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Muggings

October 16, 2007
New York, N.Y.

In the wee hours of the morning in the early 1990s, while I was walking on East Twenty-Something Street in Manhattan, a young man suddenly ran up behind me and knocked me to the sidewalk. He was immediately joined by two, maybe three, buddies. While kicking me in the side, they removed my wallet from my pocket and the watch from my wrist and then ran off.

The wallet had maybe a hundred-something dollars in cash. (I later found the wallet itself with the credit cards tossed under a nearby car.) The watch was a rather pricey Tourneau "moon phase" that I had recently bought as a special gift to myself after completing the Windows 3.1 edition of Programming Windows.

What hurt most, I think, was the sickening sense of being violated. Some 15 years later, I can almost still feel the hands groping through my pockets, the fingers tearing the watch from my arm. We normally pass our days among our fellow human beings with mutual respect, and when that respect suddenly disappears, the results are shocking.

I've haven't been robbed since on the streets of New York City, but I've had occasion to revist those emotions.

Several times over the past decade, I've seen copyrighted books that I've written posted in their entirety on people's web sites, or available for easy downloading. With a rush of nausea, I feel the same violation, the same sickening sense that my years of hard work are being torn from my being. Both muggings have the same insulting quality, the same lack of common human respect.

Following my apparently provocative blog posting yesterday, readers are still arguing about the legalities and ethics of online publication and downloading. What most people seem to agree upon is that online sharing of copyrighted material is just "not the same" as an actual mugging.

I can only speak for myself, of course, but as a victim of both types of muggings, I'm obliged to tell you that you're wrong.


Comments:

Charles,

As a true pacifist (as exemplified by your previous comments that it was unconscionable for Allied forces to kill German and Japanese soldiers in WWII), I assume you did not fight back, and that you did not have the NYPD fight back on your behalf.

But more to the point, if violation of copyright is equivalent to physical assault, then, as a true pacifist, I'm sure you would agree that it would be "unconscionable" to enforce your copyright, or to have the State enforce it on your behalf. -- David

David Docetad, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 10:45:44 -0400 (EDT)

Yo, David — You're way off topic here! Let it go, OK? I am not some kind of mathematical equation that you can manipulate in search of a contradiction. I'm much messier than that. Rest assured that I do not have a complete solution to the problems of war and violence; otherwise I would have published it on my web site, and now I'd be travelling to Oslo rather than Al Gore!

For the record, any thought about "fighting back" while you're lying on the sidewalk getting groped by 3 or 4 guys half one's age is absurd. Reporting the crime is ridiculous. I have never enlisted the support of the state to enforce my copyright. At the most, I've asked my publisher to help by sending a lawyer's letter to the offending party. This is how we handle disputes in a civilized society. We do not drop bombs on the homes of people who live in the same country as the copyright infinger. — Charles

Yo Charles -- Actually, it appears I'm exactly on topic. You likened copyright infringment to violence, which clealy makes your views on violence relevant and on-topic.

And "for the record" you called killing enemy soldiers, in battle, in war, specifically WWII, "unconscionable." You did not use that term about the bombing of civilian targets. -- David

David Docetad, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 11:51:29 -0400 (EDT)

Make a few simple distinctions here, OK? I was not killed in the mugging. Otherwise, I think we'd all agree that the event would have been worse than copyright infringement. (Duh!) I was not even seriously harmed. I was banged up and a recent dental implant was dislodged. If I were seriously harmed in the event, I would not be likening the event to copyright infringement.

I am saying that the two events feel the same to me in many ways. I am talking about the emotional impact of seeing my copyrighted books available for free. It feels like the mugging felt. I am talking about feeling sick, and nauseated, and distraught, and humiliated, and violated. The only connection between these feelings and World War II exists only in your imagination.

David, I am sorry that the effect of reading one of my earlier blog entries apparently caused a little bug to insert itself in your lower GI system. It's really time to let it go. If I ever post on the subject of non-violence again, you are free to jump in and gleefully take note of every little contradiction that exists in my Weltanschauung. Otherwise, please stay on topic. — Charles

Just as a honest counterpoint: I too have been both mugged and had my book pirated. For me, the mugging was harder to get over. To me, violations of my physical space have been shocking and have intruded upon my psyche for long periods thereafter (I could never enjoy a walk through Boston's Arnold Arboretum again), violations of my intellectual property were disappointing but have never forced their way upon me.

Oh, and I also disagree with your statement that the He-She dialogues in Exit Ghost are "the weakest part of Exit Ghost." If the He-She dialogues _written by Zuckerman_ are impotent, all the more credit to Roth for (once again) brilliantly mirroring his themes within his narrator's subtext.

