Tuesday, July 12, 2005

On the Ethics of Replication of Music, Books, Movies, Software, Etc.

By Dave Armstrong (2003)

The following is based on an actual dialogue I had with an atheist friend, two years ago, over the ethics of replication. The original context was a discussion of software. It then branched out into a larger discussion. I've added a few clarifying additions here and there.

* * * * * 

Is it "stealing" to buy a used record or CD? I don't think so. Is it stealing to rent a video at Blockbuster rather than buy one or go to the theatre? No. Or to tape something off the TV rather than buying the video for $29.95? Or to buy a used book rather than a new one? No to all, in my opinion. I think the ethics depends (largely, but not solely) on whether someone was going to buy a product in the first place. People are taping things on VCR's and tape recorders and now on CD's from the Internet all the time (I use Napster -- which is perfectly legal and determined by courts to not be a violation of copyright law --, for $9.95 a month). If this is massively immoral and unethical, then why do VCR's and tape recorders and CD burners exist in the first place?

The ethics of software is confusing because most of these things are available for free at some point. Two years ago, I needed Word 97 in order to send in the manuscript of my first book. I couldn't afford to buy it new and I wouldn't have, anyway. So is borrowing it from someone else who wanted to enable me to be able to send in my manuscript "stealing"? I don't see that it is. Now, it's true that (like most people) I didn't read the license or whatever. I just knew that I wasn't able to buy the software, so that Microsoft wasn't being deprived of my contribution to their profits. I acknowledge that there is some room for discussion here but I'm not convinced that any of this is "stealing," given the fact that everyone is reproducing stuff all the time, whether audio, video, or software. I think it is a hard case to make, that no one can make a tape of a record or of a show on TV. What are we supposed to do with VCR's and DVD player / recorders, and tape recorders and (now) iPods?

The only sense I can make of this is whether a person would have, and was able to, buy something in the first place. I was not able to, so Microsoft was not deprived of anything by my in effect) borrowing the software from someone else. I don't believe I have "stolen" anything, per the above reasoning (and much more, below). I do think it's confusing and that the reasoning behind reproduction is tangled and confused. Maybe you'll convince me that I must go spend the money to buy Word 97. I would be very interested in your reply to this, as [a mutual friend] never adequately answered my counter-reply when we talked about this years ago. He said it was wrong to tape albums from someone else. I said that it wasn't wrong to tape an album from the [local] library. They rent them out to do just that (someone bought those records; they weren't stolen). And I argued that it wasn't wrong to tape a show off the TV or buy a used book or record. As far as I know, [our mutual friend] does all that stuff. He borrows videotapes from me. So I wasn't convinced by his reasoning at all. It may be that it is a different argument with software.

I would like to hear your reasoning. If you argue strictly from what the license says, that might seem clear-cut, but my argument hinges on the ethics of other people using or reproducing what someone else has bought, and how that works ethically, with software, as well as with music and video and written materials.

In fact, my own computer was put together by a friend of mine. It was his old computer. I assume it had some programs in it already, like Windows 98 and so forth. Does that mean I had to delete Windows 98, go buy it, and re-install it? It was already bought! It's like buying a used car. I can't afford a new car and I couldn't afford a new computer. I'm only a "starving writer." My friend was nice enough to donate his old one, and that was for the purpose of my website, which offers over 500 web pages free of charge to the public. I've written twelve books, and that is the only for-profit part of what I do. This is the problem I have with this reasoning. It becomes a reductio ad absurdum, because the logical chain seems to have no end, and winds up being absurd if applied consistently.

I think that a legitimate, non-relativistic ethical argument can be made on these matters: that it is not stealing. That's what I believe. It may be that you can convince me otherwise if you can offer a cogent reply to my questions above. I respect the fact that you are taking a position on this, and I'm sure you have thought it through, because I see that you are a conscientious thinker.

Your friend,



When this stealing happens (in particular instances) is what remains to be solved here, as well as what "make use of wrongfully" means. E.g., say that a US spy had "stolen" Nazi plans to construct a nuclear bomb. Would that truly be stealing or would it have been completely ethically justified? For that matter, would an individual knocking off Hitler be a murderer?

My friend then asked whether I disagreed with "the concept of intellectual property rights."

