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The Commercial Market Failed Me, So ...

October 15, 2007
New York, N.Y.

You know what I hate about capitalism? As economic systems go, capitalism is pretty much the best. But way too often it violates my sense of entitlement and instant gratification.

Don't get me wrong: I'm no commie. I'm an American. And as an American I feel I should be able to buy whatever I want whenever I want it. That's what the free market is all about. Read The Wealth of Nations if you don't believe me.

But capitalism is not perfect, and sometimes the commercial market fails us. I don't know: Maybe the invisible hand has an invisible broken finger. So what are we supposed to do? Just live with deprivation? Are you kidding me? That's not the way I was raised!

An example: Just the other day I was at a diner ordering a burger. I wanted bacon on my burger, but all they had was that stupid Canadian bacon. What's next? Canadian fries? Reluctantly I accepted the Canadian bacon, and even got them to throw in an extra slice. But the commercial market failed me so I had no choice but to skip out without paying the check.

The other week I made a special trip to a local electronics store to buy some CDs. But the store was closed for some holiday nobody told me about. The commercial market failed me, so I had no choice but to break into the store and take what I wanted.

Then I was on the subway and I thought "Why am I buying CDs? What I need is an iPod!" I looked around the subway car for a store selling iPods, but I couldn't find one. The commercial market definitely failed me, but fortunately a few other passengers had iPods, so I was able to snag one right as the car pulled into a station and make a quick dash out. (That lady sure had the worst taste in music. I probably should have hit her harder.)

Another example: Like Jeff Atwood, I'm a major fan of the seminal television series Boomtown. Alas, Boomtown was way ahead of its time, and the audience back in 2002 was just too naive to grasp its complex narrative techniques. The series was cancelled midway in its second season, orphaning the episodes and preventing their appearance on DVD. Once again, the commercial market failed me.

Fortunately, flaws in the free market are easily remedied with BitTorrent, which is such a totally cool piece of technology that it transcends copyright law and lays waste to whiny content creators. Think of it this way: If I wasn't able to download the abbreviated second season of Boomtown, then the terrorists have won.

BitTorrent is also great for downloading books. Don't even get me started on how the commercial market fails us with books.


Comments:

I agree - I read Jeff's article too and thought that his statement would be an open invitation to get nicked!

— Steve, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 10:41:28 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Mr Petzold,

From what I understand, you probably have never used BitTorrent, and you were annoyed by the fact that Mr. Atwood used it to download copyrighted material, using the excuse that "the market has failed" on him. Although you have all the rights to criticise him on his acts, Mr Atwood's remarks can't be used as a reason to call all BitTorrent users thieves. This is a statement I totally disagree with.

Are you aware that BitTorrent is used to distribute legitimate content? E.g. several Linux Distributions CD's and DVD's, PC Games Updates and works from several underground music artists? Moreover, are you aware that film studios are also interested in using BitTorrent to distribute online content?

As a reader (and buyer) of your books, and also as a Bittorrent user who does not download pirated material, I would like to ask you to acknowledge that BitTorrent is used for many useful and fair things. I understand that seeing your work being illegally distributed is very annoying, but please don't blame a tool for whatever unfair acts some of its users may perform.

Thanks for your attention!

— anonymous, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 10:51:18 -0400 (EDT)

I have used BitTorrent. Most recently I used BitTorrent to download a copy of my copyrighted book Applications = Code + Markup. — Charles

Wow, I missed the sarcasm for most of the first half of this post. I was actually thinking you were bonkers until I realized the real point you were trying to make. In the end, I have to agree. I've always found it interesting what excuses people in the digital age resort to making to allow them to ignore laws they don't like. Obviously people have always done this, but today it's a little easier to get away with some things (digital copying, for instance), and it's easier to band together like minded people and actual encourage others to join.

wekempf, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 11:02:37 -0400 (EDT)

"Don't even get me started on how the commercial market fails us with books."

Like how all of the information in modern programming books is readily available online for free?

— Dan, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 11:12:54 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, you have successfully convinced me that Jeff's downloading of _Boomtown_, a series that the content creators have given up on and are not even trying to make money on, is morally equivalent to violently mugging a lady for her iPod.

But seriously for a moment, copyright law used to succeed because you had to be a printer to be a book pirate. That was expensive and easy for the government to stop.

Nowadays, when any average citizen can be a book (or mp3) pirate, the only thing that props up copyright law is individual morality. That's only going to last as long as individuals think they are getting treated fairly. As soon as the majority of the population starts thinking that content creators are "whiny" you can kiss the force of copyright law goodbye.

If I were content creator, I would be a lot more afraid when my customers are telling me that the market is failing them. I might even try to do something about it. It's hard to compete with free, I realize, but people don't really expect you to. They just expect to be treated reasonably.

thras, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 11:38:48 -0400 (EDT)

"Charles, you have successfully convinced me that Jeff's downloading of _Boomtown_ ... is morally equivalent to violently mugging a lady for her iPod. But seriously..."

Speaking as someone who has actually been mugged (including being knocked down to the sidewalk and kicked), I assure you that seeing my books available for downloading feels pretty much the same. — Charles

If your book was out of print, would it be hurting you to pirate it?

— Scott, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 11:59:22 -0400 (EDT)

"... would it be hurting you ... ?

If you were able to avoid buying a newer edition of one of my books by downloading an older edition, Yes.

If I were trying to persuade another publisher to republish the book but I couldn't demonstrate demand because people were just downloading it, Yes.

If I wanted to establish an exclusive downloading source on my web site so I could entice people to consider buying my other books, Yes.

The point is: It's my book. I created it. And I should have some say in how the book is distributed. Why is this such a difficult concept? — Charles

Scott,

It doesn't matter if something's out of production. Someone holds the copyright to it. It's THEIRS to do with as they wish. Now, it would be nice if the copyright holders of all the old creative works of the world that were out of print would transfer them into the public domain and host them somewhere. But, legally and morally, the choice is THEIRS, not ours.

— David A. Lessnau, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 12:28:34 -0400 (EDT)

First, I think your examples are poor. The market didn't fail, it simply cleared above your price. If you offered to buy everyone's iPod on the subway, certainly many of the people would have offered them up once you hit one or two thousand dollars.

Second, you fail to make any distinction between real property and intellectual property. If ownership is the legitimate right to deny use of something to others, it's obvious that intellectual property is different than real property from both an ethical and practical perspective. The idea of intellectual property is a legal one, and patent, trademark and copyright law were created for pragmatic reasons and not based on an ethical argument.

— JIm, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 12:29:01 -0400 (EDT)

"I have used BitTorrent. Most recently I used BitTorrent to download a copy of my copyrighted book Applications = Code + Markup. — Charles"

You have inspired me to look for your book on various bittorrent cites rather than wait to win it at a local .NET users group.

Charles, you have written many books in your day. Many are probably not relevant in todays tech world. Why not release an old one into the public domain in good faith for freedom of knowledge and culture?