Larry O'Brien, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 15:42:27 -0400 (EDT)

Thanks, Larry. Obviously it's not hard to imagine a mugging that would have been more traumatic than mine, and I've certainly known others who have been permanently psychologically scarred by such incidents.

Street muggings are impersonal. The mugger targets someone who simply looks normal. (It is well known that one can avoid being mugged by acting like a crazy person!) I found it helpful to realize that the muggers weren't targetting me as a person, but more as a pocket containing cash.

In contrast, the postings and downloadings of books seem much more personal to me. The book is being electronically shared because it's specifically considered valuable by containing important information. People want the book but they couldn't give a crap for the author of the book. I find that hurts me more than an impersonal attack. — Charles

I can't relate to either incident. I've always been to broke to get mugged, and don't have any writings to be posted on the Web.

However, I could see how both can evince feelings of rage, and helplessness at the same time. Just like dealing with comment spammers who think they're being insightful and making a valid argument when in fact they're just removing all doubt.

Michael D. Brown, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 17:18:29 -0400 (EDT)

Hi Charles,

I have yet to buy one of your books, but they are next on my list after I am done with Windows Internals (might be a while).

As a Software Engineers who work and expects to be paid for him work, I have a great deal of sympathy for your position. I have never understood my colleagues who pirate others work and yet expect to be paid for their own work.

I often wonder what the solution is to this issue having witnessed the failure of DRM to protect artists. I doubt that Radioheads recent 'pay what you believe it is worth' appeal to conscience is an answer.

Jeff Atwoods recent arguement that we should not buy his book and John Robbin's statement that he has shelved a planned book really worry me. I continue believe that books have a place in my world, I grew up in this industry with Debugging Windows on my desk and a future without similar new titles is very bleak indeed. I am hoping for a middle road.

It is a sorry situation -- Ray

Ray Kinsella, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 17:22:33 -0400 (EDT)

Charles -- I'm not sure why you appear to be upset and accuse me of trying to find "every little contradiction" when in fact the exchange has shown you to be admirably consistent, if perhaps wrongheaded, in your pacifism. --David.

David Docetad, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 17:29:28 -0400 (EDT)

I'm not surprised that there's theft in the world. However, I am surprised that programmers aren't buying your books by the truck load.

— Neville, Tue, 16 Oct 2007 17:45:02 -0400 (EDT)

(This is a real question, not an attempt at argument)

How do you feel about copying of your work during that window between when your book is no longer published but is still under copyright?

Do you have a threshold for when the desire to retain control over your work overcomes the desire to avoid obscurity?

Books have a great advantage to digital technology in that they don't suffer format obsolescence (just changes in language and ideology making the content less accessible). But because of the sheer amount of books published, more and more bodies of work fall into obscurity.

I have more thoughts on this subject in a post I wrote last february:

http://internetducttape.com/2007/02/18/in-the-future-this-blog-post-will-be-obsolete

engtech, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 02:58:10 -0400 (EDT)

"How do you feel about copying of your work during that window between when your book is no longer published but is still under copyright?"

That "window" is generally quite a long time, and could be as long as a century!

Several years ago Steven Levy wrote a Newsweek column entitled (I believe) "I've Been Napsterized!" where he talked about a college professor who assumed that Levy's book Hackers was out of print and made copies of the book for his students.

Generally, potential readers don't know when a book is officially out of print, and when it's simply between printings. Potential readers don't know if the author is negotiating with another publisher to re-publish the book. Potential readers don't know what the author plans to do with the work. That's why we let the author make the decision and not potential readers. That's what copyright means. — Charles

In Spain the laws allow us to make private copies of copyrighted works except software. We're charged a fee (the "canon") for blank CDs or Xerox machines as a compensation, even it they're not used to replicate copyrighted materials. Even if it's used to record our own photos or make computer backups. The "tax" (not really a tax, but that would be long to explain) currently amounts *more* than the media cost itself. We can still buy the disks in another country from EU, so the local DVD manufacturers have gone bankrupt. I no longer buy any CD or DVD. Before, I bought two or three disks a month.

I feel like living in another planet when I read your "IP" discussions, specially when someone invokes "ethics" as part of the equation. Technical advances have made some business very difficult, if not impossible. Yet they're artificially kept alive, in your country frightening people with lawsuits or asking people to have "ethics", in mine sucking the blood to death of tech industry in favour of "artists".

I bought "Programming Windows 95". I bought one programming book a month by that time. I no long buy programming books either, but that's because most information is in Internet. I still buy books when I need them (not often), but just because I feel more comfortable with a paper book that reading on screen.

