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Information, Freedom, Flame-bait

The phrase "Information wants to be free" gets 92,000 hits on Google.

As wikipedia notes, Stewart Brand (then editor of Whole Earth Review, and a clueful chappie) uttered the fateful words at the first hacker's conference in 1984:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
He subsequently reformulated it slightly:
Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive ... That tension will not go away.

The condensed version — and it's almost always quoted in the condensed form, much as those who quote "my country right or wrong" almost invariably miss out the second clause ("when right, to be kept right; when wrong, to be put right") — is an attractive slogan because it's simple, but ambiguous. It's worth noting that English, the language in which "information wants to be free" was coined, makes no distinction between two usages of the word free: free as in "civil liberties", and free as in "no payment expected". "Information" is also ambiguous; Brand's explanation of the coinage uses the word "information" to mean both content and bandwidth, but this nuance is lost in the shortened form.

Richard Stallman also reformulated it in a way that puts a different spin on it:

I believe that all generally useful information should be free. By 'free' I am not referring to price, but rather to the freedom to copy the information and to adapt it to one's own uses... When information is generally useful, redistributing it makes humanity wealthier no matter who is distributing and no matter who is receiving.
Stallman's reformulation is transformed into a statement of political aspiration by the substitution of "should" for "wants", and it's an aspiration that I can't object to on moral grounds (although in practical terms, I see obstacles).


Here's the rub, though: it's a slogan. Stripped of their social context, slogans are a great way of motivating people — but they don't put food in your belly. More to the point, slogans with ambiguous wording or implicit subtexts are lethally sharp double-edged swords. "Let a hundred flowers bloom" had [probably] unplanned consequences; so, too, does "information wants to be free". It has, as Jaron Lanier notes in this interview, become the governing ideology of a large and vocal segment of internet users:
He blames the Web's tradition of "drive-by anonymity" for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs, forums and social networks. He acknowledges the examples of generous collaboration, like Wikipedia, but argues that the mantras of "open culture" and "information wants to be free" have produced a destructive new social contract.
I'd put it another way: it's the tragedy of the commons in action.

There's a big difference between a gift economy (where items are given freely, as gifts) and a theft economy (where items are taken without offer of recompense, be it monetary or participatory). While "information wants to be free" remains a valuable insight, the freetards who are its loudest proponents these days seem blind to the flip side of the coin, which is the obligation to create and release information of use to others.

I'm big on obligations, because it seems to me that they're the flip side of rights. The right to not be murdered in my bed imposes on me the obligation not to murder other people in their beds. Human beings are social animals; we do not exist in isolation, and if we desire some specific behaviour from our peers, we, too, are required to abide by it. The alternative is tyranny, a state in which some individuals are exempt from ordinary rules and may exercise their liberty at the expense of others.

So it follows that if you want information to be free you are taking on an obligation to make information, and give it freedom. An obligation to work to better the lot of humanity, not to merely sponge off the labour of others.

Next time you hear someone invoke "information wants to be free" as a justification for demanding free-as-in-no-payment-expected content, ask them: precisely what content have you released for free lately?

Note: buying an ebook, stripping the DRM from it, and uploading it to usenet does not count (unless they're the author). The point is recipricocity in creation.

Finally: this posting was prompted by the fact that just before the Amazon/Macmillan custard pie fight broke out, my editor and I at [name of publisher withheld] were discussing the possibility of releasing another of my novels as a free download. I'm now wondering — in view of the huge number of Kindle cheapskates yelling that $14 is too much to pay for a bestseller on the day of publication, it must be $9.99 or less, even if the publisher can't make a profit at that level and subsequently publishes fewer books — whether this would merely encourage the perception that my books are valueless. I'll probably get over my dog-in-the-manger mood soon enough — I tend to take an optimistic view of human nature — but right now I'm a bit annoyed. (PS: yes, I use open source software, and yes: I have in the past written and released software under an open source license — it's on CPAN if you want to look for it. See "obligation", above.)

What have you created and released lately?

205 Comments

1:

> discussing the possibility of releasing another of my novels as a free download.
> I'm now wondering [... ]whether this would merely encourage the perception
> that my books are valueless

I would love to buy your books for EUR14.99 (or whatever pricetag keeps you a happy author) as personalized, non DRM, file as pragmatic programmers (pragprog.com) provide their books.
Their pdf-books for example just have a footer on each page saying "This book has been prepared exclusively for $BUYER", and they are selling a lot of those.
You could even add some insightful comments on the experiment in the eBook-edition, only.

Of course, someone will strip the footer and torrent the book, but this will happen anyway, whether you publish on paper or digitally, for free or for pay.

I'm really curious whether a significant number of our fanbase will support you to keep you writing instead of ripping you off and force you to code the next Payment Service for a living.

2:

Tricky question (in regards to boast-avoiding).

Anyway, both my amateur bands to release our garage-recordings under a semi-permissive CC-License. And while these recordings might never end up in any store, I still consider them valuable. Cory Doctorow made a nice point about the rock'n'roll value of things recently:
http://www.locusmag.com/Perspectives/2010/01/cory-doctorow-close-enough-for-rock-n.html

3:

In answer to your last question, ironically enough a perl module to CPAN this morning. ;)

Good post, and I think you're right to worry about devaluing your work, I find a similar thing happening when I buy PC games from Steam: always nagging in the back of my mind is "they do really steep promotional discounts pretty regularly, maybe I shouldn't buy this full price and wait and see if they put it on special in the next month or so".

Give special offers or freebies too often and it becomes expected and the norm, rather than a means to bring in new readers.

On the other hand there's the traditional hardback, trade paperback, mass-market paperback pricing points that already give you a clear indication of being able to get something cheap later, and that doesn't devalue your work (or any other author's), instead it lets me choose between price and how soon I want to consume the item.

Hmm, not sure what point I'm trying to make honest, I should stop rambling.

4:

>What have you created and released lately?

From personal experience here:

I (with others) created a community website (londonfetishscene.com if you must know - it's NSFW) that gave free information about the scene. We had articles, photos by yours truly, and a number of other magazine/new media/community features.

This never benefited me in the long run. For a couple of years I was slightly well known in a small clique. I got free entry to a bunch of clubs when I was working them. I sold the grand total of one photo for £75. I paid, out of my own pocket, web hosting fees for a relatively popular website for a couple of years.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, creating and giving away information (aka content) for free is unlikely to benefit you. I started out with the 'information wants to be free' ideal but had it beaten out of me.

Thats what happened to me. If I can ever put it together in publishable words you'll be able to buy the book.

5:

Thanks for the rant. It was still a fun read.

It's true that many people barley younger then me (I'm 37) have strange views on "free". I can feel the same way sometime in large part due to frustration with how information is distributed to me.

I don't like how cable TV works. I have to pay a fortune for the few shows I find entertaining and in effect sponsoring a lot of crap. I would prefer to pay a higher price for the shows I do watch and skip the commercials. I would be fine with fewer shows being produced. I guess there is a whole industry built around the old way of distribution and they will fight me tooth and nail all the way. The downside for them is once they do loose the battle we the customers will have become accustomed to a cost structure that will be hard to change as well of havign established way of distributing content illegally. Even I who like to pay for the content I consume have today learned about miro, ezrss.it etc.

The same can be seen true for books. The publisher are forcing us readers to use their well established channels even when we want to move on to other ways of enjoying books. So we consumers are fickle. I think most of us understand we need to pay for the content we consume and most of us have no issue with that fact. It's just the way we are forced to consume it that at times gets so frustrating that we choose illegal ways as a way to circumvent the publishers strange hold even though we know that at the same time we hurt the content creators. Hopefully over the next decade these things will be worked out.

In my mind the company that seem to understand these issues the best today is Apple followed by Amazon. I like apple's app store approach in that they charge a flat revenue fee for allowing content onto their platform but let the content provider in charge of price (and marketing). Sure they also censor stuff but in general most of what they censor are for legal reasons. It's not perfect but I think it's a better approach then Amazon that (for books) are using too much muscle right now in a field that will always be quite small compared to other media.

6:

HOW DARE YOU EXPECT ME TO WORK IN EXcHANGE FOR ANYTHING???!?!?!!11ONE!

Um. ok. I suppose I have released some photo processing software under a free license, but in the spirit of open source its interface is so eccentric as to be virtually unusable. :)

For the record my main objection to buying hardbacks isn't the price but the size. New releases are often so ludicrously big that only a couple of my shelves can accommodate them, and I need those for text books & cookery books.

7:

Gods. I work for Ye Olde Proprietary Software Co., and barely have any fight left in me for my own projects anymore. I have various projects in states of completion.

Though, you know, it seems to me we have a surplus of Good Enough and free stuff out there.

If I wanted to help I'd actually put my efforts toward stuff that already exists in some reasonable form and make it better.

Or I can play flash games and bitch on my website.

8:

Lots, over the years.

Plus one photo of a big spider. :)

Unlike you, though, for most of us, no-one will care what we do. At least not in numbers that it takes rather a long time to count up to.

This might be the right place to say thanks for the Toast ebook, though. Some of my all-time favorites are in there.

On my country right or wrong though: Northern Hemisphere media are leaving money on the table from our point of view. Macmillan, certainly. Their current idea of $14.99 in a lot of cases would appear to be something like double.

http://www.fictionwise.com/ebooks/b100545/By-Heresies-Distressed/David-Weber/?si=0

By Heresies Distressed [Secure eReader (recommended)/Mobipocket/Adobe EPUB]
eBook by David Weber

Regular Club
You Pay: $27.99 $23.79


eBook Category: Science Fiction
GEOGRAPHIC RESTRICTIONS: Available to customers in: US, CA What's this?

----

So really, we take what senior management from multibillion dollar companies say with, oh, about the amount of flavourful crystal you'd get off a dried up salt lake.

---

The answer to the question of 'books bought from Webscriptions in the last say, three years?' is also 'Lots'.

The answer to the question of 'books bought from Macmillan in the last three years? is the exact opposite of Lots, being zero.

You of course have to look around pretty hard here to try and find many hardback books - given they cost $50-$60.

So some information wants to be expensive, but shoots itself in the head. What price is unbuyable? $0 or $uncountable?

While they may sort out the situation here before most of us are deciding whether we prefer doubles or foursomes in lawn bowls, Scandinavians or Eastern Europeans would have to believe in reincarnation, probably, to think they'll be able to give people money for books in English.

People only live once (reincarnating Swedes aside), so how many cycles of being ignored will they put up with, realistically?

9:
What have you created and released lately?

I wrote a short story, published via Bewildering Stories.
I wrote and released a Newton-Raphson fractal generator.
I am (soon) to write my third Annual Snooper Project Report (now with exciting comparisons between "block ICMP" and "allow ICMP").

Anything else is probably just minor updates to old sins, but just for you, I'll check...

Ah, yes, a "generic heap" library that can either "just do heaps" or "do heaps with automagic class fafferey, for some extra speed" and an update to my image library so it can read (some) X11 font files, for prettier text than my atrocious hand-rolled font.

Links? Sure. Short story, NR fractals, Generic heaps, image library (needed for the NR fractal generator).

Nothing really exciting, but in my own small way, I try to make the world a better place, one release at a time.

10:

What have you created and released lately?

It's a damn good point and a good way of flipping the issue on its head.

Personally, all my photos are under an attribution/non-commercial/share alike CC licence. One of them ended up in some sort of travel guide (with my permission for commercial use), and another as a LOLcat - I was extermely proud of the latter! ;-) I also occasionally contribute knowledge to newbie questions on knitting sites. That's probably as far as my capability extends.

Which is why I've started to make an effort to pay for my content. I've pretty much stopped downloading music without paying for it - I download it off Piratebay or wherever for instant access value and order the CD off Amazon at the same time. (I had a moment of spectacular revelation when I figured out recently that I've spent in excess of £300 on music in the last 6 months.) With books... well, I buy a hell of a lot more books than I have time to read anyway. When I've had access to an author's work online for free (e.g. Cory Doctorow, Peter Watts), I make a point of either buying the dead-tree version for myself at a later stage or giving paid-for dead-tree versions as gifts to friends who I think might enjoy them.

The one thing I can't figure out yet is television - I watch a fair number of TV shows, and I watch the vast majority of them through BitTorrent. Most of them are not the kind of show where I'd want to buy the box set because I'd never rewatch them. But equally, I don't see the point in rearranging my day around the TV schedule so I can add my eyes to the advertising viewing figures. Pay per view is... an interesting option. The problem I see with it is that while I would stop paying indirectly (through my time and attention to ads) for my TV content and start paying directly in cash, this is not re-directed spending but additional spending, at least as far as my bank manager is concerned. I guess the question is, what's the price point at which it's worth it for me to regain 15 minutes out of every hour I spend watching telly for other stuff? I suspect that price point is very different for different people.

Of course, the underlying issue here - and my mind continues to boggle at the fact no one else seems to either have spotted this or have the guts to say it out loud - is that, from an economic theory point of view, content is a public good. And one of these days I'll get around to writing an LJ post about that...

11:

What have I created and released? It's a bit academic, except to the relative handful of people who are desperate for information about it, but my best work to date has been information about a US Government fellowship program that is supposed to attract talented and highly qualified graduate students to Federal service (mileage may vary). Sure, there's a (very static) web site with loads of information (scattered about), but what I really wanted when I started looking at the program was OTHER PEOPLE's experiences. Since there was very little on the web detailing anyone's experiences, I decided to write about my own. And people seemed to enjoy it. Too much, possibly.

Since I work for the US Government now (and for the agency that administers said program), you can guess what I've gotten for all that effort so far. Attention of the wrong sort. It's amazing how nervous people get when you shine a flashlight into certain dark corners. I'll leave it at that.

But back to the point. I create because I can't help myself. I create the kind of content that I want to read, the kinds of communities in which I want to participate. If I never see a dime from those efforts, I don't care (although if I lose my livelihood because of them, that's a different story).

I guess this might also be a good time to thank you, Charlie, not only for writing some of my favorite books, but also for sharing your thoughts here on your blog.

12:

What's actually going to happen is that the rapacious publishers will inflate the price of unshareable ebooks far beyond their worth and people will simply buy them in far fewer numbers. This will allow them to point at the failure of ebook sales, claim it was all a big meaningless fuss over nothing, and bury their heads in the sand for another few years.

I'm puzzled why you feel that's a good result, or why crippling amazon is a good idea simply because they are dismantling an unnecessary multi-tiered system (Amazon who are frankly the only people who have done anything innovative at all in book publicity and marketing in the last decade or two). I also eagerly await the hordes of anti-trust lawyers who will descend upon the fray once it becomes clear that Macmillian seek to set retail prices directly wherever they please.

Interestingly, while the book industry stabs itself repeatedly in the face, the iPad is very likely going to represent a breath of life and hope for the glossy magazine and traditional media advertising people.

B>

13:

I think it should also be noted that Stallman made the point of saying useful information ought to be free, refering to the human knowledge that enables people to improve their quality of life.

I doubt he was including base piracy of creative works. But I suppose one could argue that copyrighted works of scientific journals and similar publications would be included in his statement.

What I have I created and released? Why nothing, in the term of my employement, I get paid for what I create and the company owns it. Just like virtually every other human being on the planet, and I have no complaints in that regard.

14:
What have you created and released lately?
Clear Climate Code. But a good question.
15:

Information wants to be free, writers want to get paid.

16:

A fair point and well made.

17:

My most recent anthology is being given away free in segments to registered users of the publisher's website. The way this was structured was partly my idea. I based it on James Patrick Kelly's strategy of doing free podcasts of segments of his book over time. Like you I am having second thoughts about giving it away free. It does begin to seem that giving our book away free in any form encourages the idea that the right price for it is very low.

I'm also having second thoughts about the wisdom of allowing the publisher the right to publish the book in an electronic format tailored to a retailer that is aggressively devaluing the electronic book as such. There are a lot of cool things that could be done with the electronic book as an art form.

A year ago when I went to the O'Reilly Tools of Change Conference I was really excited about the possibilities opening up. But if we are producing objects structured to sell at remainder-bin prices from the start, artistic innovation of the form is not in the budget. If that is where things are going, then the e-book is artistically a dead form.

18:

Bruce Murphy: it puzzles me why you don't think of Amazon as "rapacious", but apply that label exclusively to publishers.

Amazon are the folks with the union-busting history, really onerous EULA on Kindle, monopolistic tendencies, and attempts to strong-arm their suppliers into cutting them larger-than-normal margins while undertaking not to grant those margins to Amazon's competitors.

Macmillan, far as I can tell, are just saying "we want to pursue the same reverse-auction pricing policy that's always been applied to books; you're undercutting this, please desist".

Here's another interesting outsider perspective -- a former indie music company executive.

19:

Pictures under CC, a collaborative medical text book under our own licence, which I wrote the first draft of ( http://ganfyd.org ) and which aims to fix one of the faults of - for instance - WIkipedia.

Some trivial fragments of code, including one I paid someone else to write for that purpose. (Paid not very much)

20:

"Freetards" as you call them mostly advocate an absolutist position because the other side gets away with its absolutist position. It's a negotiation stand point.

If you only advocate for a reasonable middle ground, while the other side goes full retard, at best you get the current situation (DMCA, Hadopi, Acta and the likes) which can only be reasonably described as mildly retarded, going towards demented.

That is why I support the Pirate Party's platform. It will never be adopted, but it pulls the narrative towards a saner middle ground, however slightly.

Last thing: yes, $15 for what is currently called an "ebook" is overpriced, because it's not an actual sale but at best a rental with unspecified duration.

21:

Seems like information is worth the amount of my time I spend to find it.

If it takes more than an hour to find, download, and decompress a BitTorrent of a TV show's season (counting the chance that the whole thing might not be archived correctly in the first place, or could be badly compressed and unwatchable), I'd be much better off buying the darned thing for $19.99 on my next trip to Best Buy.

If I can get a copy of The Atrocity Archives for about the same price as a copy of the book, but without having to run down to the book store to buy it, the balance certainly shifts in my favor, price-wise...

22:

If you Google my name you'll see I've created and released a lot of information/content. But I am not an author for a living. (The question of whether (for example) my free bookstore lists make it harder for someone to publish a book of bookstore lists as part of earning a living is still up in the air.)

However, a better question to ask, I think, is how much content in their professional line of work have people created and released.

--Evelyn Leeper

23:

I probably will be publishing my Master's thesis as free, as well as some of the software I developed for it. The thesis, however, includes some information copied from sources to which I don't hold the copyright, and while that is customary in theses, I may have to remove those from the free version. Other software I intend to bring out at a moderate price, rather than the monopolistic prices common in AEC.

I've never felt that the ideological base of "free software" was all that sound, and so, though I've given some software away & expect to do more, I am not a Stallmanian. I think the GPL has turned into part of a toxic system. I would prefer to see us explore seriously a modern gift economy, and create institutions to support one.

24:

"in view of the huge number of Kindle cheapskates yelling that $14 is too much to pay for a bestseller"

As a Kindle owner, advocate, and voracious reader - 75+ books purchased in the first year of ownership, I have to say I don't care to classified as a "cheapskate". I will happily pay whatever price the book is selling for if a) I enjoy the author and b) the book sounds interesting.

That being said, I'm also terrible at finding new authors. I hate spending any money on an author who I haven't read yet because sometimes it just doesn't work out.

Put a free book up, gain a few fans, is my advice. As for those cheapskates, ignore them. They may be vocal, but that doesn't mean they are the majority.


25:

There is no tragedy of the commons! That idiom really makes me angry. Just cos some white male thinks we all need controlled and have someone put in power over us, so we won't spoil a common resource, doesn't make it the case!

There is no tragedy of the commons. Look it up.

26:

I've got no problem paying $15 for an e-book (that's what I had to pay for Daemon, which was from an author I'd never read before - though it came strongly recommended by someone I trust).

However, I can attest to the power of free books to get me to buy more. The Baen Free Library got me started on several authors who subsequently made quite a few sales. I probably wouldn't have tried their books if they hadn't either been free or included in a Webscription purchase. Likewise, I've bought some Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi after reading stories they published for free on tor.com. Putting a few back-catalog books (or perhaps the first in a series) up for free seems like a winning proposition.

Oddly enough, though I know it's possible to search Amazon for free e-books, I haven't made a habit of it. Amazon is such a huge see of stuff that it's hard for things I'm not looking for to catch my eye.

27:

I would be quite happy to pay the hardback price for an ebook version provided it was available the same day as the hardback was.
While I would prefer no-DRM my biggest beef is that I cannot (even with credit card clutched in sweaty paw) buy the content in the format I want, when I want to.
I have a Sony PRS and find it does the job for me. At this point I am physically out of room for buying paper books and if I can't get an electronic version then I just do without. I suspect there are many more people like me who are holding off because the whole ebook situation is reminiscent of the introduction of video in the early 80's.
I bought Joe Abercrombie's latest in ebook format the day it came out at hardback list price. I am not aware of said author hurting for sales. If it can be done for his work then why not any other ?
PS. As to the question in the op, my answer would be nothing I am legally allowed to share with anyone else. My creative time is sold to my employer and I jst don't have the juice in my spare time to create. That isn't a 'poor me' as I am a consumer who is also happy to pay for what they consume. My pile of Mr Stross work (half in hardback, all purchased new) speaks to this.

28:

Tim Weaver: Interesting point about buyer satisfaction with books you buy. As a buyer of books, I find that the chances that I will wish I hadn't bought a book are much greater for books I buy online than for books I have physically laid hands on before getting out my credit card. Reader comments don't help. Nor do online previews. I'm a bit perplexed about what to do about that. Maybe other people have better luck with that than I do. But I think I may regret as many as 40% of my online book purchases. My batting average in bookstores is much better.

29:

& people are actually making money off serial publication on the net, followed by paper publication. Forward, into the past!

30:

I am one who definitely cringes at the 14.99$ price of ebooks, for a few reasons. First, I feel that an ebook, with its license restrictions, is a lot less valuable than a paperback (although I figured out a possible solution below).

Secondly, the pricing scheme is opaque, so I don't know who is getting the money. If the price reflects inefficiencies of big dinosaur publishers (see also, the music labels), I'm not eager to shell out.

