fundamentally different viewpoints

Eric Hoefler:

Distributing copies of [books], in any format, without payment, is wrong according to my best understanding and ethical sense so far.

This gets right down to it. I see nothing ethically wrong with the noncommercial propagation of published works. What is unethicaljust (see comments) is law criminalizing this behavior.

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13 Responses to “fundamentally different viewpoints”

  1. Mike Says:

    Ummm, OK…….so theres no problem sending my DIARY out to everyone on the net? A book IN THE FORMAT OF A DIARY floating around because you want to “fileshare” is what is unethical!

  2. Eric Hoefler Says:

    Hi Peter,

    OK, this response from you is helpful, as it helps me to get a better sense of your position. As you know, I’m still wrestling with this big and developing issue of copyright.

    However, I’ve yet to grasp your reason for saying that laws that provide creators with the right to prevent others from distributing copies of their work is unethical. You’ve probably explained this clearly somewhere, perhaps directly to me, but it hasn’t clicked or hasn’t sunk in yet because I still don’t get it. (Incidentally, I would agree that the current length of time for those protections is too long.)

    I suspect you have no problem with creators having the right to profit from their works. If I understand you correctly, though, you do have a problem with creators having the right to prevent others from freely distributing their works. Do you also have a problem with creators having the right to prevent others from profiting from their works?

    As always, your counter-arguments and patience are appreciated.

  3. Peter Rock Says:

    Eric, you say:

    However, I’ve yet to grasp your reason for saying that laws that provide creators with the right to prevent others from distributing copies of their work is unethical.

    I would word it differently (sorry if I gave the wrong impression through poor wording earlier). Law preventing the noncommercial propagation of published works is unjust (I think I used the word “unethical” before which is not accurate. A law is just a rule – in and of itself, it is not unethical.). Enforcing such law is unethical and enabled by unjust law.

    I suspect you have no problem with creators having the right to profit from their works.

    Better worded – I have no problem with copyright holders having the privilege to restrict the selling of their work. However, that privilege should expire after a few years (not many decades as it does now in the US).

    If I understand you correctly, though, you do have a problem with creators having the right to prevent others from freely distributing their works

    Law preventing the noncommercial propagation of published works is unjust. It gives authors a power that exceeds what they should have.

    Do you also have a problem with creators having the right to prevent others from profiting from their works?

    Better worded – Generally, I don’t have a problem with copyright holders having the privilege to (for a limited time) restrict commercial use of their work.

    As always, your counter-arguments and patience are appreciated.

    Right back atcha.

  4. Peter Rock Says:

    Mike, you say:

    OK…….so theres no problem sending my DIARY out to everyone on the net?

    That’s correct. You publish your diary? If you haven’t published your diary and you’ve given it to me in confidence, it should be against the law for me to propagate or distribute it without your permission. If I do so knowingly, I would support laws forcing retribution for my behavior as what I’ve done is unethical.

    A book IN THE FORMAT OF A DIARY floating around because you want to “fileshare” is what is unethical!

    I believe Eric was talking about tangible or intangible. By “FORMAT” do you mean personal? If it is your personal diary and it is “floating around”, that should have been your decision, not someone else’s.

  5. Eric Hoefler Says:

    OK, Peter. Let’s see if we’re making progress here. I agree with much of your response. Specifically …

    “I have no problem with copyright holders having the privilege to restrict the selling of their work. However, that privilege should expire after a few years (not many decades as it does now in the US).”

    I agree completely, though I might side with the original 14 years (I’m not certain about that, yet … haven’t thought it through).

    “Generally, I don’t have a problem with copyright holders having the privilege to (for a limited time) restrict commercial use of their work.”

    Cool … I agree with this, too.

    I combine some of your responses here: “Law preventing the noncommercial propagation of published works is unjust … It gives authors a power that exceeds what they should have. Enforcing such law is unethical and enabled by unjust law.”

    Now, if you were talking about transformative work or (broad-ranging) fair use (with few restrictions), then I’d agree. But you’re not.

