Re: When is an MP3 like a lighthouse?

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Thu Oct 25 2001 - 08:45:42 MDT

Brian D Williams wrote:
> >From: "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <>
> >As Larry Niven once said, "Ethics change with technology." I
> >agree that there is an ethical rule stating "pay for what you
> >copy", but this is a very different rule than "pay for what you
> >take", and those who equate freeloading with theft will continue
> >to find that the Napster generation are deaf to an argument that
> >rests on a flawed analogy. You can tell the Napster generation
> >that nice people tip; you can't tell them that what they do is
> >theft, because it's not. And besides, didn't I just finish asking
> >people to untangle their wishes and their predictions?
> What they do is legally defined as theft, whether "they" choose to
> recognize it or not.

The law is powerless. Artists are powerless. The opinions of the Napster
generation are the only opinions that matter, because they determine how
much the artist gets paid.

> >Uhh... this is blatantly untrue. Freeloading may increase total
> >unfairness, but it still increases wealth. Downloading always
> >increases wealth. If the artists paid *me* to download their
> >works, each download would still increase wealth. Suppose that I
> >have $1000, the artist has $1000, I have 0GB, and the artist has
> >1GB. The following payoff matrix shows that each download
> >increases real wealth:
> It most certainly does not increase wealth. If I am an artist and
> the material I write to be payed for is stolen, I have gained no
> wealth.

I am speaking about total wealth in the system, not the wealth of any
single party.

> Your argument translates to "stealing increases wealth".

Copying increases wealth. If someone steals my television set, I lost a
television set and they gained a television set, so the net effect is zero
except for unfairness costs. If someone copies my television set, I lose
nothing, and the copier gains a television set. If the copier doesn't tip
the TV set designer a couple of bucks, I lose because I'm less likely to
be able to buy (copy) (download) better TV sets in the future. But the TV
set designer has not actually lost money; they simply have not received a
gain to which you would argue they are legally entitled. Real wealth has
increased, but so has unfairness.

To put it another way, suppose that someone copies a TV set. I'm sure
that you would argue that the law says that the copier has just stolen
$400 from the TV designer. Leaving aside the total unenforceability of
the law, wealth has *still* been created. Let's say you're the TV
designer. If I freeload a TV, it's as if a magic fairy were to give you
$400 of new wealth, after which I steal $400 from you. At the end of the
day you are no richer, and I have my stolen goods at no benefit to you,
but $400 of new wealth has still entered the system from *somewhere*. You
can, if you want, phrase the situation so that the real wealth was created
at the artist's node and then stolen by the evil freeloader, but the point
is that each additional download of a TV set *still* creates an additional
$400 of new wealth.

And you are, of course, wrong *in practice* to call it "theft", because in
practice, the only way for artists to be paid is for downloaders to decide
to pay them. You do not use the word "theft" to a downloader; that word
does not correspond to their intuitive perception of the situation. You
use the word "freeloader", so that they see the justice of your argument
and agree to tip.

> >Now of course you can argue that unfairness is a real economic
> >cost that decreases efficiency. With this I agree, although
> >whether it's enough to overcome the vast wealth created by
> >downloading is a separate issue. You can argue that money paid to
> >the artist generates future wealth and I agree with this as well.
> >But in the short term, each incremental download always generates
> >wealth.
> Stealing valuable material still does not translate to an increase
> in wealth.

I agree, it doesn't. Copying valuable material translates to an increase
in wealth. Arguably this is offset by unfairness costs. Arguably it is

-- -- -- -- --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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