What do you think about Piracy?

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What do you think about Piracy?

Postby Spangwiches » Fri Sep 23, 2011 8:02 am

(It IS about computers! I don't know where to post it! Better play it safe)
(Also, why does the profanity filter filter out a word which rhymes with 'pollocks' but not a word which rhymes with (and indeed, is) 'shit'? Also, can I turn this filter off? Also, hello)

I've noticed (and this may be mistaken) a general hostility amongst proponents of Free Software towards software piracy, which seems a little strange as to my mind some of the goals of some amongst the more thinking, organised piracy movements seem to align with some of those of Free Software. I'm just going to, in my rambly way, describe how I see it and ask you for your thoughts/feelings/opinions.

I think the reasons for this hostility probably broadly fit into four categries:

1. I'm sure some of this is the kneejerk 'piracy is theft' stuff which even piracy opponents have largely given up on now.

2. Some of it is just not wanting to provide the 'other side' with ammunition, I'm sure. If Free Software people get tagged as 'criminals' then the public debate suddenly becomes much easier.

3. Competition: The more people are able (technically and culturally) to pirate (for example) windows, the fewer will use (for example) Linux. i.e. if it was impossible to pirate windows, everyone who couldn't or wasn't willing to pay windows would be forced to find an alternative.

4. And some is down to a belief that piracy doesn't address notions of Freedom, only free-of-charge-ness.

Some of this relies on a kind of mismatch of ideals:

Free Software means Freedom, not price. Free-of-charge is a byproduct of Freedom. Price is not what they care about.

Proprietary software isn't anti-Freedom, it's anti-not-getting-paid. The lack of Freedom is a byproduct of it having a price. (Lack of) Freedom is not what they care about.

They are not really diametrically opposed, they just put different things at the forefront. The diametric opposite of proprietary software is piracy, where the premise is everything is free of charge.

Anyway, getting into the whys and wherefores:


1.

This one is pretty tiresome. Making unauthorised copies of something you would not have otherwise bought (which evidence suggests is how it works in the overwhelming majority of cases) is quite clearly illegal, but is pretty hard to argue as theft (no one is being deprived of anything). If the fact that it's criminal is enough for you to condemn it then... you have to take the same line against people in the US and Japan installing DVD codecs on Linux which is exactly the same issue.

Whether it's immoral is a more interesting question and really hinges on whether harm is done. It's argued both ways by boths sides but the less biased research tends to suggest that it does more good than harm. With games, for example, more people playing a game and spreading the word about how great this game is obviously reseults in more sales than had those people not had access to that game. I very strongly suspect that this is the general pattern - that piracy does more (economic, for the people who made the thing) good than harm.

2.

This one is probably correct. I'm sure it would be initially damaging if members of the Free Software movement expressed any allegiance with pro-piracy positions. Having said that... if that's the only reason not to, that's a bit cowardly. It's a complex debate and it's important. If you're not addressing that complexity then I suspect you risk being sidelined. Even those who remain anti-piracy should surely be reaching out to the vast numbers of people who are comfortable with casual piracy and saying "there's another way...".

3.

This is probably valid but again a bit mercenary. See 3., really.

4.

And this is the complex one and by far the most important, I think.

Of course piracy doesn't deal with the issue of opening source, that is undeniable. But I think it's more complex than that, I'll have to come back to that.

And Free Software has at its core, I think, the notion that it's better to share than to artificially restrict. That sharing is a better thing to do, as a person, than not sharing.. That's the assumption upon which everything else is built.

Piracy is not ideological like Free Software. Piracy is more democratic (in the true sense (i.e. anarchistic)). So piracy doesn't start from 'a position' - it just a particular collection of activities which are technologically possible but proscribed by laws. But I think it can be said to 'say' something when you see a predominance of usage patterns - people can be said to be 'saying something' through their uncoordinated actions.

The primary of these must be: There should no restrictions on availability of culture. Culture should be free to all people regardless of location or ability to pay.

I find that hard to condemn, it's the same motivation which prompted us to build public libraries in previous centuries. The idea that it's somewhat immoral to arbitrarily exclude people from our culture.

Secondly it's a valid market expression. It's people being alienated by DRM and making a free choice to pirate, rather than buy, games and films (for example) with overly restrictive DRM as both a protest and to avoid rewarding those who do such things. Refusing to engage economically with companies who have no respect for their customers as people.

