Recently I blogged that copyright violations are analogous to borrowing your neighbor’s underpants without asking, then laundering and returning them before he returns home. I was immediately attacked for my analogy. Critics said my borrowed underpants analogy was flawed for several reasons:
1. Unlike copyrighted material, underpants are physical objects. So in my analogy, the owner of the underpants would be unable to simultaneously wear the underpants he already has on plus the underpants he intentionally left at home in his drawer. Apparently this is a problem for some people.
2. At a microscopic level, the borrowed underpants would be slightly degraded by this one additional wearing. This is important for people who wear their underpants until the last fiber gives out and the material disintegrates and trickles out the pant legs.
And those were the GOOD criticisms. If you think I’m making this up, check out one of my more eloquent critics:
Let me explain something about analogies. Analogies are not supposed to be identical to the thing you are making the analogy about. Imperfection is necessary. Otherwise an analogy would be, for example, “Downloading music without paying is like downloading music without paying.” It doesn’t add much to your understanding.
The underpants analogy, in its original context, addressed the question of whether copyright violations are a victimless act. This is separate from the legal question. The point of the analogy is that the artist who loses legal control over his creation feels violated, just as you would if someone borrowed your underpants. I dare say it was one of my finest analogies, although admittedly the bar is set low.
In addition, as I previously argued, when an artist loses the ability to control when, and where, his art is distributed, it can be a real economic loss, depending on his marketing plan. This led to the following brilliant criticism:
1. Adams thinks artists have the legal right to prevent you from reading a book on the toilet. Artists never had that right!
Seriously. That was the criticism. I was hoping people would understand that I meant the artist would lose control of, for example, whether his book appears on the Internet before it’s published on paper.
I also heard the argument that any idiot knows copyright violations are good publicity, and as such, they lead to more sales. I tested this theory last year by making my book, God’s Debris, available for a free download. About a million people downloaded it. Based on my e-mail, a large percentage of them loved it. (It’s probably my most loved work, even though a good chunk of people felt it did a bad job of being what it wasn’t intended to be.) The total number who actually went out and bought that book, or the sequel that’s not available for free, is about 1,000. The free download did little but to make the economic value of my sequel appear to be zero.
If giving away your work for free is such a good strategy, you have to wonder why all the major artists aren’t doing it. Don’t the big record companies have any economists working for them? Or is it possible that the people with advanced degrees in business and economics know more about business and economics than the people downloading music with one hand, while masturbating furiously with the other, and wishing they had a tail to hold the bong?
Yes, yes, I can see how an unknown band might become popular by making its music available for free. That makes perfect sense. Luckily, every artist has that option. But as my experience with God’s Debris shows, every situation is unique. If the artist loses his right to decide when, and if, his creation is available to the world for free, he loses something of potential value, even in the unlikely event that the loss leads to more sales in the long run. I can’t steal a jacket from JC Penney and hope they understand that it’s good publicity, thus causing several people to buy the same jacket. It isn’t my right to make that decision, even if I happen to be correct.
There’s an argument that the world would be better if copyrighted works were available for free to anyone who wants them. I can only speak for myself, but I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t have pursued creating Dilbert comics without the potential for getting rich while working at home. That was my entire motivation. I worked for about ten years, without a day off, to make Dilbert a success. There’s no way I would have done that much work just to earn an average income. That would have been irrational. I had easier options.
I think a reasonable person can dislike capitalism and wish for a more socialist world where art is free for all takers. But a reasonable person can’t expect that a socialist world would produce nearly as much art. That’s bat shit thinking.
I invite all bat shit thinkers to reiterate my point that free downloads might help unknown bands, and act as if I didn’t already address that exception. You are also invited to point out the fact that some middle men and some artists make more money than you do, and should be punished. (Bonus points for inserting “WA-WA-WA!!”)