Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Is Digital Theft Stealing?

I saw this article from Slashdot. Bandwidth is a finite thing. Congrats for bagging the bastard. What about the other theft we hear a lot more about. The type of theft that doesn't cost the possessor but original manufacturer who wants more money. Money they might not get otherwise.

Theft has two components: one person gains something; another person loses something. Let's dumb it down... a lot. Somebody rides off with your bike and you have to walk. It wasn't wrong for someone to own a bike. It wasn't wrong for you to own a bike. If you had sold it to the thief for one penny, it wouldn't be illegal for that guy to ride off. The theft comes from your loss of utility.

Satellite TV providers and software providers are claiming that pirating signals or copying software is theft. The problem is: they still have their posessions.

Satellites bombard our planet, our homes-- our skulls-- daily. The only guy who isn't getting some satellite TV action is that crazy guy in the tin foil hat. Put up a satellite dish and point it at the right spot in the sky, connect it to your TV and you're legal. If you put in a decoder, you're a criminal. It's like getting caught in a pie throwing contest. If you get pelted with cream pies galore, it's free. If you open your mouth, you have to pay a bill. What I have to say to satellite providers: if you don't want someone to take it, don't dish it out. The delivery model is faulty and insecure. The jury is out as to whether the volume of satellite transmissions are harmful to people and the environment.

How have you taken something if the owner still has it? That's a good question. The answer: subscriptions. When you get satellite TV, you don't own what has come into your home. You've subscribed to the permission to get it for the time you pay for it. It roughly the same deal with software. You license it. You get to use it in exchange for money if don't violate the terms and conditions. You may pay thousands of dollars for a subscription or license but you don't own either. The illegality (that producers called "theft") is that you don't pay the real owners.

I say, do two things: 1) Don't steal. It's not yours. 2) Don't subscribe. If someone wants to keep you on a tether tell them to screw themselves. In the coming years, the subscription and the licensing models are going to merge. Software subscriptions are increasingly common. They are built to foster legitimate use of the software. They also exist to allow software producers to turn out crappy code. Code they can fix with with service packs: service packs that only go to legitimate users who used to license the software. In the future, service packs will only go to subscribers. Given the density of the terms and conditions, it's possible that they will allow themselves to scoop your personal data (keystrokes, frequency of use, the content you produce). They may write themselves the capacity to send kill codes along with service packs so that unwelcome users cease to use their software.

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