Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Stop Internet Piracy Act

I interrupt my analysis of Sean Fairchild's New Atheist Strategy to discuss the campaign today regarding the Stop Internet Piracy Act. This post is still relevant to that series in that it covers the subject if bringing about a political objective.

Many web sites today have gone dark, allegedly to protest an attempt at internet censorship by means of House Resolution 3261 - the Stop Online Piracy Act. Censorship is a bad thing, so it people count it as a good deed to be taking a stand against censorship.

Unfortunately, this interpretation of the bill is not entirely accurate. The bill does not censor anything. It does not identify any set of content and say, "This shall not be shown". There is no censorship in this bill.

There is a component of the bill that blocks communication. However, the communication being blocked is material that has copyright protection. We have always had limits on reproducing copyright material – and we have never called it censorship. To count as censorship, material has to be blocked because of the message it contains.

Ultimately, this bill concerns the question of who will bear the cost of policing copyright laws already in effect.

However, some employee in the marketing department at Google probably figured out that if they used the word "censorship" in their campaign against this legislation, they would get a huge knee-jerk reaction from people who do not do their own research that would be politically useful.

Anyway, let us take an honest look at the details of this legislation.

The entertainment industry (and others) creates electronic content. They invest time, energy, and resources. Their goal (among other things) is to make money. The way they make money is by either charging people directly to experience the content they create, or by charging them indirectly by directing their attention to advertisements - where the advertiser pays a fee.

However, we now live in an age where this type of content, once created, is hard to control. Somebody else comes along and takes the content. Often, the pirate will also charge people a fee to see it - either directly or through advertisement revenue. Thus, taking for themselves the revenue that would otherwise have gone to the people who created the content.

The people who create this content view this as a form of theft.

And . . . they are right.

The pirate does not accept any of the costs of production. The original creator pays the writers, the actors, and the crew to create the content. They pay the rent on the buildings and buy the equipment. They create a content that they think will bring money. Then somebody who bears none of the costs comes along and siphons off a share of the potential revenue into their own pocket.

Even when the pirate gives the material away for free, we still have an act of theft. This would be similar to a person going into a store, carting things off the shelf, and setting it in the street for others to take. It would be accurate to say that the store owner has been robbed, even though the thief did not materially profit.

Let's be honest. Companies such as Google and Facebook make a great deal of money by wrapping their advertisements around this pirated content. If their bank account increases by one billion dollars per year, then - moral considerations aside - it is worthwhile to invest a few tens of millions of dollars in a campaign to protect that revenue stream.

When they go to the marketing department (and they do have a professional marketing department) with the project of defeating this legislation, some genius in the marketing department is likely to come up with the idea, "We can get a lot more mileage with this money if we brand our efforts as anti-censorship. This will generate a politically useful knee-jerk reaction from a lot of people who do not look at the issue in any detail, and very few will look at the issue in detail. It does not matter whether this is true or not. What matters is that people will believe it."

Somebody in the marketing department also probably also figured out that Rupert Murdoch is widely disliked by the target audience. Therefore, if the marketing campaign can attach Rupert Murdoch's name to this legislation, they can increase the opposition to this bill. Again, there is no logical inference to be drawn from the premise "Rupert Murdoch favors this legislation" to "this is bad legislation." However, marketing departments tend not to care about validity or invalidity. They care about cause and effect. In marketing, the value of an inference rests in its consequences, not in its validity.

This is how marketing works - when it is used by people who care only about producing a useful effect, but who does not care whether their claims are true or their arguments are valid.

(Note: This is very closely related to the issue I discussed with respect to Sean Faircloth's atheist strategy, in A Question of Style)

The fact remains, these claims are false or invalid.

This does not imply that I am in favor of this legislation. It has some real, legitimate problems.

On the media side of the equation, one obvious goal they have is to shut down or hobble their competition. One of the ways to hobble competitors is to saddle them with extra costs. In this case, the relevant costs are those associated with enforcing this legislation.

Furthermore, the creators of this pirated content also make money by wrapping advertising around that content, or by selling direct access to that content. They have to compete against people who produce similar content at a lower price – or for free. Anything they can do to harm a competing industry or the producers of free content gives potential customers fewer options. It is every company's dream - for a company that has leadership that lacks a conscience - to increase its profits while dumping the costs onto others.

Another legitimate objection to this legislation is that it has the same moral status as using a hand grenade on a crowded street to stop a purse snatcher from getting away. It creates a lot of collateral damage. In this case, blocking a site that contains pirated content also blocks the legitimate content hosted on that same site. No doubt, some of that legitimate content exists as a type if "human shield" - innocent people put in harm's way to protect illegitimate activities.

Yet, this issue is still not clear cut. A terrorist organization that also runs a hospital and food distribution network will have its funding cut off without regard to our ability to distinguish between its terrorist and other activities. The mere fact that a legitimate activity is harmed by action taken against illegitimate activity is a point to consider, but it does not decide the issue one way or another.

