the ethics of sharing and the commercial bargaining chip

In comment #8 of this post I ask Tom Hoffman:

[do you] support the noncommercial propagation of cultural works as a bare minimum right individuals should be entitled to without permission?

Tom replies:

Basically, I don’t think the commercial vs. non-commercial distinction is particularly meaningful.

The distinction is important because restricting non-commercial propagation of cultural works (aka “sharing”) is ethically abhorrent. By contrast, restricting commercial use has relatively little ethical significance (for works of a practical nature this is not the case).

While it’s arguable that restricting commercial use may not be the best way to propagate one’s cultural work, the negligible ethical implications of doing so means commercial restrictions should be set apart when defining minimum rights for the public. This leverage is significant.

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4 Responses to “the ethics of sharing and the commercial bargaining chip”

  1. Tom Hoffman Says:

    Why? I don’t think commercial activity in general is abhorrent. Nor do I think non-commercial activity is inherently more virtuous.

  2. gnuosphere Says:

    I’m not understanding what you are asking. I’m not commenting on “activity in general” or the actions of those that use the works. I’m commenting on the restrictive actions that authors of cultural works can take as a privilege under copyright law.

    If I publish say, a fictional novel, and I restrict people who legally obtain a copy from making and sharing copies, that’s abhorrent. However, if I say “go ahead and copy it…but you are not allowed to sell those copies without my permission” then where is the moral wrong? A commercial restriction should be available to authors if they so choose for a limited time (whether or not it is wise for them to exercise that privilege is a different discussion).

    In short, that ethical difference is significant. This makes the distinction between commercial and non-commercial especially meaningful when discussing what the bare minimum rights are that the public should have in regard to cultural works.

  3. Eric Hoefler Says:

    Hi again. You said: “If I publish say, a fictional novel, and I restrict people who legally obtain a copy from making and sharing copies, that’s abhorrent.”

    This is a point you raised in some of our earlier discussions, but you still haven’t explained (that I’ve seen … perhaps I’ve missed it, though) your reasoning for calling this “abhorrent.”

    If my livelihood is dependent, even in part, on the sales of my novel, and we reasonably assume that someone who is given a free copy of my book is much less likely to buy it, then asking people not to make and distribute copies of it (at least for a while) seems reasonable and fair to me …

    Could you explain your reason for calling this abhorrent, or point me to where you’ve already done so?

    Thanks!

  4. gnuosphere Says:

    Eric, it’s abhorrent because it denies people the freedom to share culture. It is important for people to have this freedom. Are you asking – “Why is it important for people to have the freedom to share culture?”

    If my livelihood is dependent, even in part, on the sales of my novel, and we reasonably assume that someone who is given a free copy of my book is much less likely to buy it,

    That assumption is not reasonable as it oversimplifies. What about those who pay for the work because they would not have encountered it otherwise? Are we factoring in the increase in exposure when we project what would happen if people were free to share culture? And are we taking into account other revenue streams that are bolstered by the increase in exposure?

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