Tobold's Blog
Friday, June 07, 2013
 
Where copyright infringement leads to

A reader sent me a funny YouTube video on 300 Heroes, a Chinese game that not only blatantly rips off League of Legends, but then populates it with characters stolen from all sorts of other works, up to and including a donkey-throwing Shrek. Now it is easy to laugh about that and point a finger at the Chinese. But I think the video is a great explanation where copyright infringement leads to. Because ultimately what you see there is just a logical consequence of the disregard of intellectual property that is so common on the internet.

How many times have people commented on this blog that there should be no copyright, that they should have the right to copy games, movies, and music as they like? But if we say that copying games and films is totally okay, then the next thing that happens is that you have stalls at every flea market where pirated games and films are being sold. And after the small entrepreneurs profiting from this lawlessness come the bigger companies, and soon after you have games like 300 Heroes, or Zynga ripping off Tiny Tower and The Sims Social.

Either somebody creating content has intellectual property rights to his creation, enabling him to prohibit all sorts of copying and ripping off, or he hasn't. We can't defend our rights to infringe copyright left and right, and then get outraged when a Chinese company does it too. Copyright either exists or it doesn't. And if we argue for its downfall, we will have to live with the consequences, which won't be pretty.

Comments:
I call bullshit!

What kind of argument is that: Either we have copyright or we don't?

Copyright as it is today is made by men, in the form a laws, and it can be tweaked, changed and optimized at will.

Also we already have different copyright rules say for medical research and literature.

But most importantly there is a huge difference between a company using some other company's intellectual property to earn money than there is to a consumer using some else's IP for his own personal use.

This difference has always been in place in all western judicial systems and the internet and digitalization has just made the need to optimimze IP laws necessary.

You are comparing apples to oranges.
 
The copyright/piracy issue is one of the few areas where I wholeheartedly agree with you. I still have a very hard time understanding how people can vehemently defend violating someone else’s rights. Maybe it is because they reject certain rights all together or maybe they consider piracy to be a victimless crime. There is a good chance, however, that they come to a different conclusion when they are personally affected.
 
Nothing stopped Zynga from ripping off Tiny Towers did it?
 
Don't forget how blatantly that video author ripped off that poor Chinese company by copying their content for his video. Copyright is not absolute, and even the current (outdated) laws recognize that.
 
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Moderation, man.
It's like masturbation.

Yeah, everyone does it, but you don't just go out and do it IN PUBLIC.
 
Nothing stopped Zynga from ripping off Tiny Towers did it?

Actually it is a bit more complicated than that. There is law, and there is lawyers, and while the law is the same for everybody, the access to lawyers isn't. Zynga being much bigger than NimbleBit got away with it because NimbleBit couldn't afford taking them to court. But then Zynga tried exactly the same stunt on Sims Social, and of course EA *had* the lawyers and kicked Zynga's ass.

But most importantly there is a huge difference between a company using some other company's intellectual property to earn money than there is to a consumer using some else's IP for his own personal use.

Are you arguing law or morals here? My point is that commenters on this blog frequently made a moral argument against copyright as a tool of capitalism. From a moral point of view I don't see how you can have one set of morals allowing individuals to steal intellectual property and another condemning entrepreneurs from doing the same.
 
You are mixing two things:
- consuming someones intellectual product for free
- making money from someones intellectual work

The second has no support from anyone. The discussion is about the first.

Free access for intellectual property doesn't mean it's impossible to make money for the producer. For example I would go to a 3D full surround movie even if the same content is downloadable for free to watch on my 21" screen with 4 speakers.


 
You are mixing two things

You are separating two things that aren't that easy separable. Take pirated movies: Not everybody gets their pirated movies as download from the internet, people also buy them as bootleg copies. Are you saying that the guy who watches a downloaded pirated movie is morally superior to the one who watches it on the disc he bought on a flea market or from the boot of somebody's car? Or are you saying that it is morally totally okay to buy that bootlegged copy, but morally totally wrong to sell it?
 
While I read some very passionate FOSS positions, I assume that few gamers are making a moral argument. Rather they feel entitled that the existing laws not apply to them.

I don't see the moral distinction between consuming IP for free vs for resale. Both are wrong and illegal, even if a significant reason they are wrong is because they are illegal.

Just another case of the world not dealing with digital. There is more an understanding of the illegality if you consumed the IP in a non-profit way from a physical object you stole, e.g. shoplifting.