No (I'm an author and purveyor of ideas myself; I certainly accept this notion); rather, I am confused as to what constitutes "stealing" by any standard definition, given the massive reproductive resources available today: VCR's, tape recorders, downloads of music from the Internet, used records and books, used cars, etc. It's not so much that I am asserting a point of view definitely, as you are, but that I am confused about this and would like to see it clarified. Obviously, I am not convinced at all that what I did was stealing, or I wouldn't have done it. I would like to think that I am a principled person, especially in matters of ethics, and Christians have all sorts of guidelines as to what is moral and ethical and what is not. If I am convinced by your reasoning, I will go and buy the software as soon as I am able.

My argument was essentially one of analogy: since all these things occur, how does one determine when their uses constitute stealing, and where does one draw the line? I pretty much assume the things you assert. My problem arises from difficulty of application of what is assumed by most parties, in a world where sharing of all these things occurs regularly and routinely, and where loans and gift-giving are not regarded by most human beings as unethical or immoral activities. Actually it is both an analogical argument and an argumentum ad absurdum, simultaneously.

He replied that the creator of intellectual property has rights which include "control of replication." One can buy a book, but not obtain the copyright for that book, and a CD, but not music publishing rights, or a car, but not the rights to its design.

Given these premises, how, then, would you view the ethics of the following three situations (which get to the heart of my difficulty and confusion concerning your position)?:

1. Someone gives me a gift of a car (say, a Cadillac), that they bought.

2. I then use the car to do deliveries and make a profit (I did delivery for ten years, in fact, using my own vehicle, though I did buy used vehicles on an average of every two years).

3. Did I then "steal" a Cadillac because I didn't buy one at a car dealer? Is this car theft? Am, I furthermore, wrong in an additional sense because I am now using the gift that I didn't pay for, to receive further profit and an income?

[this is most analogous to my situation because I am writing books to make a living and utilizing Word 97 to do it]

I. Someone gives me a gift of the movie Gone With the Wind, that they bought.

II. Or (alternately) I taped it off of the TV.

III. Did I steal the movie? Did I deprive Blockbuster of their due recompense because I didn't rent the movie from them, or did I deprive or steal from whomever puts out the movie on video (MGM or whatever), or from some movie theatre that may show it again?
A) Someone buys my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism, used (used copies are, in fact, available on amazon.com right now).

B) I don't get royalties for such a purchase, because it is a "secondary" transaction. I only get royalties from the purchase of the book when it is new.

C) The person who bought the used copy thus saves $5 or $10, and I get no return from his purchase. Furthermore, the person who re-sold it makes a few bucks, whereas I do not make anything.

D) Did, then, the person who bought a used copy of my book, "steal" what is my intellectual property (I have copyright, after all, and I produced these ideas in the particular fashion in which they were arranged in my book) by purchasing my book in this manner, seeing that I got not one red cent from his transaction, and because his buying it used thus enabled him to receive the information without buying it new, in which case I would have received recompense?

E) The same exact situation (with regard to the principle under consideration) occurs when someone buys a book, reads it, and then gives it to someone else, or when a library (including my book) is inherited or otherwise donated as a gift while the owner is still living, or sold to a used bookstore which then makes further profit on these books, or at sales at libraries, getting rid of unwanted books for a pittance, or at yard sales and Salvation Army stores which sell old books, etc.

I trust that the analogy to Microsoft Word 97 is obvious (if not, then I would have to be shown how some difference of principle that I have overlooked, obtains). It seems to me that there is also a "right" of the owner of a purchased product to dispose of it as he wishes, loan it, give it as a gift, or whatever, as long as he isn't making a profit on another man's labor. Whether it deprives the creator of the product (or whoever holds rights, patents to it, etc.) of his due might arguably depend (it seems to me) in part on whether the person who receives the gift or replication would have bought it otherwise.

But then that would mean that at least the people who bought my book used, who would have bought it new if that were the only way to obtain it (new rather than not at all) -- by your logic -- would be engaged in stealing and theft, as would anyone who buys a used book (at least one not in public domain), or reads a library book, or buys a used record or CD.

Thus (following this reasoning through to its logical conclusion), used bookstores and music stores which sell used CD's are engaged in one massive enterprise of wholesale theft. Blockbuster Video and all video rental places like it are one big racket, as they are depriving makers of movie videos from profits. Etc., etc.