Anyway, sorry Charles. It seems that world has changed a lot. Music stars are starting to realize that they can no longer profit from selling records (see Prince, Madonna...) so records are becoming a gift while the real business is playing in concerts. They have been resisting this for years, but it seems they can't anymore. Probably there are other ways to make money for highly talented tech writers like you.

Nico, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 04:08:06 -0400 (EDT)

"The book is being electronically shared because it's specifically considered valuable by containing important information."

I don't know if you've visited any torrent sites, but there definitely isn't a quality threshold for inclusion in their indexes!

As for equating piracy of ones book to mugging, I think you're either deliberately trolling or ill in the head.

"What most people seem to agree upon is that online sharing of copyrighted material is just "not the same" as an actual mugging...I can only speak for myself, of course, but as a victim of both types of muggings, I'm obliged to tell you that you're wrong."

So you're speaking for everyone now are you? We can't disagree because you assume that your opinion is the only valid one? Well, I'm sorry, but the majority of people seem to think that your argument is spurious at best.

Do you equate every download to a lost sale too, like the RIAA and other organisations? If anything, having your publication available online spurs people to invest in a physical copy (well, if the contents were any good).

I bought a physical copy of your Windows Forms book after reading the e-book by the way. I never buy programming books unless they are complemented by electronic versions nowadays, mostly because of search, but also because I can have an entire library on my laptop if I'm travelling.

I'm sure you really don't care about the debate, because you've made your luddite views on electronic books clear in the past. It was the same with the debate on Adam Nathan's WPF book versus yours. BitTorrent isn't going to go away and neither is piracy.

— Dave R., Wed, 17 Oct 2007 10:09:18 -0400 (EDT)

Look back towards the end of the comments for the previous blog entry. I left a comment that begins "The companion CD for the 5th edition of Programming Windows..." where I talk about the experiement with ebooks. I am totally in favor of ebooks for programming texts. But I'm not in favor of seeing my entire book posted on someone's web site. That's what put an end to the experiment. — Charles

I actually totally relate to Charles' postion. I was brought up reading his book on Windows Programming nearly a decade and a half ago and first copy I saw back home was a photocopied version of the original. You see 15 years ago, back home in India, we had these shady Xerox shops that bought (or got hold of somehow) one copy of a well known computer book, photocopied it many hundred times, hard bound it and sold it off at a slightly lower rate than the original. These shops made a killing on Mr. Petzold's book and many others. When I was out starting my career I was literally flabbergasted at this blatant act. Years later the cops made a concerted move to raid all these shops and confiscated their property. This problem I believe no longer exists but has now moved to places like BitTorrent.

Its sad.

— Dilip, Wed, 17 Oct 2007 11:05:49 -0400 (EDT)

Well I can tell you that not having the companion e-book available means that I won't buy your book, period. To be honest, I don't care how much time you put into it or how proud you are of the prose, if you're going to assume that I'm a thief and will post the full text to my web site, then I'll spend my money elsewhere. By not making the digital version available, you're just harming legitimate users and giving the pirates more of a challenge (which they love). It's the same with copy protection on games, DRM on music, you name it - there's no benefit to the consumer, just more hassle and increased anger toward the publisher and artist.

As for whether writing another programming book is practical, I'd suggest that you actually take on board some of the criticism that your WPF book had before blaming pirates or anything else. If your book on graphics programming is pretty much all text, you're not going to sell.

I've read the comments from the previous post and it's just confirmed the impression that you are sarcastic and disrespectful of people who are attempting to engage in a dialogue. These are not traits that really endear you to your readers.

— Dave R., Wed, 17 Oct 2007 11:27:06 -0400 (EDT)

I'd be a nitwit not to have listened to criticisms of Applications = Code + Markup. Consequently, 3D Programming for Windows mixes code and XAML from the very beginning, and has plenty of pictures. (I'm still reluctant to go with color because it increases production costs and hence the cover price.) The source code for the book is freely downloadable from here without any kind of registration or login. The source code also includes all the XAML files I used for the figures.

The downloadable files do not include an ebook. I would like there to be one. But if you think that the 3D book would become a huge seller if it included an ebook, I must remain skeptical. — Charles

Would the people that are downloading your book have brought it if they could not download it for free? If so, it is like a mugging in that they are stealing money from you. However if the downloading does not reduce the sales of the book, then it is not like a mugging in that you have not lost anything. (Copyright unlike physical objects is not a zero sum game.)

In the past even when the author has provided a free on line version of a book, I have brought the book after using it on-line, as I find reel books are better to read (however handhold “book readers” are close to being good enough). Therefore the on-line “previews” may in fact be increasing your sales; the problem is no one will ever know. In fact these days, one of the reason I buy less books in that the local book shops in Cambridge have given up on programming books, therefore I can’t spend an hour reading 3 or 4 books on a subject before deciding witch one to buy. (I don’t find Amazon reviews that useful, as different people learn in different ways so like different books.)

