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chromatic (983)

chromatic
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http://wgz.org/chromatic/

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Journal of chromatic (983)

Thursday June 19, 2008
06:34 PM

The Fallacy of "If You Ask Me"

[ #36732 ]

And if you ask me, there's nothing wrong with non-commercial redistribution of publicly-available content.

Shlomi Fish, Why Closed Books are So 19th-Century

Snarky response: maybe you should ask the copyright holder instead, or a legislative body in your jurisdiction, or a legal scholar.

Substantive response: how about another quote?

By making your book available online, you're giving yourself a huge publicity, and earning a lot of repute.

ibid

Substantive response cont'd: I can't decide if this is the Lake Wobegon fallacy or the In A Perfect World fallacy. Of course it's possible that Stephen King's first novel made him millions of dollars and helped him become a full-time novelist with dozens or hundreds of other books. It's easy to point to a big success like that.

Guess what? There are plenty of other novelists like me, whose first novels didn't sell very many copies at all (if they even made it to bookshelves -- so this is not complaining on my part; I achieved my artistic goals with that book long, long ago). You hear about the one-in-a-million successes and you don't hear about the nine-hundred-ninety-nine-thousand-nine-hundred-ninety-nine-in-a-million modest successes and (mostly) failures.

Put another way: it's no surprise that Cory Doctorow, editor of a site with millions of page views, popular speaker, long-time writer, long-time activist, and effective publicist can write a book, give it away online, and get a lot of attention. He's good at getting attention, especially when he does something that's very consistent with the goals and mores and ethics of the people who pay attention to what he does.

Similarly the argument that copyright infringement didn't cost J.K. Rowling substantive money fails to move me.

If my argument here fails to convince you, here's another quotefrom an earlier essay:

Perl is very hard to learn from public electronic resources alone. I believe there may even be a clash of interests because the core Perl people also write them and so may not have enough motivation to improve the online documentation. Making them public will resolve that.

Shlomi Fish, "Usability" of the Perl Online World for Newcomers

Good things happen not because magical candy-flavored unicorns fly over and drop sparkly glitter on projects where some hand-waving pundit said "All you have to do is make it a wiki and in mere seconds your teeth will be whiter, your waistline slimmer, your hair thicker, and all of your problems disappear." Good things happen because someone sat down and did the hard work to make good things happen.

Is the Perl FAQ materially better than it was ten years ago because it's easier to work on now? (I'm not sure it's even substantively different than it was ten years ago.)

There's an interesting discussion on the subject of mechanisms by which to encourage participation (and I do believe that liberal policies of contributions and licensing can encourage such participation), but the argument that merely allowing non-commercial redistribution summons those delicious sexy unicorns is hollow, shallow, and completely unsupported by facts and experience. (That's even laying aside the ridiculous conspiracy theory that suggests that Perl book authors are organized and sinister enough to plot to keep the core documentation skimpy and yet stupid enough not to realize that it's easier to get rich flipping burgers for a living than writing technical books full-time.)

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  • It's easy to speculate about this stuff if you've never actually worked on it to make it better.

    Or maybe Shlomi lives on a trust fund, and doesn't need an income. Personally I know that it's really really hard work to make good documentation, and really really hard work to write a book. And neither of those things would I do for free any more, unless I had a really good reason for it.

    But now I'm old, and cantankerous. It was different when I was younger.

    • It's easy to speculate about this stuff if you've never actually worked on it to make it better.

      That's not entirely fair. Shlomi and I don't always agree on things, but he does contribute. His arguments in this case have some flaws, but I believe his actions are consistent with his beliefs, and I respect that.

      And neither of those things would I do for free any more, unless I had a really good reason for it.

      Me too, and I write a fair amount of free documentation and tutorial materials myself. (Yo

    • For the record, I actually contributed a lot to online documentation. See for example my online lectures [shlomifish.org], the documentation of my CPAN modules [cpan.org], the patches I sent to perl*.pod, my essays, articles and blog posts, etc. Also see my Freecell Solver library [berlios.de] which is extensively documented and all of its documentation is under the public domain.

      Personally I know that it's really really hard work to make good documentation, and really really hard work to write a book. And neither of those things would I do f

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        No it's fine. I just forgot cynical. I'm old, cantankerous, and cynical.

      • I see nothing "idealistic" about saying people should give things away for free. It is, to me, "idealistic" to say that it is purely their own business whether to do so or not, and that whether that decision is good or bad can only be properly judged by themselves.

