similarity. But then we run into problems of deciding whether great minds think alike because they are the same mind, resonating... :-}

glyn moody said...

well, morphic resonance has its attractions, but only so far...

David Gerard said...

It is a common viewpoint that what people create is *theirs*. It's the source of academic credit - where people are eager to be copied as much as possible, *as long as they get the credit*. So we have working models already.

Also, in the Internet gift economy, something like CC by-nc-sa is assumed - copy anything, share alike, give credit, don't do it for money.

glyn moody said...

@david: yes, interesting how that norm has evolved

Crosbie Fitch said...

@Glyn, 'attractions'? Is that a tacit allusion to Attractors?

David Gerard said...

I did an indie rock fanzine in the 1980s. That model was there already. It was usually considered polite to ask first, but permission was pretty much de rigeur.

I think the model's been there since the first science fiction fanzines of the 1920s, just after one-at-a-time duplication became physically possible. There are enough sociological studies of zine culture to back that statement up or not, if anyone feels up to looking :-)

glyn moody said...

@crosbie: well, of course. It's part of a whole string of mathematical allusions...

David Gerard said...

Whereas DRM and DPP are analogous to phlogiston and luminiferous aether, less implausible assertions about intellectual property are more analogous to string theory: popular, a huge base of theorists and a comprehensive failure to actually predict anything whatsoever. So far! So far!

Crosbie Fitch said...

@glyn, remind me to explain my theory of Stonehenge to you sometime, i.e. that it is aligned with the heavens, not to serve as a calendar, but to align and locate Stonehenge precisely on the planet... ;-)

@David, according to the natural rights philosophy one can predict the imminent abolition of copyright and patent. As you know, I got ejected from the Open Rights Group for spouting such heresy. What do you think of such a prediction? Doomed to failure as a non-starter, or a plausible runner worth a flutter?

David Gerard said...

er, no, you got kicked off the main ORG mailing list for being grossly offensive. Rewriting history is not a good look.

Crosbie Fitch said...

Some people may have been offended, but I was not offensive - unless you call it offensive to query why everyone seemed so sure a fall from a cliff was suicide.

However, that was simply a convenient 'straw' with which to break the camel's back. You know as well as I do, that it was my discussion of natural rights that got up people's noses, and impelled an excuse for my ejection.

This is the ejection notice I got from Michael Holloway (Operations Manager, Open Rights Group):


I've unsubscribed you from the org-discuss list.

While your eloquent and knowledgeable contributions on a variety of
topics were appreciated for a time, its become increasingly clear that
the list community would be better off without your inputs.

You post too much, too long and - more importantly - repeatedly
disregard common courtesy. This evening's remarks about Richard
Rothwell - which prompted a number of off-list complaints - were the
last straw.

glyn moody said...

OK, chaps, can we keep the discussion on topic, please? Thanks.

Blaise Alleyne said...

Brings the Penny Arcade critique of the Playstation Home to mind...

"Chief among these bizarre maneuvers is the idea that, when manufacturing their flimsy dystopia, they actually ported the pernicious notion of scarcity from our world into their digital one. This is like having the ability to shape being from non-being at the subatomic level, and the first thing you decide to make is AIDS."

glyn moody said...

@Blaise: great stuff, thanks.