Third, thanks to Apple, people perform the following analogy in their heads: CD:itunes_album::book:ebook.
So if there isn't a significant discount from the book price to the ebook price, people wonder why.

Lastly, thanks to Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts (and a certain Charlie Stross, too), nerds expect free ebooks.

Here are my ideas to Fix The Ebook Industry: I think it should be possible to schedule an ebook purchase. The price starts high on day of first release, and decreases as time goes on. I decide what I want to pay, and the ebook or a URL gets emailed to me when that price goes into effect. So I type 10$, and the site says "ok, you can pay 10 bucks, but you have to wait 3 months" (or whatever). Then three months later I get a present in my email. Or, if I want the book now-now-now, I pay the full day-and-date price.

Also, there needs to be fluidity between forms of books. There should be ways of exchanging hardcovers for ebooks, or trading ebooks for paperbacks. That way I can make space on my shelf by converting physical books to ebooks. Or I can give away an ebook by getting it printed-on-demand and giving up the ebook license. That would go a long way toward putting my mind at ease regarding the DRM bullshit.

31:

mcp @23: you might want to look up the history of the enclosures in 16th-17th century rural England.

(Why are you getting so angry about this? And where does the crack about "some white male" come from?)

32:

What have you created and released lately?

Well, for more than a decade everything I did that wasn't done under some form of NDA/contract thing. Writing, music, PHP code, as well as a somewhat successful local SF blog (back when blogs weren't called blogs yet) that involved running several short story contests for local writers with prizes financed from my own pocket. So quite a bit.

Do I think all content should be free? Certainly not, but right now I am only paying for stuff I don't really want and not paying for stuff I do. For example, I am paying for cable TV since it's a parasitic tax on my having cable Internet. I did not pay for the last of your books that I read, simply because I had no feasible way of doing so - you see, I'm one of those unfortunate "Eastern Europeans" referenced in #8, and my choice in paying for a book of yours is either to purchase it off Amazon (or B&N, or whatever) using a friend's credit card (since, apparently, not all credit cards were created equal), wait for a month until it clears customs, pay 30 euros in shipping for a 10 euro book, then pay an additional 30 euros in customs duties for import, thereby paying 700% of the real price of the book, or hope for someone I know to be traveling to the UK and be willing to drag books back with them.

That, or pirate the damn thing.

Accelerando kicked so many different kinds of ass that I would really, really like to give you some money for your work (and not just you - I've got a whole list of people like Watts and Egan), but so long as the only option to do that is the "Buy my books" thing that sends me to Amazon - the best I can do is hope that one day in the future I'll be able to buy you several rounds of the beverage of your choice.

33:

I recently released the source code to a website I am not going to use any more. I also have published a little bit of GPL software, though I would love to do more.

On a related note, this came through my RSS reader today: http://www.publicdomainmanifesto.org/

34:

"What have you created and released lately?"
Interesting question if you're a writer, artist etc. but personally I don't think I've ever created anything (that anyone would be interested in), nor am I likely to, what should I do?

35:

Interesting point re "information wants to be free", well made. However, I disagree fundamentally with your comments about rights and obligations. While the right to, say, not be murdered is balanced by an obligation not to murder other people, most rights do not, in my opinion, imply an equal and opposite obligation - the right to vote does not imply the {b}obligation{b} to vote, though it may imply the obligation to consider whether or not to vote. Similarly the right to free assembly does not imply that one must freely assemble. To hold otherwise risks turning "obligation" into a requirement . . . and that would be (a different form of) tyranny.

Similarly, my position on the creation of content (or as a consumer or {b}your{b} content) does not in any way obligate me to create content myself, free or otherwise. Actually here I think I am closer to agreement with you, in that I am happy to pay a reasonable fee for the fruits of your labour. The exact level of the fee I am prepared to pay any any given time will vary considerably depending on circumstances. With ebooks, it is not usually equivalnt to the hardcover price, however.

36:

Information wants to be free, writers want to get paid.

Isn't the trouble with even that more pro-writer version that it puts information and writers on the same level, to be balanced against each other? As Jaron Lanier also notes, this anthropomorphizes information. Which is a bit weird.

Also: editors, designers, typesetters, production managers, proofreaders, printers, accountants, drivers, security guards, cleaners, and even managing executives all want to be paid as well. Many of these people are not parasites whose jobs can be replaced with a spellchecker and a Publish Now button.

As to the question of what have I sent out recently, like many people the only thing I've done is the low-level sharing of photos and videos and snarky blog stuff. Which might also be part of the problem - people make false equivalancies between their not particularly unique and easy to produce, although valuable to them, information and whatever they want to download.

37:

The nub of this issue seems to be the asymmetry between creators and consumers. It's really not fair or practical to expect everybody to contribute, because most of the contributions would be complete crap. One of the reasons why open source software is so good is that the community self selects contributors that are at least competent.

That asymmetry is dealt with by the temporary monopoly afforded by copyright (and patents etc.) and subsequent exchanges of money.

If you, as the creator of some work, choose to give it away (whether that's part of a marketing strategy for other goods you make money from, or as a pure gift to the community) then that's your choice.

When it comes to the 'freetards' then I believe there are two types:

1. People who wouldn't mind paying for stuff (because they understand that creative people need to eat and pay rent too), but who aren't properly served by the incumbent media distribution companies. I wrote about these people a little while ago in monitising the freetards pt1 and pt2. From your previous posts (especially about eBooks and DRM) I think you can identify and sympathise with this type.

2. People that won't pay for anything (thieves). These folk are economically insignificant, because they'll never contribute. Please don't let this type put you off doing anything - there will always be thieves and trolls, but we should run the world (or the parts we can control) by our rules not theirs.

Owen @30 hits on what I consider to be a key point about eBooks - time is the only significant dimension for price discrimination, and I think he's spot on that "buy it now" will command a premium over get it later (as we can see in price spreads on eBay).

What have I created and released recently - very little other than some blog posts and a few pictures on Flickr, which kind of brings me back to the point about asymmetry. I'm probably more of a consumer than a creator (though I'll still not buy an iPad), and I'm happy to pay for content - provided that it comes in a useful and durable form.

38:

in view of the huge number of Kindle cheapskates yelling that $14 is too much to pay for a bestseller on the day of publication, it must be $9.99 or less, even if the publisher can't make a profit at that level and subsequently publishes fewer books

I wonder how "huge" that number really is. How many unique individuals are saying that a price "must" be 9.99 or less? And how many of them actually own Kindles? Or are the majority of Kindle users simply making purchases based on perceived value and doing so without a lot of fanfare? I will admit to being one who prefers the lower-priced books. Of the 180 or so ebooks I've bought from Amazon, probably 90% have been under the 9.99 level. (And if you are interested, the very first was from an unknown (to me) author: Accelerando [Kindle Edition], Price: $6.39). I hope that the sellers of books will figure out how make their money on volume rather than unit price; a lower price is good for readership in general and me in particular.

39:


"in view of the huge number of Kindle cheapskates yelling that $14 is too much to pay for a bestseller"

I've not bought enough books from america to know how that maps - when I've looked at non-kindle ebooks the prices (apart from Baen) have been ludicrous - on the order of the same price for a hardback copy of the same book - at that price I'd say I'd be paying too much.


"What have you created and released lately?"

This is the right question to ask when confronting their freetards and their absolutism - but not when dealing with the reason some people end up reluctantly supporting them. Via taxes *everyone* ends up paying for the enforcement of the copyright system - so it's only right that society as a whole should benefit - which undercuts the absolutism of the other side.

So I do think that people who take their work out of circulation based on personal whim and then insist on copyright protection are not being consistent - without necessarily endorsing the google solution.

And that's sort of the point isn't it ? Freetards can't legislate, google can. So each industry better come up with a consumer friendly solution - or they'll be driven to the wall by google like companies, cheered on by a public who doesn't really understand what's going on, but who knows they don't like the status quo.

40:

Kevin @35: the right to vote does not imply the {b}obligation{b} to vote -- true, but it does imply the obligation not to prevent others from voting, and to abide by the fair outcome of an election! And the right to free assembly implies an obligation not to prevent others from exercising said right.

Rights are reciprocal.

41:

I put all my photos under a CC:BY license, and whilst I sell art when I can, I put the same license on fairly high-res scans. Every so often, I do up nice acting editions of classic (ie. way out of copyright) plays for my friends, and I release those too.

phuzz @ 34: It doesn't just apply to programming or creative work - aggregation, curatorship, and editing count as information too. OpenGuides, MySociety, Wikipedia, all sorts of things.

42:

The problem is that capitalism has evolved to control the distribution of scare, real world goods

It completely breaks down when cost to reproduce and distribute drop to zero.

This leaves a gap. How do we reward people creating IP?

The rest of it is all just the sound and fury of an obsolete business model continuing it's slide into oblivion...

43:

Charles,

A point well made, and worth reiterating over and over.

As a software-artist (for the lack of better title), I fully appreciate that the Open Source movement has given a lot of people the impression that "software just happens" and therefore does not and should not cost anything.

And as long as the software we are talking about is tiny gift-favours or run-of-the-mill community barn-raisings, that can be true, in the sense that the programmers effort can be funded over margins of other activities.

But like a good literary or musical work, quality and depth in programming takes time, effort and talent.

History is littered with poor but brilliant artists, because the problem is not new:

Few people perceive art sufficiently necessary to actually pay for it, and to add spite to insult, as long as an artist is alive, prices for their works are trivial.

I think open source is gradually realizing that no matter how smart you are as a programmer, the rent has to be paid and the kids have to be fed, moving us away from the ancient model of "poor-starving-artist" to a sort of tip-jar model, which at least for some of us, have been able to pay some of the rent.

The key to this is the direct programmer-customer contact, as soon as you inject foundations and such, the success rate plummets, but go directly to a company which uses your software, explain to them that you want to improve it, but somebody has to pay your rent while you do so, and you can usually get them to cough up some sort of payment.

It is clearly not ideal, it is clearly still under development, but there is movement.

The crucial feedback I have heard, over and over again, is "we don't mind paying you for programming, but we want to know where our money goes."

I feel the same way about literature and music: I don't mind paying $15 for a good book, but I would far more happily do so, if I knew the majority of the $15 went to the writer.

And therein lies what I think all published artists should fight for: By law retail prices for intellectual property should always include information about how much the author/musician/painter/programmer receives thereoff.

So, yes, bring on the eBooks, but make sure it says:

"$15 (artist gets paid $1.04)" and the market will take care of the rest.

Poul-Henning

44:

I think you're conflating "value" and "price"... for example, I *value* music and books quite highly, but I still believe that they are both priced too highly.

I understand the mantra, but also believe it's misleading to say "wants"...information doesn't *want* anything, but it does tend to fall in price (not value) to that of its marginal distribution costs. I truly believe that the values you're decrying are not those of people who "just want free stuff", but those of a people who understand that (paper aside) bandwidth is cheap and are tired of overpaying for inferior products that are laden with DRM which only serves to inhibit the actions of the law-abiding.

Charlie, I'm an absolute fan, and would happily pay full hardback price for a well-done ebook that in no way limits what I can do with it. If I've paid for it, intending (and understanding) that I now *own* a *copy* of it, why does it feel like I've only leased it?

I think there's a huge difference between 'real property' and 'intellectual property' that is glossed over and abused to our collective detriment...our 'ownership culture' is out of control.

One can't own ideas. They *should* be shared, for the betterment of all.

Your books make the world a better place, and I sincerely hope that you are able to continue making a living being an artist, but the marginal costs of materials and distribution are going to continue to fall...leading irrevocably to a price of (or close to) Zero. The value of your work, however hasn't.

Do you read techdirt?

45:

My problem with information wants to be free is that, no matter the sense of free in use, information is being anthropomorphized in a way that obscures the issue when taken outside the context of serious consideration, i.e., when used simply as a slogan & catchphrase.


So, at the risk of sounding pedantic, I put forward that information wants nothing, it simply is. To be accurate about the issue in a way that can then frame the economic and business issues effectively, you need to define the issue from the other end:


It is nigh-impossible to restrict the flow information


This is the case whenever the marginal cost of reproduction is so very close to zero. This is both more accurate and less controversial than the original "free" statement, and lends an understanding that will benefit those trying to build a business model on content creation, instead of polarizing them on one side or another of some vague ideal.

46:

Excellent points, well written. I've worked on plenty of non-free software (mostly for Apple), but I release most of my own personal software as open source, in part because I'm mindful of the obligations you express here.

47:

Many in this thread have pointed at Writing (big W, as in making books or articles) or other creative endeavors as ways to create information, suggesting they have none to offer. On the contrary, simply participating in this discussion enriches the original posting. While nobody is obligated to participate, the fact that any of you who otherwise feel you have no content to contribute DID participate, or even felt OBLIGATED to, might be good enough. This is the heart of what it means to be a social animal. The value here is not simply Charlie on a soap box, though we'd probably gather to see that too, and we do by reading his books; rather, the value is in the conversation, the social context that a blog creates. The point is that useful information cannot usually be created in isolation, and the simple act of participation helps define the usefulness of this information in particular.

48:

"What have you created and released lately?"

I'm not sure that's a fair question. We're not all primary providers. Information doesn't exist in a vacuum.

Historically I ran Spuddy (free email/usenet). My name is in the Taylor UUCP docs (patch to uustat, IIRC). It's on the early Linux filesystem hierarchy standard docs. On zsh docs. I supplied Linux kernel patches. I might even still be listed in the Linux CD-Writing FAQ. Huh, I appear to be mentioned in old NFS server "special thanks". I forgot about that. And so on. I didn't ever bother to track what I helped in 'cos *shrug* it's what I did.

But more recently I haven't supplied code nor documentation. Rather what I do is "support"; I answer questions in forums, in newsgroups, by email. I provide ideas and suggestions.

Information may want to be free, but it's useless without someone there to understand it, to explain it, to apply it; essentially to add _value_ to the information. After all, no single person can know everything; if I can make my knowledge base available to others then I'm contributing to the information ecosystem.

As an old signature file of mine read: "My employer pays to ignore my opinions; you get to do it for free." :-)

49:

I always thought it was better said as, "data wants to be free; information wants to be valuable."

Of course, part of that is that one man's information is another man's data.


50:

I'm sorry, I think this is a silly question. I haven't created and released anything into the internets except my own blog jabbering. But then, I have also never stolen anyone's content. Ever. That doesn't mean I have a sign on my forehead saying "moron". After I read your Halting State as a free release, I bought your Laundry books, recommended them to others, loaned them out, didn't get them back, and bought more. Than I bought two more books in HC. When I got the Chabon in the Hugo packet, I had my book club read it (16 copies) and gave three away. I bought those in PB, though.
There is no way that you can make me believe that an e-copy (especially a DRM crippled copy) that I can't loan, resell or donate, that has no art and (currently) no cover or color or graphics, is worth a Hard Cover price. It's just objectionable to say it is.
I have 110+ boxes of books in the US, raising on 30+ here in Germany, and I am at a place in my life where I don't want to buy physical books anymore (Our backs are tired from the packing and the hauling). But you can't tell me that when I give residual value up you should still be able to charge for it: I just won't pay it.
You, and a few others, seem to keep pushing the concept that Amazon's pricing was hurting authors. It wasn't. THey were buying books at the regular price and eating their own discount in an effort to create a big enough market that the pricing would make more sense.
I was happy about it. If you look, you can see the reality of the dynamic scheme that Macmillan is espousing: they keep e-books at $1 or 2 below HC prices after PB is out, after the PB is OP. And now Murdoch is chiming in, so there goes Harper Collins...
I guess I will need to go back to buying PB, but now I'll just start giving them to libraries/recycling them. Which will put a damper on reading series until the last book comes out (what's the point if I don't have the earlier ones) or buying a series if any are OP. There are 1,000s of great public domain books out there: perhaps it's time I go back to the classics,
I'll still buy the Fuller Memorandum, but perhaps I need to buy it in PB- I certainly won't pay more than PB price for an e-copy.

51:

I notice that in your quote from Stallman he says: "I believe that all generally useful information should be free."

So not only must "information" be defined, but "generally useful information". Any opinions on what the "generally useful" modifier signifies?

The way I see it, a novel is not generally useful information. It doesn't cure cancer, or help you build an outhouse. It is valuable specifically in that it entertains, and thus benefits, a specific audience in a specific way.

I see scientific information as a much better candidate for "freedom" than creative content.

52:

I think that ebooks should be cheaper than paper books because they're not as good as paper books.

Ebooks are not as good as paper books because of DRM.

I want you to make money. To a lesser extent I want your publisher and the retailer to make money.

I would be fine with all of you making more money because ebooks cost less to make, however it makes no sense to pay more for an inferior version of a product.

I will continue to buy paper books until either:
1) DRM is removed from ebooks
2) The price of ebooks drops so low that I stop caring about the DRM
3) They stop making paper books

53:

Apoligies to MrClock@13 for skimming the comments rather than reading. Otherwise I would have seen him saying basically the same thing I just did.

Still, I haven't seen much comment on the difference between generally useful information and information in general.

54:

What have you created and released lately?

Lots of CC-photos at Flickr, sometimes used by others. A modified blog theme for green party subdivisions. Some wikipedia editing. Some more or less academic papers in open access format. Lots and lots of time spent in discussions on the internet.

By the way - one related activity was working in a gift-economy shop initiative, one Umsonstladen (give-away store or freestore ...), i.e. we tried to organize a kind of shop were you could bring things you didn't want to have anymore and take things you needed. One rule was that taking and bringing doesn't need to be related.

In the end, our problem weren't freeriders, but the pure mass of unwanted things accumulating - lots of clothes, lots of books. A small group of people tried to profit from the shop: coming every day it was open, looking for things that could be re-sellable. Others used it in good spirit, bringing things, taking things according to needs (or - clothing, literature) moods. And a really big third group were of the "we just cleared the house of my grandma, and here a boxes and boxes of stuff nobody wants anymore - what, why don't you want to take that box full of cheap 60s novels?" type. A fourth category of people came and asked for something, didn't find it and was angry at us for not providing it.

So, how is this related to "information wants to be free", besides that the idea of freestores comes from the same roots as e.g. the Whole Earth catalogue? The main parallel I see is the interface between gift economy and market economy - and the conflicts connected to that interface. Maybe a pure gift economy would work. Maybe (I'm really not so sure about that ...) a pure market economy would work. If you mix both, the mindsets, preconceptions and practices just clash.

55:

Interesting discussion.

I, as several other commenteres, mainly contribute through open source. I would assume that OSS is the most obvious example that reciprocal creation and usage of information can work, at least in a limited context where the full value can be extracted from that information. The question is whether the lessons from OSS are even applicable to publishing, content generation and other similar industries.

(my main OSS contributions surround the JRuby language implementation, which is a tool that other programmers use to create even more OSS. it's interesting to note the enabling aspects of certain tools)

56:

G: There is no way that you can make me believe that an e-copy (especially a DRM crippled copy) that I can't loan, resell or donate, that has no art and (currently) no cover or color or graphics, is worth a Hard Cover price. It's just objectionable to say it is.

Can you point to anywhere where I've said that?

Because I think you'll find I'm on the record as frequently saying that DRM is a crock, and that the natural price of ebooks is lower than that of hardbacks.

57:

I create and release stuff periodically. It tends to be of a technical nature (I'm an engineer) and I do it pretty informally (due to a lack of time to actually publish anything).

That said, the thing that gets me about ebooks, is that you have to pay so damn much for the reader. This makes the content seem prohibitively expensive. My solution up to now is to not buy into the ecosystem, until the price of readers drops to something reasonable.

So, no ebooks for me.

Regards,

Hans

58:

"What have you created and released lately?"

This comes off as somewhat "holier than thou", which I don't think you intended. Sort of makes it sound like my dad should uninstall open-office until he learns some java and hacks out some open source code.

Otherwise, great post. I've always assumed that the majority of idjits out there screaming about how all information (read: the music and movies they like) should be freely copyable were mostly poor college students who don't have the income to make the purchases anyway. While they're in the wrong in terms of their right to have some media without obtaining it legally, it's unclear that they are really "lost revenue" as the RIAA and MPAA are constantly insisting.
My assumption may be, and probably is, wrong. But that's been my experience. When people get incomes, they start paying for stuff.

59:

Oh, and just have to add - I thoroughly enjoy your flame bait posts. Keep them coming.

60:

Why this focus on creating things?

I created the labor involved in facilitating the transfer of several thousand used children's books from people who didn't need them to underprivileged children who did.

61:

You have said that DRM was crippling, of course, Which is why I am so gobsmacked to see you defending Macmillan and denigrating Amazon.
I'd be glad if everyone just went to Baen, where I want to spend my e-dollars (or Euros) for what I consider a good value proposition.
Also, I feel a bit whacked upside the head by those who can't seem to understand that what Amazon was doing was eating its own loss, not hurting authors. You call us Kindle cheapskates and say the publisher doesn't make a profit at 9.99, but the reality was that Amazon bought at face and that's been publicly cited everywhere (including by Murdoch today).
I totall believe that there is time dependency. There is also artifact dependency. That's why all the picture books I buy will be HC, all the Pratchetts I buy are HC (I love the Kirby art and used to import HCs from the UK before moving to Europe). But most books- I'll wait a for either the HC discount or the PB. And these houses don't lower their e-copies to be competitive with PB.
I will happily carry a couple of your HC books with me to Eastercon this year if you'll be there- autographs are another thing I can't get on e-copies.

62:

Information is not a coextensive set with Expression

As Our Gracious Host points out in his initial post, English overloads the pragma "free" to mean both "without monetary or other cost" and "unfettered by other obligations or restrictions."* This is the other, unstated overloaded pragma underlying this meme.

In turn, this second overload leads to Feist (as later, grudgingly, adopted in the UK... sort of... and slowly working its way into the rest of the EU and into Japan). The U.S. Supreme Court phrased it an "idea/expression" divide in copyright law (ideas are not protected by copyright; expression is), and pointed out that it is often difficult to know exactly where the line between the two is... but that it is even more often rather easy.