This is where I see that your argument breaks down to absurdity; i.e., if your principle is followed through consistently, all of these other consequences would result, and they appear to me to be absurd, at least on their face, without further analysis of the ethics involved in all this (which is where I am hoping you can help me better understand your reasoning). I do think it is probably a relevant ethical factor, then, whether a person would have bought something new if he couldn't obtain it used or free as a gift. But even then, absurdity results if every time such a person purchases a used item, he is stealing. I don't buy it. Not until I see how these difficulties in consistent application of this principle are explained in a plausible, believable, coherent way . . .

I'm not denying owner's rights, but asking (the more I think about it) how "purchaser's rights" operate: what is right and wrong in their case. I'm not advocating going to COMP USA and stealing products off the shelf. But I am asking what is ethical and unethical for the owner of a product (i.e., one who has purchased it) to do with that product? I'm asking how your principle deals with VCRs, tape recorders and CD burners (instruments of replication and used purchases which do not further enrich creators of products). I think I have shown above (or at least offered some thoughts worthy of some small consideration) how this is relevant to the overall ethical question. By all means, please tell me what is "legitimate" and "illegitimate" use of these items, and by what criteria? The legitimacy of gun use [which my friend brought up as an analogy] is clear (for most people): self-defense or just war or police work or hunting are legitimate uses: murder is not. In the case of VCR's and used goods and so forth, the lines are not nearly so clear. And the fact that they are rather fuzzy is precisely why I am not convinced by your argument.

Does someone need permission to give Microsoft Word 97 as a gift? No . . . You say that "A car manufacturer sells you a car, not the design of the fuel injection system." Sure, of course. So a person can sell a used car or give one as a gift (e.g., they accept cars as gifts at various charitable operations). This is selling the product and not the design or "ideas" for the product. I'm not interested in auto engineering when I get a new (used) vehicle (or even in further profit as a result of potential knowledge of same), but in transportation: how to get from point A to point B. Likewise, Word 97 could be loaned or given as a gift as a product, not as the design or patent for the product. And if it cannot, I need to be informed of some difference of principle between Word 97 and a used car or a used book or CD. Are you gonna tell me that you have never bought anything used? Or that if you did, you now consider those purchases instances of theft and stealing? If not, what is the ethical difference of principle?

When I wrote, "I couldn't afford to buy it new and I wouldn't have, anyway," I was expressing the relevant ethical consideration, because in this instance I was not depriving Microsoft of anything they would have otherwise received: they would not receive a profit either way, just as I don't receive a profit (royalties) when someone buys my book used, and I don't receive one if they don't buy it at all. But if they bought it used where they would have otherwise bought it new, then arguably it is an ethically different situation because in that act they have "deprived" me of my royalty (whereas if they would only have bought it used and not new, they did not do that: the consequence for me remains the same in either case). So again, I think that if you wish to press this principle, then you need to apply it across the board and consider what it means for all used purchases.

My friend asserted that borrowing from libraries or friends does not entail "replication."

Even if I grant that, it still does not explain the ethics of used purchases and gifts. Also, this is simplistic in that it doesn't take into account the "replication" by the brain. For example, there are people who could memorize whole books. So would it then be unethical to loan them a book, knowing that they had the capacity to memorize it and make it (literally) part of their own brain? Would that not be "replication"?

He then argued that use of a product entails the creator's "right to compensation."

Ah! Precisely! That would apply to every used purchase as well, which would mean that a person who buys my book used owes me about $4.00. That would mean that every time I buy a used CD (I recently bought Pink Floyd and the Beatles) I would have to send a check to Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, the estates of John Lennon and George Harrison (and/or Capitol Records, the music publishers and so forth), and the four guys in Pink Floyd (and/or the copyright owners -- however all that works). I've never bought, e.g., the album Let it Be new. I taped it on cassette from my sister's record in the 70s. A while back I bought a used record version of it. And last week I bought it as a used CD (for Fathers' Day) [since then I also purchased the remastered and rearranged Let it Be . . . Naked used]. So have I stolen it four times? My Fathers' Day gift was a bootleg that I stole (thus constituting two immoral acts)?

I was then charged with utilizing the ad populum fallacy (appeal to large numbers of people doing something).

It's not an instance of the ad populum fallacy because (in its proper context) I'm not appealing to what people do per se, as some sort of argument in and of itself. I agree that taking a head count is not the way to ascertain truth or principles. My argument hinges upon what constitutes legitimate replication, borrowing, and what the owner of a product is entitled to do with it: including gifts, libraries, willed estates, etc.