---

If the Chinese copyright violators instead broke copyright by creating a hacked client that allowed you to get BiS PvP ratings and gear, then there would be much more outcry.
 
What if the Chinese copy turned out to be better than the original in some way? What if it introduced some game play innovations or what even if it adds nothing more than the ability to play as a character from a Disney movie. Do you insist that this creation has no value just because it breaks our current interpretation of copyright?

I live in the a western European country and I obey the laws here including copyright laws. I even recognise that these laws have contributed in no small part to economic and technological development but I do not blindly agree that our current laws on copyright and intellectual property are the only way or even the best way to do things.

One of the biggest problems I see with our current implementation of copyright laws is the right of absolute control they give to original owners. That right stifles all kinds of derivative works and innovations in distribution. It actually damages creativity.

I do recognise that it makes sense to reward original creators but not with such a draconian right. I would like to see a copyright law that included automatic rights to copy, distribute and make derivative works perhaps on payment of some standard royalty. That way original authors would still get rewarded but there would still be freedom to innovate further.

This isn't fully thought out as you can imagine but I am convinced that there are better ways to do copyright than they way we currently do it.
 
Tobold, I am lurking your blog for some years due your interesting articles, but this time you are taking it too far.

Some consequences of your view on copyright lead to stuff like the coming console fubar of Sony and Microsoft. Do you like constant surveillance in your home to protect the intellectual rights of the copyright owners?

Copyright is meant to compensate and protect the producer of works to prevent such things like this chinese LoL clone but not to a tool to enforce things that currently get out of the hand like the xbox.
 
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@Tobold: yes I do. I see nothing wrong with accessing ideas, art or any other form of intellectual content. Actually I consider it a right. Just like no one is slave, no one should be barred from thoughts. Thoughts are separating us from animals. No one should own thoughts. No one should be able to say "you can't think X without paying me". To have thoughts we must access thoughts of other people written in various forms of content.

I don't think an author has any more right to own what he created than a mother has to own and control her child. The child is a human now, despite it couldn't exist without someone giving him birth.

On the other hand one should have benefits of creating intellectual work, so they can (and no one else can) charge for any relating service.
 
Do you like constant surveillance in your home to protect the intellectual rights of the copyright owners?

Like previous commenters you are confusing the law with law enforcement. That Sony and Microsoft have legal rights to the intellectual property running on their consoles is one thing. How they enforce that right is a different thing, and history is full of examples where attempts at law enforcement resulted in something illegal. Filming you in your living room via Kinect and sending the images to Redmond would be illegal in most jurisdictions. Requiring your console to "phone home" and check whether the game you are playing was legally bought would be legal in most jurisdictions.
 
On the other hand one should have benefits of creating intellectual work, so they can (and no one else can) charge for any relating service.

Except if you are offering additional services, like the 3D surround sound you mentioned, I don't see how a content creator can have benefits of creating intellectual property if everybody is legally allowed to copy it for free. If you made your blog a paid-for service, how would you feel if you got exactly 1 customer who then proceeded to copy the content of your blog on his free blog?
 
Tobold, like others, I find your debating point here to be a bit on the convoluted side.

If Blizzard can get away with using obvious popular culture characters in their game, which are blatant rips of other peoples intellectual property, how can this Chinese company, and what they are doing, be considered any different?
 
@Chris: I find your argument more coherent than that of Gevlon or amuz. In summary:

Tobold: Copying games = copying content from games = bad
Chris: Copying games = copying content from games = good
Gevlon: Copying can be good or bad, and that only depends on whether you copy to sell

Really I don't see much difference whether you copy a game to save $50 for yourself or whether you copy a game to sell it for $50. At the end of the day you are $50 richer and the game company is one potential game sell poorer, even if that isn't necessarily worth $50.
 
I'm not advocating that the copying of a game by an individual, to resell at a flea market for profit, is even remotely the same as what this Chinese company is doing. You seem to be linking these two activities as if they are in the same ethical and moral vein, which they obviously are not.
 
You seem to be linking these two activities as if they are in the same ethical and moral vein, which they obviously are not.

How is that not the same, only in a different scale?

If I hand-draw a forged dollar bill I am guilty of the same crime as if I had printed a million forged dollar bills. If I copy one game disc I am guilty of the same crime as if I had ripped off the whole game and resold it. The only thing that changes is the scale of the operation. The disregard for intellectual property is the same.
 
