Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
585, August 29, 2010

"I have a fundamental human right not to be
stolen from. Or enslaved. And so do you."

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Letter from Jim Davidson

Letter from Ann Morgan

Letter from L. Neil Smith

Letter from Ward Griffiths

Letter from A.X. Perez

Letter from Gadget 42

Another Letter from A.X. Perez

Dear Editor,

Thanks for Cathy LZ Smith's perspectives on the intellectual property controversy.

In her essay she asks, "You (the creator, inventor, artist) must find a new business model." Who says? And on what moral authority?"

One answer is: I say so.

Why do I say so? Not out of some moral or philosophical perspective, but out of the very real, practical point of view of someone seeking to make money with his ideas.

So, who the hell am I? I've written business plans since 1985. I've run business enterprises of my own creation since 1974. I've worked since 1970. I have a master's degree in marketing and entrepreneurship from a somewhat prestigious private university in Houston, Texas. And I've had some of my work published, by Neil's magazine, by Final Frontier magazine, and in other venues going back to 1978. Currently I have two books complete, one currently in print, and two more in progress.

All of which means nothing. I'm just this guy. I don't think an appeal to authority, especially my own, makes any sense.

Saying that the ease and low cost of reproduction technology doesn't make copying someone else's work without their permission ethical is very true. But it does make it widespread. Larry Niven wrote a series of novels set in a future where people on Earth had no laws against pickpockets because it was a widespread crime against which there was no meaningful enforcement. Does that mean that Larry Niven thinks he should be allowed to filch your wallet? Probably not.

The explosion in information replication that the Internet represents, and which Neil points out in his own excellent essay, is vital to the future of freedom on this planet, is much like a mushroom cloud. It isn't merely fruitless to demand that the mushroom cloud climb back into the steel casing, it is impossible. After the detonation, the mushroom cloud was formed from atmospheric water vapour, dust and debris from the surrounding area, and parts of the steel casing and bomb. If we wanted to, we couldn't accomplish the "undo" function, with either the nuclear explosion or the Internet.

Does the new set of circumstances mean that authors and artists cannot make money from the works they create? Not at all. In fact, it means that they can make much more, selling more books and more works of art and more comics and more songs, to far more people than ever before.

Consider, for example, Monty Python. The comedy troupe has placed all of their works on the web for free. You can go to Youtube and find all the classic 1970s sketches from their BBC broadcasts in good quality video for free. When they did this thing, sales of their DVDs increased by 23,000%. See story here.

Is Monty Python's example typical? Hard to say. But it is consistent with the experience of Jeffrey Tucker who put the entire library of books online for free. Sales increased dramatically. For whatever reason, many people still prefer to read a physical book to paging through screen after screen of a file.pdf. As well, many of the people who are interested in buying a book are not deterred by the existence of a free .pdf of the same material. Whereas many who have no idea what the book is like are able to get a free sample and choose whether to buy - and some do buy.

Are there business models that exist in the Internet era and succeed in bringing money to authors and artists? Yes. Does pursuing a model that reflects the reality that some people are going to get free copies of an author's work and distribute them without permission mean that the business is capitulating on the ethical issue of private property in information? Nope.

There is probably also a business opportunity in privately adjudicated dispute resolution. I've known a number of entrepreneurs interested in this area, such as Paul Rosenberg, but I've yet to see a really successful business in the industry.


Jim Davidson

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Dear Editor:

There have been a number of comments the last few weeks regarding the rights of an author to his intellectual property, namely the books he writes, and that others do not have a right to steal his property without his permission, by, say, copying his book, either for personal use, or to turn around and sell without the author's permission, or paying royalty to the author.

While I agree that stealing an author's intellectual property is always wrong, De Jure, technology has made it an increasingly difficult crime to prevent, De Facto. There are, however, certain things an author can do to reduce the amount of theft, which related, interesting enough, to paying attention to that omnipresent computer, the Free Market. As has been mentioned countless times, the market is actually a giant computer of sorts, which will determine, if you care to pay attention to it, the 'proper price' for any product. Having a product sold for an amount other than this 'proper price' will result in any number of undesirable effects. I believe it was in the last issue that someone mentioned the undesirable effect of pricing a product too low, namely that potential buyers would view it with suspicion, and often NOT buy it, because based on the price, they would think the product was defective or poor in quality in some way.

Selling a product for too low a price, does not, however, generally increase the amount of theft of that product. Theft is more likely to occur due to three other distortions of the free market, and from the point of view of the consumer, it doesn't really matter if these distortions are due to the free (irrational) decision of the seller, or are imposed forcibly on him by third parties such as the government.