However, that neither of these legitimate concerns count as censorship. The sites are not being blocked in virtue of their content. The legitimate site would end up being blocked in this case regardless of its content - merely because of its proximity to a criminal site. People are using the term 'censorship' here entirely because it generates an emotional response.

These are legitimate concerns. However, the 'censorship' objection is not. This is not so much about censorship as it is about two groups of ultra-rich people trying to use the government to control the flow of money into their bank accounts. But that does not sell very well in the political marketplace, so useful deceptions are employed instead - on both sides of the debate.


EssexAtheist said...

i disagree a lot.

the sopa act would enable sites to be taken down based on a small number of complaints before anything has been proven. it is guilty until proven innocent.

also to say internet piracy is the same as going into a shop and taking products off the shelf is plain wrong.

virtual piracy does not impact on any stock expect perhaps the possibility of making a future sale. piracy does not take any profit away from companies in this way.

personally, i have spent more money on products due to piracy than i would without it.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


As I wrote above, my purpose in this article was not to defend the law but to argue that the "censorship" claim was bogus attempt to manipulate public sentiment. There is no censorship provision written into this bill.

As for it being possible to shut down a site based on a small number of complaints - the "complaints" have to comform to a particular format which means identifying the copywritten material and identifying those who have a stake in the copywritten material - effectively providing the recipient with enough information to verify that violations have taken place. Plus, it has provisions for contacting the provider to respond to the complaint.

Furthermore, the site has to be shown to be "primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than".

It is not sufficient to show that "some" pirated material shows up on the site. The fact that somebody's forums might contain pirated material will not justify shutting down the site. It has to be the primary purpose of the forum to distribute pirated material before it can be shut down.

On the issue of consuming pirated materials...

The fact is, the money you pay is not going to those who are responsible for creating the material.

The fact that somebody who fences stolen property offers their customers a good deal - and the customers buy more as a result - is not a defense of theft. If it was, then all forms of theft would be legitimate - such as my emptying out your house and selling its contents (for a good price, of course).

Anonymous said...

At the very least, your repeated equivalence of the spreading of intellectual content without their creator's permission with the taking of material goods from a person is unethical. You know the situations are substantially different because when someone spreads another person's intellectual creation, the creator still has their creation and can continue to spread it, while when someone takes an object from another, the latter no longer has that object, and can no longer enjoy its posessions by, amongst other things, lending it out. So, by making the equivalence, you are lying. In addition, you know that to call the action of spreading intellectual property without permission "theft" and to label those who do that "pirates" will provide unwarranted emotional support for your position. So by using this tactic while condemning its use by others, you are hypocritical.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


I know that people who engage in behavior harmful to others like to rationalize their behavior to make it appear legitimate.

The fact is that the behavior harms others by decreasing the amount of revenue they can generate by their creation. The theft that I am talking about is the difference between the revenue that they got and the revenue that they would have gotten if others had respected their rights to that creation. That money was either taken from them and pocketed by others, or taken from them and destroyed.

They may still have the creation, but the theft is not of the creation, but of the money they would have otherwise received. That . . . they do not have.

Pngwn said...

Well, it really is only theft if their is loss of income. If you download, say, a movie, you may or may not be stealing it.

If you would have bought the movie if you couldn't have pirated it, then you are a thief.

If you would not have bought it either way, then no one is losing income, and so it is not theft.

Also, if I had to guess, Essex probably meant, in his final statement at least, that he pirates material (on a trial basis), and then buys either that product (or perhaps its sequel as a result.

Pirating is only wrong when it is theft. When the company loses money, it is theft.

The only problem with this is that we can't check the intent or the morals of the people pirating material. We leave the decision up to them whether to be moral or not... and this is admittedly not the best system.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Right. In the same way that if you take my car for a joyride and return it (after refilling the tank) you didn't really STEAL the car.

C'mon. These are just stupid excuses for taking control of somebody else's property without their permission for your own enjoyment.

Of course, nobody wants to think of themselves as having done something wrong (or few people do) - so we are great at making up stupid excuses.

But that's all these are.

It's not your property.

Hands off.

Pngwn said...

Actually it is more like making a copy of the car, and taking it for a joyride.

In that more analogous case, I did not "take control" of the property.

If I did, that would, I agree, be completely different.

You say you believe in desire utilitarianism? I gain, no one loses. It is not inherently bad to gain something IF I would not have paid for otherwise. If I would have bought the movie otherwise, then I agree, it is theft because the company is losing.

In fact, I doubt that the company would have a problem with this type of pirating because, if I like the movie, they actually gain my loyalty.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


If you want to make that analogy, it is more like making a copy of a credit card and taking it for a joy ride - because the money comes out of my account.

Your actions will be making me poorer by taking control of something that is rightfully mine - and that is something you have no right to do. That is something no morally decent person would do.

