Sunday, September 2, 2007

Ahoy, Mate!

No, this isn't "talk like a pirate day", it's about this recent squeal over copyright piracy. Or, more properly speaking, the response by some to the Science Fiction Writers Association's recent efforts to prevent such.

First of all, being someone who appreciates the difficulty of writing well, I tend to side with those who have successfully made that effort and copyrighted the result as the law allows. While acknowledging that no one in such position can be prohibited from releasing others to abide by the restrictions of his/her copyright, such an individual choice can't be arbitrarily applied to the works of others as a result. Which, I submit, is a fair summation of the contretemps between authors Cory Doctorow and Jerry Pournelle regarding the actions of the SFWA to protect the rights of the latter.

In classic blogospheric disclaimer, IANAL, but I must say that I find the position of one who is such to be highly - ummm what's the word I'm looking for here - nuanced shall we say? Glenn Reynolds, pending execution of true Shakespearian Justice (Ok, that may be a little harsh), would no doubt be screeding from his other foot were this a matter of me making free with my (purchased from Barnes and Noble, I point out) copy of his own book, An Army of Davids.

As he very well knows, we have laws governing that sort of behavior which, I feel certain, he would avail himself of in such a circumstance. As he should; it is largely through our individual efforts to see the law upheld that we remain a "nation of laws" and not some rampaging horde ruled by despot(s). While the SFWA is required to compensate those who their tactics have offended as stipulated by law, the offended receive no special exemption from the requirements of the law either. Indeed, their efforts to manipulate the requirements of the law to their advantage would likely work against their benefit in a court proceeding, I believe.

We are not each of us separately entitled to pick and choose what or how our body of law shall be applied to us or our efforts. To wit; information does not yearn to be free. Rather, those too cheap to pay the going rate yearn for an exception to the market economics of supply and demand. And to disguise their childishness, they advocate "freedom (from the demands of reality, one assumes)" and posture against "the man" by making free with the property of other individuals. Nice work, if you can get it.

I have titled this little diatribe with a piratical theme because I have long observed (and, I confess, participated in) a fascination, by seemingly most people, with pirates and their perceived culture. No doubt, this largely results from popular novels' and motion pictures' presentation of those concepts. That notwithstanding, there remains a strong streak of iconoclastic rebellion in the American culture that often seems to be expressed in a similar fashion to those historical buccaneers.

We generally regard individuals who act out on their own to be outlaws or criminals. At the same time, we are equally willing to band together (or support those who have) who act in similar fashion as a group, and to consider such collection of individuals to be worthy of special consideration before the law. Pirates must be strongly self-organising to function as a ship's crew, for instance, particularly when under sail. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine a more socially disruptive activity then their indiscriminate pillage of society's commerce.

While I do understand the fascination presented by such a dichotomy, I also insist upon continuance of the American societal stability within which I have matured and to some extent prospered. I do so out of no great faith in my societal fellow's goodness or righteousness, I have to say. I truly believe ours is the setting which provides the greatest opportunity to achieve individual success, at least harm to others, that exists on this planet.

Instapundit's knee-jerk reaction against authoritarian heavy-handedness is well meant, I'm sure. Were this an action by some arm of the state, my own reaction would likely mirror his. Such is not the case in the present circumstance though, and this makes his stated position an untenable one, I think. If only as a matter of personal self-interest, he would seem to owe Dr. Pournelle and the SFWA a public reconsideration of the events as they have become known.

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