These three distortions are:

1. Selling a product for too HIGH a price.
2. Refusing to sell a product at all to certain individuals or groups.
3. Refusing to create and sell products that could easily exist

I will discuss these one at a time.

In the case of the first scenario, selling a product for too HIGH a price, an author is more likely to be the victim of theft, if he prices his book much higher than other, closely comparable books. For instance, if the market has determined that most new fiction books in hardcover format sell for between $15.00 and $20.00, selling a new hardcover fiction book for, say, $100 is not only likely to drastically reduce sales, as most people cannot afford that, but is also going to increase theft, as people will take the time to scan a copy of the book from their local library into their computer, rather than pay so much money. It also increases the profits for stealing, as a thief can turn around and sell illegal copies of a $100 book for $30.00 and people will be more likely to buy it than they would if the legal copies were only $25.00. And if the legal copies WERE $25.00, a thief would have to sell illegal copies for, say, only $10.00, to get anyone interested, which would reduce his rewards for theft. Also keep in mind that an author who sets too high a price in his books is probably going to be regarded, rightly or wrongly, as being 'unfair', and 'deserving' to be stolen from as a punishment for 'price gouging'.

Now, the second case, refusing to sell a product at all to certain individuals or groups does not usually occur in this country with BOOKS. Although L. Neil did mention that he had a right, should he choose to exercise it, to refuse to sell his books to Robert, specifically. Still, this demonstrates the gap between what should be, De Jure, and what is likely to occur, De Facto. If L. Neil sells his books to ANYONE, it's probably impossible to prevent Robert at some point from buying or borrowing a copy from someone else.

But whether or not Robert should have a right to read certain books aside, if you do not allow certain people to purchase things legally, they will purchase or otherwise obtain them ILLEGALLY. If there is more than one source for a particular commodity, someone is probably going to start selling it on the black market.

In the case of books, all books are, in and of themselves, unique commodities. The ONLY source of a book, is an author. If an author refuses to sell his books to certain people legally, they will either buy it illegally, or simply steal it. Which is precisely the same behavior seen regarding other products such as guns and sex, in which various governments have deliberately distorted the market, so that certain individuals (either felons, or men who cannot convince a woman to marry them) are unable to obtain the matter in question legally. The result is the illegal selling and theft of both. In the case of sex, the illegal theft of it is particularly horrific, it is what is known as 'rape', and is highly prevalent in societies such as those in fundamentalist Muslim countries where sex outside government sanctioned marriage is nearly impossible to obtain, due to draconian penalties on fornication, adultery, and prostitution. The fact that the legal system in such countries makes it nearly impossible for a woman to successfully prosecute a man for rape, and, in fact, is likely to punish HER for even making a complaint regarding the matter is proof that the governments there know full well the results of their policies, regardless of their whining insistence to the contrary.

About the only way to prevent this sort of theft, is to prevent people from knowing that the commodity exists at all. We do, in fact, see this in the above mentioned fundamentalist Muslim countries, in which women are covered from head to toe in a futile attempt to prevent men from being aware that female bodies exist. In the case of a book, the equivalent solution would be not to publish the book at all, and simply, once it is written, for the author to tuck the manuscript away in his attic and not let anyone know it exists. However, since an author's goal is to make a living by writing, hiding his books in the attic and not letting the world know they exist, would be counterproductive to this goal. In fact, refusing to sell his book to any person or group who actually was willing to pay for it, would be counterproductive to this goal.

Now, the third distortion of the free market, refusing to create and sell products that could easily exist, has been exemplified by what has occurred to the author J.K. Rowling. Rowling has refused to sell her Harry Potter books in electronic format, under the reasoning that it is too easy to make illegal copies of such books. Unfortunately for her, it is also relatively easy to convert paper copies of a book into electronic format, in a few hours, with a sufficiently advanced scanning machine. The result has been that the Harry Potter books have all been converted into electronic format, irregardless of Rowling's wishes in the matter, and since she has not provided an official e-book that people can purchase, all such e-books are now basically stolen from her. She would have done far better to pay attention to the market, and provide her own e-books at an appropriate price. Much the same thing happens with electronic devices. If an electronic device, say a very advanced cell phone, can be easily made to perform a certain function that many people would like, but the manufacturer for some irrational reason happens to personally dislike that function, someone is going to come up, sooner or later, with an illegal way for altering that cell phone, people will do so, and the manufacturer will not get any money for it.

As for you, Robert, if you think writing books is so easy, try writing one of your own. A rather successful author once wrote: 'Writing is easy. All you have to do is sit down in front of a typewriter, cut open a vein, and bleed a little.'. Based on my own attempts at writing, he rather understated the case, because if the target audience for your book is over 14 or so, writing WELL not only constitutes 'bleeding a little', but in addition, embarrassing yourself to a degree consistent with masturbating in public.