Pngwn said...

But... the money isn't coming out of your account. If I wouldn't have bought the movie either way, then the company has lost no money.

This isn't a parasitism verses mutualism situation. It is a "no one benefits" verses commensalism situation.

It would only be parisitic if they lose something. They don't.

Scenerio one: Pirating is unavailable. I am not interested in the movie enough to pay for it. I therefore do not go to buy the movie. No one benefits.

Scenario two: Pirating is available. I am not interested in the movie enough to pay for it, but am interested enough to watch it. I then pirate it. I benefit. They are unaffected.

Scenario three: Pirating is available. I AM interested in the movie enough to pay for it. I then choose to pirate it. I benefit. They are harmed (the loss of income that I would have provided them with if I had paid them for the movie).

We are both in agreement that Scenario three is morally egregious. I just don't see how the second one is so immoral.

The company will not be "made poorer" as you claim. There was no potential income for the company because I would not have bought the movie whether pirating was available or not.

When I do want a product enough to warrant a purchase, I always do purchase it. The availability of piracy is not a consideration in my decision in that case. It would be immoral for me to pirate otherwise.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


No . . . money that I could have earned is being siphoned away before it gets to me. (Think of a card that spends my future deposits before I make them.)

As for your "scenario 2", there are all sorts of people who would fool themselves into thinking that they are doing something legitimate when they are not. People are good at that. They will think of themselves in Situation 2 when they are not.

More importantly, because it is not your property, you have no right to make that decision.

You are speaking like somebody who thinks it is okay to take somebody's car if they do not notice that it is missing, or that it is okay to rape an unconscious girl while she is unconscious and never knows that she has been raped.

You have no right to make those types of decisions regarding other people's property.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Another moral crime that matches your description is embezzlement.

"I will take $10,000 out of your bank account. I will invest it. I will double my money, then return the money and nobody notices."

It is not your money. If you want to use my money in an investment, then you ASK ME!

Or, "I will simply copy his $10,000. He will still have his $10,000. Therefore, he would not be hurt. And I will have $10,000 to spend." This crime is called counterfeiting.

Pngwn said...

I can not speak for other people, only myself. The fact that I find myself much more often not in scenario 2, compared to when I am, lends evidence to my claim. Of course this is not complete proof, but there could be no such proof. This is the most likely occurance. It is possible that I am deluding myself (how could I claim otherwise), but it is highly doubtful.

Your opinion on rights, I can tell, is where we are going to part on the matter.

I would argue that because any reasonable person (or company) would not care if they are not being affected (and neither is anyone else), they would not object to scenario 2. Certainly, they would object to scenario 3, as would I.

No shark objects to barnacles. No tiger objects to a golden jackal. There is no reason why commensalism would not apply in this social situation. By induction, we can conclude that they would not object to scenario 2.

Still, I do not understand how potential money is being siphoned away from you when there was no potential money to begin with.

I believe that we have already talked about the "stolen car" analogy.

Your claim that this is like raping unconscious women is clearly ludicrous. Reasonable people WOULD object to being raped while unconscious (obviously).

Pngwn said...

Counterfitting is a crime against the government, not an individual. Society, and government is faulted when there are counterfitters. The money itself is useless. It is only when people spend the money (and therefore cheat others by exchanging false money for true products) that it is immoral. If I sold a movie that I pirated (and therefore profited from it), I agree, that would be immoral.

Investment is a bad analogy as well. With investing, there is a chance you will lose everything. Also, you would not have access to your money while it is being invested.

If there theoretically was no threat of loss, and my 10,000 was made available to me throughout the process, and no one else lost money (in the invested company, then why would I, or anyone else, object to it? I have lost nothing.

Dan Kuck-Alvarez said...

Alonzo, I suspect you might not have fully researched the SOPA/PIPA bills. They include punishment for sites that link to sites that contain pirated material. That is censorship. I appreciate the analogy to punishing cartographers for making maps that include flea markets that have some kiosks selling pirated movies. Google and the DNS are maps.

Please correct me if I'm wrong about the bills. You usually do very good research so I expected you would include something about this.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Right. There's no such thing as a counterfeit Rolex or counterfeit stock certificates.

You're not even thinking about your answers. You're just spewing the first thing that comes to your head.

Dan Kuck-Alvarez

No. Punishment for linking to a site that deals in pirated material is not "censorship". Again, nothing is being banned in virtue of the message it contains - which is what censorship requires.

Punish somebody for giving an actor a bad review - that would be censorship. Punish somebody for using the likeness of an actor without his consent - that is not censorship.

Jesse Reeve said...

Alonzo, the problem with your analysis is that it focuses on SOPA/PIPA's effect on piracy sites and ignores the effect on legitimate sites. This is like analyzing Guantanamo Bay by focusing on its effects on terrorists and ignoring its effect on innocent people. Most of the opposition to SOPA comes from its likely effect on legitimate sites.