Our Gracious Host's blog tends toward Information.
Our Gracious Host's fiction tends strongly toward Expression.
They are not the same thing, and should not -- indeed, cannot with any sense of intellectual honesty -- be treated identically. Similarly, perhaps; not identically.
The Macmillan/Amazon kerfluffle is about Expression, not about Information.

I hereby proclaim that, in my intent, this post constitutes Information and not Expression. And I set it free.

* As a chemist, it also means "not part of another chemical structure"... but that's extending the pragma too far even for me. ;-)

63:

I prefer the "bandwidth" version of "Information wants to be free", which is: "The marginal cost of one bit is zero." The catch is that it doesn't matter whether that bit is a one or a zero.

64:

Just a few quick thoughts from someone who from time to time downloads free music and occasionally partakes in reading books which I haven't paid for.

My experience has been that being able to listen to songs for free (cd's friends burned for me, on websites, stuff downloaded) has inspired me to buy more music and go to more shows. Without some of this free distribution of songs, I would never have heard most of the artists I listen to. One of the useful things about music is that you listen to it over and over again, so after years of stealing your roommates cd collection you move and suddenly realize that you can't listen to a song that is stuck in your head... and you go out and buy the cd or hop on iTunes and buy the song. Particularly now that radio stations have all gone to shit in the US (thanks clear channel), you don't find new artists outside of a small cast of over-exposed stars without some digging or someone recommending. And I won't shell out for an artist I haven't heard, even on high recommendation.

Same with books. If I can't scan through and read a book before I buy it, it is never going to end up on my shelf. Something has to catch me to make me want it and the lower the price, the more likely I'm going to pay enough attention to get sucked in. Since this is your site, let's use my relationship with your books as an example. I first read your work when someone left a copy of Singularity Sky in the office on the take-a-book-leave-a-book shelf. I forget what I left in its stead. :) I devoured the book (while floating in the middle of the ocean for a month and in much need of an alternate reality). This lead me to asking friends if they had read anything by you and to me looking for other books by you. I got Singularity Sky free, also Accelerando, and regularly read your blog. So far I'm just a useless freetard.

But all this free content convinced me that I was very interested in what you have to say, so purchases followed: all of the Merchant Princes novels (the last one - and the next one- in hard back), Halting State, and my boyfriend is sending me off to my floating prison with Iron Sunrise, Saturn's Children, and Glasshouse he bought and loaded on the Kindle for me. And I'll probably buy the dead tree versions of all of those (and Accelerando) eventually.

I know I'm not every person who downloads free content, but I'm not abnormal either. I don't buy the album of every artist whose music I hear for free, but hearing new and interesting things keeps me interested in music and in the habit of listening to it, which leads into the act of buying it. Same with books. I won't pay for everything I read, but easy access to things that I enjoy reading builds the habit of turning to the page for entertainment or escape, and this affects how I spend. An active library (as a place that offers free access to materials to read and fosters a culture of reading) fuels business for bookstores instead of being in competition with it. There will be people who only read the free books, for a variety of reasons some of which will be economic, but the free access builds the pool of people who are actively reading and seeking out stuff to read which leads to more people who are invested in the act of reading and willing to spend money on it.

65:

In Australia, the right to vote carries with it the obligation to vote. You can be fined for "Failing to Exercise Your Democratic Right" if you fail to vote in a Federal or State election.

What have I released for free today? Nothing as the days is only 16 minutes old for me. I can give some free opinions though (and aren't opinions free):

. I'm in two minds about free books. A free download from Baen did result in my buying a number of Lois McMaster Bujold's books. So, that increased sales. However, I also downloaded "Redliners" from Baen and that probably cost a sale because I generally buy David Drake's books anyway. So, free books may attract a new audience, but they may also cannibalise existing sales. An alternative might be to release the first couple of chapters as a taster (although I suspect this wouldn't be possible with some books).
. People will take the easy option - they downloaded MP3s because it was easy. They now buy from iTunes because it's even easier.
. If you plotted the price that people are prepared to pay for a particular work, you would probably find that it fits some sore of exponential or half-normal distribution, with a relatively small number of people prepared to pay a lot, and a proportionally much larger number prepared to pay a little. In order to maximise returns it makes sense to address the top of the market first and then to progressively drop your price as each segment of the market is satisfied. This is much easier to do with ebooks than with paper books.
. $15 is not expensive for the initial release of an ebook (it's less than I pay in Australia for a paperback). Those who want to pay less can wait until the price drops. Those who really want to read the book now will be prepared to pay.
. People can be selfish at times. If they don't have any form of empathy with the creator of the work then they're much more likely to "steal" that work.
. Book publishers seem really nice guys compared to the music industry.
. And lastly, check out The Spazzys on Youtube. I've been listening to them this evening and they rock. :-)

66:

G @61: As I noted earlier, the battle over DRM is entirely orthogonal to the battle over ebook distribution models. And it's an internal battle within the publishing companies. (FWIW, most of the editors and low-altitude execs I know understand fully how stupid DRM is, and would be happy to ditch it. The problem is convincing the high-level execs -- typically elderly guys a long way from the coal face of publishing -- that they won't be cutting their own throats.)

Amazon has a history of bullying -- both of employees who want to unionize or have better working conditions, and of suppliers. They started by beating up on the small presses a couple of years ago, then tried strong-arming Hachette; it's only with Macmillan that their coercive tactics have really hit public awareness.

I don't like WalMart. (To the extent that I won't shop in their stores -- in this country, that means ASDA.) I don't like Amazon either, although until this last round I was willing to hold my nose.

deadantstomp @64: one of the most embarrassing problems for the RIAA has been trying to ignore those studies that show that people who download music via p2p also tend on average to spend more on music.

67:

On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable

Same thing can be said for air.
But since there's no feasabile way to contain them and sell we just let it be free.

Exchange air with water supply and you see that sometimes the government acts to keep things free although they are as valueable as anything gets. After all, just before he dies, everybody payed his very last billion € to get one more litre of water.

68:

the battle over DRM is entirely orthogonal to the battle over ebook distribution models.

Is that necessarily true? A high-volume, low-price distribution model might be assisted by some form of DRM. If the price were low enough, many complaints about DRM might go away and the presence of DRM might discourage the sharing of a single purchase, leading to more sales.

69:

Bob: DRM might be useful in a rental model (very low cost read-once files), but personally I don't believe it's viable; in the end-game, you've got to display text in a form that Mark One Eyeballs can read, and the reductio ad absurdam for DRM cracking is to point a digital camera at the screen then OCR the results.

A smarter option that some publishers are advocating is watermarking -- you can pass files around, but they'll know who bought them and if they end up having a major impact (e.g. by being re-sold commercially) they'll know who to send the nastygram to.

But personally I like the Webscription model: no DRM, open file formats, reasonable prices. The only trouble is that, as noted by Michelle Sagara on an earlier thread, if the major publishers went for it the retailers would throw a collective fit that would compare to last weekend's Amazon/Macmillan fight the way World War One compares to a lover's tiff. (Scorched earth, no quarter to the enemy, etcetera.)

70:

I suspect "generally useful" here means "useful to everyone" - as opposed to information that's useful only to a few. Thus, a novel is "generally useful", because most people will be able to derive some enjoyment out of it, at least in principle.

Information that's useful to only a few people behaves rather differently; generally, this means custom or at least customised information. Its business model is not in question - whoever's specifying pays.


η

71:

In the spirit, though not recent, Graphing Calculator. "Public schools are too poor to buy software, so the most effective way to deliver it is to install it at the factory." Though initially free (as in beer) for a decade, now commercial to pay the bills, which gives me a fine appreciation of Brand's subsequent reformulation.

72:

DRM might be useful in a rental model (very low cost read-once files), but personally I don't believe it's viable; in the end-game, you've got to display text in a form that Mark One Eyeballs can read, and the reductio ad absurdam for DRM cracking is to point a digital camera at the screen then OCR the results.

There will always be *someone* with the skills and desire to copy and distribute, whatever the scheme. What DRM and low prices could do is to discourage a lot of casual sharers. If a friend wants a copy of something I'm reading and I were the sort that might consider going along, my response might be: "You want me to spend a few hours taking pictures of hundreds of pages just so you can save three bucks? Buy your own copy, chum"

A smarter option that some publishers are advocating is watermarking -- you can pass files around, but they'll know who bought them and if they end up having a major impact (e.g. by being re-sold commercially) they'll know who to send the nastygram to.

And this is less crackable?

73:

I think this tension was actually pretty well understood at the point when copyright law was created - i.e. that facts could not be copyrighted - they exist, and need only be discovered - and they recognised the social and scientific value of sharing discovery.

On the other hand, 'art' (for want of a better term) doesn't have that external existence. While certainly some ideas and techniques are discovered, or driven by 'scenius', it's still original creation.

Making it widely accessible is a good thing (it's been interesting watching how new music has changed in the last decade, as young musicians suddenly have access to things that in my day were hard to find) but on the other hand it exists only because it's creators were not doing something else, because they had the economic freedom not to do something else.

(Which is why most pre-C20th novelists were already wealthy by other means).

I do think most of the alternatives that people present, in the quest to make the valuable thing free will actually be catastrophic to the kind of thing I like - big business tends to be pretty good at secondary merchandise, or high-volume/low-price sales, and monopolising flat-income (i.e. subscription) systems (think TV again and how your subscription or licence fee gets directed).

However . . . I'm more optimistic than Charlie. The problem with the Internets and any discussion of this ilk is that it brings out the tiny fringe. Most people seem to accept paid content - and in fact most of the people 'taking without giving' are only taking the paid content, because that's how they judge what is valuable.

I suspect that once people are over into 'buying files' being normal, then price can start to vary a lot more. If we are comparing ebooks with ebooks, then $14.99 for the final Merchant Princes book may seem reasonable to have it on release. It's the comparison to physical prices that throws things out.

(And I will freely admit I still buy CDs for pretty much that reason. If I'm paying that much, I may as well have the uncompressed version. Well, less compressed version).

74:

Hrrm. I was about to answer my recipes, but I haven't posted nearly enough. I photograph my food almost every day, but never write up the recipes because I assume no one will really care. Maybe I should shift my thinking on that matter, though.

The majority of my stories are free. I like to think that they're presentable. The editors liked them well enough. I'm also part of a workshop, which means that when one of us has a manuscript, I (in theory, at least) contribute assistance. You'd have to ask my fellow Irregulars, though, to learn how helpful I am in reality.

I also built FandomResearch.org, where fan studies students and pros can index their surveys and questionnaires in an effort to spread the word about their research, and reduce research redundancy.

Both cooking and writing are things I can't help doing, though, and feel a certain compulsion to share. I'm not sure that they count in this scheme. Recipes are "generally useful," but I have a hard time seeing what about mine could actually help someone. I'm more likely to blog something that came out really well the first time, rather than something which I made over and over until it worked. (That's what the stories are for.)

Will have to think more on this. Hrrm.

75:

Haven't released any content recently (aside from my new blog), but I am providing more services by doing public review on environmental documents. Last night, this added up to nothing, because the consultants did their jobs well enough, and none of the documents I checked had significant problems.

While we are talking about the internet, as an aside, I'd point out that democracy requires public input, not just during elections, but through commenting on pending regulation, reviewing environmental documents for errors, and the like. It's thankless work, but it is the community equivalent of peer review. It's worth doing, if you have the time.

76:

Bob -- watermarking is just as crackable as DRM, but most casual users won't even know it's there. Remember when someone discovered that non-DRM iTunes music downloads came with the email address of the purchaser embedded in them? Same sort of thing. I think the thinking is that it won't stop the really determined, but it'll make casual users think twice before uploading ebooks to warez sites (as opposed to emailing them to a friend). Personally, I think it's about as much use as a chocolate teapot, but if it gives the elderly executives with veto over ebook DRM policy a graceful way to back down ...

77:

My take, for what it's worth:

I've developed a few software packages under the BSD license, most of which are completely obsolete these days, but a few of which are still in active use by at least a couple of people around the world. I've also contributed patches to packages that are in wide use. I don't do it much these days, but I learned a fair amount from the experience, and the availability of it has gotten me a couple of jobs, as employers have been able to quickly check my skill level.

Now, you don't need the practice, but I found you originally through the free Accelerando download. From there, I bought some of your other works in paperback, and have since worked myself up to the point where I'm buying everything you put out in hardcover. So in some sense, the free work you put out got you in the door as an author I support in a similar way that my free software got me in the door of employers.

Have you saturated the market, or are there a significant number of new eyeballs to capture through additional free ebooks? I have not the foggiest, you'd have a much better handle on that than I. I would encourage you to try to ignore the parasites, though. Any sufficiently complex economy's going to have them, people that try to game the system, skip out on obligations. I'm not sure how much impact a single creator can have on that ecology by themselves, though. And policing the system against parasites has costs, too.

Anyways, you gotta do what's right for you.

78:

>And this is less crackable?
No, but I think it works for a lot of people. (In fact I'd have no problem 'lending' my Dad a copy of a book with my name on it, but I wouldn't want the same file going wild - I think watermarking might help people feel they 'own' that copy).

A follow up after reading Cory - the problem is, for me, the possibility that 'everybody fails' - i.e. that because of the huge over-production due to low-costs, etc, you end up with a situation where 'no one' makes enough money to survive (in the sense of a reasonable living), apart from the players at huge scale.

That far from encouraging experimentation, it actually undermines it (by removing the existing means of support without replacing them with anything meaningful).

Or perhaps it's just the fact that most of the costs in 'art' are time rather than technology related.

Also, I think the problem is that the numbers are way out, and that's crucial - "A home recording studio and self-promotion may get your album into 30 percent as many hands, but it does so at five percent of what it costs a record label to put out the same recording".

Because the numbers are more like reaching 5% of as many hands.

79:

Charlie, I presume the white male in question is Garret Hardin, who published his seminal essay on the 'Tragedy of the Commons' in 1968.

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that there is no such tragedy, or (to put it another way, I suppose) that tragedies never happen), the ethnographic record does show numerous cases of societies that were able to maintain common property resources without resorting to privatisation or suffering the kind of catastrophic fate Hardin saw as the ultimate end result of holding resources in common.

I'm not sure, however, if the analogy holds up when transferred from the real-world (be it in 18th century England or late 20th century Kenya) to the cyber-world. . .

80:

Mr. Stross,

At the risk of gushing, though I like and approve of my Kindle and ebooks, I prefer to buy yours in paper and board. They're just too good.

81:

The majority of scientific research - including all of my own - works on the free release principle; indeed, the reward structure of academia is set up so that the only way I'll get tenure is by creating and releasing as much useful information as possible.

[There are free-loaders, primarily pharma companies in my field. Not sure how they could be punished; but the system seems to work.]

Still: thus far, the answer is 'increased understanding of brain function, diabetes, Alzheimer's and aging' :).

82:

Maybe it's the medium, or the starting point this sprang from. or maybe it's the mindset of the commentators here. But the answers to (generalised and paraphrased) 'What have you contributed to the general good (or perhaps betterment of others) without monetary recompense?' seems to revolve around software, articles and digital images. In other words things that you can give away and still keep - copyright(able) stuff in other words.

Sorry guys, your horizons are too small. What about the untold courtesies from holding a door for a mother struggling with children via 'I'll just check on old Mrs Y next door as I haven't seen her this week' to regular volunteering for charities/ Scouts/Guides/Boys brigade etc (though bureaucracy seems intent on killing the latter with paperwork and yet more irrelevant paperwork)? For something closer to our interests those who organise conventions The whole SF con running community is small, dedicated to producing a memorable time, take on major personal fiscal responsibilities, and consumes years of available time for no financial or measurable personal benefit.

Community is one of those things which defies normal economic rules.

83:
Remember when someone discovered that non-DRM iTunes music downloads came with the email address of the purchaser embedded in them?

All iTunes music downloads came with the account name (typically, but not always, an email address) of the purchaser embedded in them. They always had. The account name wasn't even encrypted. (As I asked on slashdot at the time, "Am I the only person who opens up binary files in emacs out of curiosity?")

I've got some disagreement about your premise about DRM and distribution methods being orthogonal, but it's not quite gelled yet. I think I want to talk with an economist about it :).

84:
The majority of scientific research - including all of my own - works on the free release principle

You should check on the number of patents, and investments in private companies to which they've licensed patents, universities have...

85:

Ewan @81: There are free-loaders, primarily pharma companies in my field. Not sure how they could be punished ... by requiring them to release all their studies, including raw data, regardless of success or failure, so that other folks could analyse it and ensure there's no cherry-picking going on in their FDA submissions?

John Wilson @82: I've heard it said that roughly 75% of our species' social interactions and value-exchanges take place outside of the formal monetary economy. And most family groups handle internal resource allocation along communist lines -- "from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs". Taking capitalist ideology as the universal yardstick for measuring value is just wrong in so many ways that I don't know where to begin.

86:

My line of work (federal contractor) requires that the majority of my work be released into the public domain.
I'm happy with that, and use it to leverage contributions to open source software. I also tirelessly push adoption of OSS and provide immense amounts of free tech support.
I always buy the hardcover, and "obtain" a DRM free hardcopy, (In reality, I usually end up buying multiple hardcovers TPBs to loan out).
DRM is a hard sticking point for me for several reasons:
1. DRM'ed files have an awful shelf life, and zero portability. This greatly degrades the value to me.
2. DRM'ed readers have horrible privacy issues. The level of surveillance in a Kindle is straight out of "Glasshouse"
3. Device specific DRM coupled w/ oligopolies are driving messes like the Amazon shutdown. A common standard w/ portability would allow for competition on service or design.
4. DRM and closed standards ludicrously complicates design both w/ the readers and the e-books.
I'd be overjoyed w/ a reasonable webscription system and watermarking. I've used both (Safari and Drive Thru Comics) and find them reasonable.
Ultimately, social norms have to adapt for BOTH the user and the supplier. The reader should pay reasonable amounts and act ethically, but the supplier must in return provide anonymity, privacy, portability and reasonable latitude in fair use.

87:

but most casual users won't even know it's there.

but it'll make casual users think twice before uploading ebooks to warez sites

This doesn't compute too well. If they don't know it's there, they will have no reason to think twice. Seems like you will need to inform them that this exists for it to deter.

88:

Charlie -

I, too, think the subscription model makes the most sense, long term, and that it will be a painful adjustment process. The parallels with music are really too hard to avoid, and the current generation of up-and-comer acts seem to be pioneering what amounts to ongoing, pay relations with their fans -- musician provides a reliable stream of amusement, fans pay absurd amounts of money for doodles on Ebay, go to clubs, etc.

I'm only chiming in here to wonder -- is there more than institutional bias holding back the notion that pop books can't be priced at different levels? It seems to me that especially in a market like science fiction, price discrimination on some axis other than time could work wonders. I happen to be a huge fan of yours, and would pay much more for your next title than I would, say, the next vampire sex romance gorefest novel. A non-homogenous market with partisan fans seems like a great place to experiment with pricing. I suspect the reason for the price points exist is that publishers can't easily identify the rabid fans from the airport buyers, but other than the fact that it works right now, I don't see why authors need to stand with publishers.

89:

I'd agree with that except that I can't see how they come up with that (or any) percentage without them resorting to the 'capitalist ideology as the universal yardstick for measuring value'

Which raises the point. How can you measure the unmeasurable?

90:

John @89: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs? Philosophy?

(A big part of my problem with money-as-ultimate-yardstick is that it's a unidimensional chunk of information: you get magnitude, but not vector, from price signals. That, and our accounting cycles run on a schedule designed to allow Babylonian tax farmers to garnish the surplus of peasants.)

91:

You seem to be confusing positive and negative rights. A freedom of information right would have as its corollary an obligation to not prevent others from accessing information. As a right not to be murdered requires you not to murder, but doesn't necessarily require you to actively prevent murders.

People stamping their feet about $14 being to much are implicitly saying but we will pay another price. Otherwise they'd just sail off into the high seas.

Most people will pirate some things some of the time. It's the cultural norm for music, TV and movies now, and always has been for literature via libraries. People buy some things, and borrow or rent others. The people siding with Amazon are doing so because they want to give you money.

92:

91 comments in 8 hours, and I have read them all. (Some of them are even mine.)

I am off to the pub now, and leaving you in the hands of the moderators.

93:

"In Australia, the right to vote carries with it the obligation to vote. You can be fined for "Failing to Exercise Your Democratic Right" if you fail to vote in a Federal or State election."

Actually, in Australia, you have the obligation to turn up and go into the booth. You have a thrice-defended right to not actually vote.

B>

94:

OK, that's a different point though.

95:

"Bruce Murphy: it puzzles me why you don't think of Amazon as "rapacious", but apply that label exclusively to publishers."

Right now, publishers (well a publisher) are the ones frantically trying to destroy the people who are trying do new things in book delivery and marketing. Your support for the entrenched monopolists because they happen to give you money now doesn't make their position any more tenable. I notice you prefer to belabour Amazon's attitude towards unions rather than recognise than they are doing genuinely new and interesting things.

Permitting publishers to strictly dictate book retail pricing isn't protecting the existing model. That's something new and dangerous. Regardless, either e-books represent a tiny market that Amazon is quite correct in trying to grow, or all the current sales figures you've quoted are bogus. Which is it?

B>

96:

Actually, Amazon was not trying to do something new in book delivery and marketing -- they have been using the same scheme as with physical books. (That is, they buy each copy at a wholesale price, that is a fraction of the MSRP -- in this case, the MSRP of a printed copy of the book in question -- and then sell it at a price of their choosing, where the price is decided upon by Amazon to fulfill a variety of needs.) Macmillan, on the other hand, is attempting to force a different model on them, where Macmillan decides what the sale price is, and what kind of profit Amazon gets to make.

Part of the reason for the anger against Amazon is that they have using their quite-considerable market share to force, or attempt to force, lower wholesale prices on books. Lower wholesale price for Amazon means less money to the publisher, which means less money to Charlie. (The potential upside is a larger market player has more sales, so that could result in the same, or more, money to Charlie. At this point, people at Amazon and Macmillan know exactly how much damage Amazon can cause Macmillan; I don't know if the individual authors are able to see that yet.)