Well scale is important. Unless you are prepared to claim that the holocaust (Godwin'd! (not really since I never mentioned Hitler (ok now I have, so Godwin'd!))) is morally equally as wrong as a single murder, you must admit there are varying degrees of copyright infringement and the law must reflect this.
 
Scaling is certainly a difficult question for morals and laws. If I steal your wallet, does the degree of my guilt depend on how much money exactly was in that wallet? Is a thief of $200 twice as guilty and morally reprehensible as a thief of $100?

But to stick with your Holocaust example: How do you get from the Holocaust being wrong to a single murder being right? You can only ever get to the single murder being less wrong on some sort of moral scale, how could scale possibly turn wrong into right?
 
And I forgot to add my personal opinion, which is as follows: I completely fail to care about any and all copyright related issues, by which I mean I do not support any type of copyright law. Any argument about either innovation, justice or most laughable of all, rights is as empty as the head of the person making it. If not one more movie/game/book/song/whatever is produced because the person creating it doesn't see any money in it, I'm completely fine with that.
 
1.
Hagu: I don't see the moral distinction between consuming IP for free vs for resale. Both are wrong and illegal, even if a significant reason they are wrong is because they are illegal.
I don't know where you live, but here (and all the other jurisdictions I know off) consuming IP for free is not only not illegal but everyone's right.

In fact when you borrow a DVD from a friend or read a book to your child there is someone consuming someone's IP for free.

What is illegal is getting that IP in an illegal way. This is a very relevant legal distinction.

Neither is it wrong or immoral.

2.
Laws (at least copyright laws) are made by men. They can be changed by men. The fact that a specific practice is illegal right now is in itself no reason whatsoever to not support it.
If you don't believe me, ask a gay about relevant laws in the '50s.

3.
The distinction between private and commercial use is so fundamental that I simply can't believe you would chose to ignore it.

Not only is this distinction made in countless fields of economic relevance, it is also highly relevant when discussing the results of different IP-law schemes.

4.
Morale has nothing to do with this. At least not if one is interested in a rational discussion.

Let me give you just one example:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries%27_copyright_length
Is Korea less moral than the US? What if France what change its laws to 150 years? Would they be even more moral than? What about 15 years? Five?

This is not about morale. It is about what works and what does not.
 
Morale has nothing to do with this. At least not if one is interested in a rational discussion.

So let me get that straight: You are completely okay with that Chinese company ripping off League of Legends, because it is legal in China to do so? And you are completely okay with Americans being punished under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, because that is the law of the land?
 
And to answer your question: Because the scale doesn't have to start at zero. For example I do not consider stealing 1 cent from me morally wrong, because you have not committed enough harm to me to even bother noticing, let alone placing moral judgement. If you steal 100 dollars or a million that is a different story. Stealing and copyright infringement and murder's moral values don't use the same scale. Actually I have a better example that is completely analogous to the argument against your OP. Self defense. In self defense, it is (arguably) morally right to use a certain amount of force. Going over that becomes morally wrong. If someone is slapping you repeatedly you will not be held morally accountable for physically restraining them or even punching them (where you otherwise would be if they were minding their own business). If you pull out a knife and stab them in the spleen, you will most definitely be held morally and legally accountable. So you see there are perfectly good examples where "commiting murder is morally right while the holocaust is still wrong".
 

>Morale has nothing to do with this. At least not if one is interested in a rational discussion.

So let me get that straight: You are completely okay with [...]


Last time I checked you could be "okay" or "not okay" with things for different reasons than morality.

What that Chinese company did, I am not okay with. The DMCA has some aspects that I am also not okay with.

But those reasons aren't about morality, but about what works best for society.
 
Wait, what are we talking about now? I thought the OP was about "you can't have some copyright law, it's either all or nothing (and then chinese moba character ripoff galore given as example of what happens when copyright law is both figuratively and literally not global)". How do someone's moral judgements on differences between nations when it comes to copyright law & the idea of copyright itself affect this in any way? Some argued that you can in fact separate degrees of copyright infringement by severity (or categorize them), which is a point that can be argued. How can you argue logically about the morals themselves? At best you can guess which set produces more efficiency in a society (which is nearly useless as you can only guess, and even if you could know for sure, you couldn't do anything with that knowledge), and at worst you can get sucked into a pointless argument about who's moral values are more morally valuable (it's no one's).
 
So you see there are perfectly good examples where "commiting murder is morally right while the holocaust is still wrong".

