Public Key: A Freetard’s Apology

The following is excerpted from Draft-The-Third of Public Key. At the moment it falls on page 125 (of 171). I am considering moving it much earlier. We shall see.

EDIT: It now falls on page 5. I am considering moving it later. We shall see!


My life changed very little. Oakley was right on that count. The days were getting shorter, the nights were getting colder, the rains had all but stopped, but all that stopped at my door. I went back to wearing my college hoodie when I wasn’t by the fire. Otherwise I did what I always did, then at the end of the day curled up with Oakley’s e-reader and a nice thick book. Or something like that.

There’s a problem with the English language. With most languages I’d expect. These languages grew up over thousands of years where Book and Text were pretty much inseparable. It wasn’t a book until it got written down, and you couldn’t write it down without writing it on something. Content and conveyance were one. Now, thanks to computers, we can see that a book is a physical thing, a lap full of paper and ink and stitch that can carry a text. But it’s only one way to carry text, and in the world of the LCD monitor it’s definitely not the best. The text exists whether the book does or not. So you can buy a book if you want to. Or you can go right to the text, save a tree, save some shelf-space, and maybe save some money while you’re at it.

Don’t believe me? Go online and find an eBook. You can even pay for it. If you want to. I don’t see why you’d want to. But that’s just me.

It’s the same thing between Album and Music. An album’s just a way to bundle of music. It came about through the limitations of the recording medium, and it’s stuck because, well, the idea of the album is cool. Also the EP if you’re feeling punky. You don’t need a physical album, vinyl or cassette or CD, in order to have an album. All you need is a computer. A BitTorrent client helps.

There are only so many albums, physical albums, in the world. Same with books. Same with video tapes, while we’re on the subject. They’re physical things. There are only so many of them. They’re scarce commodities. They’re personal property. If you’ve got it, it means someone else doesn’t. So of course the law protects them. It has to – the same way it protects your house, your car. The same way it protects my laptop. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The problem is, while albums and books and video tapes are all physical things, music and movies and manuscripts are not. They’re not personal property. They’re not scarce commodities. If one person’s got a text on their computer, everyone with a computer can have it. Same with a song. Same with a video. And this is why computers are fucking awesome.

If you take a book that belongs to someone else, this is stealing. Everyone calls this stealing. And I agree. If you download a text, making a copy for yourself that takes nothing from nobody, this isn’t stealing. And anyone who says differently is wrong.

Some people call it stealing because they’re greedy. They used to make big bucks selling books or CDs or DVDs. Now they can’t, and of course this upsets them. So instead of dealing with it they try to find ways to keep their industry alive on artificial respiration. Thus the copyright industry is born.

Because you don’t need to spend money to get a pdf or an mp3. When you pay money to download these things ‘legally’, you’re not paying a necessary fee. You’re paying for the stamp of legality. You’re paying so that you won’t get in trouble. You’re giving up your money, not out of want, but out of fear. You’re paying protection money. Yes you are. The mob you’re paying is Big Copyright. And their enforcer is the government – your government.

That’s some people. But most people who call it stealing just don’t know any better. Let’s face it: they’re old. And they’re speaking a language that’s a lot older. They don’t understand. And it’s a hard thing to understand. As such it falls to us, the people who do understand, to set them straight.

I’d never steal a book. I’d never steal an album. I wouldn’t in the same way that that I’d never steal a loaf of bread or another man’s car. But in the digital age, when content and conveyance are no longer one, you don’t have to steal. You can just download. That’s what computers are for. That’s what humanity’s been dreaming about for, well forever. It’s here now. The free and instant flow of information. We’re still getting used to it, us humans. But we are getting used to it. One generation at a time.

So that’s what I did. That’s what I do. I think, therefore, I download. And that’s the way it’s always going to be.


~ by davekov on 15 April 2011.

3 Responses to “Public Key: A Freetard’s Apology”

  1. Excerpted:

    Digital content is like the fruit of a tree. It’s a public tree. On public land. There’s enough fruit to go around. There’s enough fruit for everyone in the world. All you need’s a ladder to stand on – an internet connection – and you can eat your fill.
    Copyright protection for digital content is like a guy standing in front of the fruit tree – the public tree, on public land – and saying that you need to pay him to pick the fruit. And if you don’t, he knows a guy who’s going to break your kneecaps.

  2. I considered getting into issues of profitability, artists-being-paid-for-their-work, etc. – but was held up by A) a desire for concision, and B) a desire not to sound like either a bright-pink communist or a pitchfork-wielding capitalist. Neither of which, I think, would appeal to a broad readership :)

  3. Have tentatively moved this from Page 125 to Page 5. Think it might be a little ranty for so early in the story, but it fits chronothematically. I will reserve this, and similar judgementcalls, for when I get to Macro Editing. Which is a ways away :)

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