97:

I agree with you. I would happily pay £15 for a download of Charles's books. If only to get them sooner!

And I'd still buy the hardback when it came out...

98:

What I create is my opinions and I release these for free on forums, blogs and unsolicited social network abuse.

I'll wave my fee for this contribution too. :)

99:

I suppose that I'm a bit confused by this Amazon/Macmillan conflict.

If the question is whether Macmillan, as a distributor, should be able to set what prices it sells its property to Amazon then, yes, I agree that they're in the right and if Amazon doesn't like their prices, they're free to not stock them.

If the question is whether Amazon should have the right to rebate their books at whatever price they want to sell them then, yes, I think that they should be able to discount them however they like and that it's their business if they want to sell the books as loss leaders and if Macmillan doesn't like their discounts, they don't have to sell their property to Amazon.

If seems that the conflict is that Amazon is trying to coerce Macmillan into discounting their property and that, in turn, Macmillan is trying to insist that Amazon doesn't have the right to rebate their own stock.

It seems that both of them are playing hardball and neither is operating from a morally pristine plane.

As for my own interests, I don't have a maximum dollar amount that I'm willing to pay. If I deem your book worth buying, I'll buy it. That said, an eBook is less valuable to me that a hardback. Not only can I not lend it out (and both Amazon and their publishers like DRM, so no innocence there, on either side), but, unlike the difference between a hardback and a paperback, where there is a tangible difference in the quality of a product, the only advantage that I get for paying a premium on a "hardback" ebook is the privilege of getting it sooner than if I were to wait for the price to come down to "paperback" levels.

On the whole, this means that I do expect a fairly good discount, otherwise I'm not buying the books until they come down in price. Does that mean $10 rather than $15? That depends entirely on the book and how much I want it and the honest truth is that, for the majority of new titles I've bought, I probably would have thought twice if they were priced at $15.

This isn't to say that I don't want you to get a fair deal, Charlie. I certainly hope that you can make a living at what you do, but, at the end of the day, there's a lot of books in the world and I only have a finite budget to spend on them.

100:

Why are the arguments of copyright-defenders always so obviously flawed and they don't seem to notice?

Your talking about theft. Theft is taking away something from someone. Afterwards, the person doesn't have the thing any more. Violationg copyright may take away a persons possibility to earn money with something, but it doesn't take the item away. It's a completely different thing.

101:

"Loss lead" free short fiction to drive sales of your longer stuff. (You're planning to do that with Toast, right?) Have you seen an up-tick in sales after the tor.com Christmas short story you wrote, out of curiosity (or is it too soon to tell?)

Of course, I might say that purely because I eagerly devour short fiction and would say anything to encourage my favourite authors to write more :)

In terms of contributions, I am a Debian Developer and write various bits of free software in the same ecosystem. I have a trivial patch in the Linux kernel, and similarly small bits in some other projects including "prboom", a Doom engine. I was pleased to learn yesterday that the iPhone Doom port was derived from prboom, so some of my code is running on that.

102:

I like to say that "information wants to be freed," which is still a slogan, but it has more to do with what happens when a large amount of information is available for analysis and use, not that it's free-as-in-free-beer nor free-as-in-freedom.

Information wants to cost precisely what's it worth based on its value, its utility, and the desire of the source to produce a profit or cover costs.

The Library of Congress has a massive database, constantly updated, of book information. By law and charter, the LOC cannot give this data away, even though it is not protected by copyright under US copyright law (it is created entirely by an agency of the government). The unit that distributes this information charges a rate commensurate with the costs it is required to recover.

Nonetheless, a number of resellers make quite a good living selling this information to other parties. If you obtain this information, you can use it for free and disseminate it for free.

103:

Ugh, what have you released for free... don't get me started on the magic business model of the online entrepeneur - get other people to make content for you for free and pretend you're doing them a favour for letting them give it to you.

Take a publisher, fire the editors, print every submission irrespective of quality and profit off the advertising. That's web 2.0 for you.

This applies to everything from blogger to flickr to deviantart to fanfiction.net and once you remove the requirement to upload only what you've made, also applies to the torrent sites and download sites of the world.

It's not so much a tragedy of the commons as a nightmare of the commons.

104:

Andrew @99:

Actually, Macmillan is admitting that Amazon can rebate their stock. They're simply insisting that if they do, Macmillan will release that product to them later than they would otherwise.

The triggering issue floating around here is the imminent arrival of another significant market which gives Macmillan (and other publishers) more control -- the Apple agreement, coupled with a gadget which, while it's not as good a dedicated e-book reader as the Kindle or the Nook or the Sony reader, is a multi-purpose fairly-good e-book reader which is goung to have a significant presence because of its other capabilities and because it's Apple. And Macmillan does not want Amazon competing with deep discounts against the Apple offerings. Likewise, Amazon doesn't want to be locked out for months while the Apple store sells e-editions of the title to all the people who are willing to pay early-release prices.

105:

Hi Ewan,

Not quite true, unless you're publishing with Public Library of Science and making your articles freely available on your website. As someone who no longer dwells in the ivory tower, I no longer have access to Web of Knowledge or most of the journal articles in which current research is published.

Personally, I'd love to see scientific research spread freely, but an article costs US$18 to download. To put it bluntly, science presses use the same economic model as a vanity press (i.e. either you or someone at your institution pays to publish your work, and your readers pay to read it), and the profits of scientific presses are an order of magnitude larger than those of a fiction house.


106:

I sort of agree with the general argument of the post, but I completely disagree with this bit:

"The right to not be murdered in my bed imposes on me the obligation not to murder other people in their beds."

And this bit in the comments:

"Rights are reciprocal."

In this specific "right to not be murdered" case, that would mean you are in favour of the death penalty. Because that is what "obligation" and "reciprocal" mean. It means that if someone violates someone else's right to not be murdered, then (if it's an obligation) they lose their right to not be murdered, and they are therefore allowed to be murdered.

In the case of the right not to be tortured, if that right is an obligation to not torture, then you would be okay with the torturer being tortured.

In the case of the right to a fair trial, if a judge (or whoever) prevents someone from having a fair trial, does that mean he shouldn't get a fair trial?

Should we enslave the slave-owners?
Should we silence the silencers?
Should we rape the rapists?

What you seem to want is barbarism. Repression of bad people, is still repression. Perhaps you rejoiced this week, when David Cameron came out with the tabloid-fodder that burglars lose their human rights when they enter your house.

But I was always taught, two wrongs don't make a right.

107:

Ben Franklin, a man ahead of his time and in many ways, ours as well, was a big proponent of useful knowledge being freely available. He passed up considerable potential wealth by refusing to patent his design for the "Franklin Stove" and perhaps one his most useful creations, the lightning rod.

Of for a world where we could freely access knowledge and information, but pay for creative work. We'd need to decide to somehow pay for the creation of knowledge, but we already have a university system lots of government funded research. We just need to sort out the type of things that can't be patented or copyrighted. Genes, for example.

108:

Information hates being anthropomorphized.

109:

What have I contributed? Several hundred articles to Wikipedia. 56,000 pages proofed at Distributed Proofreaders, plus several books post-processed (including PG's first book in Hawaiian).

What have I downloaded? A few pirated ebooks, some of which I already owned in deadtree. But not all. I would have bought them had they been available at Baen prices and terms.

What do I copy? Bollywood movies. I would prefer to buy them but I'm broke. I feel that I am paying back to some extent because I'm a one-woman advertising team for the pleasures of the Mumbai film industry (often tawdry, sometimes brilliant). However, even when I buy the films legit, I will often copy them ... because some Indian DVDs are of abysmal quality and start decomposing a few months after purchase.

110:

I'm a scientist. All my work is published without me getting any compensation, and others can get and use the information in turn.

You don't have access to the journals or conference proceedings where they've appeared? You can ask your library to get them for you - or you can email me or my coauthors directly and ask nicely for a PDF preprint (same contents, without the journal logo). It's the rare author that would not be happy to send a paper to somebody interested in it.

111:

I think the comparison with most scientific papers, and some open source software is misleading. Not because these aren't released for free but because their aurthors are often paid.

Janne probably works for (and is paid by) a university. Not only are researchers paid but so are administrators, librarians, lab techs, cleaners, etc. The fact that the economic model that supports all of the participants in the production of "free" scientific papers is not that of paying for the papers doesn't mean everyone does it for love and kudos. Much open source is given away not by the people who write it but by the people who pay them (open office being a good example of this).

Although much of what I produce is consumed by the end user at no cost (it is free) I am being paid (by my employer) to produce it.

112:

Define "contribute" :) I've got a bicycle building website, a few tens of thousands of photos organised and searchable and a tiny amount of code online for more or less free (free style license, if you make money you're supposed to pay me). All hosting "paid for" by Google ads.

But despite Scalzi's rant in three acts I'm going to just keep whining that I want to buy DRM-free ebooks. I want to own a copy, dammit, not rent a license to use until the owner gets bored with maintaining the servers.

As for the rest... 90% of users are freeloaders but even the most dedicated of those still contributes something, somewhere. Even just the GDP boost from their imprisonment (can I be sarcastic here?)

113:

"Actually, Amazon was not trying to do something new in book delivery and marketing -- they have been using the same scheme as with physical books. "

YEs, they have. Witness the Kindle, witness wireless delivery, witness Amazon playing hardball to force publishers to make reasonable numbers of books available in international markets (something Sony didn't bother with). Witness the Amazon website, with its huge database of reviews, and recommendations and community stuff that acts as a vast and genuinely new resource to allow people to discover books and decide whether they want to buy them from a place that very likely has a copy available.

Maybe it's become part of the furniture for you becuase it's been around for more than a decade but it's for all those reasons that Amazon is the successful disruptive force they are now. Can you point at a single new thing in this space from publishers in the last 20 years?

B>

114:

I would be interested in knowing what you think about the viability for books of a business model like the one of some webcomics authors.
I know, most webcomics are of really substandard quality, and even among the good ones, most authors do not make a living out of them. Others webcomic authors make some money with mixed models like "ransom releases", donation drives and so on that seems quite a bother, and rely heavily on the episodic nature of webcomics to pay their meals.
But authors like the Foglio familiy (Girl Genius) or Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary) and some others, seems to be successfully making a living by simply releasing their stuff for free on the web, and then selling the "cultural artifacts" (printed books, merchandise) to supporting fans.

115:

I'm somewhat late to the party on this one, but...

I would suggest that our expectations are not actually as straightforward as "try to give as much as you take", as the post would seem to imply.

If an experienced commercial programmer were to say that they use a substantial amount of OSS, but had never contributed to any such software themselves, we might be somewhat annoyed with them. However, if a 60-year-old housewife with no computing background were to announce that she were a linux user, we'd probably be pretty happy with that. If a businessman in a developing country were to say that OSS made his business viable, we'd be pretty happy about that too. Developers of open-source screen readers probably don't expect the majority of their users to contribute any code, but I can't imagine any of them are particularly upset by that.

So what moral principle is at work? I'd say it's Marx's "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

Yep. As many have suspected, the OSS community are nothing but a bunch of commies.   8^)

(My contributions? Some projects here, plus over a thousand assorted Wiki edits.)

116:

Hanno @100: I know damn well that if you take a copy of a piece of information I created, you don't deprive me of the information.

What you may be doing is depriving me of my income stream for creating information, and in the absence of that income stream I'm going to have to Get A Real Job and Stop Doing That Shit (which you seem to like me doing).

Copyright, I will agree, is a broken model for paying artists. Can you suggest a better one? (Note that you will need to find some work-around for the Berne Convention, which is implemented in law by just about every country on the planet, which means your solution needs to be politically acceptable for all the international treaty signatories -- and able to make an end-run past the corporate lobbyists from, for example, the MPAA.)

Jon @101: Reporting of sales in the US is so spectacularly crap -- even via Bookscan -- that there's effectively no way to detect such an uptick. (Bookscan monitors about 50% of retail sales, reporting monthly.) In the UK it might be do-able (Orbit have, I'm told, near-real-time monitoring of over 95% of sales throughout the UK at a per-book/per-bookstore level), but the knock-on effect on sales in the UK from a US website is liable to be minimal.

Alex @106: you're misreading me wilfully, and ascribing beliefs to me which I do not hold and have not expressed. Stop it.

Bruce @112: the Kindle isn't new; Peanut Press were doing this shit on PalmOS in the mid-90s.

More to the point, if you would pause to read the Kindle EULA, the terms it imposes on you are hideous. (Why anyone would want to buy into that commercial library system is beyond me. I'm half-certain that describing what you do with a Kindle as "buying a book" is a violation of the Advertising Standards here in the UK.)

117:

I tend to think of the "information wants to be free" as anthropomorphizing information itself rather than any kind of argument for free books or whatever. I think the main follow on from that is 'since its going to happen anyway...'

The reality is that there are 6.7 billion people on the planet, it only takes one with the desire to dump a book on usenet/irc/bittorrent and then it's available too all, forever. Peoples drive (ie want) to them obtain the information keeps it going, they seed when they download and also help grow that community as a whole since everyone working together benefits them.

It's basically inevitable that it will happen for just about every book no matter what arguments there are against it or ethics/morals involved and so on. (and if it didn't it would probably be a bad indication since no one has bothered with that book). Theres no way to prevent it since DRM doesn't work and the ability to take down filesharing sites, trackers and so on with either technical or legal methods is just an indication of flaws in their design which will likely be removed in future.

In the free software world the same thing is seen again. If you write some proprietary software, it only takes one person to re-implement it. The main difference being is that its a lot harder to write a whole software suit than upload/scan a book. Of course software has it's own things such as that it is often built on other software. The simple stuff will tend to get clones. You also often have only a few choices between commercial vendors for the big stuff.

I don't see giving a book for free as somehow devaluing it, it just seems like promotion. In this case the audience of the work is likely to be much more interested, it has the potential for lots of PR via Digg/Reddit and such since many readers like the commons and ebooks.

Of course there are also plenty of no name authors who have published their stuff for free online, often because it wouldn't sell. I don't really connect the 2 any more than I would connect NIN/RadioHead's promotions with all the songs on Jamendo.

$15 does seem to much for an ebook, regardless of the profit margins of publishers. It's not a physical thing. I can't lend it to a friend. I can't resell it. I can loose it (dataloss, DRMservers shut down, forget password, future formats, erased remotely). It shouldn't cost much for an individual copy of an ebook (close to nothing really). In theory you should be able to sell them direct and get close to %100 profit (of course the reality of the publishing world probably screws that up).

Steam sales are also a great indication, by offering much cheaper prices they sell so many more that it makes up for it. Free could offer enough PR and push sales of current works or future ones.

Also books are already free. You can get them from the local library, yeh the library buys a few copy but chances are they will be loaned to a large number of people over their life. Not to mention the piracy.

ebooks are starting to take off thanks to kindle & clones, but real books are probably still where things are, pushing a free ebook can encourage the people who don't want to read of computer screens to buy the physical one. That will likely cease in the future when regular books are ditched. Of course it could cause longterm profit problems I don't know how books sell over the long term vs their release.

118:

@ 42 & Charlie @ 90 ......
Restrictions and COST are only valid when there is a shortage of resources.
Money is, to some extent a measure of shortage.
Getting completely away from that problem is the basis of I. Banks' "Culture".
What have I produced?
Long ago I wrote some scientific technical papers, on a now-dying subject (conventional photography) I've been a teacher, and seen three of my ex-pupils get PhD's ....
Published a few railway photographs.
Lots of free food.

119:

H3g3m0n: to tackle one of your misconceptions, library books are not free. They're paid for out of government funds (or subscriber funds, in the case of private libraries), and in civilized countries (like the one I live in) authors get paid a kickback based on the number of times their work is borrowed.

There is a problem with your picking Steam as a model, and highlighting how they boost sales by cutting prices: nobody knows if this will work for books. We might be teetering on the edge of a vast rennaisance in book-reading culture, and if only we cut the retail price to $1 per book we might triple the number of reader -- but somehow I doubt it, because ...

If you pay $8 for a paperback book, you're getting -- assuming you enjoy it and depending on your reading speed and the length of the book -- 3-12 hours of entertainment. Compare that price-per-hour with recorded music or movies on DVD. Books come out way ahead: they're already one of the cheapest forms of immersive entertainment out there. So it's not obvious that cutting the price further is going to generate increased sales.

Note that games, in terms of cost-per-hour for entertainment, are even cheaper than books -- a $40 title will give even a shit-hot gamer at least 40 hours of game-play. It's just the up-front investment that stings. As for Steam? I never heard of it until late last year, and its existence has not caused me to suddenly go out and buy loads of games, because I buy maybe one or two computer games a year, and I haven't finished playing the last one yet.

I probably am to the games biz as J. Random Ordinary Reader is to publishing -- the folks who buy two bestsellers a year to read on the beach, basically. You can't build a profitable industry on people like me (except at the very high end, the 10 annual best-sellers, the Dan Browns and J. K. Rowlings of this world). To run an entertainment industry based on shelf sales (and all ebooks are is a shelf sale in the palm of the consumer's hand) you need to keep a polyculture going with lots of choice and not necessarily great sales of each item, but sufficient sales overall, and you need to target the folks who buy ten a month, because each of them is worth fifty ordinary consumers.

120:

Thank you! Thank you!

121:

I've released some free - as in freedom - software, mostly useless single-person projects like little games, a module for xlockmore, WindowMaker dock apps, that sort of thing. I've also contributed with a few patches. Lately, though, I've been working on an iPhone game outside my day job. It's fun, and I can use the commercial aspect (horrors!) to justify my late night coding sessions to the wife.

Anyway, even if you released all your work as CC, I'd still be getting my Stross fix printed on dead trees. I hate reading on monitors, and none of the fancy e-book readers would last very long in the wonderful public transportation system down here.

122:

... sorry, forgot to add the bit about supporting my favorite authors to that last paragraph.

123:

About the current situation in writing, publishing and sales. I just hope that the transition to a new model that seems to be coming will be smooth. I'd really like to keep reading nice books in the future.
For me, looking at the way I purchase games at the moment, I'll have no problem paying for content regardless of physical component.

On creation and release, the photo's I put online are released under a CC license. Some small editing to wikipedia and general support on fora.
In my professional career my scientific output is published. As mentioned before sadly access to these articles is not gratis, however the information in the articles is free. And if need be can be obtained without any monetary compensation. Furthermore, a lot of universities nowadays make sure that the results of research performed are freely available.

124:

Steam sales are also a great indication, by offering much cheaper prices they sell so many more that it makes up for it.

But note that many of those cheaper prices are temporary, Keep it low and those new sales fall off as well as people adjust to thinking of the low price as the normal price instead of as a bargain. We also don't know how it's decided to lower the price, whether temporarily or permanently - if it's because the number of sales is slowing to a trickle then that's hardly an innovation - and we don't actually know how if the extra sales make up for the lost revenue every single time. And when you have a game like Modern Warfare 2 that is going to sell a buttload at a high price, lowering it from the start is crazy-go-nuts. Which is great, because the people who pay $50 no questions asked pre-order help the cost come down quicker.

I love Steam as a service, and I do think publishers could learn a lot about pricing and bundling and promotions from it. But at the same time, I'm aware that now I often wait for the inevitable sale price where I would have bought at full price, that Steam would work less well if it had hundreds of thousands of titles, and that even Valve don't keep their lowest prices on their games (ie Half-Life for 98p to celebrate its 10th anniversary) going for ever.

And, of course, with Steam it looks like (although there's conflicting reports on the Internets) it's the publisher/developer who sets the price - while trying to not set it so it will piss off retailers too much, which is why sometimes its still cheaper to buy retail - with Valve taking a percentage (40%?). Publishers setting prices? It's crazy I tells ya!

125:

What have I created/released? Well, I write fanfiction. I've created a few fan characters people seem to like (which makes me happy) and I've given reviews in comments to other fanwriters (and my reviews tend to be accepted, which is another warm fuzzy for me). I've obtained pleasure, and I try to reflect some of that enjoyment back to the content creators, particularly for fanworks where there's no space for monetary acknowledgement of effort. They spent the time making it, I feel it's only fair I should spend the time writing a good review if I enjoyed their work.

I seem to remember the following clarification for Open Source items floating around a few years back - basically asking people whether they thought something should be "free as in speech" (ie largely unrestricted by legal obstacles to distribution) or "free as in beer" (no payment required). I'm a strong supporter of "free as in speech" purely because I do think humanity as an emergent entity benefits greatly from the sharing of knowledge. I'm not so strong a supporter of "free as in beer", mainly because I am a strongly left-wing thinker who's also aware of the cost of creation - even when something doesn't cost any actual cash money to create or distribute, it still costs time, and time is a truly limited resource.

For me, I find thinking of all of these things in terms of temporal opportunity cost (ie the amount of time spent doing X rather than Y) helps me to clarify whether or not I feel things should be "free as in beer". I'm strongly of the opinion that creative works need to be "free as in speech" (creativity breeds), but that treating them as though they're "free as in beer" is a devaluation of the effort their creator put into them.

Of course, I'm a bit odd, and my mental "to do if I win the lottery" list has a whole heap of people I'd be wanting to pay a sum equivalent to a year's rent (or a year's medical insurance premiums, depending where they are and how big the lottery win is) so they had one less worry to interrupt their fanwriting time.

126:

> What have you created and released lately?

a third of a million software test reports, a bunch of software, plus designs for promotional materials for Go clubs.

I prefer to consume books on paper, and even if the *content* is free (in either sense), I'll still pay for the packaging - a professionally printed and bound book works better than a stack of A4 that I print myself: it makes better use of physical space, is easier to manipulate, and just plain looks better. I do also consume e-books, as they're somewhat more convenient on public transport or when I'm away from my library for more than a few days, but anything that I like enough that I expect to read it again, I get on paper.

