[rumori] Steal This Essay

From: Don Joyce (djATwebbnet.com)
Date: Sun Jan 06 2002 - 18:33:32 PST

Forwarded by Negativland.

>Steal This Essay 4: Are We Just Rationalizing Theft?
> by Dan Kohn
> "Information is the currency of democracy."
> - Thomas Jefferson
> At least since the U.S. Constitution explicitly granted Congress
> the power to protect copyright, an intellectual foundation has
> been built up regarding intellectual property. My previous essays
> argued that foundation is now crumbling, and will be gone within
> 10 years as broadband connections (to enable easy transfer of
> large files) become ubiquitous and people become more comfortable
> viewing material on computer screens (where it becomes impossible
> to stop copying) versus on paper (where content is still somewhat
> excludable). In other words, if you make money from selling
> content, the news is worse than you think.
> But whether or not this trend is inevitable, one could stop and
> ask whether it's a good thing, and whether the death of excludable
> content should be grieved or cheered. Property is generally
> defined by economists as goods that are rival (e.g., if I take
> your car, you don't have one) and excludable (e.g., you can lock
> your door to keep me out of your home). As information has become
> digitized (and therefore nonrival and nonexcludable), the
> intellectual underpinning of intellectual property has eroded, so
> that today the term intellectual property is little more than an
> oxymoron. Intellectual property may, in a few years, sound as
> strange to the ears as "reasonable attorney fees", "low tar
> cigarettes", and "Zero Administration Windows" do today.
> Note, however, that while this erosion applies to all forms of
> copyright, 99 percent of patents remain valid and enforceable.
> That's because the majority of patents entail securing property
> rights regarding the manipulation of atoms, not bits. If someone
> steals your patented concept of how to build a better mousetrap,
> you can still sue that company, shut down their mousetrap factory,
> and get a large cash settlement. Even patents regarding the way
> information is stored on physical media, such as the MPEG patents
> that apply to DVDs, remain enforceable because you can sue to shut
> down DVD factories that violate them. The patents that will become
> increasingly unenforceable are those regarding the transfer of
> digital information over networks, such as the patents that
> Fraunhofer holds over software that creates MP3 music. Yes,
> Fraunhofer can sue large companies that might infringe, such as
> Microsoft or Real, but they are unlikely to succeed in stopping
> individuals that create MP3 software as a hobby and release it for
> free. Bits are virtual; atoms are real. The rule of thumb is that
> if you can't kick it, you can't sue it.
> Won't people's conscience stop them from "stealing" other's
> "property?" Ask the millions of college students who popularized
> Napster. The reality is that new technology almost always changes
> the views of its users as to what is permissible and even what is
> moral. For example, the Pill radically changed society's view of
> the permissibility (and feasibility) of sex outside of marriage,
> and had even larger effects on the role of women in all walks of
> life. Going back further, it is hard to see how Martin Luther's
> Protestant Revolution could have taken hold without the broad
> availability and consequential wide literacy enabled by the
> Gutenberg Bible. In fact, the drastically reduced cost of
> information distribution that Gutenberg's printing press entailed
> can be seen to underpin the entire Enlightenment, as well as its
> intellectual offspring, liberal democracy and market capitalism.
> (Not to mention the similarity that the printing press was quickly
> applied to the production of erotic texts and imagery, just as
> VCRs caught on as a way to watch adult movies in the comfort of
> one's home, and the sons-of-Napster are exchanging an increasing
> quantity of adult materials in addition to MP3 music.)
> As the marginal cost of distributing information goes from a few
> pennies per megabyte (the approximate cost of most media today) to
> zero, it is likely that the impact on larger society will
> accelerate. Most people will probably come to see the terms
> property and stealing as simply unrelated to how information is
> distributed and how its creation is funded.
>> Price per megabyte of different media today
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
>> book $20/50 MB $0.40 per MB per copy
>> newspaper $0.50/10 MB $0.05 per MB per copy
>> 30 second TV ad $500,000/5 MB $0.03 per MB per person
>> (assuming 3 million viewers)
