Charles Petzold


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.