My argument is, rather, argumentum ad absurdum (which is not a fallacy, and a rather effective and powerful argument, generally speaking), showing that your principle, followed through consistently, would mean the abolition of libraries, used bookstores, used car dealers, used clothing shops, Moms-to-Moms sales of baby clothes and items, used CD stores, video rental places, VCR's, tape recorders, the Trading Times, yard and garage sales, eBay, MP3 downloads (which have consistently been legally warranted in the courts), many charitable efforts such as the Salvation Army of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, which rely on donated items then re-sold.

The result is absurd (and, I think, extremely few people who aren't so rich that they needn't worry about buying cars, etc., live consistently in such a way). Therefore, one must question the errors in the premises of the point of view which would result in such an absurd scenario. And this I think I have done. Or at least I have shown by argumentum ad absurdum that the premises need to be questioned and are suspect, even if I haven't hit upon exactly what it is that is in error. I suspect that would come down to "purchasers' rights" (whatever such a concept might mean, after scrutiny and thought).

I respect people who take a stand on principle, whether I disagree with them or not. I don't expect to agree with everyone, but I expect (too often, unrealistically, I'm afraid) that people I am talking to are able to defend their points of view. You do that, so you have my respect, and none of this offends me at all. We simply differ on principle. You see it clearly one way and I see it clearly another way. I'm willing to be persuaded, as always, but (as in theology or philosophy or any arguments I engage in) one has to answer my questions which I think are relevant to the discussion, as explained. I can't be convinced if my deepest objections have not been overcome, as far as I am concerned.

My computer was itself a gift that included Windows 98, so that is an ethical issue again. It's not like I haven't bought anything. I purchased Netscape Communicator, which is what I use to create all my web pages. I pay for space every month for my website, to my ISP. I bought Compuserve software, which I still use to store letters. I bought scanner software which I use, even though the scanner itself quickly broke. I bought Fighter Plane and NASCAR games. I've bought dozens of computer games and educational stuff for the kids (I haven't downloaded a single game from the Internet -- on the other hand, people have also given us many kids' computer games, too). Internet Explorer (which I now use to browse) was a free download.

My friend stated: "With respect to your copy of Word 97, its validity would hinge upon the usage agreement. Based upon what I know of Microsoft licensing agreements, I believe you could rightly possess Word 97, without purchasing it, if the person who made it a gift gave you the installation media and your installation was the only installation."

You seem to think this is mostly a "legal"-type conversation (what might be called "contractual hyper-literalism" for lack of a better term), whereas I am approaching it more from a "larger ethical" or "spirit of the law" perspective (one might say that incorporates natural law at some point). My argument was that the viewpoint you are espousing leads to a reductio ad absurdum, thus calling into question a premise somewhere.

My copy of Word 97 came through [a friend]. It was a copy associated with a pro-life group that he works with. As I mentioned before, I got Windows 98 when this present computer was given to me by a friend, after he bought a new computer. This is the third time he has done this (he also gave my kids a computer). So it would fall under the overall category of purchase of a used item (except that it was a gift).

All you have to do is respond to my specific scenarios and tell me why you think such scenarios constitute theft. That's at least how I envision the discussion proceeding forward. I have no other arguments to give, and am quickly losing interest in this. What I presented were "ethical quandaries" which I think need to be addressed. If they are not, then I cannot be persuaded because my most specific objections were not specifically addressed. So if we both think the ball is in the other guy's court, I guess this discussion is exhausted and wound up a "stalemate" or simply unresolved. That's fine, if so. Discussions have to end somehow.

You have not explained, in my opinion, why my counter-examples do not succeed, in the proper depth for me to be persuaded of your position. Brevity, over-generalization, vagueness, or simple appeal to legal-type considerations are not sufficient (at least not for me). I still do not know exactly why you don't accept my counter-examples. Maybe I am dense or something, but whatever the reason, I remain unconvinced, and the goal of any good argument is to convince the one who initially disagrees with it.

You said that "use of the product" was reason for the producer to receive compensation. That is not the case whenever a used car is sold. Nor do I have the information of how to build a Cadillac. I simply have a car to get from point A to point B (which is what the car was designed to do, functionally-speaking). Likewise, if I get a copy of Microsoft Word I don't have the technology or information used to make the product, but the product itself. Say someone sold it to me used, then Microsoft would not receive their compensation. But to say that no one could give it to me as a gift or as a used purchase would be to rule out all used purchases (and gifts, which were bought by the person giving them, and in some cases, already used by them and then passed on, as with used cars), it seems to me.

