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My daughter was recently given a set of videos with deceptive packaging.  At first glance, the pictures and titles are easily mistaken for some fairly famous works, but closer inspection reveals that they’re all significantly different.  There doesn’t seem to be anything illegal about them, particularly given that they’re all based on ancient stories, but the collection as a whole feels fishy.  Immoral, even.

This has made me once again reconsider my beliefs on copyright and related intellectual property laws.  Less recently, I considered articles from Jonathan Coulton and New Music Strategies; the former also has links to even more insightful articles.  Unfortunately, I failed to come to a strong conclusion.

I don’t blame the gift giver here.  Enough legitimately licensed product has been given to these children to make this case seem like an honest mistake, possibly caused by a store that caters to limited budgets.  Likewise, most illegal file downloads are probably by people who simply found something convenient on the first page of a Google search.

I strongly believe in open source.  My primary computers each run Linux.  Sadly, quite a bit of open-source software simply tries to clone something proprietary.  A new twist on an existing concept wouldn’t bother me, but an outright clone falls into the same fishy area as the videos.

I rarely pay for anything, much less music or video games.  Some I receive as gifts, and others are available for free.  On one computer, I started trying to play every game available in the Debian repositories; I never made it even a quarter of the way through, and that was skipping everything that requires Gnome, Java, or a powerful graphics card.  Some video game music has made its way to my collections for listening at work or on holidays, as have the CDs originally purchased for a college class.

On the other hand, I have paid for several things that I considered worthwhile.  Two development applications, several games, a music concert, a few CDs, and most recently an Android app.  Rarely have I been disappointed, because I rarely pull out my wallet unless it’s something I’m already familiar with.  Anything I’m expected to trust based on the packaging gets skipped over.

My parents recently commented on the silly restrictions against installing software on multiple devices.  Switching all your programs to a new computer is much harder than it should be.  Using one on each of a few computers in a single household should be perfectly acceptable, particularly given that most programs reach a point where they’re no longer useful.  However, giving a copy to everyone you know is sketchy, and offering it for free download from the internet even more so.  Selling multiple copies is downright illegal, particularly if mass-produced.  So I see where the activation restrictions come from, but the limit should be more like five than one.

That said, I oppose sites that make money from offering free downloads without the author’s consent.  Many of the services I use are only free because they collect advertising revenue, but those aren’t the kind of place I go to for free games and music.  Freely redistributing open-source, freeware, or shareware programs is fine, but doing so to make money without contributing back is shady.  A business model primarily based on facilitating illegal file sharing is even more so.  Using advertising to give revenue to artists is a time-honored tradition, but tends to shortchange both the artist and the recipient.  Bandcamp seems to offer a solution, but I can’t honestly admit to having bought anything there.  Tempted, though.

Then again, how much have I created?  A few bugfixes here and there, a couple of servers that don’t get used, at least one game locked away on a password-protected ZIP disk, poetry with messages I no longer promote, and a tune for which I refuse to release the lyrics.  Everything else is either unusably unfinished or proprietary.  I think of myself as a great programmer, but I don’t have a great work that I can point to.  Worse, I feel like I no longer have the time to create one until I retire.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself wishing for a guaranteed income.

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Written by eswald

19 Mar 2013 at 7:03 pm

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