What nonsense! Self defence is not murder. If you scale up self defence, e.g. a country defending itself in war, you can kill thousands and still be morally justified. The Holocaust is wrong because every individual murder of which it consisted was wrong.
 
What nonsense! Self defence is not murder. If you scale up self defence, e.g. a country defending itself in war, you can kill thousands and still be morally justified. The Holocaust is wrong because every individual murder of which it consisted was wrong.
This discussion gets really weird.

In the OP you argued that any form of using copyright against current laws is either inherently wrong or okay.

And now you argue that not any form of killing another human being is either wrong or okay - but you have to look on wether that killing is justified.

Which is basically the voiced opinion of many here: There are situations in which using IP in a way different to the way some jurisdictions enforce it or some IP-owners want it.
 
It doesn't matter which variable you scale up. You crafted your example to suit your narrative, (that the same thing done on greater scale can't change moral value from negative to positive). But you didn't ask for such an example, you asked how can something be wrong in one amount, but right in another. "How do you get from holocaust wrong to murder right" - when you replace holocaust and murder with two different actions. I provided an example where you can do that, which is violence for purposes of self defense, and the variable being scaled is intensity of violence. Copyright infringement is a lot more complicated then either self defense or murder, but the point I'm trying to make is that it isn't a binary choice requiring a blanket rule for all circumstances and it certainly isn't first among such concepts that you can restrict by law or place moral judgements on(see my violence example).
 
So in your opinion, was the Holocaust murder or self defence?

See the difference? You can't just change the scale and make the crime justifiable. Copyright infringement on a large scale is wrong, copyright infringement on a small scale is also wrong. And many small wrongs always make a big wrong, never a right. You see piracy as one guy stealing one copy of a game, but in reality it is thousands of people stealing thousands of copies. Which overall reduces the money the game studio earns on their games, and in some cases results in the game studio closing down due to lack of funds. Piracy, in a large scale, kills game studios. Whatever lame excuse you have for stealing your single copy.
 
Do people think it is IP or personal profit?
Making a photocopy of a paper book for myself? Selling that photocopy? Is tapping my neighbors cable/sat TV less dishonest since it does not cost them the same as if I stole a DVD from their mailbox?

Is it legal to sneak into a movie theater/concert since it is non-profit and I did not take anything physical?

The two things I take away from this are:

digital goods are not caught up to physical in the laws or people's expectations.

If you are a for-profit game company, you almost certainly need to rely on something - DRM, subscriptions, in-game advertisements, product placements - other than the honesty of your customers to insure you get paid. The fact that many of them think they are doing nothing wrong may be puzzling or frustrating but that does not affect the bottom line.
 
@amuz: In the US, if you gather a large enough number of people to watch the Superbowl(sports game) for free off over-the-air TV, that is a copyright violation. Whereas in Britain, watching TV without paying for a TV license is a crime. You don't get to push your way into movies or concerts or hack into cable,SkyTV or Netflix or...

In first world countries there are many situations where consuming an IP by a person not for profit is illegal. As an increasing % of the world's economy is IP, this will increase.

P.S. /troll other countries make cars and goods and send them to America. In exchange, we send them Windows 8 and Transformers 4
 
Tobold, you asked how anyone could possibly give their IP away for free and still make money off of it. The answer is seen in the variety of operating systems, particularly server based, that are based on Unix. Where I work there are thousands of servers and only a smallish fraction are Windows based. The rest are Unix operating systems which are free to download and use. The profit margin for those OS developers comes in when a customer wants security patches and other forms of support. There are plenty of ways to make a living off of IP without having to actually restrict who can have it. Not that I am strictly opposed to Copyright, I just very much disagree with it's current implementation and enforcement. Currently I could break into a store after hours and steal all the boxes I could carry, put them in my car and then sell them to someone else and end up with a smaller criminal punishment should I be caught than if I had violated the IP on just a few items which is a civil offense. That is in no way morally justifiable.
 
This discussion is bizarre.

There is absolutely a moral, ethical, and legal difference between, say, killing someone because you snapped, killing someone for money, planning and carrying out a killing, killing someone specifically because they were gay/black/Jewish/etc, and so on and so forth. Conversely, it doesn't matter to the victim, because they are dead.

That is essentially what you are asserting here regarding private vs commercial copyright violations: that there is no difference simply because the IP-holder is "getting screwed" either way. That is wrong. Hate crimes are (morally if not legally) worse than normal crimes; Crimes Against Humanity are worse than "normal" military actions during a war.