I can't see myself regularly buying fiction e-books in my native language (most of those I read are out-of-copyright, because I don't think the medium is normally worth paying for - doubly so when it costs twice as much as the paperback for a less good product!), but would do so for foreign language stuff, especially if it had hyperlinked explanatory notes and side-by-side original and translated text. Still looking for that perfect electronic edition of Homer :-)

127:

[ TROLL DELETED -- I don't take kindly to being called an unimaginative parasite. (If you want to repost your opinion, without the gratuitous insults, feel free.) -- cs. ]

128:

I buy a fair bit of dead tree sf, and I'm a fan of both Creative Commons and local British authors. I've bought 9 of your books since I first head about you through Boing Boing's reporting of Accelerando (http://boingboing.net/2005/06/16/strosss_magnificent_.html). Ironically, Accelerando is my least favourite to date (
I enjoyed Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise the most, then the Laundry and Merchant Princes series).

I love gadgets of all kinds, but I can't bring myself to love the Kindle. DRMed and device-locked e-books are inferior to dead trees, and even at a cheaper price I can't see me buying them. Whereas, I would pay a higher price for a dead tree version that included an unlocked digital copy, so I could pick up my reading on my computer/phone/PSP etc when I found myself with a few mins to spare. How about it? £20 for Trade of Queens, but it has a serial number and download link in the front cover?

129:

>What have you created and released lately?

I and my comrades spent 5+ years rebuilding the Medieval German Longsword martial art, based on a close analysis of our own fresh translation of 3 original manuscripts, and hours and hours of experimenting and testing with real swords.

This work is the basis of a course I now teach for free, and provide free handouts (Students pay for the hall. All I get is satisfaction.)

Does that count?

Regarding giving books away for free (other than as a marketing tool);

When I was an amateur musician, I noticed that the blues scene couldn't really support semi-pro bands, since there were plenty of student bands like mine doing it for cost-plus-beer. End result was that nobody stuck around long enough to get really good unless they were also a bit strange.

I suspect something similar will happen if novelists can't get paid: writers will get out one inspired novel, then domestic practicalities will catch up with them. End result is less quality fiction, and/or the field being dominated by rich dilettantes.

130:

Just a note, Steam is based around the multiplayer hook. A friend bought the orange box for me to try and rope me into his Team Fortress and Left 4 Dead addiction. This motivation does not exist for other media.

131:
What have you created and released lately?

Let's see . . . today? Nothing. But it's only 10:30AM here. On an average day? A blog post or facebook update. And what might those posts be? Pointers to various 'free' information. A collection of witty or silly things people said over the course of a working weekend. And so on, and so on, and so on.

I think "What have you created but restricted lately?" is a much more interesting question.

132:

If you have a right that conveys an onerous obligation, there better be some sort of enforcement (with teeth) of said obligation. Consider trial by jury, which includes the duty to show up for jury duty every now and then, and the entertaining sideboard of 'getting out of jury duty' techniques that have emerged from that, since simply saying 'I can't be bothered, thanks' doesn't fly.

So if you think there should be an obligation to create free content (an interesting idea, I admit, although a bit idealistic IMO), you are going to need a government "Department of Content" that monitors and enforces this.

You then will have to deal with the fact that required content will quickly degenerate down to complete drek (both due to lack of interest and lack of talent), which will lead to DoC evaluation of content quality, probably followed by some sort of formalized content standards producing huge volumes of sterile art with just enough legally mandated originality that computers can't automate it easily.

This is an interesting dystopic setting detail, I'll admit.

However, I realize you are mostly making an idealistic moral argument here, not proposing a social reform based on it.

133:

S'funny how creative types think that their stuff should be paid for, but the information that went into the creation shouldn't.

For the novel "Saturn's Children", how much did you pay Moravec for the use of the idea of a "skyhook". Did I hear you say "nothing"? Well I hope you at least paid the Heinlein estate for writing a pastiche.

As a writer, you work in a vast ocean of memes. If ideas (information) had to be paid for, you might just write a lot less. The books would certainly be more expensive, you would sell fewer and make even less money.

But your real gripe is about pricing product to earn a living. Clearly the major factor is the time it takes you to write a novel. You have perhaps 1 or 2 novels a year in you, so the pricing has to compensate you at that rate. However, were you living in rural China, the novel could be a lot cheaper. Should a Chinese Stross be able to undercut your prices?

As a SciFi author, you have to acknowledge that well before any hypothetical singularity arises, computer programs will be able to compose increasingly good pieces in the virtual "blink of an eye". I can see software writing pieces of prose using direction from authors, effectively automating much of the writing process. Writing will finally have become largely automated. And as with any automation, volume will rise and costs and prices fall.

Time frame? Less than 20 years? Plenty of time to rethink the business model.

134:

The Federal Court in Australia just handed down a decision in which the judge determined that an ISP (iiNet) is not liable for the actions of their customers, at least in regards to copyright infringement. Michael Malone, the CEO of iiNet, was tonight interviewed about the case. A transcript of the interview can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/business/items/201002/s2810798.htm

I think some of the comments made by Malone are relevant to the discussion on this blog. For example:

MICHAEL MALONE: Most of the issue’s around timing. So, there is a process that the studios often go through where they release things on a certain timeframe. So they release it perhaps in the US on day one, then in Australia a few months later, then to DVD, then to television and so on. And unfortunately some of the customers are saying, "I don't want to wait that long. I want it now." So there may be a pricing model that makes sense there though where customers may be willing to pay more upfront for premium content available right now.

135:

I own a Sony Reader and I buy ebooks instead of paperbacks. This means I will very rarely buy an ebook if it costs more than a paperback, because my budget doesn't support that. Needles to say, I want the vast majority of ebooks I'm looking to buy priced at around U$6-8 or so.

However, I don't need those ebooks at that price on the hardcover release day. If I want a book that badly that quickly I'll pay more than paperback prices. Ebooks are worth less to me than hardcovers, so I won't pay more than about $15-18 because I can get the hardcover for that price online.

Needless to say, I don't buy many Macmillan ebooks at the moment because outside the Kindle store most have been priced well above paperback prices even when the book is in paperback. Hopefully, this will change if Macmillan can implement their proposed plan.

In the meantime, I'm getting extremely fed up with many commentors on MobileRead who seem focused on the idea that ebooks cost nothing to create and so should be sold for very low prices and the people who buy books in paper should cover all the sunk costs.

That sense of entitlement and "I'm special" really pisses me off.

I would love a new Stross freebie online, but I understand completely if you don't feel like doing it right now.

Of course I may be a minority because my very first Charles Stross purchase was an ebook for $15.

136:

Colin @128: I've heard publishers speculate about that as a model -- buy the hardback and get the ebook as a free download; or buy it in paperback or ebook only for less money.

Steve @131: It seems to me that anything you create in private is restricted by default until you decide to distribute it to the public. The question is how far you go in de-restricting it, bearing in mind that de-restricting something is a one-way process.

Alex @133: actually, I have paid Moravec (insofar as I've not only bought his books in hardcover, new, over the years, but have actively promoted them to my readers). The Heinlein estate is an iffier question, but pastiche is generally dealt with by considering the boundary between creating a directly derived work. Something like "Sense and Sensibility with Sea Monsters" would need to seek Jane Austen's copyright permission, were she still alive and the work in copyright; but if it's all your own words ... style isn't copyrightable, and it's bloody hard to patent.

Your other point was dealt with at length by Fritz Leiber in "The Silver Eggheads", about forty years ago.

137:

I kept much of this in mind when I came up for the strategy for marketing my own books.

I have a few things which I give away, which are lead-ins to the things I sell. I'm happy to give away the first couple of chapters of whatever I write, without strings attached. But everything after that I am going to charge for, and I don't see that ever changing.

A big part of it is expectations, on both sides of the counter. If I give something away, I not only condition other people to expect future things in the same vein to be given away, I condition myself to think that way as well. I don't want to get into the trap of getting into a race to the bottom with myself.

That said, I also believe the best copy protection for media is a good pricing structure for products which are easy to obtain and aren't in themselves obfuscated.

Also, if there ever comes a day when computers are able to compete creatively with humans, I suspect we'll have MUCH bigger things to worry about than whether or not human writers can compete effectively for a piece of the market.

138:

"Information Wants To Be Free. Information also wants to be expensive"

Good information will be both.

139:

Writing and editing are valuable services to me the reader and I'm perfectly willing to pay for them. Quality-gatekeeping, distribution, and promotion: not so much. There's no commercial blog-publishers to separate the slush from the must-read, yet I haven't found discovering worthwhile bloggers an onerous chore. I'm also content to read novel-length content in an ordinary web browser (e.g. Accelerando, Blindsight, and Pride and Prejudice) which means I'd be satisfied with a razor-thin distribution system. And, finally, I almost always discover new authors by through blogs or personal word of mouth, so even the theoretical to-consumer benefits of promotion are hard to see.

I'm whole-heartedly willing to pay for only part of the complete cost package that goes into making books: author and editor. If only those people got paid, though, the habits of obsessive and cost-sensitive readers like me probably wouldn't make up for the diminished purchases of more casual readers and the whole system would suffer. Or, even if the total number of dollars flowing to authors didn't decrease, there would probably be a flattening of income distribution. As a reader I'm happier spending $30 on 3 books than $15 on one. Charlie is better served by $2.50 in royalties that go to him than by $5 in royalties that are spread across him and 2 other authors. I don't know how, or even if, it is possible to make the interests of readers productively align with those of authors, and for those of individual authors to align with those of fiction as a whole.

My favorite suggestion so far -- one of the fairest but least likely to be implemented -- is to replace copyright and the retail model of digital distribution with income taxes and free access to any and all digitized information through a centralized non-profit online service. Distribute tax revenues to producers in proportion to the popularity of downloads*. In theory, at least, it could even work internationally. People living in China or Russia wouldn't pay Western-size taxes to support creative endeavors unless they were making Western-size incomes. If Chinese people show that they support Chinese media by downloading it, the money serves to support domestic creators. If they prefer Star Wars, then George Lucas makes at least a little money off China that he'd never get from pirate DVDs. While I'm daydreaming, I'd like to say that I think cheap fusion power and an HIV vaccine would also be swell.

*Obviously some thought is needed here, or the next big botnet work load will be obsessively downloading the works of collaborating authors to inflate their share of the pie.

140:

As one who has enraged the freetards with similar arguments, I salute you.

141:

@139: I've speculated along a different tax-based line.

We can't abolish copyright: it's built into too many national legal systems at too low a level. But we can shove copyright into a legal sandbox where it doesn't affect the ordinary content-using public, where the only people who need to worry about it are creators and for-profit distributors.

We have a precedent in the form of compulsory licensing systems, such as the TV licencing system in the UK, or public lending right programs. I'd envisage a licensing fee levied on bandwidth -- if you have broadband, a mobile phone, or cable TV a tax would be added to your bill. In return for paying the tax, you are indemnified against copyright violation for anything you download for personal noncommercial use. (Don't pay the tax? The RIAA or MPAA lawyers will be watching you.)

The devil in the details is (a) how to track downloads, (b) how to disburse payments to creators, and (c) how to handle international cross-payments (for example, for downloads across international borders). But we've already got a working framework -- in the shape of PLR agencies -- that works surprisingly fairly, albeit on a much smaller scale. And with a blanket immunity clause in effect to shield them, downloaders have no reason to object to suitably anonymized sampling to figure out what's being consumed and therefore who to pay.

142:

Today nothing useful but in the last month I've been working on googlebar: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/33

It's the original google toolbar for mozilla products from back in the days when google only had an IE toolbar. These days its good for people who prefer to be sure that their browser won't be calling back to the google mother ship on their browsing habits

--

Oh and I've written a bit about paying authors for ebooks today - http://www.di2.nu/201002/04.htm - but I don't consider that as giving something away for free

143:

"but, unlike the difference between a hardback and a paperback, where there is a tangible difference in the quality of a product, the only advantage that I get for paying a premium on a "hardback" ebook is the privilege of getting it sooner than if I were to wait for the price to come down to "paperback" levels."

I strongly believe that the 'difference in quality' between HC and PB is not nearly so important as some people want to claim. If the difference in quality were really the driving factor, HC and PB should co-exist easily in the market, and people would buy PB or HC based on whether they wanted the higher quality package. What really happens is that while a few HCs still remain on the shelf alongside their PB siblings, the vast majority of HCs go onto the bargain bin and remainder tables as soon as the PB edition hits the streets. This rather strongly suggests that the HC edition becomes economically unviable as soon as the PB comes out - and that in turn suggests that early availability is the main benefit to the HC.

144:

Well, I'm a "freetard", and I don't particularly want to get into the long protracted back-and-forth over differing value systems I've had way too many times in my life, but a clarification:

I don't think anyone anywhere is *obligated* to create any artistic content ever, at all. I think people do not have the *right* to place restrictions on artistic content. I think that if, in the absence of said right existing, many people who would otherwise create artistic content will not receive compensation sufficient to incentivize their creating artistic content... that's fine. I don't really mind.

If you, Charles Stross, close up shop and get a different job because the implosion of the copyright regime means you can't make a living from writing anymore, that will be a sad day for your fans, but it's not a sufficient threatened apocalypse to get me to change my belief that copyright is not a right people should naturally have.

145:

Art: I entirely agree that copyright is not a natural right.

... It's an artificial right, created by legal fiat.

It's clearly not the ideal way to arrange remuneration for artists and creators; I think you'd find common ground with Disney and Sony-BMG on that ground. Unfortunately it's what we're stuck with.

When you're stuck with lemons, your choices are to (a) make lemonade, (b) go thirsty, or (c) try to breed a better citrus plant. Unfortunately option (c) -- which in this context means coming up with a viable replacement -- is the harder option of the three.

146:

"Your talking about theft. Theft is taking away something from someone. Afterwards, the person doesn't have the thing any more."

Theft is just as easily defined as 'taking something that doesn't belong to you,' or especially 'taking something you don't have a claim on.' Which ties in with the thrust of Charlie's argument here, I think; to make a claim on the fruits of society, or on the creative work of an entity, you need to give something back, and that's something governed by the rules of the society you're operating by. For example, if you use code from a GPL'ed project, by the rules of the GPL OSS community, you need to contribute your improvements back to the community. It may be that what you're giving back is simply money that you earn from the fruits of your contributions elsewhere. (Insert digression here on the development of a money-based economy from the barter system, if you want.) But the basic rule is simple, and pretty fundamental to every society I can think of off the top of my head: if you want to get, you have to give.

Now, a lot of people do give out freely without requiring something specific in return - but that's a choice THEY get to make, as the people who create what they give out. You don't get to make it for them. (Which is another simple, common-sense way to define theft - taking something against the wishes of its owner.) And in most cases, they do get something back; it may be as simple as the pleasure of seeing someone else use your work, but if that's what they want, that's their choice. Again - it is THEIR choice. Not yours.

147:

"But authors like the Foglio familiy (Girl Genius) or Howard Tayler (Schlock Mercenary) and some others, seems to be successfully making a living by simply releasing their stuff for free on the web, and then selling the "cultural artifacts" (printed books, merchandise) to supporting fans."

This model of promotion can work - if you have "cultural artifacts" to sell, if people are willing to buy them, if you have the time to create them and market them... That's a lot of if's. I think Charlie and Scalzi's comments on not wanting to be a publisher are rather pertinent here. Any time and effort spent on the ancillary items is effort not spent working on their core creative work, which - as someone who wants to see more core creative work - is not something I want to see. :)

Another elephant in the room - this model is just as dependent on the selling of physical objects as the original model of selling the creative content directly. How, then, is this an improvement, if you're trying to claim that the selling of physical objects is outdated and inefficient? I'll be uncharitable enough to suggest that some people prefer this model because it lets them freeload off the core creative product without any intention of buying the ancillary goods.

148:

What did I do in the copyright war? Put some podcasts and papers on my website, steered several articles away from prestigious journals which would put them behind a paywall towards less impacty free-to-air journals, and that's about it. On the other hand, I'm an academic and the freenium's directly useful to me.

As for the Commons, it appears not to have been quite as tragic as those who wanted to plough it up maintained. But IANA economic historian.

149:

I've given away more writing and code than I can remember, starting with TinyMUCK 2.0. My photos (at http://picasaweb.google.com/piaw.na) are all Creative Commons licensed.

That said, my upcoming book won't be free, but so far, given what folks over at kickstarter.com have pledged, it seems like people have no issue voluntarily paying $50/book for an ARC of an extremely boring book (you would not buy my book for entertainment value, that's for sure) written by a no-name author. And yes, the ARCs I've been sending out are DRM-free.

My blog gets 300 visitors a day at most. My guess is Mr. Stross here probably has at least 100X the visitors. If I'm selling $1000 for a book-in-progress in 3 months, he could probably make 100X that much. That's $100k for a 3 month run on *one* book.

150:

[ Flamage deleted -- moderator. ]

(Don't come back until you've calmed down enough to be polite.)

151:


When you're stuck with lemons, your choices are to (a) make lemonade, (b) go thirsty, or (c) try to breed a better citrus plant. Unfortunately option (c) -- which in this context means coming up with a viable replacement -- is the harder option of the three.

Then let me make myself more clear: I do not believe that the collapse of the traditional publishing industry and authors like yourself no longer making a living in the way you have been accustomed would make me go thirsty. I don't think it is actually the case that the implosion of copyright would cause the concept of people paying artists money to make their work vanish and lead to all art becoming a hobby for rich dilettantes, but I don't actually regard this situation as a terrifying apocalypse. (I can't speak for anyone else on this matter. I am, in fact, perfectly happy reading the work of people who currently write for free and voluntarily forgo any possibility of being paid for their work. I am happy being such a writer. And I find many of the arguments about how the publishing industry is *absolutely necessary* to the continued existence of art because everything that doesn't go through the filtering, editing and polishing process of the industry is valueless dreck to be insulting and condescending. But, again, that's me.)

Even if it did make me "go thirsty", however -- if it did markedly decrease my personal enjoyment of the arts -- I personally side with principle over pragmatism here. I would prefer to go thirsty for lemonade -- which, let's remember, in this context is a luxury beverage that people consume for their pleasure, not something the human race needs to survive -- than to uphold a system I consider immoral and unjust to protect the lemonade supply.

If that puts lemon-growers such as yourself out of work, then I of course express my sympathy to you, but that is not my primary concern here. There are plenty of other people who were put out of work by technological change that I express sympathy for but would never support a legal or social attempt to repress or constrain people's right to use technology (in this case, the technological capability to endlessly copy and redistribute data) in order to protect.

In your previous post about how, in an age of Google and the Google mindset, you can continue to make money doing what you've done for years without making major changes either to your accustomed lifestyle or your accustomed way of working, my answer would be that you probably can't -- and I don't see why it's society's responsibility to bend over backwards to make sure that you can.

This is not about "obligation" or "rights". I don't think I have a "right" to read your work for free, I think you *lack* a right to prevent people from copying and redistributing your work. I *certainly* don't think I have a "right" to force you to do something for free you would only be willing to do for pay -- but I similarly believe you lack the right to demand people pay you something they're unwilling to pay for something I don't think is actually yours (the right to a copied, redistributed data file of your work).

If the eventual termination state of this back-and-forth swapping of things-we-don't-have-a-right-to is you packing it up and not writing anymore, then I reiterate: That's sad for you and sad for your fans, but I don't have a moral problem with it.

And for what it's worth, as a "moraltard", i.e. a freetard who really does care more about going off about the moral issues at hand than actually having random shit for free, I agreed with Lawrence Lessig a while back that even if you believe there's nothing immoral about "piracy" it's better to simply refrain from purchasing something than to pirate it if you actually want to be a fighter for the cause, because it's better to be someone who obeys the law but disagrees with it than to enter the debate as a "criminal".

I am not a perfect little angel in this regard (I'm certainly not as monastically devoted as RMS himself, who I understand uses a tiny, crappy ultra-portable laptop from China so that he can avoid running any un-free software at all), but I nonetheless generally avoid paying for books in ways that are considered legal -- for now, anyway -- like reading the book in a bookstore, reading it in a library, borrowing it from a friend, etc.

This is helpful because it avoids this kind of pissing match -- I could list various stuff I've thrown out into the aether both free and for free, and we could argue over whether my paltry contribution has enough inherent objective value (in terms of man-hours consumed or in terms of utilitarian benefit to society) for me to have the temerity to demand that a creator of such stature as Charles Stross respond in kind.

Which is why I think it's irrelevant -- I'm not demanding or obligating you to do anything. I'm happy to avoid "stealing" anything you think I should be paying money for by simply not consuming it, even if I'd like to, as long as this remains the law on the books.

I am saying I simply think you lack the right to do one specific thing (constrain the rights to redistribution and recopying of your work) that I think is immoral, and I will fight through every legal means at my disposal to erode and undermine that right. The fact that your current livelihood depends on the status quo is a fact of which I am well aware but does not change my moral stance. If this makes me and my fellow "freetards" horrible people who don't understand the value of the arts in your eyes, so be it.

152:

Theft is just as easily defined as 'taking something that doesn't belong to you,' or especially 'taking something you don't have a claim on.'

Which is why the whole issue at hand is whether authors do, in fact, have a moral claim to the right to copy and redistribute their work.

It is my contention that they do not. I could write an even bigger wall of text than the last one about *why* I think they do not, or I could point you to, say, the entirety of everything RMS ever wrote for the Free Software Foundation. It doesn't matter. The question of whether they have such a claim is the issue at hand, not the more general question of whether "Stealing is okay".

The fact that someone makes a claim on something and the current state of the law backs them up does not, in and of itself, constitute proof that this claim is morally legitimate. This is exactly the sort of shit that has motivated huge, drawn-out, knock-down-drag-out fights over the legal definition of "property" and "ownership" in the past. (Cf. squatters' rights in South America and the whole argument over what it means to "own" land.)

What Mr. Stross' argument seems to boil down to is not, strictly speaking, a philosophical defense of his right to ownership of copyright. It is a simple factual statement of his personal intentions: "If I don't get paid enough to write full-time, I will stop writing full-time."

Well, okay. He absolutely has the right to do that. I do not feel entitled to or owed future Charles Stross novels. I do not think he has a social obligation to continue writing without the pay he feels he is owed.