— anonymous troll, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:02:16 -0400 (EDT)

I actually explored the possibility of posting an electronic version of the first edition of Programming Windows on my web site, partially for historical purposes, partially for retro-computing purposes, partially because many people have never seen it. However, the whole project got snagged when my publisher couldn't figure out where the old files were. And the idea of scanning it myself just seemed like too much work. — Charles

The copyright laws are, both legally and morally, outdated, and have been for a long time now. Some were even a bad idea from the start. While there are indeed many cases in which downloading copyrighted content hurts the copyright holder, as Mr. Petzold so angrily pointed out, there are also many cases where it clearly doesn't, and you would have to be a fool to claim otherwise. In some cases, it even helps - free advertising from downloads has been proven to have a positive effect on, for example, rating for TV shows in other countries.

The second part that was brought up is a more difficult one: SHOULD copyright owners have the right to NOT publish something that has a demand ? As a copyright holder, you will of course say that yes, you should have that right, but quite frankly, I would disagree, and it's certainly not a slam dunk decision. Just because you made something once doesn't make you GOD.

Lastly, I'm not surprised Mr. Petzolds books aren't doing well enough (for him), after seeing this infantile flame to another blogger who did not attack him in the slightest, I can only wonder about the quality of said books; the quality of this 'blog post' certainly isn't any higher than that of any random Usenet flame. Maybe he should have gone all out and compare downloading a dead TV show with bloody murder to really demonstrate that he lost all touch with reality. Oh wait, he kinda already did.

— J. Stoever, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:11:06 -0400 (EDT)

Charles,

I am curious how recording said series fits into your thoughts? Specifically, I choose to record the series on my PVR because the market has failed me by not showing it when I am home.

When watching the series, the market fails me by attempting to force me to watch commercials... so I forward or skip through them.

The market fails me by not supplying a DVD, which I would purchase, so that I can watch it with some friends who never got to see it and want to know what I am talking about. So I invite a few over to my home and we watch it, while skipping through the commercials...

What is your assertion there? People doing this are also muggers? If so, have you ever done any of these? Extrapolating out what you said, it could be argued that one is a mugger for even walking away during the commercial or turning because that is what the copyright holder has chosen to make the program paid for by.

Please do not reply by taking simply a snippet.. I am not saying copyright does not have its place. What I am suggesting however is that it is a slippery slope. If you think a DVR/tape machine recording, fast forwarding etc. is out line then I do disagree. Finally, explain how it is different to watch a show that has neen recorded (not ripped from a DVD or something purchased) whether it be from a cancelled 2002 show or one from 2 weeks ago, that was had via BT rather than your own DVR or a tape from a friend, or just someone else you ran into, say, at the gym who liked the show? Not to mention the fast forwarding.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:12:41 -0400 (EDT)

To be fair, I want to emphasize that I did rent the Boomtown DVDs from Netflix-- you can see this activity in my rental queue, so I'm not fudging that part of the story. I only went to BitTorrent when I couldn't get episodes from season 2 through any legitimate channel (that I know of, anyway).

Jeff Atwood, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:18:23 -0400 (EDT)

Thanks, Jeff! In reading your blog entry this morning, I was actually more amused by the idea that you simply had no other recourse but to download the missing episodes with BitTorrent. The alternative, of course, is simply doing without, or perhaps waiting and hoping, but those seem to be foreign concepts in an "on demand" world.

Believe me, I could tell you some hair-raising stories from those distant days when there were at most just two opportunities to see a particular episode of a TV program, and The Wizard of Oz played just once a year. Of course, people were miserable back then. It's astonishing how suicide rates plummeted when the VCR was introduced.

— Charles

@JIm: Where's the ethics in theft? Jeff Atwood blatantly mentioned downloading copyrighted material, because in some selfish way, he thinks he has a *right* to do so.

We live in a society of laws. If you don't like the laws, work to change them. If you break them, be prepared to deal with the consequences.

— Richard, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 13:32:27 -0400 (EDT)

You're equivocating between actual property and intellectual property, and, instead of making an argument, repeating that equivocation in order to hypnotize people into a moral equivalence between breaking windows and ladies on trains and downloading publicly broadcasted television programs.

It's silly. Why write it at all? At least Jeff's indictment of market efficiency was a side note to an evaluation of the display of data in the UI of one of his favorite pieces of software.

And as silly as Jeff's statement sounds, it doesn't seem at all obvious that a market that restricts the free transmission of easily reproducible speech in order to prop up an obsoleted distribution infrastructure DOESN'T have an obligation to make that material available through legitimate channels or lose that exclusivity. Last time I looked, it was actually written in the Berne convention on copyright, though Digital Millennium probably superceded it.

— Jamaal, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 14:24:43 -0400 (EDT)

While we are at it, we need a new term. "Theft" implies taking something away so that someone else doesn't have it anymore. Copying might be illegal and even immoral, but it is very different from what people usually consider "theft".

— J. Stoever, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 14:15:12 -0400 (EDT)

I totally agree with you, even the bit about publishers ripping off authors, as you said a different story. Not being available anywhere else doesn't mean you lose your rights to it (though the Office was resurrected partly due to internet downloads, albeit legal ones).

One thing that irks me that never seems to get mentioned though, is in capitalism the price is "whatever the market will bear". That usually means a high number, but we must remember that it can mean you need a lower number too.

The part that irks me is that, clearly, most of the market isn't bearing $25 CD's, $50 movies, $2000 software, or even $80 computer books. Normal people are resorting to stealing -- that should signal the market isn't bearing the price. Even that is ok, but they expect (and get) taxpayer money to be used to enforce their high prices. It is somewhat akin to the price of bread going up to $20, and then the food companies expecting me to pay to put people who steal it in jail. And yes I feel music is essential as bread, you could always eat corn or rice if you didn't like the price, but some people prefer bread. Maybe tea is a better example, it has more historical weight : ). At least no one is going to war over $25 CD's.

Why is it that the stuff that really 'pirated' is always overpriced? Rolex watches, fancy bags, software, music... People aren't pirating dodge neons. Dell PC's are a big pirated item either. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to let these people charge whatever they think they can get -- just if they can't get it, it isn't my problem.

As for their own enforcement, well that is their right to try, but then they should be clear then, that the real business they are in is threatening/scaring people into paying more than the market can bear for their product. That is ok too, but they shouldn't expect too many cheerleaders on the sidelines. And I think that is exactly where we are today, pretty much as you would expect.

Btw, the market clearly 'bears' your books more than most, that is the real way forward here imo, value for money : ).

Robin Debreuil, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 14:49:16 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, you really aren't a very bright person it seems.

None of your examples were valid comparisons to Jeff's situation. He wanted to watch season 2 of a cancelled show, there is no legal way for him to acquire the DVD's, so he downloaded it.

In each of your examples, the counter-party was harmed, either financially (loss of future sales, ie: the next day), or through loss of property. The burger comparison is just totally brain dead.

Who has lost in Jeff's scenario? He does not have the option to purchase, and presumably, this option will not be offered (this is a total assumption on my part, but if we study the history of recently shows cancelled in mid season, do they tend to subsequently release the partial season on DVD or not? I include this link to a definition of the word tend, as I sense you have the type of brain that will have difficulty with the previous sentence:

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/tend

So, if they do not in fact release the final season, and it is not just a matter of time before they release it, where is the harm? The show producers are no worse off, and Jeff is better off. In this situation, would it be preferable to have Jeff unhappy. How does this benefit society?