        I know, I am a radical that way.

        • Hi pudge! Thanks for your comment.

          I agree with you that people should not be forced to give their property (much less their real-estate) for free. But copyrights and the so-called "intellectual property", while having implicit and explicit ownership, is not property.

          George Bernard Shaw said it better than I:

          If I have an apple and you have an apple, and we exchange apples, then we both would still have one apple.

          But we if we both have one idea, and we exhange ideas, then we'll now have two ideas.

          • I agree with you that people should not be forced to give their property (much less their real-estate) for free. But copyrights and the so-called "intellectual property", while having implicit and explicit ownership, is not property.

            So you are saying they SHOULD be forced to give their "intellectual property" for free.

            George Bernard Shaw said it better than I

            No, he said nothing in regards to this topic, not in the quote you provided, anyway. All he said there was that you still have your idea if you give it to someone else. That in no way implies anything about whether you should be forced to do it.

            Copyrights evolved at the time ...

            I am in no need of a history lesson.

            What I was trying to say in my essay ... is that making books available online (willingly) is good for both sides.

            I do not care about that, and was not responding to that.

            What I said in a previous essay is that the Law must not restrict (and cannot effectively restrict) non-commercial redistribution of content that was made public and available. (I.e: something that's not personal, private, secret, etc.)

            Right. You want the government to force me to give things away for free.

            Back to property. In the Star-Trek saga ...

            I couldn't c

            • Actually, copyright is government forcing you to NOT give things away. So to speak.

              It's granting you a limited monopoly, as an incentive. It's not a natural right.

              Obviously, sometimes without the incentive creators wouldn't create. That's the only reason it's granted.

              • Actually, copyright is government forcing you to NOT give things away. So to speak.

                Government does not force me to not give anything away. I can give away anything of mine that I choose.

                It's granting you a limited monopoly, as an incentive. It's not a natural right.

                So you say. I agree the law does not treat it as a natural right, but that doesn't mean it isn't one.

                Obviously, sometimes without the incentive creators wouldn't create. That's the only reason it's granted.

                While it is true that this is the reason it is granted, I am not so sure that creators wouldn't create without it. History does not provide too many examples of this. The Internet -- where copyright infractions are the rule, rather than the exception -- sees a ton of creativity.

                  • Yes, technically the government isn't forcing you to not give anything away, hence the "so to speak."

                    I do not understand. To me, if it is not technically doing it, it is not doing it. I don't get how the "so to speak" changes anything.

                    But you have to admit, it made a nicer parallelism that way.

                    Not for me. I don't get it at all.

                    I'm just saying, eliminating pieces or all of current copyright is not the government forcing you to give things away, it's merely the government ceasing to grant an artificial monopoly on an infinite resource.

                    I disagree. I think what I said is perfectly accurate. But we appear to disagree on whether such things can be owned. And again, just because it wasn't recognized as owned before, doesn't mean I can't recognize it as such.

          • Oh, and BTW, I do not sell content myself. I cannot recall ever having done so. When I co-authored books, the same content I wrote was available for free online (specifically, the MacPerl book is available for free in its entirety, and the chapter I wrote for the Wrox book was basically just a rehashing of perlport). All my music is available for free online. All my videos are free. Most of the articles I've written are available for free online, but all those not were written as works-for-hire anyway,

          • Nine Inch Nails have been very successful selling their Ghosts I-IV album online, which was entirely freely distributable to begin with.

            Please stop using the magic unicorn fallacy.

            If you can show me a significant portion of previously-unknown creators (say, 10% of all unknown creators) who've achieved sufficient financial success to fund a subsequent creative work and have distributed their creations under liberal CC-style licenses, I'll concede your point.

            Don't point to someone who was already rich and f

  • There were all these ads surrounding the text. It made it so hard to read/understand. I guess in the wonderful world of unicorns, mirroring the original article but stripping out all the ads would be ok as well? :)
    • There were all these ads surrounding the text.

      Well, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. I'm trying to make some revenue off the site in exchange for making it free-in-both-senses.

      It made it so hard to read/understand.

      I don't have any trouble reading it. In any case, you can get an ad blocker like Noscript [noscript.net] or AdBlock Plus [mozilla.org]. Using them on my site is perfectly acceptable by me. All the ads on my site are non-animated and no-flash, .