I also do not think he has the right to constrain copying and redistribution of hypothetical future works of his. So if all these premises are true, then yes, I am okay with a future scenario where there are no more Charles Stross novels, or Charles Stross novels decline sharply in quality.

I feel like a lot of "freetard"-bashing is based on the idea that surely none of us could possibly have conceived this as a possibility of our position and merely stating this possibility will horrify us and make us back down, which, I have to tell you right now, is nonsense. Anyone who seriously ideologically cleaves to an RMS-like belief in the destruction of intellectual property as a concept is *obviously* aware that IP currently exists to incentivize a certain class of people to create content and that if that incentive is taken away, much of that content will disappear.

Most of us either strongly believe that the decreased barriers for other forms of creators or other forms of content to enter the marketplace makes this loss a small price to pay, or we think that the simple price of imposing a set of constraints on people that is morally wrong, illogical and will entail an ever-expanding spiral of intrusive technology and unintended consequences is *already* too high a price to pay, even if we really really like Charles Stross novels and would be saddened to hear no new ones would be forthcoming.

153:

Art,

Very well written position statement.

As for myself, I would no more pirate an ebook than I would pirate a piece of sculpture.

154:
Alex @106: you're misreading me wilfully, and ascribing beliefs to me which I do not hold and have not expressed. Stop it.

If you believe rights to be reciprocal/come with obligations, then the logical conclusion is the rhetorical questions in my previous comment.

You say I have misread you. Perhaps I have. But you're a good writer, and I can find no other meaning for the phrase "Rights are reciprocal" than the one I have taken. Would you elaborate, please, on how I have misread you? What was your intended meaning? Because if I have have your intended meaning right, I can see no other conclusion.

155:

I'm very much a principled 'Freetard'(of the Stallman variety), as are many of my friends. For various reasons I am more pro-piracy than Art, but you have little to fear from me, as I tend to buy your books hardcover rather than purchase trivial things like food. ($15? I wish, If I want to buy from my bricks and mortar independent its more like $50-$60au, which doesnt quite fit with the current exchange rate. The southern hemisphere gets screwed this way across the board.)

As for stuff I've done for free lately, well, I guess publishing academic papers (In free journals where possible)isn't technically free, but I get no direct renumeration, so it cetainly feels that way on my end. I've also helped out in a lab that couldn't pay me for some months simply because I was interested in the work.

I think a lot of the informational freedom position was set up in the web from the start. It was initially a way for scientists to freely exchange data and ideas, and what we're seeing now is that system trying to expand into the commercial world, and the tension between it and standard models of distribution trying to take advantage of it.

156:

"Which is why the whole issue at hand is whether authors do, in fact, have a moral claim to the right to copy and redistribute their work."

Yes. I make the simple argument that if you create it, you have the right to do with it as you will. (And this argument underlies GPL OSS just as much as it does for-profit creative work; the GPL also restricts the use, copying, and redistribution of creative product after the fact, which rests on the philosophical grounds that the creator has the right to dictate how their work is used. I dislike the GPL, but its users have every right to specify the conditions they release their code under.)

I make this argument both on the moral grounds that the worker is entitled to the product of their work, and denial of this equates to confiscation of their work, or forced labor; and on the practical grounds you disagree with, that I value the content produced by the incentive of IP, and do not want it to go away. I feel this would be too high a cost for the categorical freedom to copy and distribute that you champion, just as I feel anarchy is too high a cost for the ultimate expression of personal freedom. Societies in general exist to balance, and therefore regulate and restrict, the unlimited exercise of rights for the overall benefit of their members; in this case, I view the incentivizing of creative content to be a greater public good than the unlimited right to copy said content.

I value a society where people can earn a living at making creative content, and I am *not* willing to see it be killed because of some people's disagreement with the concept of IP, nor am I willing to agree that the consumers of content have more right to dictate the terms of its copying than the person who created it. (And I note again, this right is the entire foundation of the GPL.)

"It is my contention that they do not. I could write an even bigger wall of text than the last one about *why* I think they do not, or I could point you to, say, the entirety of everything RMS ever wrote for the Free Software Foundation. It doesn't matter. "

Just as well, because I've been following Stallman since his early days chronicled in Hackers, and I feel he's become increasingly detached from the real world and increasingly fixated on his own ideology.

"The question of whether they have such a claim is the issue at hand, not the more general question of whether "Stealing is okay"."

Yes. I think they do, and I've explained why above; this is one of my core principles, and it's not going to change. If you feel just as strongly that they do not, I'm not sure there's any common ground to be found here.

157:

(To note, my apologies if that came across as a personal attack on Stallman. I was trying to point out why I think what he's written is becoming increasingly ideological and irrelevant.)

158:

Yes. I make the simple argument that if you create it, you have the right to do with it as you will.

Which, of course, depends strongly on the definition of what it means to "create" something, and what a "thing" is.

Sounds like logic-chopping, sure, but there are plenty of instances of events in our society right now that can be argued to be an instance of "creating" something where we do *not* stake out ownership rights as a result. I could give you the facile and facetious examples, like whether I "own" all fires started by the initial spark from my lighter, or whether I "own" all CO2 emitted by my lungs -- or I could point to actual quixotic battles being fought right now that directly relate to this matter, such as the "subjectright" movement. (The assertion that if my actions are the *subject* of a creative work then *I* am the original "source" of the creative work and my ownership takes primacy over that of the "author". The right of people to control photographs in which their face appear, or public figures to control biographies and articles that are about their lives, etc.)

There's also the tired retread of the whole "All creative work is is repackaging the unconscious absorption of creative work by others" and "Shakespeare stole all his plots" I'm sure you're tired of hearing about by now -- as you say, if our value systems are simply contradictory here then there's no real common ground to be had and the only settlement will be in the scrum of real-life politics (and in practical terms I'd still bet on the "freetards" winning out in the long term, because historically social mores always eventually bow to technological realities and not vice versa).

I will point out the one argument I'm sure you've heard many, many times, though -- even now, copyright law does not agree with you about what copyright is. If it did, copyright would simply be a deed of ownership akin to owning land or owning a truck, conditional only upon the owner being a law-abiding citizen. There would be no "expiration" of copyright, no "fair use" provisions that allow someone to boldly use your work in ways you do not approve of as long as it's for the common weal, etc.

The idea that copyright was a compromise "to promote science and the useful arts" is written into the US Constitution, for instance, which means that the American Founders thought that copyright was merely a means to an end, not a fundamental right of the creator.

and on the practical grounds you disagree with, that I value the content produced by the incentive of IP, and do not want it to go away. I feel this would be too high a cost for the categorical freedom to copy and distribute that you champion, just as I feel anarchy is too high a cost for the ultimate expression of personal freedom. Societies in general exist to balance, and therefore regulate and restrict, the unlimited exercise of rights for the overall benefit of their members; in this case, I view the incentivizing of creative content to be a greater public good than the unlimited right to copy said content.

I view "creating" versus "copying" as a false dichotomy. I think all creative endeavors are a little of both. I think copyright *prevents* as much creative endeavor as it incentivizes, and I think as the possibilities of a technology that allows endless copying, remixing, recontextualizing increases this opportunity cost only grows and grows.

I am aware that this is a result of my value system and the way I view art, and that people like Jaron Lanier view many of the things I love with horror and claim that "endlessly remixing" is not a fount of creativity at all but a vast and meaningless desert, and that such people claim that for all our logic-chopping the intuitive difference between "really" creating something and "merely" creating a derivative work is obvious to the naked eye and we are as perverse and destructive in our watering-down of the definition of "creation" as pro-porn activists who attack the Potter Stewart definition of "obscenity".

I accept that this is a result of our differing value systems and I respect that you have good reasons, intellectual and emotional, for believing what you believe while this affecting my own views not one whit.

And, again, this has gotten lost in the shuffle, perhaps, but I should reiterate that I do not actively seek Charles Stross or anyone else ending their full-time writing career as a positive, longed-for and hoped-for goal (there may be people who actually say "Go get a real job!", but for the most part I regard this as a strawmanning of the "freetard" position). Nor do I actually think that the result of the eventual collapse of IP-as-we-know-it would necessarily result in such.

I don't have a magical solution that would instantly win our host's challenge a while back to provide him a stable writing career in a post-Google era, but then I don't think someone sitting down at their computer plotting it all out ahead of time is really how new business models emerge. (Not that back in my college-activist days I didn't spend my fair share of time, energy, sweat and pixels propounding drafts of stuff that you've probably also all heard of before in one form or anther -- the "ransom" model, the "collective patronage commission" model, the "self-sustaining artist's collective with multitiered levels of support" model, etc.) I think it's very unlikely that one of his conditions -- that he be able to continue his career without learning any new skills -- is going to be met no matter what happens, but then I think that's true of all of us no matter what our livelihood in the decades ahead.

I put out my little "freetard" manifesto to point out that, yes, it is a principled position and not just the nihilistic glee of someone who wants to listen endlessly to all the free Britney Spears MP3s he wants while Rome burns. And that, yes, if you present to me the hypothetical factual scenario that there *is no possible result* of undermining the copyright regime than one author I admire, such as Charles Stross, giving up full-time writing, then I will still defend my position based on principles.

Just as I give you the credit of presuming that when you say you think authors are the true and sole owners of their works this is a real emotional and philosophical commitment on your part, and you wouldn't suddenly discard this position if some author you admire told you copyright law was the reason she *couldn't* continue her full-time writing career (because, for instance, someone successfully pushed through a lawsuit for millions of dollars on a borderline case of possible plagiarism that she had to settle on, putting her in arrears and forcing her to go back to her day job -- something that really does happen all the time to authors people genuinely like, not just those horrible smelly-otaku fanfic authors in their mothers' basements).

Just as well, because I've been following Stallman since his early days chronicled in Hackers, and I feel he's become increasingly detached from the real world and increasingly fixated on his own ideology.

Stallman is more a convenient source of pithy quotes than an ideological hero for me. Even if I'm more radical and "Stallmanesque" in my beliefs about what ought to be done as policy (I think simply flying back to a 19th-century copyright model just doesn't work in a digital age), I still think of Lawrence Lessig as a much better exponent of what's at stake in the copyright wars and why the "freetards" have picked the side they have than Stallman, who tends to get caught up in overwrought metaphors. (You'll find the same is true of most of the younger, less computer-science-focused generation of "freetards"; it's mostly Lawrence Lessig and Jimbo Wales these days, a lot less RMS and ESR and other TLAs.)

159:

P.S.: I'm aware that the "Anticipate the attack on my position, acknowledge it and say I don't give a damn" structure may be verbose and annoying and even come off as kind of smug, but knowing that our esteemed host is a fan of Jaron Lanier I can't help but feel a bit of pre-emption is necessary.

(Lanier is one of those slightly unhinged cultural critics who somehow has bundled sixty or so separate cultural trends into one thing, and claims that people who share files online share the same root cause as why Wikipedia is written in a stilted tone of voice, as stagnating wages in the middle class, as posthuman Singularity fetishists who mistakenly believe they will live forever in cyberspace, and -- I wish I were kidding -- the inevitable takeover of the entire human race by a caste of robot overlords who steal all our jobs, reduce us to the status of feudal peasants and accrue all wealth within the coffers of a single faceless corporate entity, probably Google.

Unsurprisingly, he makes me really, really mad, on a level that simply being referred to as a "freetard" does not, and it's a lot easier for me, emotionally, to deal with being told such things as my idea of culture being a worthless endlessly recycled mush and my idea of collaboration being a spreading borglike virus that devours everything human about creativity -- much less being told that I'm terrified of death and am destroying the American cultural commons because somehow it will enable me to live on as a silicon ghost -- by simply pre-emptively dismissing them rather than anxiously waiting to see when and where they'll come up.)

160:

If you believe rights to be reciprocal/come with obligations, then the logical conclusion is the rhetorical questions in my previous comment.

You say I have misread you. Perhaps I have. But you're a good writer, and I can find no other meaning for the phrase "Rights are reciprocal" than the one I have taken. Would you elaborate, please, on how I have misread you? What was your intended meaning? Because if I have have your intended meaning right, I can see no other conclusion.

At the risk of putting words in our esteemed host's mouth (and adding to my already profuse verbiage on this comment section), I think you're being a trifle unfair. I think he's talking about legal rights carrying *social* obligations the violation of which cause one to lose face, not legal obligations the violation of which cause one to lose said legal right. (More like "The right to free speech entails a social obligation to not be a dick", not "You only have free speech as long as it isn't dickish".)

At least, that's the explanation that makes sense to me. I hope Mr. Stross isn't seriously proposing a system by which I am allowed to freely copy and redistribute Accelerando *as long as* I have voluntarily written and CC-licensed a science fiction novel of equal or greater cultural value to the English-speaking world, but if I can be found to not have done so I will be taken to court. (Finding the impartial panel of judges such a system would require would only be the first hurdle.)

As for me, I think caring about the livelihood and well-being of our fellow humans is very much an obligation we all have, and caring about whether someone who's written something we enjoy is able to do what they love while enjoying a decent standard of living is only the decent, human thing to do.

I do *not* think this crosses over into the realm of compelling legal obligation, just like I think your freedom of speech does not entitle you to be a dick but it does imply you have the legal right to be a dick nonetheless -- because any system that tried to force people to not be dicks would be extremely liable to being co-opted and used as a weapon, by dicks.

I say this *especially* because copyright, our current system for obligating people to not be dicks to people whose artistic work they enjoy, has been so successfully manipulated in so many cases by powerful people with a lot of money to be dicks to *all sorts of people all the time*.

161:

Perhaps the rights-implying-obligations point of Charles is leading to more obfuscation than is strictly necessary here, or maybe there's a bunch of saloon bar philosophers who want to point out how clever they are...

"Rights => responsibilities" is a red rag to some people probably because of that nice Mr Blair trying to couple together unemployment benefits with not being workshy, for whatever values of 'workshy' were politically expedient at the time. So when I read Charles' original post, the sense that this was making a callback to our dear ex-Prime Minister had a slight whiff of flamebait about it. As did the inflammatory question at the end.

But as Art put it so eloquently, the relation between them, as usually encountered, is based more "don't be a dick" basis than in strict logic. Which puts us into ethics rather than discussions of morality, so Alex @ 106 looks to me like he's strawmanning something rotten there. Failure to observe an obligation does not nullify rights that correspond to that obligation, but that doesn't mean the basic structure of the rights isn't reciprocal to begin with. (Just go and read Rawls' theory of justice and then come back later...)

162:

"I will point out the one argument I'm sure you've heard many, many times, though -- even now, copyright law does not agree with you about what copyright is."

And I will note that I have not even brought up the term 'copyright' to date. :) As you asked for a moral claim, so too did I give a response in moral terms rather than a legal/societal construct like copyright. And in fact, copyright (as you note) is exactly what I said societies do - the use of regulation and restriction to create a balance between competing rights, for the benefit of society. I disagree with how that balance tilts at the moment - I consider creation rights to be vested in the individual, so view the extension of same past the creator's death to be problematic, for example - but I think it's the best thing we've managed to come up with so far. ("The worst system, except for all the others.")

(I also admit that my stance is emotionally colored by incidents where someone takes an artist's work and puts it to a use they violently oppose; the authors who had their works twisted as propaganda by neo-Nazi groups, for example, or musicians who had their songs used to promote political campaigns they disagree with. Or even something as simple as an author being embarrassed by the quality of their earlier work and not wanting to see it reprinted, as with Neil Stephenson. I agree that trying to take such issues into the legal system is fraught with pitfalls; but as a matter of principle, not to mention common courtesy and respect for an artist whose work they apparently appreciate, I'd hope most people would agree.)

"I view "creating" versus "copying" as a false dichotomy. I think all creative endeavors are a little of both. I think copyright *prevents* as much creative endeavor as it incentivizes, and I think as the possibilities of a technology that allows endless copying, remixing, recontextualizing increases this opportunity cost only grows and grows. I am aware that this is a result of my value system and the way I view art..."

Yes, I think this is another area where we have to agree to disagree. I respect your attachment to your view of art, but I don't share it, and think a creative work needs a higher degree of un-derived content to be considered original. I enjoy making my own song arrangements in mix playlists, but I don't call them original creative works; I can respect and admire the skill and talent of a good mix DJ without claiming his work rises to the level of an original composition.

"I accept that this is a result of our differing value systems and I respect that you have good reasons, intellectual and emotional, for believing what you believe while this affecting my own views not one whit. [...] And, again, this has gotten lost in the shuffle, perhaps, but I should reiterate that I do not actively seek Charles Stross or anyone else ending their full-time writing career as a positive, longed-for and hoped-for goal..."

Thank you for that, and I do hope to give you the same courtesy. A large part of my hardline stand on IP comes from a pair of opposing experiences. On the one side, getting to know a number of creative people - midlist SF authors, painters, musicians - and watching them struggle to make a living from their creative work; on the other hand, watching the "nihilistic glee" you describe go on to build a culture of entitlement, where people claim the "right" to get whatever they want for free, just because they can. Just as Lanier's criticisms of your taste in art make you angry; watching people trumpet their ability to be parasites and freeload off of others' work, taking things without compensation, infuriates me.

(I've also spent many years in US anime fandom, and watched fansubs grow from the tape era - when they were rare, poor quality, of shows that were not ever likely to see the light of day in the US, almost exclusively seen in large group settings, and mostly lived up to fans' claims that they promoted the domestic release of anime - to today's digisub era, where shows already guaranteed a US release are widely distributed, at a quality level where many are quite happy to view them as a replacement for an official release, and are downloaded as such by a large number of individuals. In the same period, I've seen the US anime industry grow hugely - with a wide variety of shows available in professional-quality releases - and then severely contract, in a timeframe that predated the current recession, resulting in the loss of two major distributors and of a large swath of current and future releases. I view this as a definite loss to anime fandom, and don't think it was a complete coincidence.)

"I don't have a magical solution that would instantly win our host's challenge a while back to provide him a stable writing career in a post-Google era, but then I don't think someone sitting down at their computer plotting it all out ahead of time is really how new business models emerge. (Not that back in my college-activist days I didn't spend my fair share of time, energy, sweat and pixels propounding drafts of stuff that you've probably also all heard of before in one form or anther -- the "ransom" model, the "collective patronage commission" model, the "self-sustaining artist's collective with multitiered levels of support" model, etc.)"

To be bluntly honest, my patience for that kind of thing vanished with the implosion of the dot-com bubble. All kinds of clever people came up with speculative models for running a business, claiming that Teh Intarwebz made all the traditional business practices obsolete. And then the bubble burst, taking a group of my friends who had moved to San Francisco down with it, and a lot of people lost a lot of money. You'll pardon me, I hope, if I'm extremely skeptical about such proposals, and of trusting the livelihood of people I like to them.

In my own high school and college days, I really looked up to the MIT Lab culture described in Hackers, and the utopia of free information sharing described there. Then I graduated, and had to start earning my own living; and in the process, had it brought home for the first time that the entire thing had been built on the sponsorship of a patron with deep pockets (DARPA) that apparently let the Lab run itself as it wanted - without strict oversight, or a demand for results that would interfere with the people in the lab's ability to pursue their own projects. A large number of open source projects today seem to be based on the same patronage model, with a big institution footing the bill for creative work that isn't being sold.

While patronage has lead to some great art in the past, it's also vulnerable to the whims of the patron; either through pressure to change the contents, or through the cutting of support. Although the consumer-driven model of creative content purchase has its own flaws, I think it's led to both a wider and more varied selection of professional-quality content. (And in my time in anime fandom, in the mid-90s I spent several years following an anime fiction mailing list; this has rather soured my attitude on the quality of work people produce for free. A small percentage of it was quite good, but none of it came fully up to professional standards, and the overwhelming majority of it was utter drek that was a pain to wade through. I am *very* glad to have the option to pay for professional-quality writing, through a publisher that screens for it.)

"Just as I give you the credit of presuming that when you say you think authors are the true and sole owners of their works this is a real emotional and philosophical commitment on your part, and you wouldn't suddenly discard this position if some author you admire told you copyright law was the reason she *couldn't* continue her full-time writing career (because, for instance, someone successfully pushed through a lawsuit for millions of dollars on a borderline case of possible plagiarism that she had to settle on, putting her in arrears and forcing her to go back to her day job -- "

Yes. I would be sorry for her if it were a mistake made in good faith, or if she were the victim of a vendetta by the other author (of course, if she did intentionally plagiarize, I would lose a great deal of respect for her).

"something that really does happen all the time to authors people genuinely like, not just those horrible smelly-otaku fanfic authors in their mothers' basements)"

I would be interested in seeing particulars, from a *neutral* third-party source; I cannot recall seeing a case that was not sensationalized by someone with an obvious ax to grind. (And yes, this is another of my hot buttons; I got my degree in journalism at a school where they hammered into us the requirement to report news neutrally and without favor. As a result, I'm highly sensitive to the use of advocacy, or loaded words and phrases, in something that's supposed to be an objective news piece, and have an instant negative reaction. What I've read of Lessig and especially Doctorow's non-fiction writing falls into this category for me.)

To give another case - as I suggested before, I dislike the stated goal behind the GPL, of forcing *all* software to be released as source code and destroying the proprietary software market; I think this is an unacceptable violation of the rights of programmers who don't want to participate. But because I believe programmers who do use the GPL have just as much right to control how their software is used, I have to accept their right to use that software to work towards their goal, even as I oppose the goal itself. (To note, yes, I know that a large number of programmers use the GPL because it suits what they want to do with their software, without subscribing to the overarching goal; I'm trying not to tar them with the same brush.)

163:

I've found this discussion fascinating, but frankly it is of little relevance to my life and that of the average Briton on the Clapham omnibus. It's cold, raining, the economy is in the crapper and we're looking for something to entertain us when we get back home from work. Theory is great and all but it has to play in the real world. Most of us are never going to produce anything of benefit online (although kudos if you do) - frankly I look at most of the dribble smeared over the net from Web 2.0 and wish there was a way I could get their internet licences revoked.