And people could then use gifts or used purchases to make a further profit. The car takes me from place to place to make deliveries, so as to make a living. If that is "stealing" from GM, then we ought to shut down every used car lot in the country. Analogously, if I use the Word 97 to write my books to sell, I still produced the product. I did the work to make the profit. So I still say that you are not applying the principle consistently. The reductio ad absurdum applies, as far as I can see.

My friend stated, regarding my Blockbuster Video analogy: "Neither Blockbuster, the distributor, nor the movie theater company own the copyright. The copyright holder was compensated for a single copy by your benefactor. The fact that he passed ownership of the cassette on to you is irrelevant. If you taped a broadcast, then the broadcasting company compensated the copyright holder."

Okay; I'll do the analogy word-for-word to show you why I think that the same thing is taking place:

This situation is not theft nor is intellectual property at stake. Neither the pro-life group, nor my friend own the copyright (or rights, or whatever the proper term) for Microsoft Word 97. Microsoft was compensated for a single copy by my benefactor. The fact that he passed on the program to me is irrelevant. If he copied Microsoft Word 97 onto my computer, then the purchaser of the copy loaned to me compensated Microsoft, the producer.

What is it that isn't analogous?

I'll do the word-for-word comparison again, regarding people buying my book used:

This situation is not theft nor is intellectual property at stake. Neither the distributor (i.e., the individual who sold my book used), nor the used book company own the copyright (I own the copyright). The copyright holder (me) was compensated for a single copy by the person who bought my book new. The fact that he passed ownership of the book to a used bookstore, who then made a profit by re-selling it to someone else (while I received no compensation by the second owner getting my book and its information) is irrelevant. If someone bought a used copy of my book, then the original purchaser of the book (new) compensated me.
My friend thought it was "absurd" to think that my analogies constituted theft.

And it is also absurd to think that they are not analogous to gifts or loans of computer programs.

He then claimed: "if more instances of an actualized idea exist than the creator was compensated for, then somewhere a theft was committed."

That's exactly what happens in used purchases!!!!! You precisely prove my point. Thanks. My books are out there being bought used. I am not compensated for those purchases. But the person who bought the book is compensated, and so was the used bookstore. It is absurd. All you can do is to ban all used sales whatever to avoid the absurdity in application of the principle. Otherwise you are left with a scenario where (as I mentioned before) I stole Let it Be four times because I taped it, and I bought it as a used record and a used CD (twice). Thus, four times I obtained the final product without compensating its creator or publisher or record company, etc. Is that really what you want to argue?

He then appealed to an "ideal situation," in which the creator receives compensation every time his product is used by someone.

"Ideal" is a key word here, and is central to what I perceive as a profound ethical ambiguity or confusion. This creates several problems. If you want to argue that the actual should be the ideal, that is one thing. It obviously isn't (I think we agree). Or you could say the ideal is the equivalent of the legal. That is a position held by many (perhaps also by you): some sort of "legal positivism," but I also see that as self-evidently false. The most notable historical instance of the falsity of this is the Dred Scott decision concerning slavery in 1857. Pro-lifers like myself also cite Roe v. Wade as a gross distortion of the fundamental right to life of all human beings (before one even gets to the Christian objection: abortion was equally revolting to Hippocrates, the ancient Greek pagan father of medicine). Many other examples could be brought forth, from whatever perspective one comes from.

To use a recent example: homosexuals objected to the former Supreme Court ruling (in 1986) against sodomy. So for them that was an "unjust" or "unethical" law. Now the court has stated otherwise, and they are overjoyed. But obviously the court itself couldn't be the standard for what was right and wrong, because it contradicted itself and reversed itself. Sodomy can't be both right and wrong at the same time, and if it is right (or wrong), it always was that; it was not one or the other simply because nine (or five) people on a court said so. I trust that we can agree on this . . .

But anyway, I believe in ideals. The problem here is: who determines what these ideals are?; how are they concretized in law and legislation (and by what epistemological criteria)?; what is their relation to right and wrong?; are there ethical absolutes?, etc. As you noted early on, these are all large questions that we were trying to bypass in a broad agreement upfront. I don't wish to pursue any or all of these now (maybe sometime in the future). I am simply noting in passing that I see complexities abounding in just this one sentence of yours concerning the "ideal" (and it is only one of many such "magisterial" statements you have made throughout this discussion). In other words, I don't think it is nearly as simple of a discussion as you seem to think it is.