>> CD-ROM $15/650 MB $0.02 per MB per copy
>> DVD $50/7000 MB $0.007 per MB per copy
> A.J. Liebling said that "Freedom of the press belongs to those who
> own one." The reality is that throughout history, the distribution
> of information has been monopolized by a tiny, yet extraordinarily
> powerful, elite. In ancient Egypt, priests would jealously guard
> their astronomical knowledge so as to ensure their place at the
> top of society by being able to predict the annual flooding of the
> Nile. The Roman Catholic Church used the literacy of its clergy
> and monks to develop a parallel government that was more powerful
> than the theoretically sovereign kings during the 1,000 years of
> the Middle Ages. Although freedom of the press is enshrined in the
> First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the reality today is
> that the majority of information distribution channels are still
> controlled by a small elite of publishers and broadcasters. An
> oligopoly of five powerful companies has nearly exclusive control
> in deciding what music will be heard. (This is certainly one of
> the fundamental reasons that Britney Spears is so popular.)
> The influential media theorist Ithiel de Sola Pool described the
> concept of a technology of freedom, which he said, "aims at
> pluralism of expression rather than a dissemination of preferred
> ideas." Pool analyzed the radical differences in how
> communications technologies were regulated by the government,
> based on the perceived scarcity of how many publishers could be
> supported. The press was the gold standard by which others were
> measured, which because of its wide availability, is given the
> broadest First Amendment protection. But radio and television
> broadcasters, by convincing the government that there is a
> scarcity of available radio spectrum, have successfully argued the
> need for heavy regulation. Thus, the government not only regulates
> the kinds of content that can be broadcast (allowing almost any
> level of violence as long as no nudity is shown) but also makes it
> far more difficult for new entrants to compete with the
> established players.
> If he were alive today, Pool would surely believe that the
> Internet is the ultimate technology of freedom. Or, as Judge
> Dalzell said in his historic ruling in ACLU v. Reno that
> pronounced the Communications Decency Act unconstitutional, "It is
> no exaggeration to conclude that the Internet has achieved, and
> continues to achieve, the most participatory marketplace of mass
> speech that this country - and indeed the world - has yet seen."
> Intriguingly, he implied that the Internet may therefore deserve
> even greater free speech protection than what is currently
> available for print. That's because anyone with basic literacy
> skills can use the Internet to reach an enormous and growing
> audience for almost no cost. If Liebling was right and the
> limiting factor is the availability of the printing press, than
> that price has been reduced to the $1 an hour or so charged by
> Internet cafes, or the free Internet access made available in many
> U.S. libraries.
> The world we seem to be entering, then, is one in which the
> distribution of content is essentially free, even while its
> creation must still be funded. However, the group most responsible
> for promoting the concept of intellectual property is the
> recording industry, which generally gets the ownership rights to
> artists' music in exchange for agreeing to distribute it. Is it
> any wonder then that the recording industry routinely makes absurd
> comparisons such as that there is no difference between stealing
> music and stealing a car? (The recording industry also routinely
> refers to copying music as piracy, trivializing a real crime in
> which hundreds of people are killed every year on the high seas.
> Piracy on the seas is violent as a direct result of the fact that
> physical goods are rival.)
> A world in which distribution is free is one where many more
> voices can be heard (and also hopefully in which the corresponding
> mouths can be fed). It is unlikely, though, that there will be
> enough money left over to support the recording industry. On the
> night when the RIAA's last lawyers are laid off - they will go out
> toasting, "Well, at least we brought Napster down with us" - few
> tears will be shed for the demise of the music oligopoly.
> Of course, the music industry as it currently exists is not giving
> up without a fight, and a future essay will examine how their
> announced digital offerings compare with the many services that
> have risen up in place of Napster.

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