Claim: Piracy is Sharing

Claim: Piracy is Sharing; Sharing is good and should be encouraged


Richard Stallman (Free Software Foundation):

“Copying and sharing recordings was not a mistake, let alone wrong, because sharing is good. It’s good to share musical recordings with friends and family; it’s good for a radio station to share recordings with the staff, and it’s good when strangers share through peer-to-peer networks. The wrong is in the repressive laws that try to block or punish sharing. Sharing ought to be legalized; in the mean time, please do not act ashamed of having shared — that would validate those repressive laws that claim that it is wrong.” (Source: Slashdot)


The heart of this argument lies in the childhood teaching to share with others. In contrast, those evil corporations are looking out for their own bottom line by encouraging us not to share (what villains) because they know that sharing equals lower profits. (Are these companies being run by Cruella de Vil?)

First, it’s important to point out that “sharing” might be a warm, fuzzy word, but “sharing” is not a universal good. If a friend tells you a secret, it can be bad for you to share it with others. If your friend is trying to buy a car, it can be bad to share information with the seller about how much your friend is willing to spend on that car (for example, if your friend is willing to spend $5,000 on a used car, but he’s hoping pay $4,000). If your friend is playing poker, it can be bad to share what cards he’s holding with the rest of the table. It can also be bad to share passwords, your social-security number, or account information. It can be bad to share information about military forces during a war.

Second, the sharing of digital content is intrinsically different than sharing, say, a car or a toy. Toy manufacturers are not going to go out of business when people share toys because there’s an inherent limit on sharing physical objects (for example, it can only be in one place at one time and suffers wear and tear). This means that if a million children want to play with a toy, there’s going to have to be a significant number of those toys sold. For example, if two children can play with a toy at the same time, then under the “worst case” scenario, there has to be 500,000 copies of the toy manufactured. In the best case scenario, more toys are sold because parents are more likely to buy a toy that can be shared between two or three children than a toy which can only be used by one child at a time.

With digital media, which can be infinitely copied, the “worst case” scenario is one copy sold and a million copies used. This puts creators in a very difficult financial position since one-copy-sold isn’t going to cover the development costs. It’s not hard at all to think of scenarios where digital-media creators always go bankrupt when creating even moderately expensive works.

From a standpoint of consequences, the effects of “sharing toys” is very different than the effects of “sharing digital media”. The long-term effects can easily lead to a society which is worse-off. For example, if you’d like software that did x,y,z but creating that software costs millions of dollars and rampant sharing results in every creator going bankrupt when they attempt to produce that software, then you end up with a world where people can’t ever get their hands on software that does x,y,z.


Counterarguments to the “digital media creators will go bankrupt if rampant sharing occurs” argument. I deal with those counterarguments elsewhere:
* Create cheap digital-media (makes it difficult to put a lot of depth or quality into the digital-media) [No Link]
* Use alternative business models (like paying for training, customization, support, etc) [No Link]
* Use upfront funding (suffers multiple problems like up-front awareness, freeriders, etc) [No Link]

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