Chad Perrin: SOB

2 August 2006

The Copyright Double-Standard

Filed under: Cognition,Liberty — apotheon @ 04:41

There’s a double-standard implicit in the common supporting arguments for copyright.

Either only the physical product can be bought, sold, traded, and regulated (in which case copyright is null and void), or the content is the important part (in which case, having paid for it, I should be able to store, loan, copy, and use however I like). You can’t have your cake and eat it too — or, rather, you shouldn’t be able to, but the law says you can. Men with guns and badges will make damned sure you can, too, even if that means everybody else just gets to pay to look at the pretty cake, and salivate over it.

That’s exactly what strong copyright law supporters are trying to do: have their cake and eat it too. They want perpetual control over the content, and to that end claim they’re depending on its sale price to maintain their business model — and really, I don’t see how it’s my problem that their business model is not sustainable anyway. They also want perpetual control over the content (see the difference?), and to that end claim that all they’ve sold is the physical medium by which the content is conveyed. Frankly, if what I was after was purchase of the physical medium without any “owernship” of what it contains, I’d go buy a spindle of CD-Rs, a spindle of DVD-Rs, and a ream of blank paper — not albums, movies, and books.

Ultimately, all this intellectual protectionism property crap is just enforced artificial scarcity, one of the “great evils” of monopolism. Considering that, in legal documentation in the US, copyright and patent law are defined as supporting a “temporary monopoly” (no longer effectively temporary thanks to Disney), one must wonder why anti-trust laws don’t apply.

This was inspired by a bit of discussion elsewhere on the subject of intellectual property, including quotes from Bill Gates wherein he calls his own enjoyment of illegally copied content on YouTube theft.

There was the usual, eminently practical (quoted from another source) bit about how trying to force people to pay for content they don’t think is worth the money results in people simply not buying it, of course. It’s a good point, but not a new one. My favorite quoted-from-another-source, however, was this:

Stealing is bad. Why is that? When I was a child, my parents explained it to me very clearly. Stealing is bad, because if you steal another kid’s toy, that other kid cannot play with it any more. Stealing means taking people’s property away from them. And that is exactly why it is bad. Copyright infringement is NOT stealing. It is like not paying your taxes, or not paying the money the mafia demands from you so they won’t burn down your house. It’s still up for debate which of the two it is, but calling it “theft” is just propaganda. If two people can profit from something that used to belong to only one person, without anything being taken away from the first person, that is called “sharing”. Sharing is good. Your parents probably taught you that. Theft is evil. Sharing is good. If you promise to stop referring to copyright infringement as “theft”, I will stop referring to it as “sharing”, and maybe there can be a fair debate then.

Unfortunately, it’s attributed to “anonymous”.

Personal Note: I make money as a writer. Please don’t respond with spurious arguments about how I’d have a different opinion if I depended on copyright for money.

Addressing Myths of Capitalistic Competition

Filed under: Liberty — apotheon @ 08:11

There are, by and large, two schools of thought about competition and capitalism. In brief, they are:

  • In a capitalistic economy approaching a free market, competition is unavoidable. Competition induces people to behave immorally, amorally, or unethically, and to live stressful, difficult lives. It leads to failures and disenfranchisement of nontrivial demographics. It produces economic stratification so that there is a financially insolvent underclass who cannot positively affect their lot in life. Competition only hurts people, and we would be better off if we eliminated competition. That is why (a certain amount of) centralized and universal economic management is necessary for a just society. Marx was right.
  • In a capitalistic economy approaching a free market, competition is unavoidable. Competition induces people to excel, to produce greater wealth not only for themselves but at least incidentally for others as well. As John F. Kennedy put it (yes, a Democrat, really!), “A rising tide lifts all boats.” Competition in the market economy encourages people to organize and work together to better compete with others, thus providing as well for coöperation that can achieve what we would not achieve on our own. In capitalistic societies approaching a free market, those of the lowest economic classes are often better off than those of the highest nonmanagement economic classes in the most strictly managed economies. Ayn Rand was right.