Now....if the producers decided for some unusual reason, to pull the show and intentionally not release on DVD, not for economic reasons, but because they (for whatever reason) don't want anyone to see season two (which is their right, as copyright holders), then Jeff has in fact violated their right and caused harm (at least according to the producers).

Which scenario do you think is most likely?? And, to keep you honest, if you reply to me, are you willing to bet money on which scenario you think it is? :)

— Trevor, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 14:55:44 -0400 (EDT)

Why didn't they release the second season? Will they someday release the second season? How much will it cost? Will there be special features? It's all just

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/speculation

You don't really know. But it's convenient for you to speculate in such a way that allows you to do whatever you want.

Why not let the people who actually own the copyright make the decision whether it's available or not? And why can't you simply

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/respect

that decision? — Charles

@charles

As asked above but not answered - then why let people record and skip past ads? Not watching ads is akin to stealing is it not? Placeshifting?

You are looking at it from one distinct view while conveniently ignoring what I asked above as well as harm. So again, is recording something on a DVR, fast forwarding through commercials and/ or loaning it to or viewing it with friends not then the same. It is all circumventing what the market is providing either by time, place, cost (forced to watch ads) etc. Your assertion can be taken to absurd levels and still be valid as you have described it.

As someone in the software industry that has had their work pirated, repeatedly, I also understand the pain of work being "stolen". That being said, breaking into a store or getting around something in order to not pay for it is not akin to Jeff's example.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 15:58:18 -0400 (EDT)

At this point I would be rehashing arguments that have already been thoroughly hashed. The United States Supreme Court decided the VCR "time-shifting" case in 1984 and cited "fair use." Fair use is a useful concept. It allows flexibility without going nuts. It lets us record for our own use, and even lend tapes to others, without fabricating some ridiculous "slippery slope" that then lets us rationalize widespread copying and sharing. — Charles

No, actually it isn't "just speculation". Thats why I gave you that link.

If we look at all the cases where shows were cancelled in the 2nd season, and we can historically see that, 90% of the cancelled shows do NOT release the 2nd season on DVD, we it seem more reasonable to assume Boomtown 2nd season:

a) Will be released on DVD

b) Will not be released on DVD

"Why not let the people who actually own the copyright make the decision whether it's available or not?"

Because Jeff wanted to watch the show, thats why. And if it causes no harm to the copyright holder, whats the problem?

I'd be interested in you addressing my point about your examples not being valid to Jeff's situation.

And I would also like for you to point out to me the harm Jeff has done, if it plays out that they do NOT release the DVD.

— Trevor, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:05:49 -0400 (EDT)

"Because Jeff wanted to watch the show, thats why."

Thank you for explicitly making my point. "Because Jeff wanted to watch the show" apparently overrides all other considerations. Because not having something one wants is intolerable. Because it's all about me, and what I want, and I don't care about anybody else, including people who own the rights to what I want.

Go back and read the first three paragraphs of my blog posting. That was the attitude I was satirizing. The "narrator" of this blog entry cannot tolerate the idea that a restaurant may have run out of an item, or a store might close for a holiday that is not of his religion, or he doesn't have an iPod but other people do.

The market failed me and hence, I am justified in doing whatever's necessary to right this grievous wrong and satisfy my petty desires. — Charles

"We live in a society of laws. If you don't like the laws, work to change them. If you break them, be prepared to deal with the consequences."

If this is just about the law, then let me point out that in the U.S., Congress has yet to pass a law making receiving illegally copied goods illegal. Only distributing them is punishable.

thras, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:19:37 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, I understand and respect that the content creator has the final say over what happens to the content.

However, I think this is a matter of scale.

Let me ask you: If I had taped the Boomtown episodes that were broadcast, and lent Jeff my tapes, would that be wrong?

What if I made a copy of the tapes?

What if I made a perfect copy of the tapes?

What if I made a perfect copy of the tapes to my 1.5 million buddies around the world?

— tcliu, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:34:54 -0400 (EDT)

OK. OK. OK. Not OK. (Is that the right answer?) — Charles

I think today we think about copyright too much in the terms of what media companies want us to think and not enough in the terms that our founding fathers wanted us to think. Copyright is all about the greater good of the population and not about the pocket book of one creator. Is it surprising that music and art were not originally considered copyrightable? Not so much since music doesn't have as much tangible benefit as a scientific book. The founding fathers did recognize that there would need to be an incentive for individuals to create content. To provide that incentive they created the idea of a time limited monopoly on the content. After which time expires the content goes into the public domain thereby benefiting society as a whole. Its unfortunate to Mr. Petzold and society as a whole that the original 10 year period through a series of domestic laws and international treaties has become 75 years after the death of the author. I'd like to hear how a book on Windows programming will be valuable to society 75 years after Mr. Petzold dies will be of any benefit to any but the nerdiest archeologist.

Please don't think of this message as a justification for copyright infringement. A wise man once said to "give to Caesar what is Caesar's." Like those he said it to I don't have to agree with nor like Caesar.

— Sam, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:40:00 -0400 (EDT)

I find it funny that the same people who can't understand why people who create something over the course of a year+ of sweat and money hope (and have the right) to be able to do with it as they please, yet guard things like their email address or identity with every law and moral argument available.

If you want your privacy and free will with something that petty, why not us too?

Robin Debreuil, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:45:13 -0400 (EDT)

Charles,

I don't know if it is correct, but it is close to my belief. I'd be OK, borderline, borderline, not OK.

— tcliu, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:52:35 -0400 (EDT)

> Because not having something one wants is intolerable. Because it's all about me, and what I want, and I don't care about anybody else, including people who own the rights to what I want.

Personally, I feel that the sins of obscurity and artificial scarcity override these more theoretical concerns. The fact that we're even *talking* about Boomtown, a relatively unpopular but criticially acclaimed show from 2003, is ample evidence of the positive results.

I'm not advocating theft. I advocate getting good things in front of the people who most appreciate those good things. It's not my fault there is no legal way for me to do this, but given the choice between the content falling into total obscurity and the content enjoying a sort of cult classic status among fans, I believe the content creators-- if they're smart-- would much prefer the latter outcome.

Yes, it's still illegal. I never said it wasn't. It would be better for everyone if season 2 was released on DVD. But as it stands, this is a crime with no victim, and a crime that results in a lot of unusually positive outcomes.

Jeff Atwood, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 16:56:28 -0400 (EDT)

"I believe the content creators-- if they're smart-- would much prefer the latter outcome."

So, rather than attempt to find out what they would prefer, or to accept the decision they've already made, you unilaterally decide what you want them to prefer. And then you rationalize your decision by saying that this is exactly the decision they would prefer if they were as smart as you. — Charles

Here is the problem: If people who are interested in watching Season 2 are now downloading the movie, then the DVD will likely never come out, because there is no more audience for it.

That is an economic loss to the producers.

At this moment, no one knows what the intentions of the producers are. The fact that no DVD exists now cannot be used to justify the assumption that no DVD will be available in future. But because this assumption is made and the movie downloaded, it will turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Krishna Kumar, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:10:54 -0400 (EDT)

@charles

Once again you avoided the actual question with regards to the analogy you used. The slippery slope is the absurdity you spouted off. While you meant it as satirical, the point you were making is still there and would imply that you are against the very principles of fair use. In fact, it has not been determined if video such as used by Jeff would be classified as fair use. This has not yet been decided in court... i.e. essentially watching a video tape that has been transferred over the network from one person to another. That is distinct from sharing DVDs that have been copied and thus available for purchase. The same can be stated of place shifting.