Frankly, I've met men like you before, Robert, namely my 2 ex-boyfriends. Both of whom told a huge number of lies to convince me that they loved me and get sex for free, as they were too cheap to pay MONEY for the sex they wanted , as you seem to be too cheap to pay for the books you want. Furthermore, they were ALSO so selfishly malevolent that they found it necessary, when, after giving them all the sex they wanted for months, I asked for a little affection and reciprocation in bed; far from giving it to me, they proceeded to insult me instead. Which seems to be much the same way you find it necessary to insult those who write the stories you like to read.

I am not sure who I have less sympathy for. Probably them, since I don't know you personally, but I have little sympathy for you, either. I don't suppose it has ever occured to either of those self-righteous bastards that what they are is rapists, many times over (fraud is a form of rape), any more than it has occured to you that what you are is whatever sort of vile cannibalistic epithet applies to someone whose life goal is that of Hannibal Lector, namely to cut off and consume slices of other people's brains.

Ann Morgan

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YouTube - Klavan on the Culture: Night of the Living Government

L. Neil Smith

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All the time I spent in Texas was six weeks at Lackland [1974] (unless you count the week or so crossing the the state on Trailways a few years earlier [1970] in transit from California to New Hampster) and a few days of training at Tandy Center in Fort Worth [1984], a few days as a Tandy Computer user a couple years later [1986] and the 1995 WorldCon in San Antonio). Aside from that, I've spent no time (when it mattered) in a Common Law state. And to the best of my knowledge, Common Law in the US has never applied to any form of multiple marriage.

Ward Griffiths

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Thanks and credit

Messrs. Tim Butler and Edwin Smith each wrote to remind me that Robert A. Heinlein defined sin as "Sin is hurting someone else unnecessarily." Mr. Butler specified that he was quoting from the Notebooks of Lazarus Long but i remember a similar definition in Glory Road.

Thank you Mr. Heinlein (wherever you are, Mrs. Succotash and Chesty are in good company), Mr. Butler and Mr. Smith for reminding me of the Lt. Commander's words, and in advance, Mr. Holder for publishing this.

A.X. Perez

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Gateway Arch...just don't let Silverstein buy it and insure it... hahaha!

Asbestos laden twin towers: Billions to update or demolish

Solution: Insure the buildings for full value replacement and fly aircraft into them

Resolved: Operation completed successfully

One wonders why this Youtube clip has never gone viral:

Which came first, the chicken or the egg... hmmm...


Gadget 42

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At the beginning of World War II Adolph Hitler and company underestimated the difficulty of the task they were undertaking, At first the world fit into their delusions, unprepared for the new Blitzkrieg techniques the French, British, and Russians were beaten fairly easily. It turned out that occupying this territory was more difficult and that expanding past the original easily conquered boundaries impossible. Hitler and company underestimated the monetary expense of the War and the shortages it would create and did not impose the tax structure and rationing need to fight a war.

All this and a coalition of industrial nations wealthier than Germany. They lost.

Cheney and Rumsfeld advised Baby Bush on how to fight the filibuster in Iraq. Whether or not you agree with the need and righteousness of the US to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein their advice to Bush and his going along with that advice can be compared to the actions of the Nazi leadership. They correctly assumed that a relatively small force could capture Iraq. They underestimated the difficulty of occupying Iraq and sent in too few troops for several years until Bush broke with Cheney and Rumsfeld and ordered the Surge. Under their guidance Bush ran filibuster off the books.

It was Cheney and Rumsfeld who pushed the use of "enhanced interrogation" and "extraordinary rendition" in part of the "War on Terror" and who insisted on keeping prisoners in Guantanamo even after it was clear they were not Al Qaeda and Taliban supporters, at least not before their time in Gitmo. They talked tough about "having the belly" to inflict collateral damage (kill innocent bystanders) and implied that anyone who did not support this attitude was testicularly challenged.

Nor does George W. Bush deserve to be let off the hook. If they formed the policies and all he did was accede, still he was the President, he was the man that ultimately decided yea or nay.

At least the Nazis got into a war that was theirs to win or lose. In Iraq and Afghanistan the Americans got into a military adventure the outcome of which will not be determined by American force of arms or political leadership but by the political choices of the people whose lands we have invaded. If our actions were just we have gained no friends or gratitude, if unjust we have made implacable foes. And it will be determined by the choices of others, not ourselves.

Crazy, evil, and stupid indeed.

A.X. Perez

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