So how to make sure that I pay for the information I entertain myself with ? And that way allow creators to make a living from it, which, let's face it, is what this all comes down to. (I don't mention anything in the space betwen creator and consumer as capitalism means none of them has a right to keep existing as the world changes, buggy whips and all that)

First off, let me pay a fair price for it - in other words, make it free for purchase. That's the first freedom that matters for information. If it's not available at all my choices are to pirate it or ... I'm sure there's a gap here for a pithy slogan to the effect that piracy indicates an unfilled market.

Second, sell it to me rather than licence or use DRM. Make it free to use once I've paid. Again, I can pirate it or be inconvenienced by paying. Steam is a good example. I could pirate all the games they offer but it's far easier to fork over the money and use their service. Watermarking and so an are fine as they do nothing to inhibit me using what I've paid for.

164:

It might also help to think here about what the webcomic authors are doing in context. They're selling side images of the characters they create for the larger product. The images from "Girl Genius" are possible alternative scenes from the plot canon, or they're the result of Phil Foglio fiddling about with different angles and attitudes for the characters. In all probability they have their origins in little sketches and doodles.

Text writers often don't have something like that to sell. I can list about two cases I know of where a writer's original writing, character creation and worldbuilding notes were able to be published to any profit at all. One of these was Tolkien, and it wasn't him who released them - that was done by his son, and it was done after a lot of editing and hard work collating everything into saleable text. The other one was "The Rivan Codex" by David and Leigh Eddings, which frankly wasn't even as readable as the final volume of "The Younger Gods" (and as far as I'm concerned, that one was utter crap).

If a writer has a character who is whole enough to be able to write short stories around, and interesting enough to command a following, it's generally much more profitable for the writer to accumulate those short stories and sketches, and publish them either along with their larger works, or as "bonus" stories in special editions, or to collect the stories together and sell an anthology. I doubt we're going to see Charlie flogging off Bob Howard drabble mousemats any time soon.

165:

Art @152: You summarize my position as "If I don't get paid enough to write full-time, I will stop writing full-time."

That's not exactly right. More like: "If I don't get paid enough to write full-time, I will have to seek other sources of income. Back when I had a full-time job, it took me 3-4 years to write each novel, on an unpaid-hobbyist basis. As a full-time author, I can write 1-2 books a year. So my output will drop by 80-90%, assuming I don't run out of ideas or get so demoralized I give up."

I should also like to add that, if we step out from behind these straw men we're bashing, my position on copyright is roughly the same as Eric Flint's.

(The reason for the acrimonious confrontation here is the temporal frame provided by Amazon's helpful "let's you and him fight" gambit of last week.)

See also my post #141 in this thread.

I'd like to add that I, too, have been reading Richard Stallman's effusions over the years. He's principled, alright -- he's also an ideologically committed left-anarchist of a kind so vanishingly rare in US politics today that most folks don't recognize it when they see it. I think this is a good thing -- if we didn't have a Stallman we'd need to invent one, just to pin down one side of the Overton window of debate over freedom in software -- but I think it's a very dangerous mistake to take everything he says at face value without examining the underlying philosophical position behind it.

166:

Y'know, our make-all-your-writing-free types are reminding me a lot of the tax cutters who are making US budgetary process so interesting. These people keep saying that, somehow, we will pay for it. And we don't, and not having what these people keep blocking hurts, and they just keep making excuses.

...I wonder what economists make of all this?

167:

"I'd like to add that I, too, have been reading Richard Stallman's effusions over the years. He's principled, alright -- he's also an ideologically committed left-anarchist of a kind so vanishingly rare in US politics today that most folks don't recognize it when they see it. I think this is a good thing -- if we didn't have a Stallman we'd need to invent one, just to pin down one side of the Overton window of debate over freedom in software -- but I think it's a very dangerous mistake to take everything he says at face value without examining the underlying philosophical position behind it."

I'm well aware of what Stallman's own position implies, and I frequently think that, zooming out from the specific situation of people writing novels or recording albums, the whole situation of people having to struggle and fight for scraps just to be able to pay rent and buy groceries every week is fucked up and I do in fact support the concept of "righttoeat", so to speak -- I think *everyone* should have the "righttoeat" regardless of whether their books have millions of readers, thousands of readers, dozens of readers, no readers at all or they don't even write books.

In such an environment -- where socialism provided the widespread guarantee of a basic standard of living and life necessities such that, as Bertrand Russell proposed, everyone could benefit from the lifestyle once restricted to the "leisure class" -- most of what we're fighting over would disappear (although it wouldn't disappear entirely, because once you remove the *literal* "righttoeat" from the picture I presume many authors would still say "I refuse to provide my unique talent to entertain millions of people while eating the same government cheese as everyone else", and we run into the sliding scale of societally defined poverty).

RMS is convinced free software would itself be a substantial step toward moving our society to such a state. I'm not so convinced. Nor do I believe our society would have to achieve this semi-utopian state for my position to be tenable, because, as with Lessig, my emphasis is on free *culture* rather than free software -- I honestly believe our culture is an superior state now in the Web 2.0 world than it would be without it and that ending that world would be a loss, all the unkind adjectives you can think of for YouTube videos notwithstanding.

"Y'know, our make-all-your-writing-free types are reminding me a lot of the tax cutters who are making US budgetary process so interesting. These people keep saying that, somehow, we will pay for it. And we don't, and not having what these people keep blocking hurts, and they just keep making excuses.

...I wonder what economists make of all this?"

This is one of those topics mainstream economists haven't weighed in on very much, but my prof in college -- hardly a crazy left-winger or crazy libertarian -- said that most economists he had talked to thought that IP law in the US was "out of control". Patent law, in particular, was what they were interested in, not copyright of artistic works -- but the main thrust of it was that if you think of simply coming up with an idea as a "product", and if you start to employ hordes of lawyers to stake out as much ideaspace and stick flags into it as possible to make every idea a monopoly (which is where the world of corporate patent ass-covering is hurtling toward right now), then you've completely torpedoed the whole concept of incentivizing innovation through the free market that Adam Smith was talking about.

I would make a similar argument about copyright and cultural works, but that's because I'm one of those goddamn kids who actually thinks YouTube edits and remixes and whatnot count as art and thinks the tightening of copyright is the destruction of art and artistic opportunities.

Anyway, you don't need to point fingers at me as though I'm a Congresscritter slashing your government benefits. I, individually, have very little power to do anything; if anything what I'm advocating is something that is almost certainly going to end up happening to greater and greater degrees outside the democratic process because (as our esteemed host pointed out in his Google post) the tech is there, can't be uninvented, and the people who own the tech have both incredible power and incredible incentives to make the tech as useful as possible, and it's very very hard for the law to try to intentionally cripple tech that already exists. (I find it really unlikely any consortium of writers and publishers will ever put Google Books back in the bottle, for instance.)

I mean, this position gets caricatured as "Because we can do it, we must do it!" but on a certain level I believe that's *true* -- as a good little Marxist, and materialist determinist, I think our social mores will always give way to our technological reality rather than vice versa. The reality of technological progress has killed societal mores far more beloved and central to our conception of ourselves than copyright, in the past -- I don't see this as an exception.

168:

"I disagree with how that balance tilts at the moment - I consider creation rights to be vested in the individual, so view the extension of same past the creator's death to be problematic, for example - but I think it's the best thing we've managed to come up with so far. ("The worst system, except for all the others.")"

Well, no, it isn't. Droits d'auteur are on one end of the scale and Lawrence Lessig and I are on the other, but I hardly think copyright (at least in the USA and UK and most of the Anglophone world) is some sort of pragmatic compromise between the two. In many ways it's a perverse worst-of-both-worlds situation -- the right to control a work does not fundamentally devolve on the unique magical Fountainhead of ideas we have identified as the true author, and it is not a right held in common by all human beings and participants in our culture -- it is a right that instead devolves on whichever corporate entity can amass enough capital to legally defend this right by getting someone desperate enough to sell it to him.

It's much like how I think the right wing trots out stereotypes of family farms, ancestral land, your own personal home being invaded by burglars in order to make squatters' rights advocates (which is a position I also espouse, just to lay my cards on the table) seem like awful human beings, to obscure the fact that most of the people who own most of what is being squatted on are wealthy investors who *bought out* "ancestral lands" a long time ago or were deeded it by the government in sweetheart deals (I'm speaking about Latin America, remember) and who have no special virtue other than being really good at manipulating the flows of capital in our fucked-up system of distributing wealth.

I've even met "freetards" who sympathize with a French-style droits d'auteur and where such a thing would exist to a limited degree in our happy free culture regime, just as droits d'auteur exist to a limited degree in France, *competing* with their capital-based copyright regime.

169:

"On the one side, getting to know a number of creative people - midlist SF authors, painters, musicians - and watching them struggle to make a living from their creative work; on the other hand, watching the "nihilistic glee" you describe go on to build a culture of entitlement, where people claim the "right" to get whatever they want for free, just because they can. Just as Lanier's criticisms of your taste in art make you angry; watching people trumpet their ability to be parasites and freeload off of others' work, taking things without compensation, infuriates me."

That's my whole point. I disagree with the characterization of "freetards" as people who are primarily motivated by this or who by nature never create anything of note themselves. Partially this is because I disagree with people's definition of "creation" -- the whole point of my ideology is that I consider derivative work to be worthy creation and seek to enable it whenever I can, and, as a good little postmodernist, I think something as simple as adding to the conversation about a piece of work, posting a review, posting a YouTube comment, being part of what makes the work popular *is adding value* (or I wouldn't routinely have posted my own work on the Internet for no reward other than the comments).

Partially this is because, hey, I didn't do it. Someone who downloads music all the time and sent the Pirate Bay ad revenue, unlike me, still didn't do it. Even that person who ripped that one specific ebook and put it on the torrent didn't do it. The technology being invented did it, and it's kind of useless to berate and scold people for obeying human nature in a changed landscape.

(Tortured sci-fi analogy time: If someone invented a cheap and mass-producible portable set of X-ray goggles that let you selectively look through walls, clothes, etc. whenever you wanted, *privacy and public decency laws as we know them would not survive*. You could argue that the existence of such a device does not change the arguments for why we *should* have such laws in any way, and that the morally consistent thing to do would be to declare the device a horrible disaster and put the best government agency you can think of on the trail of stamping it out like we're trying to stamp out meth labs right now rather than change your moral position in the weight of mere technology -- but the fact remains is that the laws would change.)

"To be bluntly honest, my patience for that kind of thing vanished with the implosion of the dot-com bubble. All kinds of clever people came up with speculative models for running a business, claiming that Teh Intarwebz made all the traditional business practices obsolete. And then the bubble burst, taking a group of my friends who had moved to San Francisco down with it, and a lot of people lost a lot of money. You'll pardon me, I hope, if I'm extremely skeptical about such proposals, and of trusting the livelihood of people I like to them."

Like I said, that's why I'm no longer so arrogant as to think anyone cares about me writing up a vague "business model" and posting it for free on the Internet (though I'm sure the total amount of such verbiage I used to dump on various crappy little wikis and such equals the length of Accelerando, if not its cultural or educational or entertainment value or value in any other sense).

The correct response in this situation is not "Here's my magic plan that will save your job without you having to suffer anything!", it's "I'm sorry, but this is happening, it's happening due to economic and technological forces that can't be simply reversed or constrained into a certain form by policy quick fixes, and we're going to *have to* adapt just like we've been forced to many times before".

Ideally one would say this as sympathetically as possible rather than crowing about "obsolete dinosaurs" and all that (because who knows whose job will be next on the chopping block because the robots have made it unprofitable?) but it's still a fact. Our esteemed host speaks with tacit approval of the enclosure of the commons that took place during the Tudor period, because he seems to cleave to the common historical belief that this was a necessary part of the transitions England was undergoing at the time to a larger-scale, more centralized economy -- but of course this disrupted whole local economies and put hundreds of farm laborers, millers, and others out of work. And there's nothing he could say to those people (assuming the benefit of a trans-temporal radio and expert linguistic help with the translation to 16th-century English) other than "I hope you'll find a way to make things work out in the end; this isn't the end of the world" and also possibly "Please don't start a riot and try to burn everything down; it won't help" (as indeed it did not).

I will finally add that even though my hippie free-culture proposals are half-baked schemes, so are all the *non*-free-culture proposals that attempt to somehow salvage some semblance of our model of intellectual property despite the pirates cropping up everywhere like mushrooms. With all due respect, for instance, I submit that a lot of people might have trouble with our esteemed host's plan for the government subsidizing artists through a freedom-to-download tax, given that it not only allows but *obligates* the government to *monitor everybody's downloads in detail and keep strict records of all online activity* in order to distribute royalty checks.

I mean, yes, a lot of the problems with "How do we keep information free like it wants to be while still getting money to the people we think should have it?" vanish easily if you make the government an All-Seeing Panopticon that carefully watches everything I watch, read or listen to. I submit that this is not, in fact, a downside-free plan -- some people (not even particularly radically libertarian ones) would argue it's a plan that's mostly downside.

170:

Pointing out that amazon have done useful and novel things in the book market is "flamage" now? Absolutely fascinating perspective.

B>

171:

Hey this is a great, thoughtful article. It's an argument I haven't heard before, and it's well-stated and compelling.

But one thing I was really disappointed with was the (I'm sure unintentional) advocacy of the term "freetard". While it's clearly ripe with cultural connotations and has a visceral impact, it is propagating an offensive term and has very little inherent descriptive value for the group of people to whom you refer.

I think you'd be doing a service if, in future articles, you did not lend fuel to the use of the term retard with this great platform and your influence.

172:

Gotta admit, I'm getting a little annoyed about the scientists' claims that they're writing and giving it away for free.

I happen to be sitting on some unpublished research. The quality is marginal, it won't help my career, it's going to take a substantial investment in library research to clean up, AND I'll have to pay out of my own pocket to publish, since I'm not currently part of an institution.

Yes, I know you can get a copy by asking nicely, but let's look at the process, and we can discuss how scientists and authors differ.

1. You write a proposal for work to be done. It includes a budget for your time and materials (both authors and scientists). Note: to get tenure at most schools, you have to bring in a certain amount of money, and most schools have large overheads, so double whatever your personal take is. This is also true of authors, for taxes and agent fees.

2. You shop the proposal around to various groups who can provide money (both authors and scientists). The difference here is that authors shop proposals to publishers, scientists shop proposals to granting agencies. If you have a relationship with a publisher/granter, this process is easy. If not, it takes a lot of work.

3. You get money to do the work (both authors and scientists). For authors, it's called an advance. For scientists, it's called a grant. Both are necessary to successfully pursue a career in either field.

4. You do the work (both authors and scientists). Scientists are lucky in that the typical grant cycle is three years, and also in that they can bundle money from more than one source to get a work done. Authors are tied to a contract with much faster turnaround.

5a. You hand the work over to a publisher (author) or

5b. You get your paper(s) published in a journal. This is the first key difference. Once authors have a contract, their work is most likely to see light. Scientists aren't so lucky, but if their research went the way they planned, they can publish somewhere.

6. You go through the editing and publishing process (author and scientist). Details differ, mostly in that the reviewers for scientists volunteer to do that job, and sometimes the editors do to.

7a. You receive your final chunk of the advance and pay your agent (author) or

7b. Someone (perhaps you) pays your publisher to publish your paper(s) (scientist).

8. Someone (your readers or institutional journal subscribers) pays for your readers to see your work, unless you distribute it free on the internet or someone rips it and distributes it freely, and your publisher's lawyers don't catch them.

IMPORTANT POINT: We've had two scientists up there claim that their writing is free, because at step 7, someone else pays, and at step 8, they give away copies if someone asks nicely.

Thing is, they did get paid to do that work.

Note: I'm not bashing science. I'm bashing scientists' ignorance of their own process. If you work in a marginal field (outside biomedicine or engineering) these are the facts of life that you deal with on a daily basis as you try to get and keep a job.


173:

I've written some free-as-in-freedom software, and contributed with patches to a few different projects. Can't help observing that, in my experience, the most vocal advocates of free-as-in-freedom - the people who write long, self-important rants like Art here, or start ridiculous flame wars, or get all offended when some FOSS personality commits the unforgivable faux-pas of using the word "girl" - tend to be the ones with the fewest lines of code to show. Usually their contributions amount to coordinating user groups, or moderating IRC channels, or making ugly logos in Gimp for some obscure project. The people who are actually cranking out the code, the Fabrice Bellards of this world (thank ${DEITY} for them), usually couldn't care less about politics and do it just because coding is fun. Just saying.

I hope I can enjoy the freedom of piling up professionally bound and printed Stross books for many years into the future. No more Saturn's Children-type covers is all I ask (no prude here, but married - that one gave me a hard time).

174:

fzort: I hear you, but I'd like to just note that the US cover of "Saturn's Children" was none of my doing. All I deliver is the stuff between the covers -- control over the book's cover, the title, the blurb on it, even in extreme cases the author's name -- lies with the publisher.

175:
even in extreme cases the author's name

Wozzat? Can you explain that one a bit?

176:

FIW, the original "my country" quote did not have that second clause you reference. In 1805 Stephen Decatur said: "In matters of foreign affairs, my country may she ever be right, but right or wrong, my country, my country" (he didn't like Jefferson's deal with the Bey of Tripoli, apparently, but he was taking it like a soldier).

The second clause you reference is from a late 19th century politician, Carl Schurz, who updated Decatur's remarks, saying: "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right."

All those people "missing" the second clause are actually just quoting the original version. I had actually never heard of the second guy or that second clause, so I looked it up--his wikipedia pages makes him sound like a guy we need more of in Washington. :)

177:

"Gotta admit, I'm getting a little annoyed about the scientists' claims that they're writing and giving it away for free."

The way I would phrase it is that this is exactly the difference between free-as-in-beer and free-as-in-freedom that we're talking about.

I have no problem with Charles Stross or any other author saying that if you want a novel written to a certain standard of quality, you have to get him the money to make it possible. Scientists say that all the time -- it forms a major part of their job -- and nobody seriously expects that scientists all be "hobbyists" who are independently wealthy and do their work in their spare time (while noting that there have been scientific breakthroughs here and there made by people of means outside the traditional funding process, and that a long time ago before the traditional funding process existed that was all there was -- which is analogous to some degree to the world of novelists).

I don't seriously think that having really big, traditional, centralized-control patronage institutions that a novelist writes a "grant proposal" to in order to get funding for a novel would actually work. I do think that it shows that *something like* that model works, and that throwing up our hands and saying "For all the many many things wrong with copyright it's the *only way* to keep publishing alive so we're just gonna have to bite the bullet" is not the self-evident conclusion people paint it as.

I don't want or expect writers to write with no hope of ever being paid for their work. I do expect writers to write without being able to use the law to force people to refrain from copying a data file they paid for on hardware they own for other people to read. I do not regard this as an unreasonable expectation and respectfully disagree with those who think it is or who consider me to be speaking out of turn for having that expectation.

178:

If an author's name is too long, too difficult to pronounce, or even too similar to another author's the publisher may require them to publish under a different name. (This can also happen if they are publishing in a radically different genre.)

179:

"Wozzat? Can you explain that one a bit?"

Our host is the insider expert, but he's also probably packing and making arrangements right now, so I'll take a stab (with an invitation to correct me if I'm horribly wrong about any of this):

There's quite a few well-known cases where an author was politely asked (told) by a publisher to alter the rendering of their name to make the book friendlier and increase sales. It can be anything from telling you that spelling your name with initials will play better than using your given name (from what I understand the whole "I.M.N. Author" thing is much more of a publishing thing than an actual affectation writers choose for themselves) to actually having you take a pseudonym -- a lot of famous pseudonyms are things the publisher came up with and not the author.

I can name a few totally random stories off the top of my head -- Beverly Bunn habitually used her maiden name and only became "Beverly Cleary" because her publisher told her her husband's last name sounded more credible. C.J. Cherryh is actually named Carolyn Cherry to her friends, but the extraneous "h" was added to her name and her given name collapsed to initials because an editor told her she needed to make her name more masculine so people wouldn't mistake her books for romance novels. (Female writers being told they had to go by initials to disguise their sex on book covers is something that used to, sadly, be very common.) I just got done reading a blog post by someone who is facing the prospect of having to resubmit manuscripts under a pseudonym in order to shake off the bad juju from having had disappointing sales of a series written under her real name -- with publishers making it clear that not doing so is not an option if she wants to be given another shot. Stephen King had the opposite problem, where he was a very prolific writer who wanted to maximize his output (and hence his income) but his publisher, fearing oversaturation of the "Stephen King brand", demanded that he publish his less marketable work under a different name, hence the invention of "Richard Bachman".

Aside: Douglas Adams wrote a humorous, hyperbolic aside in one of his Dirk Gently books about how the presentation of an author's name is a deciding factor in the success of a mass-market paperback, and publishers would never look twice at an author unless they had a very short surname and a given name only slightly longer than their surname, so they could print the surname in extremely large all-caps type and then put the smaller first name on top of it to create the Star-Wars-crawl effect of a sacred monolith stretching away into space. This effect, according to Adams, made up at least 50% of the likelihood of an airport browser choosing to pick up a book, and if an author did not possess a name that could be printed in this style he faced the choice of changing it or dying in obscurity. "stephen KING" is reputed to have become the legend he is mainly because of his name. (Adams stated in later interviews that this was mostly inspired by his own musings about his experience with how his name was printed on book covers -- "douglas ADAMS" -- and a publisher actually explaining to him that this was necessary to maximize sales no matter how much he protested it made him look kind of like an egotistical prick, then musing that had he instead had a very long Hungarian surname and a very short first name like "Bo" he might never have gotten published at all.)

180:

"If an author's name is too long, too difficult to pronounce, or even too similar to another author's the publisher may require them to publish under a different name. (This can also happen if they are publishing in a radically different genre.)"

Oh, yeah, the too-similar-to-another-author thing is another major reason.

Interesting tidbit is that in the world of screenwriting, the WGA is incredibly protective of screen credits and rabidly hostile to anything that muddies the water of who gets credited for what, and actually *requires* its own members to use a name, for the sake of crediting, that the WGA leadership deems sufficiently unique.