The slippery slope is this - according to your absurd analogies, you agree with the those in television that want to make it impossible to forward through commercials because they own the content and that is how they pay for it. You also agree that as content owners, they can put a flag on that states you cannot record it. Your statement about fair use being decided illustrates naiveté at best and simply trying to protect your interests only at worst.

Look at the bigger picture and stop using the satirical nature of your post as both a crutch but yet as something that should be serious.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:17:37 -0400 (EDT)

I actually have written an entire book that demonstrates how to resolve all copyright issues to everyone's satisfaction, but I have chosen not to publish it or make it public in any way. — Charles

"So, rather than attempt to find out what they would prefer, "

Better write the producers a letter Jeff and ask them if they would prefer that you not download season 2 of the show. I'm sure they would be extremely happy if the few hundred or few thousand or however many people who really want to watch season 2 of that show and happen to know how to use BitTorrent to get it decided to ask for their permission to download it.

Never mind that the creators of the show most likely don't own the distribution rights for the show and have no say in whether the two episodes of season 2 ever gets put on store shelves.

Point is, if there was a chance of such an item making money for someone somewhere it would already be out there. Since it isn't out there it's logical to assume it never will be.

Now I'm going to download some of Charles' books via BitTorrent and then delete them in a virtual book burning ceremony.

— Harvey, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:24:08 -0400 (EDT)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

"Because Jeff wanted to watch the show, thats why."

Thank you for explicitly making my point. "Because Jeff wanted to watch the show" apparently overrides all other considerations. Because not having something one wants is intolerable. Because it's all about me, and what I want, and I don't care about anybody else, including people who own the rights to what I want.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

"apparently overrides all other considerations"

No, this attitude you have an issue with would be applicable to the scenarios you described, which are not comparable to Jeff's situation. The difference is, in Jeff's situation, someone is *potentially* harmed, and as I explained, the likelihood of the harm actually occurring is likely very remote. The genuine problem we have in society that you are complaining about is not the same as Jeff's situation.

If you are observing an argument between 2 people, take not of anyone avoiding questions. For example, in our argument, note that you will not address my points about how your comparisons are invalid, or how harm comes about, or whether you think it is likely the 2nd season DVD will be produced. (If they have no intent whatsoever of producing it, then there is no harm done to them, period.)

In *your* scenarios, I would agree with you 100%. In this scenario, where is the harm to the copyright owner?? (Krishna Kumar seems to get it and points out the potential harm.)

— (anonymous), Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:23:59 -0400 (EDT)

Re:"What if I made a perfect copy of the tapes to my 1.5 million buddies around the world?"

"Not okay"

How does that make sense? So you are essentially stating it is okay to "steal" and give it to a few friends but not x amount that you have decided is okay? It honestly seems like you are simply picking, choosing, and making it up as you go along.. with you being the judge/jury of what the line is.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:24:14 -0400 (EDT)

I think the solution to this back and forth is that a small amount of copying is OK - after all, even Metallica admits to taping record off each other like crazy in high school.

The problem with the pirate scene is that suddenly the amount of copying reaches a level where it is harmful.

It's like stress. A little bit of stress is good for performance, but as the stress increases, performance drops.

— tcliu, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:25:59 -0400 (EDT)

Right — it's called "making a distinction," also known as "not sweating the small stuff."

It's the same distinction we use when we say that driving 1 mile over the speed limit is OK, but driving 1.5 million miles over the speed limit is not OK.

It's the same distinction we use when we say that shouting out "Eureka" in the workplace once is OK, but shouting it 1.5 million times is not OK.

I could go on and on, I guess. But ben b might want to ask me as an author if it's OK to lend a copy of my book to a friend. I'll say "Sure, no problem." Now ask me if it's OK to make scans and distribute the files to all of one's online "friends." I'll say "No, that's not something I'd like you to do with my book." — Charles

The problem with this is that the work is essentially abandoned. And when something is abandoned by the creator, for whatever reason, fans feel that they can do what they want with it. It's the digital equivalent of homesteading. Of course, if at some time in the future, the copyright holder sees the public interest in the product and decides that there is a market for it that they can capitalize on, they will reassert their rights. At that point, unlike homesteading or squatting, the squatters will be kicked out.

Of course, there is also a lot of distribution of works that are still available commercially. For that, there really isn't much of an excuse.

— Brendan Dowling, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:27:00 -0400 (EDT)

"I actually have written an entire book that demonstrates how to resolve all copyright issues to everyone's satisfaction, but I have chosen not to publish it or make it public in any way."

Now that is funny!

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 17:38:13 -0400 (EDT)

There are two similar scenarios that come to mind for me:

The video game industry historically abandoned games after being on the market for a while. A whole class of people decided these abandoned games were fair game since they weren't harming anyone. Well, turn the dial forward several years and the same companies (or companies that now own the rights) decide to release the games. Was it OK to pirate the game during the period when it wasn't available and there were no plans to make it available?

Disney. They love to warehouse movies and then "re-release" them with extra features (even if the extra feature is just new cover art). I hate the business tactic, but it's their right, they own the copyright. If I owned the copyright to a book, I'd be pissed off if people are pirating it during my period of no sales to increase demand.

I personally have only ever used Bittorrent for the few times when a recording of a show I made was incomplete. I feel that was morally OK, but no doubt it's nevertheless illegal.

— Scott, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 19:07:35 -0400 (EDT)

How do the analogies laid out in your post have anything to do in relation with Jeff's downloading of Boomtown?

Jeff downloading Boomtown:

He has no (legal) source to receive Boomtown Season 2 from.

Even if we assume that the producers will eventually release a DVD, /right now/ there is no harm being done. He cannot be accused of pirating a DVD which /does not exist./

Bacon on your burger:

At this restaurant, bacon may not be available. However, unlike Jeff's situation, the commercial market has not failed you. You can go to a number of other area restaurants and get bacon on your burger, Jeff, has nowhere to go to receive Season 2 with his burger.

Breaking into CD store:

You are not only committing a crime of stealing, but also of breaking and entering. Once again, the commercial market, has once again not failed you.

1) You could be nice and leave the $20 USD + Tax after taking the CD and a note to explain.

2) You could, once again, seek viable alternatives to this particular store. (Or even electronic alternatives like iTunes Music Store)

Versus Jeff's case, he could NOT leave money somewhere, as there is no publisher for the, non-existent, DVD.

(And, once again, he has no viable, legal alternatives)

iPod:

Firstly, you could have simply bought the iPod from another location, or, perhaps struck a deal with the lady, as opposed to stealing it.

In none of these examples has the commercial market failed you. There are alternative ways of handling all your situations.

The only way Jeff could have potentially resolved his situation to his benefit, would be to download Season 2.

As no DVD exists, this is not harming the creators and/or producers of the show. If a DVD were to be made, Jeff may be compelled to buy it still for possible "extra-features".

