Friday, January 29, 2010

What Mao Zedong and Napster Have in Common

In an article in the New York Times on Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010 John Tierney addresses d
igital piracy from two people who helped propagate it in the first place: Jaron Lanier and Dr. Lieboweitz of University of Texas in Dallas. They were loud advocates for the Free Information movement of the 80’s, when internet began and a sparkling future of possibilities opened up. And yet, it wasn’t long before both changed their minds.

Tierney explores the points of view of these two men in regards to the free web’s effects on piracy of intellectual property of all kinds and the effects that piracy has had on the very essence of the intellectual property created.

At first Jaron’s views are laid out. Views that compare the effects of the internet with political communism, where the media material one makes is for all to share, or even Feudalism where the media material is made in a peasant-like way for Lord-like mega sites like YouTube to run on. He compares the mentality of Internet users to “hive” mentality, where none are thinking individually and a mob is formed. This “destructive social construct” revolves around the acceptance that any kind of artist or writer or creator of intellectual property should resign their work over to the masses, gaining no monetary credit for their labors.

Lanier blames this construct on a form of software Lock-In, where archaic practices are kept in use because new and improved ones are too expensive to implement. This is where Lanier and Liebowitz begin to differ. While Lanier sees it as a problem of the systems and of the mega websites like Google, Liebowitz sees the cause to be the collective feeling of entitlement of internet users over any digitized form of intellectual property, as well as the security measures that allow for piracy to happen.

Dr. Liebowitz, much like those annoying piracy commercials they used to play in movie theatres before the previews, believes that while most people are not thieves and would not steal a CD from a store, they do not see piracy as stealing. Instead, they justify it with the ideologies that information should be free for all.

According to Liebowitz, though, this ideology is propagate by the lack of disciplinary action taken against pirates. If you try to take a CD from (I was going to say Virgin Megastore, but never mind) Best Buy, the beeper thing goes off at the door and you are prosecuted for shoplifting. If only there were stronger punishments, there would be less piracy. However, there is one big problem with that, which Liebowitz acknowledges. As Tierney puts it “when the majority of people feel entitled to someone else’s property, who is going to stand in their way?”

I personally blame the word "piracy". Well, not entirely, but I think if it was called “thievery” and not piracy, we would associate it more with being behind bars than with Captain Sparrow.

I agree with Liebowitz, more than I do with Lanier, but I still disagree with some of his arguments. For example, he claims “an intelligent person feels guilty for downloading music without paying for it”. Um, no, not necessarily. Those who don’t create intellectual property themselves often don’t fret with their conscience at all about downloading something off Limewire. And even if “an intelligent person” does feel guilty, we are talking about the majority of the world.

I will quote the wisdom of the Men in Black (notice I give credit to them):

J: People are smart, they would understand…

K: A person is smart. People are dumb, stupid wild animals, and you know that.

ANTHONY'S TAKE: Christa, is much more thoughtful and philosophical on this subject than me. I'm from Baltimore, so I take a little more gully approach to the issue of people stealing that which I've worked hard to create. I think the best deterrent is the Tupac approach...

(Click the link or picture above for video.) Bootleggers would think twice if more people handled their business like Pac.