Re: More Napster Pablum

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From: Jeff Bone (
Date: Thu Jul 27 2000 - 21:29:15 PDT

Eugene Leitl wrote:

> Jeff Bone writes:
> >
> > Quick addendum.
> >
> > > I've done that, and the unfortunate and somewhat shocking conclusion
> > > that I've reached is that there's something fundamentally screwed about
> > > the notion of bits-as-property.
> There are no absolute laws. Property laws are just codified rules of
> thumb: if you don't protect intellectual property *which has a
> significant potential value* and *requires nontrivial investments* to
> produce, then the incentive of people generating any such will be
> greatly diminished.

This is pretty much the standard argument. OTOH, I'm becoming convinced that it's
overstated: certainly people need to be paid, and paid proportionally to the
novelty, difficulty / rarity, utility, aesthetic desirability, cost-of-goods, and
impact of their product. OTOH, I think the notion of "protecting"
bits-as-property is somewhat an overreaction; what you want to protect is the
ability to get paid, not the bits themselves --- and these things are *not*
equivalent. (In fact, the equation of those two things is a symptom of the
syndrome I'm talking about, i.e. our inability --- and I mean all of us --- to
fundamentally grok the kinds of change we're dealing with. We haven't had to deal
with anything this fundamental as a society since Gutenberg.)

With respect to Napster, those idiots at the RIAA can't even own up to their own
data: far from diminishing their ability to get paid, their revenues are *up.*
What the musicos are pissed about is that Napster (and similar) eliminates their
ability to control, through promotion and channel marketing, what's hot and what's
not, and therefore their eliminates their ability to "creatively" steer the market
to maximize their profits (or at least normalize their production plans and
resource allocations.)

> Anything purely information based (literature, music, software) is
> partially exempt because it does not require considerable tangible
> investments on the part of creators -- apart from their time, of
> course. Still, a lot creative people at least expect to be able to pay
> parts of their bills with their labour of love. Prestige/status alone
> it is not.

Well, clearly, it is for some folks. Myself, I like getting paid. ;-)

> Anything brick and mortar (we're a medical R&D facility, for instance)
> takes real bucks to run. If whatever you have developed with
> significant burn of above resources can't be protected by enforcible
> laws, or can't be kept secret (the best type of protection, I think),
> then you simply can't afford to run such a facility. Bang, you're
> dead.

There's a simple solution to all of this, -wrt- "deep knowledge" physical products
such as medical products: simply don't tell anybody how to make it! I.e., trade
secrets are more useful than patents in many contexts anyway. For pure bits,
again as noted above, things are different.

> If whatever you're producing profits the society as a whole, and the
> results can be easily harvested by competitors (lucky us, not many
> housewifes are interested in arcane drug cocktails to manage
> ischaemia), taking you out of business, then you (and society as a
> whole) has shot themselves in the foot by building an infrastructure
> for anonymous information sharing and allowing it to operate.

Well, this is part of my gripe: by being totally braindead about how they've
approached the matter, the RIAA has *ensured* that such tools will come into
existance even more quickly and flourish even in the broadest, least-technical
parts of technological society. They've guaranteed that the arms race will
happen, and there is *no doubt* who will win it. While such tools may mark a kind
of moral victory for the forces of freedom and light, I am convinced that the
problems these tools create will be a lot bigger than the record industry's
wounded sense of propriety.

But, you just can't put toothpaste back in the tube.

> Now I don't know how bad it is going to be, but I think there will be
> a definite impact in the quality and/or quantity of intellectual
> property produced. Some niches will not be affected at all, some will
> be badly.

I really don't think there will be any real impact on quantity or quality; we're
just going to have to move the pricetag around, perhaps adjust some outdated
assumptions.* Look at the software industry: once it became clear that it was
game over for consumer software, the industry (well, the individual players in it)
largely morphed into the Web industry and has generated more wealth by a large
margin (even in these days of correction) than the entire software industry had
before. It's a business model problem. People will always find a way to get
paid. ;-)

> Let's wait and see. If machine-phase nanotechnology will really grant
> artifacts (by proxy of blueprints) the status of software, then brick
> and mortar can also start profiting from mind share.

I still say there'll always be something fundamentally different between bits and
atoms, even when that happens, but this is a *very, very* interesting point.
Objects with built-in copy protection, eeewww. :-P


* As an example. Everybody say it with me, say it in unison: "you cannot
control both the content and the distribution channel." The market tells business
this over, and over, and over, and over again. "We will not let you control both
content and distribution channel." Eventually, business will get it.

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