The moral fuzziness between the "ideal" and the "actual" (especially when one considers a great many particulars) is closely related to my objection and point of view (insofar as I have one concerning this issue). The complexities brought about by actualities and their conflict with your "ideal" bring into question your principle and make consistent application of it well-nigh impossible, in my opinion. And if it cannot be sensibly or consistently applied then we have grounds to question the principle itself, or at least some aspects of it. Therefore, I continue to hold that something is not theft if it is the ethical / logical equivalent to all my counter-examples (gifts, used purchases, etc.), which you yourself acknowledge as perfectly acceptable transactions and not "theft" or "stealing" (and which society and law have long since acknowledged as perfectly acceptable). My argument has been that there is no distinction whatsoever between such things. This is what I think (with all due respect) you have failed to overcome. I will again show you below in more detail why I think this is the case. Your moralistic "should" does not work in reality, given used purchases, libraries, VCR's, music downloads (themselves upheld by law), etc.

If it can be shown that may analogous examples are not theft (which you already agree with), because no disanalogy has been established, and there is no discernible ethical difference, then downloading Word 97 is not theft either, by analogy. I continue to maintain that if downloading Word 97 is theft, then so are these other instances. This is the inconsistency and (ultimately) the absurdity (or, to use a milder description: the "utter unworkability") in your position. You have not overcome it by simply asserting "ideal" principles in legalistic language and skirting over the very real issues in reality that bring the principle into question, in terms of application.

That's not to say that we should adopt ethical relativism. I am an ethical absolutist (I believe you are, too, if I understand your objectivist position correctly). I'm not denying your principle per se (right to ownership of ideas, etc.), but only the way in which you apply it to real life. The application of laws is as much a legal question and pursuit as the drafting of legislation or rulings from courts. Interpretation and application is everything, not simply words on a page.

Otherwise, the Constitution would have been self-evident, with no need for any further discussion. The courts apply its principles to real life situations. And it is an evolving (or developing) understanding to some extent. In this instance, the courts have ruled that downloading MP3s does not violate copyright law. It has to do, apparently, with the rights of people to share what they have purchased with others.

There is scarcely any distinction between borrowing and possessing, in many cases. For instance, most people read a book once, and then oftentimes they will pass it on to someone else, or a used book place or church rummage, and so forth. That being the case, if they borrow a book from a library and read it, then this is hardly different from purchasing it and reading it. If the same library lends out CDs, a person could take it out for two weeks and listen to it 15 times. Since many people (if they're like me, and I think I am a fairly typical music fan) don't listen to purchased CD's hundreds of times, but rather, usually maybe five to ten times total, then it is quite possible to enjoy the same experience by borrowing a CD from a library or a friend, rather than purchase it. If 150 people borrow the same CD from the library, then that is 150 less times that the publisher and/or artist receives royalties for it. As an author myself, I don't care for that scenario, but it is reality, and I fail to see how it can be overcome, short of forbidding lending libraries, used stores, and any lending between friends at all.

What breaks down in your logic (to cite just one of several instances) is use-of-a-product as compared to ownership of it, and that use in relation to compensation or remuneration of the original owner or creator. One could argue that use of it (by replication or borrowing) is the moral and ethical equivalent of ownership insofar as the borrower or "duplicator" has not compensated the owner/creator and indeed will not do so because he no longer has a need to in order to use the product (or else couldn't have afforded to do so in the first place, as often in my case). This applies to libraries:

1. A library buys a copy of A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (my first book).

2. Over 15 years, say, 2064 people take out the book and read it.

3. This is multiplied by the instances of libraries carrying my book.

4. Each instance of borrowing my book (up to thousands, and theoretically up to a conceivable near-infinity of borrowers) involves (in terms of the actual use of the reader and information gained therefrom) a violation of your principle of "one-to-one correspondence between particulars in existence and compensation received by the creator of the universal." It makes no difference that only one reader at a time had the book, or whether they even owned it or not. Each one read it without me (the author and creator) receiving one thin dime. Therefore it was "replicated," ethically-speaking, because in these acts of borrowing and reading it, people received benefit and information from my product that they could have only gotten otherwise by purchasing it themselves (thus giving me the benefit of a royalty). So the library has deprived me of royalties (arguably) most times someone borrows my book. They have "stolen" from me (in your logic).