      I guess in the wonderful world of unicorns, mirroring

      • fair enough. there was way too much smart-alec in my response. To my way of thinking, having a personal view that redistributing work for free over the internet is of course highly commendable and acceptable. Preaching that other people should adopt your views is acceptable. Informing your readership that there is nothing wrong in your eyes with disregarding the views of authors who do not comply with your view is not acceptable.
  • Hi chromatic! Thanks for your comment. I enjoy reading your blog posts, but from my impression, they sometimes suffer from large logical gaps.

    And if you ask me, there's nothing wrong with non-commercial redistribution of publicly-available content.

    Well, you've omitted the link there - to a previous essay I wrote titled "The Case for File Swapping" [shlomifish.org], where I give many good reasons for allowing non-commercial redistribution of all publicly-available copyrighted content, and claim it is perfectly OK a

  • Well, you've been applying the "Unicorns" metaphor to my writing on your own. My arguments in the article was that:

    1. Making books available online for free has many advantages.
    2. Keeping the books closed does not guarantee their commercial success.
    3. If the books are open, or publicly available online, it's probably not going to hurt your sales.
    4. Keeping a book closed harms legitimate uses while not going to stop the so-called "piracy".

    I don't see these points properly addressed in your jour

    • 1. I haven't seen much advantage to me from having any of my books for free online.
      2. Nothing guarantees commercial success, but making things free online certainly doesn't help.
      3. The one book I have that's free online certainly has poorer
      4. Keeping a book closed is the author's decision. There's absolutely no right that anyone has to anyone else's work.

      Let's see what you think once you publish your own book. Contributing to documentation in a half-hearted and incomplete way isn't the same commitment or le

      • It's baffling why the concept of "respect the copyright-holder's wishes" is so difficult for people to understand. Is it that difficult to accept that someone might want to maintain control over their works?

        There's zero difference between holders of a GPL license vigorously policing the license, and Metallica wanting their license respected. Every argument of "You should be glad I'm making you famous by distributing your work" is a thin justification for choosing not to respect the copyright-holder's wi

        --

        --
        xoa

    • If the books are open, or publicly available online, it's probably not going to hurt your sales.

      I agree with your other points, but this is where the magic candy-flavored unicorns fly over. You can assert this point all you want, but if your only evidence is that one-in-a-million case, I'll remain dubious.

      (In my mind, Piracy is Progressive Taxation [openp2p.com] is a clearer argument.)

      One other point you haven't addressed is that of value. I could write my own database interface. Fortunately, Tim Bunce and doz

      • Have you seen the article about how releasing stuff for free can help book sales [baens-universe.com]? At least, it's apparently worked for him, a reasonably successful author.

        I don't think the arugment is about whether copyright holders should lose the right to choose (I certainly don't believe they should). It's about whether it's really as smart as it seems to keep everything closed. (And that's not even touching on things like DRM).

        I DJ fairly obscure, underground genres of music. The sites I buy music off have no DRM,

        • The argument isn't "give away your books and money will drop out of the sky magically", it's "a more open approach to publishing books has been shown to help rather than hinder sales, at least in some cases". Subtle, but important difference.

          That part is fine. I agree.

          The moral or pragmatic arguments ("Hoarding knowledge is wrong" or "You can't grep a dead tree" or "Hyperlinked annotations could make Finnegan's Wake comprehensible" or "Most books never earn back their advances; other economic models

        • Books aren't closed in the sense that they are inaccessible. That you have to buy them doesn't make them closed. Everyone can get them. They just have to pay for them. The information is not locked up, though (and the baens-universe stuff apparently uses "fair use" in a way that doesn't match the legal definition).

          I don't find that people who get Perl books for free are likely to pay for them. I might get some sales that I might not have gotten, but I think I lost more sales that I would have got if the boo

  • I'm not sure how the PerlFAQ got into this or how you'd measure differentness, but I think it's substantially different. That's mostly because I have commit access and I post one of the answers to comp.lang.perl.misc every 6 hours. I'd estimate that I've completely rewritten 20% of the PerlFAQ in the last six years.

    Most of the questions are the same, but I've added new questions too. I even added one that Shlomi suggested a week ago (and only hours after he suggested it).

    • Most of the questions are the same, but I've added new questions too.

      My mistake. Shows what I know. I was probably thinking of the rest of the core documentation, which (in my admittedly flawed memory) hasn't changed much in the past ten years.