David Samuel Cohen of Futurama fame was told he couldn't simply be "David Cohen" because there is another WGA member named David Cohen, and he couldn't be "David S. Cohen" because even though the other David Cohen usually doesn't use his middle initial his middle name is in fact Steven, so David Samuel Cohen changed his name for crediting purposes to "David X. Cohen" on the theory that it was memorable and there wouldn't be anyone else named that out there. (If I ever meet anyone named David Xavier Cohen I will encourage him to pursue a career as a Hollywood screenwriter just to see what happens.)

181:

Well said, Charlie. May I also point out that information, as a thing, cannot actually WANT anything. People, however, who create and have access to information, definitely want things. Some people want information to be free. Some people want it to be expensive. As with so many human wants, you do have to ask "Why?"

Far too often, those who want information to be free can come up with no better reason than "because I don't want to pay for it."

Against those are set people who want information to be expensive because "it costs so much time/effort/resources to create."

... which oversimplifies, I know. Stallman's condition that it should be "generally useful" information (how to get out rug stains, how to hold your toupee on during a wind storm, etc.) is important, as is Brand's assertion that tension necessarily results between extremes (analogous to the tension between supply and demand in economics).

In my experience, those who spout "information wants to be free" are those who are trying to justify violating copyright, and that's called theft regardless of how the information feels about things.

182:

One thing that annoys the hell out of me and that I don't think is almost ever acknowledged is the third parties who monetize and profit off these "free flows of information"

I'll give you an example, comics.

Right now there are a vanishing handful of people making a living off posting their comics online, as an industry it's pathetic and ramshackle, despite a handful of successes like Penny Arcade. The ratio of amateur webcomics to professional is like 10.000 to one.

Now take the manga translation scene, groups of well meaning fans come together and translate manga, and release them online with admonitions about how this is a "free fan work, not for sale or rent". They bow out whenever the works are picked up by a western publisher so it can be argued they are doing a helpful evangelizing task, increasing the visibility of the original works and giving publishers a test bed of the comic's popularity before committing (Of course some crabby old publishers claim they're cannibalizing the market before it forms, but we can ignore them for the moment)

Now, we have a 3rd player in the field... a helpful fellow once decided he'd take all the releases by these groups and put them on a website conveniently for people to read. And all for free, of course! This caught on and there are several such sites, grown to megasite status, offering thousands of free "scanlated" series.

Of course bandwidth costs money so these sites have a liberal coating of ads all over and around the content in order to be able to pay for the hosting.

The assumption most people seem to make is these things are pure charity work, and sure, if you're paying 10$ a month to dreamhost to host a few mangas for your scanlation group no one is going to mind if you can make 2-3$ a month on the odd adsense click but these figures don't scale the same. 6 months later and when your free database is up to thousands of comics and the server you're paying 200$ a month for is handily paid by the 500$ a month ad income you can still argue you're keeping the difference as a reserve for increased growth and surprise costs.

Then 2 years later you're paying 2000$ a month and raking in 6000$ a month and the subject of hosting costs just never seems to come up anymore. Because you're living the dream of having a website that has zero content and maintenance costs and pays a nice living wage on top.

I'm pulling numbers out of my ass of course but I'd not be surprised if the numbers are even juicier, given the traffic rankings of some of these sites. The larger you get, the better hosting and advertising offers you can access.

Now consider the first group again. Consider Schlock Mercenary in competition with a website that offers Gantz, Battle Angel Alita, Planetes and a dozen more.

Whoops.

The funny thing is if you point this out to the webcomics people they're in complete denial about it. Total refusal to acknowledge it.

Can't blame them I suppose.

183:

Which is why the whole issue at hand is whether authors do, in fact, have a moral claim to the right to copy and redistribute their work.

Yes, they do. I see you think they don't, so whatever you make/shepherd/write/etc., I get free.

184:

Not to mention that the publisher may require the name to be changed if they think the sales are too low. I would have bought books by C.L. Anderson a lot sooner if I'd known the author was really Sarah Zettel.

I used to read eluki bes shahar and then found her new books under Rosemary Edghill.

185:
sales are too low

Okay, I guess I knew about that one -- Robin Hobb / Megan Lindholm was the one I knew of.

186:

Yes, they do. I see you think they don't, so whatever you make/shepherd/write/etc., I get free.

...Well, yeah.

I mean, I only posted that huge wall of text to make it pretty clear that I do, in fact, understand this concept and it's not that I've never ever ever even considered it from the creator's angle before.

There may be a few people who genuinely break what I think of as the reciprocity obligation here, which I would phrase as, say, downloading MP3s for free while still trying to make money by copyrighting their own work. (Well, I say "a few" but I bet there's actually a whole lot, there's just very few who openly admit to doing this or defend doing this -- although the weird disconnect between whether it's okay to screw over Macmillan vs. whether it's okay to screw over Sony may play a role in this. How many aspiring published authors torrent music?)

I'm not one of them. Most "freetards" aren't -- not if we use the #1 Urbandictionary definition our host linked to, meaning someone who actively lectures people about Richard Stallman and Lawrence Lessig and "information wants to be free".

Most "freetards" really worthy of the name have probably at least churned out several thousand words onto the Internet about their "freetard" beliefs that they do, in fact, release for free and expect no compensation for.

187:

"Most "freetards" really worthy of the name have probably at least churned out several thousand words onto the Internet about their "freetard" beliefs that they do, in fact, release for free and expect no compensation for."

It's not always polite but it has to be pointed out that most of that output you'd need to pay people to read rather than expect compensation.

188:

Argh. Argh argh argh. Lessig and Stallman aren't taking anything like similar positions, why do people keep shoving them together like that?

189:

Stallman is a near-religious ideologue who pushes his balls all the way to the wall with what he believes. Lessig is a moderate who is advocating for reforms that, while extremely radical by the standards of current law (slashing copyright to a single renewable-once twenty-year term) is well within the bounds of the current legal structure.

They get "shoved together" for the same reason John Rawls and Karl Marx get shoved together in lay discussions as general examples of "the left wing" -- because while they differ in a lot of ways, they've staked out positions in a field of ideas and commitments that are more similar to each other than they are to the prevailing legal orthodoxy we see everywhere we go that's only growing by the day.

Put it this way: Stallman is fundamentally and crazily opposed to any form of copyright at all. Lessig believes that copyright is a necessary evil (emphasis on "necessary" or "evil" depending on your perspective on what he's talking about today) that needs to be radically curtailed in scope because the secondary structures it's created are out of control.

They have very different positions, yes, but their *attitudes* are, at least, both opposed to the idea that the right to total control over everything you create, passed down eternally to your heirs, is a fundamental right of nature and that letting copyright terms expire *at all* is the generous, grudging compromise for the commonweal (as opposed to letting copyright *exist* at all being the compromise the state and we as taxpayers make in order to "promote science and the useful arts", in Lessig's formulation).

Moreover, getting away from policy/legal positions, they both celebrate the creativity of the commons and the joy and excitement of being part of that horrible "collective" Jaron Lanier is always fulminating about. In that they seem like they're on the "same team", the people who see the beauty and the promise of the Web 2.0 world instead of the ones thundering about how it's an apocalyptic, awful vision that must somehow be destroyed (even if, as Lanier proposes, it means taking down the *entire Web* and replacing it with an interlocking network of paywalls).

190:

It's not always polite but it has to be pointed out that most of that output you'd need to pay people to read rather than expect compensation.

And this kind of snark is why I turned down directly answering our esteemed host's challenge, because it seemed doomed to devolve into a whole pissing match of "S you released X, Y and Z for free -- big deal, it's not like X, Y and Z are of any actual value". And of course how do I refute that? The only real test of whether stuff I write is actually worth paying for is to try to get people to pay for it, which is something that, for a whole pile of reasons, I have never had any interest in doing.

The general snarky attitude of "Ignore the freetard Web 2.0 people; everything they produce is trash, and if traditional publishing goes away or changes too radically that means there will be NOTHING BUT TRASH" is one reason the conversations going on the past week have got me feeling kind of defensive and hostile. After all, when you're talking about subjective tastes, there's really nothing you can say -- "Well, I don't think it *is* trash" just makes me one of those people with no taste and no desire for quality whose aesthetic sense has been totally corroded and numbed by the choking desert of mediocrity that is Web 2.0. (Paraphrasing Lanier again.)

191:

Art, there's a lot of ill-will all round; you haven't been seeing the moderation policy violations that my scheming minions have been censoring (for lo, being really rude will get your comments censored around here: I am not the US government and I am under no obligation to observe your first amendment rights, which, in any case, Do Not Exist Here In The UK).

It gets a bit wearing, after a while, being told you're a greedy, unimaginative, grasping hack.

192:

Art I am sorry if you interpreted that as snark but I feel it's an uncontroversial statement: people pay for entertainment, but generally if you have a political opinion that you wish to be heard you have to pay someone to stand on a street corner handing out leaflets, stick posters on walls or film a TV spot.

Since you bring up the question of value, I have a question: Do you believe 13Mb of anti copyright argumentation is of equal value to 13mb of Charles Stross books (The size of a torrent I just googled a moment ago)

I mean the price is obviously zero in both cases so what is the value?

193:

Nestor @ 192: "I mean the price is obviously zero in both cases so what is the value?"

The absolute value is about the same; it's the sign attached to that value that differs.

194:

Nestor@194: he's suggesting that one of those has value +X, and the other one has value -X. I tend to agree.

Charlie@174: many apologies for bringing up the topic of that cover, I see that the issue has already been discussed to death. Anyway, really loved the book. I demand more space opera!

195:

Art I am sorry if you interpreted that as snark but I feel it's an uncontroversial statement: people pay for entertainment, but generally if you have a political opinion that you wish to be heard you have to pay someone to stand on a street corner handing out leaflets, stick posters on walls or film a TV spot.

And yet, see, this is not an absolute truth. It remains the case that the nonfiction bestsellers lists *routinely* see books pop up that are nothing but their authors' political opinions -- sometimes backed up with evidence, sometimes in the form of pure, unresearched, snarky polemic. Real live newspapers pay real live salaries to columnists to do nothing but tell people their opinions. Rush Limbaugh has made himself one of the wealthiest individuals in the broadcasting industry by sitting at a microphone and just saying his opinions into them.

Obviously that's not saying that I could get people to pay the same for *my* opinions, but that's because people aren't really paying for opinions per se; they're paying because the opinions are presented in an interesting, informative or entertaining fashion; because of the social positioning of the person presenting the opinion making "buying their book" a statement of self-identification with a certain movement or cause more than intention to read the book, just like the reason people buy T-shirts; because once the specific argumentation in a specific book gets a certain amount of cultural traction you feel like you have to engage with that particular work to participate in the same conversation everyone else is participating in even if you can find the same opinions elsewhere (like lifelong climate-change pundits still having to start talking about An Inconvenient Truth), etc.

My contention is that none of these things that add "value" to someone's opinion are things that it's impossible to find in the Wild West of the Internet -- there are blog posts that I've felt just as much or more pressure to read in order to understand a debate as with hardcover shiny books in the Politics section at B&N -- and that it's not something I think the wise bearded gatekeepers of the publishing industry are uniquely capable of discovering/nurturing/filtering.

In any case, it's not like the *only* things I've ever put on the Internet are arguments about copyright; I think I'd be rather a boring person if that were the case. And of course you could make similar comments about how no one wants to read your fanfic, no one wants to hear your jokes or funny stories, no one wants to hear your rambling observations about how your day went -- but, of course, there are plenty of people who *are* paid to write their fanfic (Karen Traviss), their jokes and funny stories (Dave Barry), their rambling observations about how their day went (David Sedaris).

The argument, of course, is that these people write *good* fanfic, *good* jokes and funny stories, *good* rambling observations about how their day went, that people listen to because they derive genuine pleasure from them and not simply out of a sense of social obligation to not be rude to their boring friend. I would certainly agree, and agree that not all funny anecdotes are created equal.

I would disagree that we can therefore pre-emptively assume, a priori, that everything that has been published through the traditional industry has real value (value exactly equal to the monetary value of the revenue it has generated) and that everything that has been made widely available through the Web 2.0 Wild West is shit. (This is exactly the argument Jaron Lanier makes, in fact; other people wouldn't go so far as to actually *say* that the entirety of Web 2.0 is a vast empty desert where all creativity is parasitic on a few tiny oases of true, published creative work, but he says it without fear or shame.)

The fact that publishers are all in a tizzy that readership is overall down among the younger generation and that leisure time that was once used to read books is now being used on the Internet -- and that there's a paradox that kids are reading, in the strict sense of reading text, much more than they used to 10 years ago but that much more of what they read is "free", ephemeral prose on the Internet -- suggests that there *is value* being created there. You can argue that this isn't real value because these kids are idiots and the things they are being taught to like will destroy civilization, but then, of course, you quickly lose my sympathy and my attentive ear.

I mean the price is obviously zero in both cases so what is the value?

Value is subjective, and not something I, you, Charles Stross or anyone else has the right to dictate. The value of something is determined solely by how much any individual values it, *especially* when we're talking about creative work; I disagree very strongly with the idea that there are cultural gatekeepers who inherently have more right to determine value than anybody else. (For one thing, the standards of wider society would vest this cultural authority in the academic world of literary fiction more than it would genre publishers, and I certainly disagree that science fiction is pulpy trash that's inferior to "serious" work simply because there are many professors who seem to think so.)

For that matter, a copy of a Britney Spears CD has probably been torrented far more often and generated far more legitimate revenue for its distributor than any Charles Stross novel. Is that evidence the Britney Spears CD is of greater value?

Anyway, I reiterate: I doubt our host actually means that unless I become a science fiction author on the same plane as he is, who releases a book as good as Accelerando is for free (and that this all be determined by an impartial panel of critical judges, of course) that I have no right to an opinion on copyright law.

I think I am as consistent with the "reciprocal rights" concept of freedom as anyone could reasonably be. What I do create I willingly fork over to Web 2.0 to do with it what they will. And I do, in fact, put effort into what I do create for it to be as good as I think I can reasonably make it. What I *don't* create -- for instance, the fact that I haven't written a full-length science fiction epic -- is stuff that is outside the scope of my current ability, resources and interest to create. I am not a hypocrite -- to be a hypocrite I would have to actively seek to make lots of money specifically through a rights-control regime but still be happy infringing on others' copyright for my own enjoyment. (I've known a few people like this, people who, say, would download all the Top 40 songs they wanted off of BitTorrent but then scream bloody murder at anyone who shared an MP3 from their own garage band rather than paying them for another copy. None of them were "freetards", though a few of them had something vaguely approaching a well-formed defense of their situation along the lines of "Coldplay have enough money; I don't.")

The implicit claim here, which is that if I haven't specifically gone down the road of traditional publishing, poured my blood, sweat and tears into an SF manuscript until it was Good Enough to be published, successfully gotten it through multiple print runs and become a celebrated author with a lot of fans -- that if I haven't done that then I just *don't know* what being a *real* content creator entails and therefore I should shut the fuck up about how content should be made and distributed...

See, I can sympathize with that, I understand where that comes from, I can even similarly get mad at fellow "freetards" who use the "Self-publishing is easy!" argument as an easy way to score points (an argument I regard as completely missing the point of the whole Free Culture Manifesto) -- I just disagree with it. And on bad days it's an attitude that actually gets me really emotionally angry, along the same lines of a businessman telling me that given that I do not own my own business and clearly have never spent the time and energy to be a real self-starting entrepreneur rather than another crawling wage slave, I should shut the fuck up about the taxes and regulations the government places on business owners.

196:

It gets a bit wearing, after a while, being told you're a greedy, unimaginative, grasping hack.

I acknowledge that. I would just point out that, yes, everyone on either side of this debate (or, really, one of this debate's many sides) has some pricks on their side of the aisle, but that given that the "freetard" position might seem to be some kind of rising tide of anarchy *on the Internet* but in the real world is, in fact, a highly embattled minority position with very little support or respect in the higher echelons of people who matter, the total volume of nasty comments any given "freetard" gets, all else being equal, is probably greater than the total volume of nasty comments any given non- or anti-"freetard" gets.

One of the things that is not equal is, of course, how high-profile the individual in question is. I don't doubt that you've taken a lot of shit that I, not having a popular blog or being a well-known writer, have not taken. Nonetheless I continue to use the scare-quoted term "freetard" to describe my position to try to make the point that, y'know, having your political position compared to mental retardation is not very civil either to me or to people who actually suffer from that condition in real life, and the jerkitude of several individual "freetards" doesn't seem to justify it to me.

This is especially because the current bugbear of the SF-author-blogosphere -- the "Why don't you just publish it yourself?" bandwagon -- doesn't seem to me to map onto the so-called "freetard" position at all well. "Cut out the middleman and keep all the money for yourself, because if you don't, you're stupid" may *overlap* with a principled belief that copyright simply should not exist because of its unnatural and constraining effect on flows of information, but the two are hardly fundamentally linked. Certainly, enthusiasts of the Kindle and fans of amazon.com are very, very unlikely to be "freetards"; quite the opposite.

197:

Art: I hear where you're coming from. Trouble is, we don't have different terms for "free(as in beer)tard" and "free(as in speech)tard(or rather, ideologue)". The latter I've got some respect for, although I disagree with the position somewhat: the former are ... tards. And they're the ones who're saying "ditch your parasitic publisher middle-men and sell to us! We'll pay your royalty rates!" -- which can be translated as "we don't care about the quality provided by editing; we just want to pay a tenth as much".

Do I need to add that I fear, hate, loathe, and refuse to shop at WalMart (and their UK subsidiary ASDA)?

198:

> huge number of Kindle cheapskates yelling that $14 is too much to pay for a bestseller on the day of publication, it must be $9.99 or less

I understand that publishing a paper book - and then distributing and marketing it - costs money. I've had that drummed into my wallet at bookshops for years, and conversations with friends who are authors has only supported the idea.

But what are the costs of publishing an e-book? Seriously? Editing, proof-reading, maybe some layout (although to look at some ebooks I've bought, not a whole lot of that), and saving the file. And adding DRM which detracts from the value of the product in my opinion.

In the same way that I expect music I download to be cheaper than a CD, because the costs are lower for both the physical materials and for the distribution, and the recording industry isn't making as fat a profit on it - I expect an ebook to be cheaper than a paper book. If it isn't, I want to know why. Is the publisher trying to claw back some profit which they're losing by discounting paper books? Is the author getting more money (this would be ok with me, but I doubt it's the case)? Why does it cost as much for an ebook as for a bit of dead tree - and why should it?

If I were to buy an ebook directly from the author, I'd happily pay $14.99 or whatever, in the secure knowledge that I was supporting one of my favourite artists. If I were buying from the publisher, I might be happy to do that - depending on the publisher, and their reputation amongst authors and readers. From a retailer? Nope. Even if it isn't true, I feel like I'm being ripped off for no apparent benefit to anyone but the retailer.

/rant :)

199:

If Charlie has a right not to be murdered, then each of us has an obligation not to murder him.

Only if I have a right not to be murdered, does Charlie have an obligation not to murder me.

Charlie's having a right not to be murdered doesn't guarantee my having such a right, so it doesn't impose on Charlie an obligation not to murder me.

Confusion is, perhaps, generated by thinking only of universal rights, but think of the (supposed) rights to set taxes, bear arms, and prescribe medication.

That's as far as logic will get you.

Of course, one may have some extra-logical to believe that every right granted one generates an obligation on one, but I don't know what that reason might be--smells a bit (loaves and) fishy to me.

200:

"The alternative is tyranny, a state in which some individuals are exempt from ordinary rules and may exercise their liberty at the expense of others."

Well, the word you're looking for here is privilege (literally, private law, from the french privee lege) and it's the first thing we should fight if qe are to be equal.
Cheers
V

201:

That last sentence should have read:

"Of course, one may have some extra-logical reason to believe that every right granted one generates an obligation on one, but I don't know what that reason might be--smells a bit (loaves and) fishy to me."

I blush with embarrassment.

202:

I always though of this as an anthropomorphism of a law of nature:

Information "Wants to be free" in the same sense that Electricity "Wants to flow to a lower potential".

You can't just keep either in a box on your desk, either will leak out, either slowly or quickly, and you have to expend enegy to keep it from doing so.

203:

Charlie: "What have you created and released lately?"

http://sites.google.com/site/annarborasa/Home

We're going to try to put our next SAS class, and the 'Statistics with Excel' class on the web, for those who want to Build Character at home.


204:

So, here's my problem with this argument: you have a "left" (arbitrary handedness, here, unrelated to broader political associations) side that quite reasonably sees their expenses climbing, their potential to save dwindling and and ever-increasing number of entities demanding a monthly stipend in return for some sort of proprietary whatnot. On the "right" you have creators of content demanding a decent living wage.

So... the question is: if my costs are going up and your profits are going down, where's the money going?

The answer is that I'm paying massive margins for what has become a mandatory part of modern life: an Internet service. So I look around and see that books are now available as electronic files. Great, so I should be able to get those cheaper, right? After all, I'm paying the distribution cost already to my ISP, right?

None of these things are, in and of themselves, wrong. The consumer and the author are trying to figure out what makes sense and will get them fed. The problem is that both of their needs can't be satisfied without fundamentally changing their relationship and what the correct configuration is isn't clear yet.

So yes, some publishers just take to abusing their customers (RIAA). Some consumers take to end-running the whole publishing model to build what they see as the solution to their own problem while ignoring the needs of the content authors (your Usenet "contributor" example). Yep, that's what happens in a broken system.

Perhaps the right solution will involve finding a technological way to re-invigorate the sense of value in owning books, making a first edition once again actually of substantial value above and beyond that of the run-of-the-mill copy. Perhaps it will involve electronic bookshelves of tablet-like devices. Perhaps it will just require an author who captures people's imaginations and then takes control of the conversation. I don't know.

What I do know is that as long as both sides keep yelling at each other and failing to consider each other's points of view, we're just going to be miserable or mad or both.

205:

He blames the Web's tradition of "drive-by anonymity" for fostering vicious pack behavior on blogs

Anonymity isn't the problem. People simply are bad at writing.

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