In fact, it just occurred to me that libraries (and places like Kinkos) probably have computers which include Word 97 in them. I could go rent those computers, use the Word 97 to write a manuscript for a book, then sell the resulting book, and this would all be perfectly ethical and legal according to your reasoning, because the library bought the Word 97 program and a "one-to-one correspondence" was maintained, and the library or Kinkos was fully entitled (legally and ethically) to do what it did. But you neglect to see that it was the library which benefited from buying that and renting it out. Shouldn't Microsoft get a royalty for each instance of this, according to your ethical scenario? Instead, the library profits, rather than Microsoft, and I profit by using its computer, without having to purchase the program, but Microsoft gets nothing by way of further compensation.

And say (since you are fond of infinites) that every author in the world had the means to transport themselves to this library (maybe with Star Trek technology) and use the computer with Microsoft Word 97 to write their manuscripts (all perfectly legally), up to millions of people, or an infinite number of authors (God forbid!). The library (or Kinkos) profits every time; the authors save the cost of purchasing Word 97; Microsoft does not receive one additional penny beyond the original library purchase. What, then, becomes of your "one-to-one correspondence"? It would seem to me that both library and authors / computer users have violated that left and right. Yet you (to my knowledge) have not come out against libraries.

So either libraries or your principle-as-stated have to go. I opt for your principle-as-stated, as I rather like libraries (and I like Kinkos), and so do most thinkers and readers. The only difference between this and a pro-life group loaning me their copy of Word 97 is that the pro-life group didn't charge me a rental fee. Thus, the library (in your view) would be more an accessory to crime than friends who loaned me the copy, as the library made a further profit, and directly assisted in and benefited from a "theft," whereas the friend did not make anything.

What is the logical or ethical difference between the following two scenarios?:

1. It is the library's "right to do whatever it wishes with the tangible property (CD) and the single instance of Word97 it compensated Microsoft for." Part of this "right" is the right to loan it out for library users. They then use it to write books or papers without Microsoft being compensated.

2. It is an individual person's "right to do whatever it wishes with the tangible property (CD) and the single instance of Word97 it compensated Microsoft for." Part of this "right" is the right to loan it out to friends. They then use it to write books or papers without Microsoft being compensated.
What is the ethical difference? Do not both things violate the "one-to-one correspondence between particulars in existence and compensation received by the creator of the universal"? How is "justice satisfied"? There is indeed a difference between the library and the friend's loan inasmuch as when the friend loans it, it is then downloaded onto another computer. But I don't see this as an ethical difference, particularly within the framework that you have set up for yourself, because the key for you is compensation to the creator. And in both instances this is lacking in terms of the author or beneficiary of the loan / gift using it without further compensation to Microsoft. That was my point all along: there are many instances of products being distributed without the owner and creator receiving compensation for it. This is true regarding my own book whenever it is purchased used.

At the library or Kinkos people are still using Word 97 (or other computer programs) without paying for it except for a nominal user's fee which benefits the library or Kinkos and not Microsoft. What you neglect to see is that there is no ethical distinction between what might be called "serial replication" vs. "simultaneous replication." When a person has something does not affect the fact that they have it at some point. So you set up this scenario where Person A has to uninstall Word 97 in order for Person B to ethically use said program. This is irrelevant ethically if the primary consideration is whether Microsoft receives further compensation for use of Word 97. It does not. So what Person A does after he loans it out is irrelevant, except according to some arbitrary "ideal absolute" that exists "out there" but has little relation to ethical reality or right to compensation, as it does not affect it. For Person B could simply uninstall Word 97 and pass it on to another person, up to an infinite number of users.

Each one has the "right" to do with it as he wills, because you have informed us that the initial owner has the right to do what he wills with it, being the owner. Once owner x gives it to beneficiary y, y is now the owner and has the right to do whatever HE wills, and so on, to infinity. So ten million or more people could benefit from Microsoft Word 97 without paying for it, and receiving a loan which continues in a perpetual chain (much like a library, again). Thus, you have cut off the branch you are sitting on. The position reduces to absurdity any way you look at it. The only way to avoid it is to also consider gifts, loans, libraries, and used purchases as unethical and instances of "stealing." You say they are not, but cannot show me any significant difference of principle. Therefore, your position collapses, and it does because your principles are inherently self-contradictory, as shown.