    So here’s where I’m stuck because, as of yet, I can’t get on board with this. Primarily, what I can’t get past is the financial repercussions for authors, and the resulting effects those repercussions would have on all creative work. And allowing those repercussions out of a sense of privilege (to freely share copies of a work) seems, to me, unethical. I admit we’re talking about compromise here — trading my right to “freely propagate culture” (in which I do believe) in order to ensure that creators have a chance to genuinely profit from their creations — but that’s a compromise I’m willing to make because I think, in the long run, it benefits the culture as a whole.

    Now, I do agree that the public is asked to give up that right (to propagate) for far too long, and that restrictions on transformative work and fair use are far too strict, and that the business strategies many companies are using in order to protect their profits are unfair and unjust. Therefore, I believe those things need to change. I do not, however, believe that we should abandon the compromise altogether because the other side is currently being unfair, unjust and uncompromising. That’s “baby with the bath water” to me, and inconsiderate of the original creators.

    It still seems like both sides are refusing to “play fair” and refusing to compromise and find a middle ground, and that’s what frustrates me. We should be able to find a compromise in all this. And I still think Lessig has some of the best ideas about what this compromise would look like.

    So, if nothing else, we’re coming closer to the root cause of our disagreements, which I consider progress. The first step in any debate is clearly understanding the position(s) of all sides. Thanks again.

  6. diane Says:

    I’m a school librarian. Do any of you feel that loaning library books violates copyright laws? What about downloading ebooks?

  7. Peter Rock Says:

    Diane,

    If I lend a tangible library book to another and that book gets lost or unreasonably damaged, I have (at least indirectly) caused economic harm and should have to pay a fine to replace the material…but that is not a matter of copyright. But, IANAL. What does the law say?

    Downloading an intangible book that you have rightful access to (given by the library) wouldn’t violate copyright law. I would imagine that copyright law is only applicable in relation to what you then do with that copy “taken out” of the library.

  8. Eric Hoefler Says:

    Diane,

    Loaning library books does not violate current copyright law, and I’m personally in agreement with that.

    This is another example of compromise: the library agrees to pay a certain amount for the copies it holds in order to provide these texts to the public; the author (implicitly) and the publishing company (explicitly, assuming the work isn’t self-published) agree to allow copies to be shared with the public in this manner for the good of the public/commons, thereby forgoing potential sales that might otherwise result if the library didn’t exist.

    The short answer for me on “ebooks” is: it depends on the book and the terms associated with it. But more generally, this seems to be where the “gray” area is and, at least for me, where the difficulties begin.

    Downloading and reading an “ebook” from the library website seems no different from borrowing a book from the library. But there is a difference, of course, in that libraries only have so many copies of physical books but, for all practical purposes, have an unlimited number of digital “copies.”

    If we say the “ebook” can be downloaded by anyone without restriction, then at some future point when digital books are the majority medium, each author will only be able to rely on one sale of hi/r work with no potential profit from the popularity of that work. (I don’t think this would affect derivate works.) After that, the digital copy can easily be reproduced and distributed at no cost (and thus no profit).

    In the resulting economic model, companies would never offer major payment to the author for the rights to the work because it, too, couldn’t count on making a large profit from the work (or perhaps any profit at all) should the work become popular.

    This creates a big problem for the author, and seriously reduces the economic incentive to create (and so, for many, the economic opportunity to create … b/c authors gotta eat, and if their creative efforts aren’t going to make that possible, then they’ll need to get other work, leaving less time and energy for the creative process). This isn’t good for society in the long run, and is exactly the dilemma that drove the founders to agree on a “limited monopoly” in the first place.

    Perhaps a part of the solution is to eliminate the middle-man and let the author put hi/r work into the digital marketplace directly: upload a PDF or some future file version that can be read on future “ebook” readers and hope people will “donate” if they like the work. This still doesn’t address concerns like related artwork, marketing and advertising, financial management and legal concerns, etc., so I’m not sure the middle-man can be completely eliminated in any practical sense. This method would also metaphorically reduce authors to beggars on the street …

    So I think we have to return to the principle of compromise for a solution to this. I don’t think “clamping down” on digital copies is the solution. (That swings the negotiation too far to the side of the publishing companies.) It seems to me that alternative methods for generating profit is the only reasonable solution.