You cannot steal something that does not exist.

After a TV show has ceased to run, there will be no revenue to be had by the company anyways, via legal or illegal methods.

If anything this has HELPED this show, maybe people were inspired by Jeff's post to go and legally purchase or rent Boomtown Season 1 on DVD.

Basically, your analogies have nothing on Jeff, simply because, you are talking about tangible, existent things. What Jeff has stolen, does not exist.

Also, you have replied to some comments above, saying that we make assumptions that the producers would "want" us to download this, or that we make assumptions that the producers will never produce a DVD.

Your argument is then extremely flawed, seeing as you are just assuming the negative, by debating that they would want just the opposite.

In the end, it is not up for you to decide.

You do not speak for all copyright holders, it is ultimately up to the producers of Boomtown to decide.

However, Jeff would be able to stand in a court of law and be found innocent. Simply because he has stolen what does not exist.

Robert, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 19:25:40 -0400 (EDT)

It is my experience that people who download copyrighted material using BitTorrent simply do not care what the creator of that material thinks about their actions.

For example, let me say flat out: "Please do not download my book using BitTorrent. Buy a copy instead. Here's why: When you buy a copy, I get a small fraction of the cover price that helps me pay my rent and electricity so I can write more books in the future. When you download my book using BitTorrent, all I get a slap in the face."

Do you honestly believe that statement from me will affect future downloads of my book? — Charles

Thanks for posting this thought provoker. I’ve downloaded music years ago when the Internet was new. At the time maybe things were up in the air about whether downloading music was like listening to the radio or maybe it was theft. After a while it has become clear it’s not a new free media and is indeed considered by general consensus that it is theft.

Speak your mind Charles. You’ve put in the effort. You are entitled to be heard.

— Lyall, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 19:35:58 -0400 (EDT)

Methinks you doth protest too much. Have you ever tried using a downloaded book? I have a number of Apress books that included a free PDF version. The PDF version can be useful to keep on my laptop for reference in an emergency, but its not much fun to use, even if it is more searchable.

I doubt you're really losing huge numbers of sales because people can download your books over BT. More likely, people who get electronic versions of your book fall into several broad categories:

  • digital packrats who download everything but rarely use anything, and who wouldn't have bought your book anyway
  • people who just wanted to look up one or two things, and who could have found the information online with a bit of searching, and probably wouldn't have bought your books anyway
  • people who were interested in your book, downloaded it to look at, and found it not very interesting, and wouldn't have bought it anyway.
  • as above, but who found the book sufficiently useful to justify the cost, and who went out and bought the hard copy because reading a digital copy sucks so badly

Advances in e-readers may change these dynamics by making digital books more comparable to hard copy, but for now, at least, you probably gained as many new buyers as you lost. Second hand book sales at sites like Amazon likely have a much bigger impact on the money you make from a book than BT does.

— gram, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 20:13:01 -0400 (EDT)

Once again, I think you have mixed things up. You are presuming to be the judge and jury.. you are setting the line as though you are correct and all else is not. You draw a line, with your post, but then you choose to move it when people ask. It apparently is okay for a person to steal something and then loan it to 1, 2, 3 people? But not to whomever else they want? That is not how law works - thus the slippery slope you mocked. If it is wrong, it is wrong, thus my question to you about loaning out tapes or fast forwarding things. Your statement about speeding is also interesting - it is actually still against the law either way. You now are contradicting your earlier statements, earlier you likened mugging to watching the off air, not for sale item as the same... no degrees there. Now are you want to add degrees.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 20:42:20 -0400 (EDT)

ben, i generally agree with what you are saying, but the law makes these degree distinctions all the time - i.e.

it is _more illegal_ to drive 40 miles over the limit than 1.

it is _more illegal_ to posess 2 pounds of pot than 1 gram.

for many crimes at some point, you cross a threshold where the punishment is not worth the pursuit, and it becomes "effectively legal", but those distinctions are generally in the eyes of the enforcer.

— will g, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 21:24:44 -0400 (EDT)

Please nobody is starving or living on the street because a percentage(??) of people do not pay for their music, films, books or TV shows. The privileged get to worry about the trivial - there are more important things to get worked up about.

— Anon, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 21:26:45 -0400 (EDT)

"When you buy a copy, I get a small fraction of the cover price that helps me pay my rent and electricity so I can write more books in the future."

I think that is one of the things that makes people feel it isn't such a crime. The average band gets a 'contract' which is actually a loan that is used to pay the record company (handsomely) to record and distribute your music. So the band pays, but then the record company still gets ownership of the product, huh. So in the end the band makes zero on the record, and tours like mad to pay off the loan. When you pirate a song, you are really stealing from the record company -- when you sneak into a concert or steal a t-shirt you are stealing from a band. So why do bands do it? Well record companies have illegally controlled radio airplay for years -- not a myth, they have been proven guilty in court and 'punished' repeatedly, including in the last year. So no record deal, no distribution.

People feel less bad about stealing from a record company, as the feeling is the record company is stealing from them. Would it be moral to pirate an album and send the band $5? I think so. Legal? No, but then again record companies break the law for their own profit too. So did Microsoft.

At least let's not confuse moral with legal. It is a legal system, not a justice system. Was it morally OK to download the TV shows? Well there is a good argument. Was it legal? Clearly no, but that doesn't always mean you have to feel morally tarnished either.


"You cannot steal something that does not exist." Uhh, it exists, its on bit torrent right?


The death of computer books imo is they aren't searchable. I would love to be able to tick off the books I own and download them. If Google (or bittorrent) allowed me to check off all the books on my shelf, and then include those in search results (see p.342 in book xx), I would LOVE it. Unfortunately the publishing industry seems to be filled with the same people in the record industry.

Robin Debreuil, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 21:35:04 -0400 (EDT)

Charles: I'd love to see the first edition, I have all the others. And I have extra copies of your books for the office. Please keep writing.

Everybody else: Please check out the work of Lawrence Lessig, in particular, his book "Free Culture" (www.lessig.org). The book is not about "giving things away", instead it's how copyright interacts with a culture. My thumbnail sketch: Did you know Shakespeare's work was under copyright for 150 years? And that between 1710 and 1774 Britain's Parlament created the public domain, in part because copyright holders (publishers) kept the knowledge of the culture (locked up in books) at too high a price? Long copyright terms hurt Britain's competitiveness around the world. Today, of course, US Congress extends copyright whenever the Disney Company wants it extended...we are at 90 years, I think.

Was Boomtown abandoned? How do we know? One of Lessig's hot items is what happens to abandoned works. When making copies of old material, you need to track down the right holders of each of the parts. If copyright extends for decades, it gets harder. When it's too expensive to track down the copyright holders, the material is not released for fear of copyright infringement, and culture goes into a black hole. (People are hard at work trying to solve that problem).

— Paul Dougherty, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 23:12:06 -0400 (EDT)

Anybody interested in these issues might want to check out John Robbins' blog entry on "Why I'm Not Writing a Native C++ Debugging Book".

The reasons why: Declining sales of programming books and piracy. (And John apparently doesn't read my blog, so his take is completely independent of mine.)