I see no significant difference between shared downloads and use of the same technology at a library (except for the library making a profit from it). For the author, Word 97 is only a means to an end. It is important only insofar as it enables him to do what he wants to do: write a book and make it look nice and impressive. I can do that at a library without purchasing it (I can also do it by borrowing a friend's computer, perhaps with Word 97 on it, for that matter; is that "stealing" too?). And if the library has a "right" to do with it as it wills, and make a profit from it, then I can do what I wish with the loan of the Word 97 that the library legally gives to me. It has given me all that I needed from it: the technology to do the book. If not, then you have to show me how what the library does is ethical, while a friend loaning it out (and not making a profit) is not. The same logic applies to used purchases as well. You create a problem by setting up contradictory "rights" and "principles." Something has to be discarded to regain coherence and consistency in your view.

No one is saying that Microsoft should be subjected to having its goods stolen off the shelves. But I am trying to show that the application of your principles involve contradiction and absurdity because you won't admit that used purchases and libraries and other instances of replication (or deprivations of royalties and profits to creators) of one sort or another, are unethical. I can see why you would be reluctant to make such an admission. But it seems to me that you must either do that or make a serious modification of your original claims.

My position is that I don't see that these principles can possibly be consistently applied without eliminating also all the good things I have mentioned; therefore I question the premise and do not consider downloads theft until I am shown that there exists some difference of principle. You have not shown me one, as far as I am concerned. But your position is based on all these absolute principles (themselves not absolutely unquestionable) that have been shown to contradict one another. The tension is in your position, not mine, because you have come out and stated that downloads are theft, but have been unable to show why, without libraries and used bookstores and Kinkos and the Tradin' Times and used record and CD stores and car lots and second-hand clothing shops and yard sales and church rummages going down in flames as well.

If a friend gives me a computer with Word 97 and Windows 98 installed and then his friend gives him the same (which scenario involves no contradiction of your principle), and so on onto infinity with everyone giving computers with purchased programs to someone else (like the Three Stooges passing the dollar bill around, settling all loans), then this is perfectly acceptable; meanwhile Microsoft makes no further profit at all? It all follows from your stated view. In my case, Microsoft Word 97 was simply a medium to create a book. I was also enabled to do that when I was taught to read and write, and when I learned theology and apologetics and philosophy and English literature and grammar. Do I have to compensate all the people who taught me those things, too, because I use those skills when I write a book, just as I use Word 97?

Whether you can overcome my latest analogies and logical difficulties raised, will be most interesting to watch. I don't think you're the type to run when asked hard questions anymore than I am, which is why this is so intellectually stimulating and fun. You appear very confident to me, and I am too. Like you said earlier, most such discussions would have long-since degenerated into insecure name-calling, but we have allowed this one to get to some real substance and meat, where it is all the more challenging. I'm very impressed by that on your part.

[that was the end of our discussion]


I remember reading somewhere that musicians and music publishers have actually made a greater profit as a result of Napster and other downloading services. It's easy to understand how and why that is, with a bit of reflection. Many people might not hear a certain musician or band at all, but for these services (if they don't listen to a lot of radio, or keep up with the latest music, etc.). With this new development, they can be introduced to a great many new musicians.

Also, on Napster, many tracks have to be purchased individually (for 99 cents). The artist thus receives royalties in those cases. The exposure will then make it more likely that the person may buy a CD from this person or group in the future, whereas before he may never have done so. It becomes a form of advertising and exposure, which is, of course, the name of the game for any product. The market is a dynamic, not static entity, or a "zero sum game". The music stores have started doing a similar thing by allowing customers to listen to excerpts of albums in the store. Amazon.com does the same thing with their short music file excerpts of tracks.

The ambiguities and complexities of copyright law have been dealt with in the courts, which is the system we have for sorting out disputes of this sort. They have decided that Napster and services like it do not violate copyright law (whereas plagiarism of literary or musical material is). If the musicians and publishers don't like that, then tough. We wouldn't expect them to. Everyone is self-interested. I don't like the fact (at some level) that my own books can be bought used, thus depriving me in some cases of a royalty from a new book bought. But this is reality, and we are a society of laws. I say that if all of this replication is supposedly immoral and "theft," then the people claiming this ought to get consistent and make CD burning and DVD replication and libraries and all used venues illegal. Until they do, downloading is no more illegal or unethical than going to the library: a time-honored American tradition. The argument against these things is, in other words, a distinction without a difference, and thus must be discarded.

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