There are strengths and weaknesses to both arguments. Both contain truths and (at least implied) falsehoods. Both overlook some important factors.

  • Competition does not necessarily induce one to live immorally, amorally, or unethically.

    That is, of course, assuming you do not subscribe to religious or other metaphysical belief systems wherein competition is, itself, strictly forbidden. There are two forms of competition: the positive and the negative. Positive competition is that form of competition wherein one strives to do well, and measures one’s successes against those of others or against the difficulty of the challenges one faces. Negative competition is that form that induces wrong action, for it is the form of competition that involves “winning” by making everyone around oneself “lose”. This is the competitiveness that is practiced by corporations, which are sustained and empowered by governmental interference in the market economy to produce artificial structures of centralized power. It is only such de facto economic favoritism that allows for the existence of organizations large and powerful enough to actually attempt to achieve and maintain market domination on a macroeconomic scale.
  • Competition is unavoidable

    On the microeconomic scale, of course, one may engage in negative competitive practices regardless of the form of the economy in question (even in communistic economies of more than twenty people or so), and it is easily recognizable as unethical to pursue such practices — and, thus, illegal within any system of law approaching even a merely superficial state of justice. The only exception to this state of affairs is very small-scale collective economies, such as communes. The successes of such communes are dependent upon social pressures that are only effectively enforced when every single individual in that small economic tidepool is personally familiar with ever other single individual, and even then it depends on the relationships of those individuals. Once there are enough people that some are not personally familiar with others, competitive behavior necessarily begins to arise, thanks to the perceived security against personal opprobrium that comes with anonymity.
  • Competition is avoidable.

    The truth of the matter is that in a capitalistic economy approaching a (truly) free market, competition is every bit as avoidable on the individual scale as it is in any limited scope communistic system. Competition is something in which one engages when either one chooses to, or one is targeted by someone who wishes one ill. It is thus, in no wise, unavoidable, except in pathological edge cases. In addition, positive (financial) competitive practices can be avoided economy-wide, even though negative competitive practices cannot: this is a result of economies designed to suppress competition, such as socialistic economies, wherever they enjoy any kind of success. Only by eliminating the rewards of competition can one eliminate any competition, and when that competition is eliminated it is found that only positive competition is eliminated, on the whole. Negative competition still exists via black markets, in social realms, and by way of jockeying for influence in the economic management hierarchy. The only exception to this state of affairs is, as above, very small-scale collective economies.
  • Cooperation is better than competition.

    On individual scales, when operating in deadly earnest for important goals, it is generally better to coöperate than to compete. Individuals can achieve more by joining forces than working against one another, assuming similar goals and compatible methodologies. In a large-scale economy, individuals can find other individuals who share goals and methodologies, thus leading to voluntary coöperation. These coöperative encouragements are dependent, however, on either the existence of competition at the macroeconomic level or at least nigh-insurmountable challenges that stand in the individual’s way.
  • Competition is better than coöperation.

    Competition at a scale greater than the individual requires coöperation at the individual scale. The only way to achieve universal coöperation at these larger scales is at the point of a sword, while a competitive market introduces motivation to produce ever-greater wealth — not necessarily to accumulate it, but to generate it, which requires the exchange of wealth as it is produced, thus “spreading the wealth” as it were.

I may come up with more points about capitalistic competition later, but for the nonce I have run out of steam.

Judge a book by its readers.

Filed under: Cognition,Geek — apotheon @ 12:42

Sterling has a list of generic questions/instructions about books in a recent post entitled Think of a title…. I’ll overlook the lack of spaces in the ellipsis, and focus on the content (har har).

The last instruction in the list of ten induces him to tag five other people to play this game. I was first (in alphabetical order) on his list, so here I go (with slightly modified question/instruction text):

  1. Name one book that changed your life.

    Illusions, by Richard Bach. I actually read that before his more popularly known and less flaky-seeming Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It taught me something fundamental and indescribable about metaphysics, belief systems, faith, and the relationship of the internal to the external. The D&D Basic rulebook deserves an honorable mention here.
  2. Name one book you have read more than once.

    Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. Yes, really. Twice. All six million pages of it. It’s quite excellent, really. It would have to be, for me to read such an impressive tome twice. I actually considered making this the “book that changed [my] life”, but I thought it would be funnier here. Besides, Illusions was probably more properly the book that had the biggest impact. In What impacted me in Atlas Shrugged was more a single concept, which could as easily have been (and in a couple cases was) summed up in a single paragraph, than the whole book.
  3. Name one book you would want on a desert isle.

    I’m going to have to go with a dictionary here, believe it or not. A really big one, with very precise definitions.
  4. Name one book that made you laugh.

    Parliament of Whores, by PJ O’Rourke. I mentioned it recently, in an SOB entry entitled Required Reading: Parliament of Whores. In addition to being good at opening the eyes to governmental process in the US, it is also a laugh factory. It’s the most entertaining read I’ve had in quite a while.
  5. Name one book that made you cry.

    I’m tempted to list Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, because it made me laugh until I cried the first time I read it, but that’s not the right kind of crying for this one. Truthfully, I don’t think I’d go so far as to say that a book has made me cry, but a couple have brought a tear to my eye. One example is It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, by Lance Armstrong (and a ghostwriter). The short explanation for why it brought a tear to my eye is simple — I’ve lost a friend to cancer.
  6. Describe one book you wish had been written.

    I wish every book I’ve started, but not finished, writing had been written. The one that most forcefully comes to mind is an imagined magnum opus tour de force treatment of ethical theory. I’m working on it, just as I’m working on the Tao te Ching translation/interpretation, the several novels on which I’m working, and so on. It’s the slowest-moving book-in-development of the lot, though.
  7. Name one book you wish had never been written.

    Blasphemy! Only heathens wish nonexistence upon books! Though . . . there are a few I wish nobody credulous enough to internalize their ideas had read. One that comes to mind is the Communist Manifesto. Another is the Malleus Maleficarum, ripples of which are still being felt in the course of history as it unfolds, though most wouldn’t see the connection. A book I’d like to have never felt the need to read, because it’s just atrocious writing and bad, flatulent, specious argumentation, is Utopian Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. I even spent money on that damned thing. I want those three hours of my life back. Still, it’s nice being able to speak authoritatively when I tell some Upton Sycophant where to stick it.
  8. Name one book you are currently reading.

    Liberty and Culture, by Tibor Machan. It’s a collection of some of the most simply right essays on exactly the subjects indicated in the title that I have ever had the pleasure to stumble upon. There are a couple of very minor apparent differences of opinion between Mr. Machan and me, but less so than I’ve encountered in the writings of anyone else that has discoursed on such subjects at great length.
  9. Name one book you have been meaning to read.

    Most of them, really. I do have some specific examples on my shelves waiting to be read, however. Among them are Faster Than Light: Superluminal Loopholes in Physics, Cryptonomicon, Freakonomics, Time Enough For Love, A Traveler’s Guide to Mars, Programming Perl, The Book of Five Rings, The Bible, and a couple of Philip K. Dick collections.
  10. You’re it: tag five people to play this silly game.

    I doubt I’ll get five people to play along, but I’ll take a whack at this, in alphabetical order:
    1. Greyface
    2. Joseph
    3. M.
    4. Ratha
    5. The Jenny

There are, in fact, many more than five of you, but I figured I’d follow the rules for a change and use the limit of five to stop myself from typing forever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and . . .

Amidst Sterling’s answers, there was commentary about my Apotheonic Tao te Ching project: he is apparently “anxiously awaiting” (his words) my in-progress translation/interpretation. I admit to having set it on a back burner to simmer, and perhaps boil over eventually without getting properly tended, in part because I’m always picking up more projects, but mostly because I haven’t really seen much evidence that anyone cared (for instance, I don’t think I’ve gotten a single ad click there), so it didn’t seem very pressing. I might dive back into that effort with more earnestness now, though, with the inspiration provided by someone else’s interest.

All original content Copyright Chad Perrin: Distributed under the terms of the Open Works License