Companies who start with the premise that people are untrustworthy get punished for it. Companies who start with the premise that people can be trusted get rewarded (those who offer support for pirated copies of their game (it's happened) or those who release pirate versions of their games themselves (also happened)). Those who engage with the idea that 'culture should be free as in freedom and we trust you to pay us for our work, rather than for every free-to-produce-copy that is made, if you can and feel we deserve it' tend to prosper.

It's try before you buy. Avoiding paying money for something before you're sure you want it. Particularly important with applications and games, I think, where it's often hard to tell whether it will be useful/enjoyable until you've actually tried it. Of course there are (or used to be) demos and trials, but these are often not a true representation of the thing. (Which could pejoratively be put: avoiding being conned).

I think all of these expressions are pretty in-line with what's at the heart of the Free Software movements. Not the methods, just the principles of sharing and operating in a respectful way. Te stuff being shared is still closed and proprietary of course, but here's where I think it gets complex...

My (you will be glad to hear) Conclusion:

The more people engage with casual piracy, the more they think in terms of it being natural to share. Sharing, rather than restricting and commodifying, becomes the norm. From this hard-to-criticise-point it's a much easier job to then say: "well, you've got free access to this stuff, and that's right and natural. But can you alter it? Can you remix it? Can you modify it to your needs? Isn't that a fundamental part of sharing? Isn't that how culture works when it's Free?".

And as I said earlier, proprietary people aren't against freedom, they're pro getting paid. If they've survived rampant piracy and been made to realise that people will still pay even when they can freely copy stuff, or if they've found another way to get paid then... the pressure to protect their source code largely disappears.

This is a cultural 'battle', not a legal one. The more people are acculturated into this 'weaker' form of Freedom, the more receptive (and equipped to actually understand) the stronger form they will be.

I'm certainly not suggesting that 'the enemy of our enemy is our friend' - I don't see it that way at all. I think proprietary ways of thinking are a bad model (by which I mean I don't think it's a good way to make money and I believe it harms us culturally) which we've stumbled into through a few accidents of history and some people and companies are trapped in. I think piracy takes us half way to where we're trying to get to and says a lot we agree with.

I think of the Free Software movement doesn't start engaging openly with piracy (not necessarily supporting or condoning but discussing - talking about the effects it's having, which are good and which bad, what it's doing right and what wrong etc.) then it risks being left behind in a culture where everything's free-of-charge if you want it for nothing, but nothing is open. In other words: there's an actual cultural debate going on and I feel like we're sitting on the sidelines hoping to be noticed rather than wading in and telling people what we're about.

Caveats and stuff

Despite the above I'm not sure I'm pro piracy as such. I just think there's a lot going on right now which is very pertinent to the fundamental aims of Free Software, but I'm seeing no discussion of that.

I concentrate a bit on games. That's just because that's what I know about. I also think games are going to be hugely culturally important.

I'm not against people getting paid for their work. I'm against people getting paid for making copies of other peoples' work for free and then making a business out of selling those copies. There are other ways, the Humble Indie Bundles being a prime example. Also democratised patronage is interesting.

Apology for length and expression of hope that I have not bored you or posted something utterly inappropriate

I'm sorry for the length of this. I also hope that I have not bored you too much or posted something utterly inappropriate.

I'm just interested in what you, as a representative cross-section of Linux-using, Free Software loving humans think about this stuff. It's debated endlessly in gaming communities, of course, but I think it actually matters far less to games than it does to Free Software.

If you got this far, even by skimming (I don't blame you): Thank you for your time!
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Postby lok1950 » Fri Sep 23, 2011 4:26 pm

Very good deconstruction of the issue maybe Mike should move the topic to the discussion area.


Enjoy the Choice :)
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Postby guy » Sat Sep 24, 2011 12:44 pm

Well, reasonably good.

The relationship between free as in freedom and free as in beer is a bit different - neither necessarily implies the other. For example there is nothing in the GPL to stop you charging your users - only that after being fleeced, they have certain rights as members of your user community. Giving your product away to new users is not one of those rights under the GPL, but would have to be separately granted.

The foundation of software freedom is moral. So too is the foundation of anti-piracy, however mangled through the distorting lens of the profit motive it might become.

Anarchists and (at least until recently) most Communist countries take a moral stance the other way - against anti-piracy. Freedom proponents are divided over the morality of copyleft, while hardline Capitalists see any kind of free license as a distortion of the natural marketplace - and hence immoral. Politicians are acutely aware that if their national economies cannot make money, the people will suffer.

All this moralising is tempered by hard facts - people are imperfect and can be selfish or stupid as well as noble and wise, technologies can be exploited or circumvented. Liberalising one aspect of the economy can stifle another.