Did someone say that piracy doesn't hurt anyone? What about those people looking forward to John's book? — Charles

@Will. I agree.. That is the problem I have with comparing mugging to downloading a program that is not on air, not for sale, or available. Those are different degrees. Charles started by putting them in the same realm and then conveniently changed it to a degrees issue. You cannot have it both ways.

@Charles. Pirating a book, cracking software etc. is not in the same realm as downloading a not for sale, not available item. **It is more akin to checking out a book at the library that is out of print.** In the present state, downloading and watching the video is not costing anyone money, nor is Jeff nor the others profiting. If or when the video came out on DVD and was for sale then the question becomes whether someone is then stealing what is for sale.

— ben b, Mon, 15 Oct 2007 23:37:01 -0400 (EDT)

I have a great reason not to buy your books, Charles.

Because it's possible to get them online? True, but no.

Because every idea in them is already available, free of charge, from independent sources all over the web, on demand? True, but no.

Because print is dead? True, but no.

It's because: the author seems to be under some strange sort of delusion that a set of words printed in a book is the same thing as a hamburger. Dementia does not make for a trustworthy source.

Whaaaambulance Driver, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 00:00:36 -0400 (EDT)

Well, about this being a crime --

1) How come I have never heard of a law against downloading pirated anything ... only distributing it? Can someone point me to this law, since everyone insinuates that's illegal? Or some sort of tort cases.

2) If the season would never be released, then morally who was being hurt and how? However, on the off chance that the season WOULD be released, it is true, Jeff would have the moral obligation to go and buy the season as soon as he found out about it :) Compared to other moral obligations it's probably miniscule, but there.

I am no lawyer, but I believe that equating ____ piracy and stealing is not accurate. Here's why: when you steal X, then not only do you now have X, but whoever you stole it from does not. Piracy, then is only half as bad in that you now have (a copy of) X, but the only thing you have done is hindered the right of the copyright holder to make money from selling it.

Now, by similar reasoning, it would seem that DISSEMINATING copyrighted material is as bad as N x (stealing/2), where N is the number of people that you disseminated the copies to. That's the amount of hurt you dealt to the copyright holder (who may be a millionaire, a starving artist, or a corporation with lots of mouths to feed).

Of course, the content markets are changing. Look at music. When I was growing up, it was super-lucrative to release an album. Now, artists are moving more toward live concerts, because of developments like the iPod and YouTube. But guess what, things like the iPod are great for making people impulsively buy songs, and with DRM may be bringing in a lot more money than and overall than CDs, and with more convenience o the user. Similarly, small clips on YouTube entice many people watch TV shows and movies and a lot of them would probably qualify as fair use.

All I can say is, the landscape is changing. I don't think going after ostensibly upright, honest citizens like Jeff who spend hundreds (if not more) of dollars each year on media, when they download an unavailable episode, is in the RIAA's best interests. Doesn't mean they won't do it, but that's my opinion. The RIAA should focus its attention on bigger things. And why aren't we indignant about all the lobbying going on in congress by companies with lots of money to extend the copyright to a ridiculous amount of time (vs. say patents) ?

All I can say is

Well, about this being a crime --

1) How come I have never heard of a law against downloading pirated anything ... only distributing it? Can someone point me to this law, since everyone insinuates that's illegal? Or some sort of tort cases.

2) If the season would never be released, then morally who was being hurt and how? However, on the off chance that the season WOULD be released, it is true, Jeff would have the moral obligation to go and buy the season as soon as he found out about it :) Compared to other moral obligations it's probably miniscule, but there.

I am no lawyer, but I believe that equating ____ piracy and stealing is not accurate. Here's why: when you steal X, then not only do you now have X, but whoever you stole it from does not. Piracy, then is only half as bad in that you now have (a copy of) X, but the only thing you have done is hindered the right of the copyright holder to make money from selling it.

Now, by similar reasoning, it would seem that DISSEMINATING copyrighted material is as bad as N x (stealing/2), where N is the number of people that you disseminated the copies to. That's the amount of hurt you dealt to the copyright holder (who may be a millionaire, a starving artist, or a corporation with lots of mouths to feed).

Of course, the content markets are changing. Look at music. When I was growing up, it was super-lucrative to release an album. Now, artists are moving more toward live concerts, because of developments like the iPod and YouTube. But guess what, things like the iPod are great for making people impulsively buy songs, and with DRM may be bringing in a lot more money than and overall than CDs, and with more convenience o the user. Similarly, small clips on YouTube entice many people watch TV shows and movies and a lot of them would probably qualify as fair use.

All I can say is, the landscape is changing. I don't think going after ostensibly upright, honest citizens like Jeff who spend hundreds (if not more) of dollars each year on media, when they download an unavailable episode, is in the RIAA's best interests. Doesn't mean they won't do it, but that's my opinion. The RIAA should focus its attention on bigger things. And why aren't we indignant about all the lobbying going on in congress by companies with lots of money to extend the copyright to a ridiculous amount of time (vs. say patents) ?

All I can say is

http://www.dontdownloadthissong.com

Greg

Gregory Magarshak, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 00:07:05 -0400 (EDT)

Computers and programming languages can also be included here because thieves use them to write viruses and other malicious codes to steal money and all that stuff. There are always flip sides. World keeps changing and improving.

Navdeep, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 00:56:08 -0400 (EDT)

Still, whether Jeff's actions are right or wrong doesn't excuse the disingenuous examples you posted attempting to apply moral equivalence to mugging and assault to downloading something that at *this point in time* is not available and is not taking money away from its content creators. So far, nobody has been hurt. There's only the potential for hurt.

Sadly, I expect that sort of reasoning from our polarizing politicians, not from a respectable tech author like yourself.

Sure, Jeff has taken the distribution decision away from them, but it's an easily rectified situation. Should they decide to sell season 2, Jeff can consider buying a copy thus bringing things back in balance.

You might suggest he wouldn't, but until that times come, you don't know that. I think the Radiohead experiment demonstrates that people would rather pay for content when it is fairly priced.

This is not to excuse Jeff and say what he's doing is illegal, but the law doesn't alway represent what is "right" and in the best interests of us all, as history has shown mant times.

Haacked, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 01:05:42 -0400 (EDT)

Charles is right, insomuch that what Jeff proposed was illegal, in that there was some potential effect on the content creators, and that that effect could be negative. He's also right that it's emotionally distressing to content creators to watch intellectual property theft.

Charles is, on the other hand, wildly wrong to say that this is evidence of market failure. You can argue that market failure isn't meaningful, or that it doesn't justify individual actions.

But it's pretty clear that the market for information isn't working at maximum efficency, due to inefficiencies in distribution networks and the existance of oligopies.

That doesn't diminish your hurt (both monetary and emotional), but it does indicate that simply ignoring the underlying problem of market failure isn't going to do anything to substantially alleviate that suffering. Many years and large amounts of money have been spent attempting to convince a substantial group in the general population that violating intellectual property rights is morally right. Moral suasion has failed. Artificial technical restrictions (such as DRM) have largely failed. Market reform is the only way to alleviate your concerns.

Colin Wyers, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 01:24:06 -0400 (EDT)

I thought that originally books was invented for information SHARING, not selling. Am I wrong? :)

— radev, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 02:27:04 -0400 (EDT)

+1 on Charles side (Sorry Jeff I love your writting but your wrong on this one).