Let's say I'm an Internet small business owner; I publish a webcomic online, and my income comes from donations, ads, and merchandise sales. A megacorporation notices that one of my characters is a legal, "fair use" parody of one of their trademarks. Nevertheless they decide to obtain a SOPA injunction against me. Corporate lawyers find an agreeable judge to sign the injunction, and my ISP is forced to block all access to my website. My website is banned from all search engines, and Google Ads and Paypal are prohibited from processing the donations, ads, and merchandise sales that are my primary source of income.

All of this happesn before the case ever sees a courtroom; without me being given a chance to defend myself; without me even being notified that a SOPA injunction had been filed.

The chilling effect this would have on artists considering the use of parody, or other "fair use" of copyrighted material, in their work-- that alone would represent a serious infringement on free speech, let alone the fact that these abuses could, and would, happen.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Jesse Reeve

Again, I want to remind you that the purpose of this post was not to defend the law, but to argue that the claim of "censorship" is false and misleading - and probably an act of intentional public manipulation in order to generate in a target audience a useful political response.

There is no censorship in this law.

That was my point, which isn't exactly the point of your comment. Even if a site is shut down for the reasons you provide, it will not have been shut down because of an objection to the message it contains, so no censorship is taking place.

Be that as it may, it would not be enough for the corporation in question to show that a site contains copywritten material. In your example, the claim that copywritten material appears on the site is false.

However, even if the site actually did contain copywritten material that was not properly used, this law could not be used to shut it down.

The law states that the site must be shown to be ...primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than.

The site you described does not come anywhere near this description.

That is to say, the site's primary purpose must be shown to be that of receive and distributing copywritten material. The use of copywritten materials would only justify the application of the laws that already exist.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

With respect to my claim that it is not my intention to defend the law itself - I want to remind the readers . . .

This law was obviously written by the media industry and is designed so that the industry obtains all of the benefits, while imposing all of the costs on its competitors.

Furthermore, the problem of collateral damage (closing down a site because of its proximity to a site subject to this law) is a real and legitimate problem.

The "censorship" claim is bogus, as are claims that the law can be used to shut down sites merely because copywritten material appears on that site both appear to be bogus claims.

In fact, those claims have all of the trappings of a deliberate misinformation marketing campaign designed to manipulate public sentiment. They are so far from what the law actually says that I would wager that a deliberate, organized, and well-funded misinformation campaign is behind their widespread acceptance.

Dan Kuck-Alvarez said...

I'm sure I don't understand how preventing a site from mentioning the name of another site is not censorship.

Another censorship issue is the punishment for publishing information about circumventing the technology put in place to serve these laws. For example, I can make this blog violate the bills by including this line: You can reach sites that have been blocked by SOPA/PIPA by using a SOCKS proxy located in a foreign country.

Perhaps that's not detailed enough.

You have mentioned that these things are deliberate misinformation, and I have to admit that I haven't actually read the bills. I am also not a lawyer, so when I do read them, I'm not confident that I'll understand the ramifications.

But whether these things are in the bills or not, if they aren't censorship, then I don't know what censorship means.

Jesse Reeve said...

The webcomic in my example does contain copywritten material, and the website dedicated to it could certainly be shown to be "primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than" distributing and profiting from that webcomic. In my example, the copywritten material is used legally in a First Amendment-protected parody-- but under SOPA, that determination would be made by a single judge based on the arguments of a stable of corporate lawyers, without the opportunity for the defendant to defend himself. This system makes abuse inevitable, in the same way that detaining "enemy combatants" at Gitmo without trial makes abuse inevitable.

I think most people are comfortable with a broader definition of "censorship" than you, Alonzo. For instance, if a local government passed a law saying that atheists could not buy advertising space in public areas, regardless of the ad's content, I think most people would be comfortable with the statement that this represented "censorship" of atheist ideas, even though the law says nothing about the content of the ad's message. But if you don't like the word "censorship," what word do you prefer to describe the harm SOPA would cause to free speech?

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter if it is a counterfeit rollex. If someone wanted to counterfeit a rollex, and keep it for themselves, good for them. It's weird, but I don't see the harm in it.

When they sell the rollex, THEN it is immoral, which is what we both agreed is immoral.

Counterfeit stock certificates would cheat companies out of money. Scenario 2, as I have explained several times, does not cheat anyone out of money. And again, if they just kept the certificate itself (and never used it to gain money, for some odd reason), then it would be fine.

Every single one of your analogies relies on someone being cheated out of money. Scenario 2 does not involve anyone losing anything, and so the analogy is unfitting.

Are you sure I am the one who is not thinking about my answer?

I've refuted every claim and counterclaim that you have come up with. Whether you choose to accept what I have said is up to you, but to insult my intelligence is simply rude. I don't recall insulting your intelligence.

Pngwn said...