Piracy is just one aspect of the wider issue of Intellectual Property ownership in the wired-up world of today. Do we have the right to protect it, or does the wider society have the right to help itself? On what principles should we decide the issue? And how far should the law go?
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Postby Spangwiches » Sat Sep 24, 2011 1:04 pm

The relationship between free as in freedom and free as in beer is a bit different - neither necessarily implies the other.


It does imply, it doesn't necessitate. Nor does (obviously, given that, as you say, you can charge for OS software) charging necessitate closed source.

I wasn't talking about cause and effect, what I was trying to say was that proprietary vendors keep their stuff closed because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that is necessary in order to sell it effectively. i.e. it's not an ideological position (though of course it can be shoehorned into one).

Giving your product away to new users is not one of those rights under the GPL, but would have to be separately granted.


I welcome correction but I'm pretty sure you do get exactly that right from the GPL.

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

With free software, users don't have to pay the distribution fee in order to use the software. They can copy the program from a friend who has a copy, or with the help of a friend who has network access. Or several users can join together, split the price of one CD-ROM, then each in turn can install the software. A high CD-ROM price is not a major obstacle when the software is free.
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Postby guy » Sat Sep 24, 2011 2:58 pm

Spangwiches wrote:
The relationship between free as in freedom and free as in beer is a bit different - neither necessarily implies the other.


It does imply, it doesn't necessitate. Nor does (obviously, given that, as you say, you can charge for OS software) charging necessitate closed source.

I wasn't talking about cause and effect, what I was trying to say was that proprietary vendors keep their stuff closed because they believe (rightly or wrongly) that is necessary in order to sell it effectively. i.e. it's not an ideological position (though of course it can be shoehorned into one).

Specifically, free-of-charge is not, as you claim, a byproduct of freedom. Some people charge a fair bit for libre packages, while others give away proprietary code free of charge (commonly called freeware) for all sorts of reasons. There is no direct logical connection, no implication from the one to the other.

BTW, implication is a logical thing, not a cause-and-effect thing. I used the phrase "necessarily implies" in the sense of "logically requires".

Giving your product away to new users is not one of those rights under the GPL, but would have to be separately granted.


I welcome correction but I'm pretty sure you do get exactly that right from the GPL.

http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/selling.html

With free software, users don't have to pay the distribution fee in order to use the software. They can copy the program from a friend who has a copy, or with the help of a friend who has network access. Or several users can join together, split the price of one CD-ROM, then each in turn can install the software. A high CD-ROM price is not a major obstacle when the software is free.

You're right about the GPL - my bad. But I have seen other licenses (contracts?) where users cannot pass it on - all users get access to the code, just not everybody is allowed to be a user.
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Postby Spangwiches » Sat Sep 24, 2011 3:37 pm

Specifically, free-of-charge is not, as you claim, a byproduct of freedom. Some people charge a fair bit for libre packages, while others give away proprietary code free of charge (commonly called freeware) for all sorts of reasons. There is no direct logical connection, no implication from the one to the other.


You're fundamentally misunderstanding me for some reason. Free of charge quite clearly is a byproduct of free-as-in-speech because as you've conceded any user is free to share the code for nothing. You could argue that a situation could arise whereby every person who has access to a paid-for-distribution free project refuses to share it with others except for a fee but... I hope you'd agree that would be absurdly pedantic.

I wasn't even saying it was a necessary byproduct, I was just saying that is does tend to work out that way (for obvious reasons). The point I was making from the start though, and one you keep insisting on re-making back to me as if it's a correction, was that price is beside the point from a Free Software Perspective.

Similarly, I didn't say that closed-source stuff is necessarily paid-for, I wasn't addressing freeware/similar at all. I simply said that companies who operate via a proprietary model tend to keep their sources closed in order to facilitate selling their software. The closedness is, in their minds (rightly or wrongly), necessary to selling it. But they don't care about the open/closedness, they care about selling it. That is the sense in which, in their minds, closedness is necessary to selling it.

Again, I'm not talking about cause and effect and I'm not making a comprehensive logical claim or trying to create a model of reality (which I'd hope was obvious from my use of informal natural language rather than formal logic or mathematics). I am just trying to describe 'what tends to happen out there in the world, what the prevailing trends and practises are and what cultural assumptions/conventions they represent'.

I used the phrase "necessarily implies" in the sense of "logically requires".