1) The creator\owner of content gets a moral and legal right to control how their content is shared.

2) Boomtown's owners (whether or not they are also Boomtown's creators) have not made portions of Boomtown public domain.

3) Jeff aknowledged and willingly ignored the content owners rights. He cant claim fair use if the content was obtained from a pirate. (Maybe if he had taped it or borrowed it from a friend.)

I'm not buying the 'no harm, no foul' argument until someone can get me passed #3.

It doesnt matter how much it grinds *your* gears that *you* have been denied content that has no apparent future value to the owner. You dont have legal or moral justification for appropriating the content.

The customer isnt always right.

--Ifeanyi Echeruo - Unpublished content creator.

— Ifeanyi Echeruo, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 03:18:58 -0400 (EDT)

Why not ask the holder of the copyrighted material (which is nowhere available) for a copy? Sure, the Boomtown producers will not give you one, but in these days, you can easily find many people, who want the same as you. Come together and ask again. Ask till they release it. Or wait till it's repeated on tv (everything get's repeated). Buy a pvr, which is programmable via epg with searchterms, so you don't miss it. You get want you want and you don't break a law. All you need is patience.

— Lars, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 05:41:06 -0400 (EDT)

One aspect that only a few (Krishna Kumar) have touched on is that the copyright holder (whoever produced Boomtown) exercised their right to withhold distribution of the second season. Maybe they were embarrassed by it; maybe they want to release it in 2008 when they produce a tie-in show. In any case it is their choice to make it not available.

Now, suppose the MPAA or RIAA or the Boomtown producers come after Jeff and get a cease-and-desist order requiring Jeff to remove his post from web circulation. If I take a copy his copyright material and post it online, just because I need it then I would be harming Jeff in just the way he is harming the Boomtown producers. Adherence to the law requires Jeff to respect the rights of the copyright holders to withhold all available copies, regardless of need.

Or, consider that Charles manages to buy all available copies of “Applications = Code + Markup”, embarrassed by the trashing that Jeff gave it and wanting to remove it from circulation ;) Just because I may need a copy does not permit me to steal one from Charles.

Shawn Swaner, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 06:14:15 -0400 (EDT)

One thing I find amusing in the Release Group world is the "Nuking" (marking a file as bad) for "stolen" source. The funny part is they don't mean it was stolen from the original producers of the work, they mean that the stolen video was marked as being from a different release group.

That cracks me up. They get so upset over someone "stealing" their "hard work" without ever seeing the irony. They even go so far as to say silly things like, "If people steal other people's releases and label them as their own then it could kill the release scene." Wow, just, wow.

— Unanimous, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 06:34:58 -0400 (EDT)

(i) Copyright infringement is not theft.

(ii) Copyright infringement is not theft.

— Colossal Squid, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 06:47:55 -0400 (EDT)

Hey, welcome to China.

In China, you can buy whatever you want and whenever you want.

:)

brucenan, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 09:17:26 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, as someone who is officially listed as one of my "Favorite authors" on my social networking profile, it's discouraging to hear about the declining state of book sales. Piecemeal information and instant gratification is no substitute for being taken by the hand by a knowledgeable mentor, the feel of flipping through pages, or the smell of new paper. Should you ever choose to go with an independent distribution model, physical or otherwise, you have at least one customer waiting.

There are many justifications why piracy is OK, all of them selfish. Legal obligations aside, it's a slap in the face of the creators you claim to idolize. If your musician, or software developer, or author wanted their stuff to be distributed publicly, they would say so.

"But how does it hurt sales if it's not for sale?". Read previous comments, numerous real world examples were given. At best, it's an insult.

I can only guess that people who hold contrary views are the same people who haven't labored in their highly skilled area for years on a project, to see it available on a torrent site.

Jeff's book isn't available for sale yet. Maybe I should get an advance download of a copy. I promise, if I really like it, and if he doesn't charge more than I feel reasonable, and if he doesn't sign with a publisher that I find distasteful, and if it comes in a red bookjacket, I will most ASSUREDLY actually buy a copy. Probably. Next month.

— Matt, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 11:09:42 -0400 (EDT)

I've had a similar experience with seeing a book I've written (Practical Development Environments, O'Reilly, 2005) available via BitTorrent for free. The first few times, I forwarded details to the publisher, but now that sales are slower, I tend to view it as free marketing.

What I want to see is a model where convenience and presentation is what people pay for, not necessarily content. For instance, if I could go a shop or website and order a set of DVDs of my favorite obscure films and TV shows, I would pay for the convenience. The same goes for books - sometimes I want a printed copy and will pay for the presentation.

The hard part is that I want the free content without being willing to pay for the editorial and marketing effort that publishers bring to the table. And I'm not sure how that can be preserved.

Matt Doar, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 11:46:43 -0400 (EDT)

Of course you have all read this right?

Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution

by Tim O'Reilly

http://tim.oreilly.com/pub/a/p2p/2002/12/11/piracy.html

— (anonymous), Tue, 16 Oct 2007 12:18:30 -0400 (EDT)

@Greg: "How come I have never heard of a law against downloading pirated anything"

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap1.html#106

"...owner of copyright under this title has the exclusive rights to do and to authorize any of the following:

(1) to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies..."

Downloading is, by its very nature, reproducing a work. In this case, a copyrighted work. If the copyright owner has not given permission to do so, it violates strict interpretation of this law.

— Steven, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 14:31:14 -0400 (EDT)

Wow! Your book is available on bittorrent? I was just about to order it off amazon, but now I will download it instead! Thanks for the tip!

— Wiseass, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 15:20:47 -0400 (EDT)

Charles, i downloaded your book. of course, i already own a physical copy of it (and 2 or 3 of your other books). mainly i wanted it in digital format so it would be a) searchable b) easier to carry back and forth between work and home. i'm hoping that you consider that 'fair use'? like ripping a CD or DVD to play on a PMP. granted, i dont have a reasonable method to 'rip' a physical book to a digital format. i'm hoping you wont say that i should just use the index and physically carry it back and forth between work and home each day.

casey chesnut, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 21:00:38 -0400 (EDT)

The companion CD for the 5th edition of Programming Windows contained a copy of the book in .CHM format. At the time the book was first published (1998), I was very much in favor of this feature for precisely the reasons you mention: It's searchable and it can be installed on a notebook.

It seems naive now, but in 1998 I didn't think the potential piracy issue was a big deal. The programmers I knew were very honorable people. They liked my books and they liked me. I knew they wouldn't circulate the .CHM file because they recognized how important book royalties are to the author.

I think my disillusionment came about the 3rd or 4th time I saw the entire text of Programming Windows decompiled into HTML files and posted on someone's web site. And apparently that was only the tip of the iceberg. Apparently the file had a much wider private circulation.

That's why my publisher stopped including ebooks with the sample code, particularly when the sample code became downloadable rather than on a CD.

But all we've done is make it a little more challenging for someone to rip the binding off the book and run the pages through a scanner. And because we've made it more challenging, people have fewer qualms about sharing the thing because some work has been put into the process of digitizing it.