    I think this is exactly where music currently is, where movies are about to be, and where novels, etc. will be in the not-too-distant future. Lots of different possible solutions are being tested by different companies, but none of them yet seem to be “ideal” for all sides. This is where the real work needs to happen, I think: finding a solution to this dilemma that fairly benefits all concerned parties (the public/commons, the creators, and the publishing companies … in that order).

    At least, that’s what I think right now. Maybe Peter will change my mind, though!

  9. Peter Rock Says:

    Eric, I find you jumping to a huge and indefensible conclusion on how the financial aspect of allowing noncommercial propagation will shake down…

    each author will only be able to rely on one sale of hi/r work with no potential profit from the popularity of that work.

    This is simply not reality. Culture under licenses allowing noncommercial propagation are being recorded and selling many more times than once (sometimes in very large numbers). How can you argue that each author will have “no potential profit from the popularity of that work”? If a work is popular, it will garner an income (and feed fuel to the garnering of more income from future, related works). There are many people who read books and listen to music who want to show financial appreciation for the work of authors and artists. Clearly, the biggest factors in determining sales is the popularity of the work, the price, and the ease at which appreciative readers/listeners can pay.

    And of course, sales of the work is just one way to generate income. There are a variety of ways to make money through the work whose specifics depend on the type of work. To claim that there would be “no potential profit” is simply not true.

  10. Eric Hoefler Says:

    Any chance you know of any studies / cases with specific data? I’ll look, too.

    This comment thread has helped me to at least identify my primary concern: a system that fairly balances 1) the rights of the commons and 2) the rights and potential income (and thus incentive) of the creator. And my supposition thus far is that, in order to protect #2, some consideration for the potential of third parties (i.e., companies/corporations) to benefit from facilitating 1 and 2 must exist. Maybe that supposition is unfounded in the realm of digital media? You’re also suggesting that my concern that #2 won’t happen in a society that allows unrestricted noncommercial propagation of published works is also unfounded. I’m not yet convinced, but I’m willing to be persuaded by the evidence …

  11. Peter Rock Says:

    Eric,

    We should be wary looking at data because the law automatically skews any attempt to gather genuine results. The fact is, by default the “experiment” is not given fertile ground upon which to flourish.

    I’m sure we agree upon one thing. If you have not generated a name for yourself, you are not going to garner much money from your work regardless of the license it is under. There are very few examples of artists who not only have made a name for themselves but are free from contractual obligations that restrict them from experimenting with licensing allowing noncommercial redistribution.

    One recent example provides us with a positive result. Nine Inch Nails is a band that is free from their label and trying such an experiment. Last I heard, the band had made millions despite the fact that their latest album (“Ghosts I-IV”) was entirely released under a CC-BY-NC license.

    But until we have a fertile ground for real experimentation, I don’t see how we can pick up hoards of legitimate data. However, I don’t think it would be unreasonable to assume that if the law suddenly required artists to allow noncommercial redistribution, popular artists would still make more than enough money from sales and other endeavors related to their work.

    The only other advice I’d have is to follow Mike Masnick’s posts on Techdirt. He focuses in on the financial ramifications of such business models. I know he has brought up many other examples but I simply don’t have those off the top of my head as I focus on arguing for what I see as the natural right to share published information.

  12. Peter Rock Says:

    Minor correction –

    NIN’s latest album is under a CC BY-NC-SA license. Here.

  13. Eric Hoefler Says:

    Thanks again, Peter. I’ll try to track down Mike Masnick’s posts and see what I can learn there. I’ve heard about examples like NIN and Radio Head doing releases like that. I wonder how much their well-established popularity has to do with the result … but that’s almost pointless speculation. As you rightly say, there isn’t “fertile ground upon which” this type of experiment can flourish.

    I’m sure there’s a post in my near future trying to summarize and restate for myself what I’ve been learning in this thread and a few other places recently. I’m also sure it will contain more things for us to debate! Cheers!

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