I am the previous anonymous, for anyone confused.

Anonymous said...

Fyfe@Comment#4: Your statement does no more than repeat your claims without factually addressing the two defects I pointed out. First, you repeat your claim that something, money, is taken from content creators by liberators, and more, that it is sometimes "destroyed". Yet you adduce no verifiable facts documenting actual loss, leaving your claim in the realm of your fantasies. And you do not address your hypocrisy of accusing and condemning people of strategically mislabeling SOPA and PIPA "censorship" to gain emotional support for their goals while you mislabel the liberators "pirates" to gain emotional support for your own claims. I'm fairly certain you know you're lending support to the RIAA&Co.'s unwarranted equivalence of the liberators with pirates so they are seen as people who violently deprive others of their health if not their lives to take their property.

To make matters worse, you led your statement with an insinuation that smeared my character, and had no direct reference to what I wrote. And what's worse, in doing so you smeared countless people by lumping together all of those you deem "harm others" and attributing to them another of your factless fantasies.

Don't you think it's time for you to turn off your blog, if not your computer, for at least a year, and go talk to other people face to face about what it is exactly that you're were doing here, and hopefully learn to listen?


Pngwn said...

sFor the record, after some intuitiveness, I have figured out that the previous anonymous was speaking of the posts 3 and 4.

Post 3 begins with "At the very least, your repeated equivalence of the spreading of intellectual content without their creator's permission with the taking of material goods from a person is unethical."

Post 4 begins with "I know that people who engage in behavior harmful to others like to rationalize their behavior to make it appear legitimate."

I only say this because the way that the previous anonymous stated it was somewhat confusing.

Anonymous said...


For the record, as far as I'm concerned you won your debate with Fyfe on form alone.

And thank you for clarifying my previous post on this comment page.

Anonymous on this comment page's post 3.

Anonymous said...

To any who are bothering to follow this, I would offer the following clarification.

Fyfe claims that the liberators are taking or destroying money that is owned by the creators. This is essential to his characterization of liberation of intellectual content as theft. To support this claim Fyfe must support the claim that the creator would have gotten a substantial amount of this money had the liberators not acted. But all he has done is repeatedly affirm this claim without providing reasons for accepting it.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


(It is a bit confusing to know who I am talking to any more, with different people using the same name and the same person using different names.)

Of course you think that Pngwn won the debate. You are judging the merits of an argument by the conclusion it supports.

I am not pretending that I have any hope of convincing you of anything. However, this blog has other readers and they can weigh the merits of the different responses.

Right now, you are defending a system that assumes that an institution of piracy can take place that is so well managed and so carefully cultivated by those who use it that there is no risk of harm done to others.

That's pure fantasy.

The person who "copies something for himself" that "he would never have paid for" is almost certainly lying to himself so that he won't feel guilty about harms done. And even if he is not, he is creating and cultivating a system in which the harms inflicted are many and wide spread.

If your claims were true, then why is it that the people whose material is being pirated are bothered about the issue. If it did no harm, it would not be worth getting upset about. But people do get upset, because the practice robs content creators of a great deal of money.

However, there is something more important than money at stake here - it is autonomy or control. I may create something that I only want to share with friends and family. I send it out to those I want to have it. A pirate friend of one of my nephews takes it for himself. He plays it for a few friends, then they have copies - and it gets out into the world.

In this case, the act does not cost me a dime in money - I never meant to sell the product. However, it violates my autonomy. It violates my wishes as to what happens with respect to the things that I create.

Of course, people who wish to profit in ways that harm others - or who support practices that do harm to others - will always be able to find an excuse for giving themselves permission. People are good at that.

This is a fact of human nature. It doesn't matter whether you like this fact or not - it happens to be true. And a system of morality that works in the real world must be one that considers the facts of human nature - including the disposition of those who do harm to convince themselves that their acts are harmless.

Pngwn said...

" I may create something that I only want to share with friends and family."

First of all, this does not happen all that often. In fact, it so sparsely happens to be negligible.

However, I would argue that when you give it out to your nephew, you have given your nephew the right to give it to whomever he chooses to give it to.

If his friend steals it from him, then that is obviously immoral.

"Of course, people who wish to profit in ways that harm others - or who support practices that do harm to others - will always be able to find an excuse for giving themselves permission. People are good at that."

For obvious reasons, I can't tell you that I'm not rationalizing. It's not a falsifiable position. If I was, by definition, I wouldn't know it.

Now, I don't think that I am, but I suppose that is all I have here to offer. However, if we are allowed to make such statements, I could accuse you of similar cognitive biases, of which you could not by definition deny.

Furthermore, I am not harming others, as I have said several times before.

"And even if he is not, he is creating and cultivating a system in which the harms inflicted are many and wide spread."

As for creating, that makes no sense. I made no such website. As for cultivating, as long as I am not financing (by clicking on an add), or advertising (by sharing the site with others, then I have done nothing to cultivate the system.

