I admit I am on the horns of a dilemma regarding music file sharing: I think it’s inevitable, impossible to stop, the methods being used to stop it including the DMCA are far more damaging and dangerous to the nation as a whole than the “crime” itself, there are very real gray areas of what is and what is not allowable under the fair use provisions of copyright, there is currently no viable legitimate alternative available (although the pay systems ARE improving), AND I am not convinced that file sharing damages CD sales.
That’s a lot of if’s and caveats and mitigating circumstances.
However, upon being pinned down and baked like a pig at a luau (see comments section) yesterday regarding my position on file sharing, I will have to conclude that regardless of all the above-mentioned factors and more, appropriating copyrighted material without permission for one’s own use is not a moral act.
It is not stealing, for stealing means obtaining a unique object through illicit means, depriving the lawful owner of the use of that object or income from its use or sale. This does not happen with file sharing because nothing is lost, but this does not make it morally right.
I see file sharing as more akin to purposeful deception, which may or may not be illegal depending upon the circumstances, but is never morally right.
So while I concede that unauthorized file sharing shouldn’t be defended from a wrong vs right position – it is morally always wrong – it is not without meaning to defend it from a relative-wrong position, and under certain circumstances, there are enough mitigating factors to push it up close to the morality Mason-Dixon line, if not over it.
With those thoughts in place, let us now take a look at this story about Dartmouth College introducing “voice over Internet protocol” (VoIP), which essentially turns a computer into a telephone:
- This week, as classes begin, the 1,000 students entering the class of 2007 will be given the option of downloading software, generically known as softphones, onto Windows-based computers.
Using the software together with a headset, which can be plugged into a computer’s U.S.B. port, the students can make local or long-distance telephone calls free. Each student is assigned a traditional seven-digit phone number.
….When running, the software appears on the screen as a phone with a dial pad. Phone numbers are dialed by clicking the numbers on the key pad.
Voice over Internet protocol is not new. But running so much voice over a wireless data network is.
“As far as I know, no one has done a wireless voice-over-I.P. network this large before,” said David Kotz, a computer science professor at Dartmouth.
….The roll out of voice over Internet protocol is closely coupled with Dartmouth’s recent decision to stop charging students, faculty and staff for long-distance phone calls. The college made that decision when administrators discovered that the billing function was costing more than the calls themselves.
“One wouldn’t be possible without the other,” Mr. Johnson said. “Imagine the complexities of trying to track down who made what call when on a large, mobile campus voice-over-I.P. network.”
….”It all ultimately relates back to this idea of convergence,” he added, “where anything you see or hear can be digitized.” [NY Times]
Wireless and all-you-can-eat systems like this new VoIP at Dartmouth are the next wave of the Internet. With public WiFi in particular there is simply no way to track down the behavior of individual users – all action occurs within the undifferentiated “soup” of the mass entity rendering individual action anonymous. The only possible way to monetize actions within such a system is to charge a blanket fee, and then distribute the pool created by these fees to the creators/copyright holders based upon some kind of sampling method.
I may have been morally wrong, but my view of reality and its ramifications was correct. So bite me or something.