Re: When is an MP3 file like a lighthouse, or the meaning of mora lity

From: Smigrodzki, Rafal (SmigrodzkiR@MSX.UPMC.EDU)
Date: Fri Oct 26 2001 - 17:59:14 MDT

Brian Williams wrote:

The main criteria for calling an action "theft" is whether or not
it is illegal/immoral.

#### The word "immoral" is so very fraught with meaning... Let me try to
briefly tell how I would apply it in this situation: The reason why most of
us (usually at Kohlberg stages 3 and above) think taking somebody else's
orange without his permission is bad, is because allowing such behavior in a
society would lead to a breakdown of the economy, and diminished survival.
For the majority of us any human action that elicits in us the fear of
undeserved death is considered immoral.

It is further corroborated by another example: breathing in the molecules
exhaled and released into the environment by another person is not
considered immoral, or theft, even if this person (or the King himself)
would strenuously forbid it. Since our life and way of life are not
threatened by reusing somebody else's air (and are indeed indispensable for
it), we do not think it should be called theft, even though the person's
property (the air in his lungs) becomes somebody else's property, usually
without explicit consent.

The long-term economic and survival impact of an action can change depending
on the physical and social context. If free music downloading does not limit
the production and availability of music, does not disrupt the economy, and
does not make us poorer (which is what I believe), then there is no reason
to call it immoral. The context of music production and delivery is now
different than three years ago. Our application of ethical reasoning should
reflect it, even though the underlying moral axioms are unchanged. And, of
course, budding artists might have to change their expectations about the
exact amount of money they are going to get for their efforts. Most will
keep making music anyway.

>Which still doesn't answer what should be done about the
>non-government funded scientific and technical documents, which
>need much more work to be produced than some crooner's output.
>Such content might still require substantial legal protection.

Whats the difference? Isn't information information?

#### Robert Bradbury answered this question in his post - music takes just a
few K to produce, and somebody will always keep making it, even if only as a
hobby or a freebie accompaniment to live performances. Some types of
technical info can cost literally millions per line to produce and to assure
that it is produced you need to reward its purveyors handsomely.

As Robert and Samantha mention, we might need more refined IP laws,
specifically addressing such disparate areas as databases, music, handbooks,
open source software, rather than the blunt tools of patent, trademark, and
copyright law.

Hal Finney also makes some very important points. In a perfectly transparent
society, maintaing the copyright laws on music would be easy, and would
result in the optimal allocation of resources. I agree and I would support
the creation of such a society but until that happens, the cost of
maintaining the current law (outlawing the use of PC's, for example) is, as
Hal says, too high.

A note to Hal: the content owners should be granted a monopoly on the use
and copying of their property but only for a limited time - otherwise it
would amount to granting the license for unlimited income from a limited,
one-time investment. The time-period of copyright should be strictly limited
to the time sufficient to generate adequate reimbursement and to assure
consitent supply of content.

Rafal Smigrodzki, MD-PhD

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