What I would like for digital books is something like the “Church Copyright Licence”, .e.g be able to access practically ALL books on line or download then to a hand hold “book-reader”. Then for the system to track witch books I use each year and to atomically divide my FIXED licence free between all the book authors and publishers. I would be willing to pay more then what I spend at present on book each year for such a licence but ONLY if it gave me unlimited access to all the books I wished to access. I do not mind the books being protected with DRM, as if the DRM system fails I just stop paying the licence. (I am NOT willing to have DRM on any item I own, as I wish to be able to access it for life, and it is not possible to have that level of trust in a DRM system)

Ian Ringrose, Thu, 18 Oct 2007 08:50:55 -0400 (EDT)

I've been mugged. I also write software for a living. I'm with Charles on this one.

For me the key word is 'frustration'. When someone takes the control of your own destiny from you, and you have no reasonable recourse except to let it happen, you are frustrated. Yesterday, I got a parking ticket that was either due to a mistake on my part, or a very poor sign describing the parking regulations. It cost me EUR47 - not pleasant. My only recourse would have been to engage in physical violence against the tax collectors. Of course, that wouldn't have worked either. It wouldn't have even made me feel better.

When I was mugged - I wasn't physically injured, but I was rendered incapable of bringing about my desired outcome. If someone rips off your IP, and the possible options are a) put up with it, b) become dictator of the world and have the evil thieves hands chopped off, well most days it ends up with a).

Tough. Is getting mugged pretty much the same? Damn right.

Dominic Cronin, Sun, 21 Oct 2007 15:53:51 -0400 (EDT)

As someone that has never been mugged, I can't relate. Further, as someone who only slaps a BSD or more permissive license any software I produce on my own and release to the public, I definately cannot relate.

That being said, I cannot help but think it sounds overly hysterical to compare copyright infringement to being mugged. Any point about the problems associated with copyright infringement is drowned out in the ridiculous hyperbole.

You'll get over it.

— Matt, Tue, 23 Oct 2007 14:09:47 -0400 (EDT)

Let's say you're having a conversation with your wife and suddenly you say something stupid and thoughtless like "You really look fat in those pants." Your wife is shocked that you would say such a thing and she tells you so: "That really hurt. That really, really hurt. It feels like you slapped me."

And you say "Oh, don't be ridiculous. I didn't slap you. I didn't even touch you. And moreover, if you insist on being overly hysterical, I won't believe you at all because your argument is drowned out in the ridiculous hyperbole. Beside, people call me fat all the time, and I don't mind."

Matt, this is something you'll understand as you get more mature: When someone tells you "This is what I feel," it is very uncool to tell that person "No, you don't feel that" because it makes it seem like you know that person's feelings better than that person, and that's simply not the case.

This blog entry was an honest description of the similarities between what I felt when I got mugged on the street, and what I felt when I see my entire book posted on someone's web site or available for free downloading. I remain astonished that people leave comments telling me that my feelings in the latter case are not legitimate.

Of course I'll "get over it." I "got over" the street mugging years ago. But because of radically declining book sales of programming books (a fact that has many causes, of course), I will probably never write another book-length programming tutorial. And sorry, but it's taking me a bit more time to "get over" that sad fact.

<< I will probably never write another book-length programming tutorial. And sorry, but it's taking me a bit more time to "get over" that sad fact >>

well, that IS sad if it turns out to be true, having purchased several of your books and found them to be well worth the price; the fact is there are only a limited number of authors worth reading in this realm and we really cannot afford any losses in the ranks

but I think you may have spelled out at least part of the problem in another blog which broke out the realities of where the money goes when a book is purchased; although I do it, I cannot say I like the idea of paying all sorts of intermediaries for the "real IP" when they are for the most part no longer really adding much, if any, value.

we need a new model; DRM is NOT it and I don't know what is "it" ... but it's there somewhere once the free-riders get over the fact that they are no longer needed in the system ... Sony/BMG and SAM's are anachronisms

it's a dilemma; I'm a capitalist but I cannot get beyond two apparently conflicting principles: (a) ALL intellectual property should be available to all people at low or no cost, and (b) authors should, without question, be compensated for their efforts

there are ways to do this; we need to find one that satisfies enough of the various stakeholders .. it's a better world if there are Petzold books available to everyone who wants to read them and Petzold gets paid. something is broken if you stop writing books and, collectively, we need to fix it.

— John Ferrari, Sat, 17 Nov 2007 23:31:57 -0500 (EST)


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