Entitlement for copyright owners

Business Insider had an article today about Reddit’s FIA. In my article in the Urban Times last week I addressed some of these issues before he wrote this article. However, he raises points that I don’t mention there and I feel that it’s extremely important to discuss them.

First he says that the law would make the internet “Hugely Difficult to monitor.” This raises a few questions. What does he mean by the internet? I helped define that in FIA, which I defined it as any data network including the web, social networks, FTP, peer to peer, email and a slew of other things. If he means this; then do we want the web to be easy to monitor? He trots out the case against it as child pornography of course, which I addressed in my Urban Times article. It’s a powerful argument because it hits upon two competing sets of social norms, rights of privacy and abhorrence to child abuse.

The use of child porn is a technique that is designed to end the conversation and shut down dissent. It places supporters of privacy in a position that is not congruent with their belief system. Additionally, the connection between copyright and child porn mixes different issues and seriously different belief systems. This difference is extremely important as there have become two different competing sets of norms. The incumbent belief that copyright is stealing, and the one new that has been developed by Web Kids.I strongly suggest reading the previous link as it provides powerful arguments for the changing sets of norms that my generation and younger entail. (I’d be on the rather old side of that generation).

Using a somewhat bad analogy, we’re using the “internet superhighway” and like the real highway people don’t want everyone driving by to know what you have in your car. Even if you aren’t doing anything illegal, do you want the cops to know that you have 5 cases of beer in the back and are going to be floating down a river all day? Probably not, cause they have no reason to know what you’re doing. Now, our data is similar to those cases of beer. Using encryption puts that into the back of the trunk where a cop is required to have justifiable cause (in the US) to inspect it’s contents. The person looking at the data would know the general direction your going and some of the ways you’re getting there, but nothing more. Yes, it makes it more difficult to identify bad stuff, but it’s difficult to do that on a real highway too. Just ask boarder patrol, and they have the right to inspect whatever they want.

Second, he essentially argues that copyright owners should have their content monitored by others. This is a huge subsidy for the copyright industry that will be paid for by other services. I’m going to use a physical world comparison, it doesn’t work perfectly but it works reasonably well. Let’s say that YouTube is similar to a Wal-Mart, or even Amazon.com. The author is arguing that YouTube needs to monitor as soon as the video is put on the web to ensure it is not infringing on copyrighted material. This would be similar to requiring Wal-Mart or Amazon.com to search for patent infringing technologies.

Why does this analogy work? In both cases these rights are state sanctioned monopolies. In both cases they are protecting a manifestation of an idea. Something that needs protection because it is extremely easy to protect. However, in Patent suits things are extremely different. The owners of the patent are required to sue companies that infringe on the patent. Wal-Mart and Amazon.com are both protected from the suit.

If Apple was allowed to sue Wal-Mart for the fact that an infringing technology is being sold there, Wal-Mart would have to bear the cost of policing their inventories for infringing material. In addition it would be in their benefit to be overly caution and remove potentially infringing products before anyone can see them. Part of the cost of owning a patent is the cost of policing products that may be infringing. By removing that burden from the copyright industry we are reducing the cost of the ownership of copyright and placing it on services like YouTube. This stifles innovation in services like YouTube because they have to include the extra cost of policy copyrighted material. A competitor to YouTube has a huge hurdle to overcome before they can even open.

Finally, he argues that the bill supports file sharing. I don’t think that it does other than being based off of a different set of norms. I’d argue that the bill supports innovation over old business models. You can disagree with me on this, however it’s been shown in several studies and some anecdotal evidence that increasing legal access to copyrighted content reduces pirating. If it is easier for a company to create interesting ways to provide access to content while paying the copyright industry then everyone wins. However, as Falkvinge puts it, “I don’t care about industry profits.” Realistically, I don’t care about most companies profits, because I’m only dealing with the company to buy a product or service I want at a price that I believe is reasonable. If all the legal sources that are available to me to watch a show or listen to a song when a person wants to, it is not unreasonable for them to look for it elsewhere and then try to find it legally later if they liked it.

If the company is making bad choices for their business, why should the law change to improve their business model’s chances of surviving? Anyone that supports free market capitalism should be horrified by this sort of industrial policy making. Essentially, these companies are being faced with disruptive technologies and working to push the government to protect them. It’s similar to what has happened with the auto industry in the US.

In closing, FIA represents a dramatic change from the current norms and aligns more directly with a younger generation. This generation does not understand why companies prevent them from viewing content that they want to see. While being an open generation on Facebook, they also understand the importance of protecting the data that has been given to companies. They choose what information they share and with whom. They want an open internet so they have the ability to innovate like their parents generation. They believe that it should be a fundamental human right to have access to data and communicate with whoever they want. An industry that is not innovating should not have the ability to destroy the internet.

Ethics in Politics?

“Who put the question mark there, you all know he’ll read whatever is on the prompter!” Mostly a quote from the movie Anchorman. The point is, should that question mark be there or not? In the US, the STOCK Act, designed to prevent insider trading by Congressmen, is moving forward for debate in the Senate. This type of law, even if there are debates about the need for this specific law because it should already be illegal, really drives the point home. Clearly, this is something that the majority of us would consider unethical. In business ethics courses (heh), this type of action is typically considered a big no-no and at many work places is considered very bad as well.

A personal example for me came from working at Verizon Wireless. My first co-op rotation there I was an equipment engineer, where I bought equipment and work with companies to build cell sites. For a Sophomore in college this was pretty awesome. I was buying stuff that was worth something like $40,000 like it was nothing. Pretty cool stuff right? Well, I started to deal with vendors and learned that no vendor was allowed to buy any of us lunch. Not even lunch. If anything was worth more than $25 as a gift, we had to return it.

Now, if you put this into perspective of what insider trading or campaign contributions, we can see where there’s an ethical problem. I was making $16/hour at the time, so $25 bucks was almost a quarter of a work day’s salary. Pretty big deal. Insider trading has made congress members a much higher return on their salary than that 25 bucks was for me. The perks provided by Lobbyists are even worse than lunch. They’ll buy you lunch, but it won’t be at Primanti Brother’s, it will be at some place that’s $100 a plate plus wine, then take you golfing later.

So where does this disconnect come from? If this is something that I knew was wrong when I was 20, why don’t these Congress members understand that at 50 and older? One of the problems are social norms, if everyone is doing it, why aren’t you? These social norms can be extremely powerful, as teenagers we were always warned about peer pressure to do drugs and stuff, cause drugs are bad, m’kay? The problem would become when everyone around you was doing this, and it was the only way to survive the situation there are powerful urges to conform.

Once someone has conformed, these social norms become their own self reinforcing type of “ethical” behavior. This begs the question if the end justify the means? Well, we also need to be aware if the ends are justified at all. I think in many cases, the ends are so influenced in both conscious and unconscious ways, that we don’t even know what the ends the politician set out to achieve are any more.

This is why it is important to have independent watch dog organizations and an independent judicial system. It is also why it is important to get money out of politics. Once money is out, the choices aren’t captured by the interests of the people paying you. Independence allows impartial review and a manner to determine which course is actually best for the whole.

Americans prize their rights, however, rights are threatened whenever there are powerful interests that want to limit those rights. Despite the fact that I talk about the US on here a lot, these ideas are transnational, and all citizens need to work to remove the influence of money from their political system. There are ways to do it. For the US Lawrence Lessig has proposed one idea in Republic, Lost and Reddit is working on their on PAC and Free Internet Act as another solution.

When I finish with my thesis I plan to become active in both Reddit activities and I suggest you look to find something similar.