I'm just using 'imply' in the natural language sense of 'to suggest'.
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Postby guy » Sat Sep 24, 2011 4:18 pm

Spangwiches wrote:You could argue that a situation could arise whereby every person who has access to a paid-for-distribution free project refuses to share it with others except for a fee but... I hope you'd agree that would be absurdly pedantic.

As I said, I have come across contractual license terms which require exactly that.

I'm just using 'imply' in the natural language sense of 'to suggest'.

That's maybe one reason why we are misunderstanding each other. According to my dictionary, implication is much stronger than mere suggestion. Your natural language is evidently not mine or Chambers'. It possibly does not help you that "imply" is a term commonly used in formal logic and mathematics.
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Postby Spangwiches » Sun Sep 25, 2011 2:53 am

guy wrote:
Spangwiches wrote:You could argue that a situation could arise whereby every person who has access to a paid-for-distribution free project refuses to share it with others except for a fee but... I hope you'd agree that would be absurdly pedantic.

As I said, I have come across contractual license terms which require exactly that.


Then they are not Free Software and thus they are entirely beside the point because that was entirely in regard to Free Software.

Of course things can be dual licensed. The same product can be supplied under the GPL or under (usually for a fee) a license which doesn't require the user to disclose source code and doesn't allow users to pass the thing around. Under that latter license it's not Free Software and is thus beside the point when considering Free Software.

I'm just using 'imply' in the natural language sense of 'to suggest'.

That's maybe one reason why we are misunderstanding each other. According to my dictionary, implication is much stronger than mere suggestion. Your natural language is evidently not mine or Chambers'. It possibly does not help you that "imply" is a term commonly used in formal logic and mathematics.[/quote][/quote]

Chambers Dictionary

1 to suggest or express something indirectly; to hint at it • Are you implying that it was my fault?


Cambridge Dictionary

› to suggest or show something, without saying it directly:
[+ (that)] Are you implying that I'm fat?


Oxford Dictionary

indicate the truth or existence of (something) by suggestion rather than explicit reference:
salesmen who use jargon to imply superior knowledge


(first/only def listed in all cases)

Of course it means both things, we can cope with different meanings in different contexts/usages. But 'to suggest' has been the predominant everyday-speech usage since about 1600.
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Postby sledgehammer » Sun Sep 25, 2011 10:04 am

This must be a philosophical discussion.

Yep, my head hurts that proves it :shock:
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Postby guy » Sun Sep 25, 2011 8:48 pm

On what one might call closed-community licensing:
RMS will tell you that a good free license will preserve the Four Freedoms, which (IIRC) includes the freedom to pass on to others.
Licenses such as MIT and BSD are generally accepted to be "more free" than the GPL in that the do not enforce copyleft, yet they fail to preserve all four freedoms.
Thus, the fact that a license fails to preserve all four freedoms does not necessarily make in non-free.
If a license preserves the two personal freedoms for every user, and preserves the other two within the confines of the (potential) user community, most folk I know would describe that as a free license.
Suppose for example (and I must stress, this is a made-up example) that I write a web app to query a set of health records across hospitals in my County, and return stats on all cases of a specified medical condition over a specified time period. My code gives visibility to aspects of the system security design which, in order to protect personal data, cannot be made public (This was stipulated by the Security Accreditor, following careful risk analysis). Other health authorities see my app in action and want to adapt it - we agree to eventually query each other's databases, even to pull in all medical records for a given patent who has been moving around. To allow the public access to the code would fail to secure patient privacy - the Accreditor will not allow it. But we authorities need to share the code among our staff - the user base. So I draw up a permissive license to share my code and other users' contributions - with other health authorities but not with the general public.
I would call that a free software license. But I can understand if you choose to disagree.

On "imply":
My Chambers': "to enfold, involve the truth or reality of, express indirectly, insinuate, mean, signify"
Cambridge online: "to communicate an idea or feeling without saying it directly, involve something or make it necessary"
Their definitions of "suggest" are rather different.
But other dictionaries disagree, you are right enough there.
How can we poor geeks have a good argument if the dictionaries won't even agree on what we are arguing about?
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Postby Spangwiches » Mon Sep 26, 2011 4:28 am

Whether BSD/MIT similar is 'more free' is open to debate really - I accept your point of course, it's more permissive. You could describe BSD as valuing the 'freedom' to close it down, whereas GPL enforces the 'freedom' to copy/share/alter. It's arguable either way for sure. BSD/MIT is a strange and special case really (and as I think Bruce Perens said are really more about fulfilling the role of a government grant than anything else).

The usage case you outline... fair enough. I think there are other ways but we're getting way off track here.
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