I still think that people who buy one of my books should get both a printed copy and a digital copy. And I totally get the idea that some people might download a copy first and then decide to pay for a printed copy. My friend Bruce Eckel built his entire book-writing career on that concept!

I don't know how much the lack of ebooks is worsening my sales, or the presence of piracy is worsening my sales, or if it's just Google that's worsening my sales. All I do know is that the sales of my books have become so bad that writing another programming book just seems stupid at this point.

— Charles

Seems John Robbins feels the same way:

http://www.wintellect.com/cs/blogs/jrobbins/archive/2007/10/15/why-i-m-not-writing-a-native-c-debugging-book.aspx

— Harold, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 21:36:14 -0400 (EDT)

Gee Charles, looks as though the market has failed you. Perhaps you need to go back to mugging people for their iPods.

How do you feel about property rights in other countries? Specifically, ones where the US conflation of IP and real property has not been imposed yet? I thought copyright is supposed to encourage you to write books, not make it pointless? I gather that the copyright system is not working for you these days. Any suggestions as to how that could be improved? Specifically, how do you make a living now, and how could you be encouraged to be more useful to us rather than just serving as a point of access for lawyers?

— Moz, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 00:38:17 -0400 (EDT)

I have no solutions. I'm just a writer trying to make a living. At this point I'm willing to acknowledge that programming books are no longer feasible, not primary because of piracy, but because programmers learn differently these days and so much information is available on line. I am currently working on a book that is not a programming book. We'll see how that does.... — Charles

Charles, I have been in awe of your work since the original seminal work "Programming Windows". Last book I read (of course I bought it!) was Code.

This discussion shouldn't even be taking place. Those who download stuff outside the parameters set by the OWNERS of the work are thiefs. The only thing separating this from physical theft is it's remote nature and ease. They have absolutely no moral ground on which to base their theft.

To concede their moral point is to lose the argument from the start. YOU are the guy who is morally correct here. If you acknowledge their "right" to your work, in any form, then it's game over. If I have a "right" to your intellectual property, then I have a right to anything and everything that is yours I choose to take. Some may be kind and only take things electronically. Others may not.

This industry owes it's entire existence on producers respect for private property. Without them, we'd all be in the dark.

The real loss will occur when those who produce wake up and stop being chumps. It sounds like Charles hasn't come around to the thief's worldview and he may not produce everything he would have. Thanks thiefs!

— Some Dude, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 13:25:22 -0400 (EDT)

People and companies these days continually renew their copyrights so things don't fall into the public domain. It's a shady practice that was not the original intent of the copyright law.

Charles, if you own a copyright on a book that is no longer in circulation and you aren't collecting any money on it, then why do you still retain the copyright? Either do something with the book to make more money or set it free.

If you have a product, it's in your best interest to monitor the illegal distribution your channels not only to protect your product, but to also monitor the popularity of the product.

People illegally obtain things for one of two reasons...

1) Cost

2) Availability

Both of those can be easily fixed if the people who own the product really want to fix them.

Oh and Charles, you said you could download your own book from a Torrent. I'm curious what the Popularity/Seed Count was on your book.

— Tim, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 13:41:45 -0400 (EDT)

Most of us are looking at these issues of piracy and copyright law from only one point of view: as consumers. It could be entirely feasible that perhaps the creators of 'Boomtown' were in private talks about possibly releasing the previously unreleased set of shows commercially at some point in the future. After all, they created the show and they should be afforded the right to control the future marketing of their product even if its considered abandoned. Perhaps sometime in the future the social climate of the country might be conducive to this type of media creating the potential for turning a profit on these 'lost' series of shows, who knows? But if I were responsible for creating the content I would surely be irate if the potential market for my content was being controlled by those who in no way were responsible for the effort in creating and distributing it! It's sort of like how a vulture might wait for its prey to become weak and die and then swoop in for easy pickings, but in this case the prey (media) is not dead, it's merely dormant - indefinitely.

Perhaps their should be effort aimed at publishers and content creators to encourage releasing dormant material into the public domain, but if they resist, it is still their call.

Imtiaz, Fri, 19 Oct 2007 04:03:48 -0400 (EDT)

You're kind of an asshole. It comes across in your post, Petzold. Shit like this harms your bottom line a lot more than the people who are pirating your work.

You whiny bastard.

Hey, Wed, 12 Dec 2007 22:41:05 -0500 (EST)

I don't think twice about pirating media, for several reasons.

1. For movies/tv shows/etc, it is in no way different to recording it on a vcr and skipping ads.

2. I beleive that ALL knowledge and culture should be public domain.

— TraumaPony, Wed, 13 Aug 2008 09:31:57 -0400 (EDT)

So, in opinion of the esteemed Mr. Petzold, if a television show is neither sold nor broadcast nor available for free through the graces of the Digital Rights Mafia and the media robber barons, and you find someone with a recording of that show and they share the recording with you... this is the equivalent or breaking into a Circuit City and stealing their products, or mugging someone on the subway.

I guess for every Jim Baen in the world, somewhere there is a Charles Petzold. Sad, really.

On the bright side, this blog will save me some money. I won't be buying any more books with your name on the cover.

Brandon Blackmoor, Sat, 13 Dec 2008 13:36:34 -0500 (EST)

comment

> I won't be buying any more books with your name on the cover.

Really? You don't strike me as that petty. — Charles

what about people that literally cannot buy anything and rely on pirated ebooks in order to learn. there isnt much of a morality issue when there is no possible way for someone to buy an ebook, game, etc and there is a good post on youtube on why pirating is ok:

— TWH, Mon, 22 Dec 2008 21:56:07 -0500 (EST)

Thank you for making moral decisions exquisitely simple and straightforward. Now I know what to do when I really need a car and can't afford to buy one. — Charles

Amazing that there is activity on something that is over a year old. Anyways, my take on the matter.

Information technology has made a farce and shambles of the existing copyright and patent systems, and quite possibly represents (or rather, requires) a fundamental shift in the way we view the transmission of creative material.

In the past, the incremental cost of creating and distributing each additional copy of *whatever* (a book, a musical composition, a portrait/painting) was high; for the Bible, the gold leaf illumination of God's Name alone would have been a killer. Gutenberg's press may have helped a bit, but by and large labour and materials cost make up the bulk of the cost. The 'copyright cost', or royalties, made up a small portion of the overall price of these products.

You could see the quality of the products then in the physical form. Hand-bound leather hard covers, for instance. But with the advent of IT, things changed. Incremental costs, for good or ill, of additional copies are essentially *zero*. Sure, you have to host it initially. But with the BT paradigm, suddenly the cost of serving 10 copies and the cost of 1,000,000 copies of anything is pretty much the same, since the incremental costs (already nominal) are apread out across 10,000 users.

Now, your problem is charging pretty much the same amount for the physical as the digital, and that's just plain stupidity at work. You wanna see how online distribution, even with rampant piracy, of electronic books work? Look at Baen books.

All this does not change the fact that copyright infringement is a civil offence. But the time will come when I will be able to walk into a concert (or a movie), experience the full whatever, and have than experience directly downloaded from my brain into a Neural Network Format file for someone else to enjoy. What then? You gonna stop me from sharing MY experiences with whomever I want?

Gregory, Mon, 23 Feb 2009 21:49:08 -0500 (EST)


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