More thoughts about “illegal”

To further illustrate my point about "illegal", please read the following NY Times Op-ed piece:
Published: October 28, 2007
The gist?  The word "illegal" poisons the discussion, making it a black and white matter when it’s really grey.  We all do things that are "illegal" – like driving too fast, crossing streets against lights or in the middle of blocks, etc.  "Illegal" stops the conversation, and that’s bad if maybe it shouldn’t be "illegal".
This particular article is about illegal immigrants.  I’ve tried to stay neutral on this issue – I generally think that people that don’t legally enter the country should be fined and forced to pursue legal immigration, or be deported, but …
The fact is that it is far more difficult today to immigrate to the U.S. than it was for my great-great-grandparents.  The U.S. is a country founded by immigrants (they called them colonists back then.)  Now you have to jump through all kinds of hoops to come here, and even more to stay.  We’ve become very protectionist.  Meanwhile, there are scads of menial jobs that most citizens don’t want to do – things like picking crops, landscaping, and repairing roofs in hot climates.  Guess who does those jobs now?  Like it or not, we participate in a global economy that is forcing wages down, and many people depend on those "illegal’ immigrants.  Should we build an infrastructure to accomodate them, like making Spanish a second language here?  I don’t generally think so.  I think we should give them a way to be here legally.  If they want the benefits citizens enjoy, they can pay taxes like the rest of us.  If they want to vote, they need to become citizens.
Regarding my previous post about illegal downloading:
I listened to a media summit podcast, and was a little surprised to hear Shelly Palmer, whom I’ve developed quite a bit of respect for, come out quite strongly against a student who inquired about government control of "free" downloading.  His points are well taken:
  • The current laws of the land, via copyright legislation and the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, make it illegal for someone to acquire a copy of a work (music, movie, etc.) without permission of the copyright holder.
  • A download may actually be free, but that is up to the copyright holder.
  • It is disingenuous for college students and other educated people to hold that most music and movies are free for the taking
  • Artists, studios, publishers and networks deserve to be paid.  They invest their capital, ideas, blood, sweat and tears to create things that we want to consume for information and entertainment.

There is no mechanism in a peer-to-peer download to verify copyright, and generally no mechanism to provide payment.  File sharing, whether via newsgroups, Kazaa, BitTorrent, or even Windows File Shares, creates an easy way for people to get a digital copy of a published work.  Some people will do this instead of paying for the work, which deprives at least the publishers revenue.  Hurting a company is easy – they’re all evil anyway, aren’t they?  (It doesn’t matter that they provide most of us with jobs.)  No, I don’t think that’s reasonable.

I strongly believe that publishers should lead the technology and marginalize free file sharing.  Make it easy to get high quality files for rent (with all the DRM you want) or to own (DRM free) at reasonable prices.  Provide an ad-free network subscription to download TV programs – iTunes does that pretty well.  Find a way to sell lossless digital files.  But always preserve my rights to resell or give away what I’ve purchased, or discount the purchase over the price of a physical copy.  In other words, I can buy a book, DVD or CD, and can keep it till it crumbles, or I can sell it or give it away.  If I buy a digital version for about the same price, I expect to be able to do the same things with it; if I can’t, don’t charge me the same or more for the digital copy!

I understand better than most about the temptation to download music and movies for free.  I’ve seen people with stacks of burned movie discs, and can easily download lossless music from Knology’s usenet servers.  There are very active newsgroups for sharing all sorts of mostly copyrighted material – pictures, books, movies, music, software.  I can’t help but wonder why the posters of that stuff aren’t being sued?  It’s kind of like the drug problem – do you arrest the users, filling up the jails and ruining lives, or the dealers?  The real solution is to eliminate demand.  In the case of downloading, free is a tough price to beat.

One thought on “More thoughts about “illegal”

  1. Well there is this awesome new legal app called Graboid you can use to get movies and TV shows for free, plus it is much faster than P2P – check it out.  You can stream or download the content you want.  I used it to watch some old movies I was having trouble finding, and then if they were good, I can go out and buy them!

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