Friday, February 24, 2006

War on Piracy?

The proponents of "All Rights Reserved" copyright law often toss around words such as "stealing", "thievery", and "piracy" to describe those who distribute unauthorized copies of works. Such loaded terms often come with accusations of "unethical" behavior and the need to go to war. Indeed, the very nature of such words implies morally questionable behavior. Invariably, those who push this point of view rarely wish to engage in a discussion on the fundamental difference between rivalrous and non-rivalrous resources. They hold implicit membership in the Church of Intellectual Property - doing what they can to spread their beliefs.

Clearly, if I go to another's home and take a bar of soap without asking I am stealing. I am committing an offensive act no matter how much I may need a proper bath. The ethics concerning such a situation seem obvious. If I take something of yours, you no longer have it. I have deprived you of your soap. You must now find the means to replace that soap. Curiously, this frame of reference is often applied to the field of non-rivalrous ideas.

As an example, let's look at a typical proprietary software maker's mentality to see if "ethics" are really involved...

But first, regarding one's soap: If you told me that stealing your soap is a morally reprehensible act, would you then say - "Stealing soap is morally wrong, but should you decide to steal soap, I would prefer it if you stole my soap and not someone else's"? That would sound strange, no? Borderline insane. So how would a major corporation selling proprietary operating system software react when the same scenario is applied to software rather than suds? You see, proprietary software vendors don't actually want to stop piracy. A corporation like Microsoft will not admit this, though this is an obvious fact. Obviously, Microsoft Windows would be completely eviscerated on the desktop by free software if Microsoft could - and did - put an end to piracy. However, here is someone who will at least be honest with you - Ilene Lang, a former senior vice president of Lotus Development Corporation once said -
"I'm not saying that I want people to steal our software, mind you, but if they should steal someone's software, maybe they should steal ours, because it gets you an installed base and market recognition."
Proprietary software vendors don't want to put a full-stop to piracy. These organizations don't want to end piracy any more than a company like Symantec wants software impervious to viruses and worms. Complete security is not in their interest - it is the struggle for security that they wish to perpetuate. Analogously, the current U.S. administration does not wish to end completely the "War on Terror" or the "War on Drugs". Such artificially created conflict is common in our world. The fight is what intere$ts such organizations. Without the struggle, there is no opportunity for power, control and ultimately, profit.


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