"If your claims were true, then why is it that the people whose material is being pirated are bothered about the issue."

Well that is simple. Some people will pirate things for the sole reason that is cheaper to do so. This is not the second scenario that I have been arguing for all along.

"Right now, you are defending a system that assumes that an institution of piracy can take place that is so well managed and so carefully cultivated by those who use it that there is no risk of harm done to others."

I am doing no such thing. I am defending a scenario, and the morality of the scenario. I am not supporting the system in itself. I was never attacking your main point, I was amending it. The sites already exist, and as long as one is not depriving income from others (potential or otherwise), and is not attempting to finance the site, then this commensalism relationship is moral.

Your only remaining point seems to be a more social one. It is that some people who like to pirate may not take part in scenario two.

Agreed, which is why I was not arguing for them. Again, I am arguing for a specific set of circumstances, not pirating in general.

Kristopher said...

good conversation. thanks everyone it was pretty interesting to read.

this law is a dangerous tool for censorship. for example lets say that i wanted to sell encyclopedias. wikipedia's free content would be a horrible competitor. so i make a few usernames and upload a ton of copywrited content to their site. then i file a bunch of complaints and the companies of the content i uploaded also file a bunch of complaints. there is no trial. and since i am a big company i can hire well paid lawyers to make a convincing argument that the site primarily, if unintentionally shows copywrited material. they are a small group of programmers dependent on donations to survive. i either win, keep trying until i do win, or bankrupt them by foricing them to constantly hire lawyers to fight me, or by forcing them to pay more employees to sift though the content of their site for all the material largely being posted by people in my employ.

in effect i will have shutdown and effectively censored the information on wikipedia. this can apply to youtube fairly easily as well. i will claim it was to protect copywrigts but in reality it was to censor legitimate competitors.

america could claim copywright on secret information to stop wikileaks from realeasing whistleblower documents.

etc. etc. this law is ripe for abuse and one of those abuses is censoring material you dont want other people to see, especially from small buisnesses that can be lawyerd into bankruptcy or user created content that is too large to sift through.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


First, what you are writing about is not censorship because there is no attempt to ban material based on the message that it contains. Censorship is the use of force to prohibit the presentation of certain ideas.

That was the point of the article I wrote, and substantially remains unchallenged through this discussion. This discussion is substantiall a red-herring, a digression from the original subject.

Calling it censorship substantially involves mis-naming the activity in order to generate political reaction from people who really don't think to much about what they are agreeing with before they agree with it. It is wrongly applying a word in order to generate a politically useful knee-jerk emotional response.

Second, the law in question creates no new regulations on what material is banned.

There are two provisions to the law.

One of those provisions applies regulations that currently exist and can be applied to American companies to foreign companies. That is to say, it calls for blocking access to foreign sites that, if they were in American, could already be shut down with existing law.

The other provision calls for closing sites that exist for the purpose of sharing copyright information. Like the law says, primarily designed or operated for the purpose of, has only limited purpose or use other than.

It does not matter how much material your imaginary company uploads into Wikipedia, it will not change the site's primary purpose.

Besides, if a law has to be rejected because it can be used to generate false accusations, then how do you feel about laws against rape or child abuse? These, too, can generate false accusations.

How easy would it be for your imaginary company to find a girl to seduce the leader of an opposing company and then claim to have been raped by him? Therefore, laws against rape should be abolished, right?

Alonzo Fyfe said...

At this point, I would like to point out that we are getting near to something that I consider a legitimate objection to this legislation.

It is an attempt to push the cost of enforcement onto the victim.

If, in Kristopher's example, Wikipedia were to notice this type of activity, Wikipedia should be able to contact the police to investigate who is behind a sudden surge of copywritten materials.

The media lobbyists who wrote this law wants to push those costs onto its competitors as a way of harming those businesses.

That objection is sound.

However, on this regard, Wikipedia already has tools in place to track down the identity of people who are responsible for systematically corrupting its sites. It has used them in the past.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

If anybody here wants to talk about real censorship (rather than abusing the term to serve the interest of multi-billion dollar companies), there is a man in Indonesia who was beated up by a mob and faces a 5 year prison sentence for blasphemy.

And there was a speech in London that was cancelled when somebody came in, starting filming the attendees, and threatening to hunt down anybody who said anything derogatory against the prophet Mohammed.

This is real censorship.

And these events are belittled and denigrated when the term is exploited by multi-billion dollar companies for the purpose of protecting their bottom line.

Jesse Reeve said...

Well, Alonzo, since so much of this discussion has depended upon the definition of censorship, I thought I would look it up.

Under the dictionary definition, an agent must have some official standing to engage in censorship. So your first example only partly qualifies as censorship, because a mob has no official standing, and your second example doesn't qualify at all. Gasp! You have abused the term to serve your political interests!