Similarly, there is absolutely a (moral) difference between personal and commercial piracy. The latter is pretty well-defined, for starters. Are you selling boot-leg copies for profit? Are you releasing a competing product using the same videogame characters? Personal piracy can be straight-forward occasionally, like downloading something from Pirate Bay. But apparently it might also count if you let your wife play any of your Steam games. Or let your cousin play your Xbox. You got people in this very comment thread asserting that selling used games is copyright infringement, i.e. illegal and punishable up to $150,000 per title, and yet we have GameStop, GAME, and thousands of other retailers doing it in broad daylight. Nevermind those yard sales you see pop up in residential areas.

Where is the line in personal piracy? If my friend watches me play, is that piracy? What if it's a strategy game and he tells me where to move? Is it only piracy if he physically touches the controller? And this is besides the questions as to whether it is any of the company's business to know who is our home or what we do on our end of the keyboard/controller.

Besides, IP law is supposed to be about what's good for society. Is life of author + 70 years better to society than, say, life of author + 7 years? I'd say no. In fact, why is it more than, say, 20 years? Copyright provides an incentive for innovation from the private sector, yes, but I have a hard time believing that someone would look at a 20 year copyright and say "Nope, I'm not going to bother with possibly making unlimited amounts of money for 20 years." All our present system accomplishes is encouraging corporate rent-seeking and stifling potentially beneficial remixing/derivatives. Imagine if drug patents lasted 100+ years. Would we see more research or less? Would society be better off, or worse?
 
Tobold, buddy, I love you, but you are far too old, too educated, and too intelligent to be making a post relying entirely on a false dilemma and also implying a slippery slope argument.
 
What you are saying essentially is that it is totally okay for YOU to steal intellectual property, but totally wrong if some Chinese guy is doing it. But I'm pretty sure that US piracy does more to hurt US game studios than cheap Chinese knockoffs do.

other countries make cars and goods and send them to America. In exchange, we send them Windows 8 and Transformers 4

So what happens to your trade balance if the Windows 8 and Transformers 4 you export are being copied, while the physical objects you import can't be?
 
Tobold,

I think that's exactly what Hagu was trying to say.

Personally, I think the highlight of this thread is that amuz and Unknown are pirating games in self defense. Who knows what they would have done to you if you hadn't taken them first?

Seriously, though – is it really that hard to accept that digital stuff can be just like stuff? Azuriel: you can borrow stuff, look at stuff and sell stuff to your friends (as long as it's not a controlled substance). All of that's perfectly fine. We can't take stuff from each other without permission though. That's just not nice.

Now you will say that the difference with digital is that it's infinitely copyable. To me, that's more a distribution issue than a legal one, though. With better distribution methods, the potential for profit is much bigger. That probably drives prices down, which is certainly a good thing. Developing a huge game costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Not that much less than it costs to develop a new car. Yet because of the efficient manufacturing and distribution methods, we don't have to pay 25,000 dollars for our games. I think that's a good thing.

Oh, and Tobold: the theft of 10 dollars, 1,000 dollars and 100,000 dollars are actually three different crimes in many (most?) countries. I can't of any reason why it shouldn't be that way with software too.
 
The nature of digital media, and the methods of production, distribution, storage and manipulation of information now is vastly different from even 20 years ago. The whole system needs to be reconsidered in terms of how we stand from a legal and moral viewpoint. So no, it is not as black and white as you assert.

Supply has always been regarded as being in a different league than consumption or possession, both morally and legally. Drugs, for example. How many people would judge a dealer for their supply of drugs, but not judge the person who buys from them? Quite a lot, I would expect. This is reflected in law, where trafficking is penalised much more harshly than mere possession. So I would argue that commercial piracy is not simply personal piracy 'scaled up'. As Azuriel pointed out, there are tons of ways of committing personal piracy that hardly anyone finds morally objectionable, yet I think most people would agree that commercial piracy is not okay.
 
@Oscar: What? How did you draw the conclusion I am pirating games in self defense (I am doing it out of convenience)? If it's due to my self-defense analogy, that has nothing to do with anything, except as an example of real life laws/morals where you can in fact have one non-zero non-negative amount of something be legal/right, while a greater amount is still illegal/wrong. This was to counter Tobold's generalization that you can't change the moral polar value of an act depending on scale.
 
Unknown,

It was a (plainly misguided) attempt at humour. Sorry.
 
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