Or, perhaps people-- including you-- use the word a little more loosely than the dictionary definition entails, and this doesn't constitute some nefarious Orwellian marketing scheme by Rich Uncle Pennybags.

In the meantime, you already have a case of censorship that fits both the dictionary definition and your own: my example of a megacorporation using SOPA to shut down a website without due process because it contains a parody of their copyrighted material.

Kristopher said...

that is true. while arguing the merit of definitions are largely useless i think it would help us communicate if we better understood what each of us means bu the word "censorship"

from what i can gather Alonzo uses the word censorship as: to make information unavailable based on content furthermore based on political reasons.

and he rejects calling it cencorship if the information is being removed for monetary purposes instead of political purposes.

where as, i would use 'censorship' to mean taking away (by force) information that would otherwise be available.

the way i use the word censorhip all copywrite laws are censorship laws. soceity needs a level of censorship to function: yelling fire in a theatre, child pornography, pg vs R movie ratings , copywrite laws, etc. these are all censorship, they all limit otherwise available information. often for the good of our society. other forms of censorship are not so good.

for me the debate about sopa is not whether it is or is not censorship but whether it is or is not GOOD censorship.

However under 'AlonzoCensorship' sopa could still be used to AlonzoCensor material like in my example above of wikileaks and govenement papers.

or take scientology as an example. They have a variety of beliefs and stories as part of their religion that are "secret." when this information was leaked to the public and shed light on how rediculous many of their beliefs were. (aliens and volcanoes and what not) they claimed that they had copywrite privelage on all that material in order to keep it from being released to the public becuase they knew it made them look rediculous to outsiders. in other words, they wanted to silence critiques of their religion for political purposes (looking good) not monetary purposes.

since they created the mythos and the stories are their creative works, they have a legitimate claim to copywrite protections. and websites whose main purpose is to fight against the mythos of scientology publish these beliefs on their site in order to refute them. thusly publishing this copywrited material is one of the sites main purposes.

sopa would allow scientology to more easily silence critics of their religion, in other word AlonzoCensorship.

the proponents want to fight pirates. pirates that need to be fought. (i am pointing at all you rationalizaers that posted earlier) but in order to do so they are blindly building a tool that could quite easily be turned into a tool used for political AlonzoCensorship such as silencing opponents of scientology or potentially silencing anti-government whistleblowers like wikileaks. (since the gov. created all those reports they could argue for copywrite protection in the same way scientology does)

Kristopher said...

for all you pro-pirates, the people who create content are selling entertainment not CD's or DVD's, that is just packaging. if you were entertained by them and you do not pay them their asking price you stole your entertainment from them. you wronged them. and you owe them money. whether or not you cost them money or they never would have gotten any money from you anway, is irrelevant.

lets say your have a futuristic atomizer copy thingy. it pefectly copies physcial objects. your best friend has a porsche. you go over to his house and make a replica. you have not stolen from your friend, his porshe is still sitting in his garage untouched and ready for use. but you have stolen something from all the inventors, mechanics, and engineers, that worked for years to invent that porshe. whether or not you could or would have bought a porshe anyway is irrelevant to the fact that you are benefiting yourself at their expense. they spent years of their lives perfecting, researching, and developing a machine and they need and deserve to get paid for their work, from the people who benefit from that work. if you copy the porshe and gain a benfit from how wonderfully it was engineered you have stolen that enjoyment from the porshe R&D team. and you should owe them money.

i suppose you should not be expected to pay full price... since you didnt require any of the raw materials or labor to put it together or shipping, etc. but you owe money to the people who created the ideas and the company that funded them to do it. and until there is a method for paying them directly for their contributions to your enjoyment you have no right to just steal their hard work (unless your in some life threatening danger that somehow justifies theft in general...).

yes... the current entertainment industry is an abomination that pretty much rapes artists (figuratively) the solution to this is not giving them money in boycott. but you can't have your cake and eat it too. if your going to boycott them responsibly you need to forgoe the pleasure of watching and listening to their products. their are alternatives, go watch and listen to them... or just do something else for fun.

Pngwn said...

"but you have stolen something from all the inventors, mechanics, and engineers, that worked for years to invent that porshe. whether or not you could or would have bought a porshe anyway is irrelevant to the fact that you are benefiting yourself at their expense."

The key phrase being, "at their expense." Again, they are not losing anything. You say that the matter is irrelevant, but I disagree. One can not just make a claim and expect it to be taken as infallible. You must explain why it is irrelevant. Your logic does not follow.

These analogies do not work. If you would like to convince people, instead of trying 6 different analogies, you could provide real points. In other words, an illustration is not proof.

You can tell me I'm rationalizing, but that is unfalsifiable. Because it is unfalsifiable, you must prove it in order for it to be taken seriously. For example, god's existence is unfalsifiable, but we don't take that as proof. We require proof of god in order for us to take his existence seriously. And, since no such proof has been provided, we do not believe in such a being.

In this case, rationalization could be proven by showing any fault in reasoning that I have committed. If no such fault can be found, the claim is unfounded.

I am confident that no new points will be brought up and so will no longer follow this thread.

In review, in scenario 2, I benefit, they do not lose. If any company would be angry that a person would benefit, while their own interests are unaffected, then they are either sadistic and/or malevolent. In either case, their anger is unjustified.

GeoPorcupine said...

Censorship is the process of deleting or otherwise preventing the dissemation of objectionable material. SOPA and PIPA claim that posting information about where to obtain copyrighted material at least in the form of bittorrent tracker data is objectionable even if such data is not itself copyrighted. That fits the technical definition of censorship. Worse, it's censorship of true data.

It may be and likely is the case that certain companies are manipulating public sentiment by use of the term censorship, but that doesn't make them incorrect, only manipulative. If you want to argue that some forms of censorship are justified or tend to fulfill more desires than they thwart, that's a separate argument.

It seems that you're presuming that the current system is optimal and are reaching for justifications to maintain it. I've come to an opposite conclusion about intellectual property but, per desirism, moral progress should be able to be made and the chips could fall on either side of the debate.

I will point out that rights, including property rights, are human constructions and no appeal can automatically be made to "Hands off, I made it therefore I own it." Rights are ultimately what others decide to respect. As there is no functional difference between not having a right and others not respecting a right, the two states can be considered equivalent.

So, what would a person would good desires do?

1. Would they refrain from making use of something they did not create without permission from the creator or someone in the chain of voluntary transactions leading to the creator?

2. Would they refrain from interfering with the dissemation and use of culture and true information?

3. Would they refrain from empowering a powerful and invasive agency to settle disputes?

I don't know the answers to these questions, but I doubt you do either. I will say that intellectual property fits the definition of a public good inamuch as it's non-rivalrous and effectively non-excludable. Funding it in the manner of a private good is operating in a way which is not conformant with reality and is, at best, appears to be inefficient. Something like SOPA is a necessity to try to cram intellectual property into a club or private good box by making it excludable.


GeoPorcupine said...


As someone before me commented, what's the difference between not paying for an item and not paying for an item yet enjoying it? Or what's the difference between someone not offering something for sale and another choosing to enjoy it anyway? Or what's the difference between me telling 10 people that a movie sucks and causing them to not see it (leading to lost sales) versus me sharing a copy with 10 people leading to lost sales? Unless one wants to argue that the creator should be able to control the thoughts and ejoyment found in others, the only strong argument is loss of autonomy and intellectual integrity.

If one wants to argue the autonomy angle, then why are taxes not an affront to autonomy, 90% of which go to things that probably make me worse off? Because it's "the system?" Because of a social contract? One could argue that I choose to do business in a country knowing that that's the situation (the tax law is so complicated that I can't say that I know it's actually the law - but everyone else just does it, so it's a cultural norm). Well, I could argue the same thing about producing something easily replicable in the age of the internet. It's akin to throwing a balloon into a class 5 rapid. If you want control of an idea, there's only one sure way to retain it - don't share it.

Conflating copying with theft is intellectually dishonest - more dishonest than those against SOPA claiming it imposes censorship which, by strict definition, it actually does. If someone took my car and returned it atom-for-atom and did so when I didn't need it and I didn't know - then it wouldn't ACTUALLY matter, it would thwart no desires. The other examples are stretches too. Theft of credit card? Embezzlement? Counterfeiting? To that last point, if I produce perfect replicas (such that no one down the line will be hurt) and then destroy an equivalent amount of my own "real" money, then no one is harmed. If I don't spend the counterfeit money, then no one is harmed.

With intellectual property pirating, what's lost is control and an expected market price. Expecting control is a fool's errand. Exepcting a market price doesn't impose duties on others in other areas of the economy. Encyclopedia Britannica could invest millions of dollars in producing works just to have any future market prices erased by Wikipedia even if Wikipedia didn't make use of their actual effort. The fruits of one's labor has always been that which is produced - NOT the market share for same simply because there are numerous problems making such a system workable.

Ultimately, property exists for consequentialist reasons and wealth creation is critical for desire fulfillment. I've never heard anyone argue for indefinite patents or copyright as they do with other property. At some level people recognize intellectual property as an inducement to produce requiring a balance with the interests of others in society. If idea and culture creation and dissemation cannot exist without intellectual property rights, and such dissemation and creation leads to more desire fulfillment than not, then desirism can justify them. Otherwise it can't.

On a closing note, I believe that the safest way to deal with intellectual property now is to simply recognize it's a public good and fund it accordingly. X-prizes, assurance contracts, crowdsourcing - all of these things are possible now. What is moral according to desirism can and must be able to change with the environment. As such, intellectual property rights may have been moral progress in a pre-internet culture, but now may be moral regress.