May 2008

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« Is Copyright Violation Stealing? | Main | Pavlov’s Cartoonist »



I read many comments.

I can't believe nobody has used the term Value Judgments


My favorite cognitive dissonance is that people can't bring themselves to believe that 9/11 was an inside job by criminal elements (with an agenda)in our government, at the top levels of the executive branch and the pentagon. Get your wakeup call at


I think the most painful rationalizations people make are not over copyright laws, but over circumcising babies.

They believe things like:

Babies care what their father's penis looks like.

When paternity is in doubt, it's plausible to check in the pants, if father and son match.

Causing pain to tiny people who can't talk hurts then less than delaying the painful experience until they would punch you out.

Taking away an individuals options about their most private body part can result only in gratitude.

Bullies can't think of mean things to say to boys who are circumcised.
(to be paired with)
The bully will always be circumcised.

Men are too stupid to operate soap.
(to be paired with)
Men dread any process which would require touching their penis.

In general, women are entitled to a sexually modified opposite gender because (fill in the blank reason). (Fill in the blank reason) NEVER should be applied to female genitals as that would be sexist and abhorrent.

It's best to take the most drastic action first, because of the low risk something might go wrong later which would require a less invasive treatment.

It's better to circumcise a boy as a baby and assume the risk that he will need to have his circumcision revised... than to risk leaving his body whole and chance that he would never need to be circumcised at all.

A wonderful article about cognitive dissonance and similar barriers to thought can be found here:


Here's a couple doozy rationalizations for you:

1. The modern system of copyright law is what enables people to become "professionals" at the creation of art.
2. Without copyrights, no one would pay for art of any kind.
3. Much great art was created by amateurs who were paid nothing for their labor, and the majority of the "classics" were created in an economic system which lacked copyright.
4. Despite the obvious truth of #3, if we got rid of copyright today, all art would disappear because of (insert absurd statement here).

Like that one? I'll do you one better:

1. Every technological advance which has infringed on the traditional system of copyrights has created a huge wave of "pirates" who were more interested in using the new technology than paying for art in the traditional way, under the old system.
2. Every time such a technology has been invented, the law has changed to allow the technology, and restrict the rights of creators, in the interest of the common good.
3. After a period of upheaval and pain, every such technology has ended up creating a (huge) net BENEFIT to the previously-pirated-from party.
4. Because (insert name of technology here, "The Internet" would be apropos for the current discussion) is different by making it FREE for people to consume art, allowing the technology to advance THIS TIME would cause the immediate end of all artistic professions and thereby be the end of all creative processes as we know them because (insert absurd statement here).


I agree with you that authors should be paid, but copyright law is there to serve the public good, not the interests of the few by propping up previously-successful individuals or companies.

So, the internet took away your ability to control how electronic versions of your creations get distributed. So what? You correctly pointed out that all property rights are artificial -- I'd go you one further argue that they are also fictional (ie, if I have to pay the government property tax to go on "owning" my house, who really "owns" it?) -- why should your copyrights be any different, if reducing them accomplishes some public good?

The radio and tape deck took a similar thing from musicians. The VCR took a similar thing from moviemakers. Similar arguments can be made for every way in which you or I consume "art" -- vinyl records, sheet music, player pianos, and, yes, even the printing presses that make the publishing of "Dilbert" books possible. Shall we outlaw them all?

Or just the ones that concern you?

Another great truism along the lines of your "cognitive dissonance" observation goes something like this:

"It is hard to get a man to understand something, if his living depends on him not understanding it." -- Upton Sinclair


I disagree with your premise. If a criminal is defined as someone who breaks the law, then many good people are criminals and vice versa.

We call them "chaotic good," as opposed to "lawful good." Generally they pop up during the reigns of tyrannical governments in particular. (But even the most perfect of gov'ts is not immune to a little tyranny.)

I personally am chaotic neutral, and couldn't care less about whether so and so thinks I am good or bad, and certainly couldn't care less about obeying laws I don't want to :)

You sir, are clearly some sort of lawful aligment. I don't know you well enough to assign you good/evil/neutral.


"All property rights are artificial."

Intellectual property aside, this is a fun statement. Tracking back the history of western governments and freedom in general, things like the Magna Carta, the Constitution, Common Law, and the writings of folks such as Thomas Paine, etc, the foundation of all our freedoms rests on property rights. And this moron thinks they are \u201cartificial\u201d?

Actually, this person is quite right. Property *is* an artificial creation. Not all civilizations had this concept. The Magna Carta, Common Law, etc. are things that help to cement it on our civilization, but it's not a law of nature. It was created ARTIFICIALLY by humans for specific purposes.

By the way, the violence in your post was a nice touch.


I dress just like you.

Feeling poorer yet?


Laws aren't always just.

Marc D.

Hmm, let's look at it the other way.

CopyRIGHT law, first enacted by the Statute of Anne of 1710, broke the monopoly of the London Company of Stationers over all ownership of published works and created the following:

1) the right to own a published work.

2) the creation of a limited term of copyright (19 years) after which all works enter the public domain for the common good.

3) the creation of a public domain of works in the first place.

4) the right to copy a published work for various reasons, including "fair use".

Now, let's look at the implementation of copyright today:

1) unless you self-publish, a nice clause in American copyright law allows many works to be considered "works for hire", owned by the person who bought them, not the original author. This is a reversion to pre-1710 practice, with the current large publishers taking the place of the Company of Stationers.

2) by making the circumvention of DRM a criminal act, this effectively re-introduces the concept of perpetual copyright. A work might eventually be allowed into the public domain, but if it is protected by DRM, it is illegal to put that work in the public domain. Hence, we're again back to pre-1710 practice.

3) Thanks to lobbying by the large publishers, no new works will enter the public domain now until 2018 or thereabouts, thanks to a retroactive increase in copyright term to 70 years after death (so effectively 100 years for many authors). One can of course expect more "Mickey Mouse" clauses to come into effect in the next few years, extending the term even longer.

The sad part is, all these rights that we enjoy as part of copyRIGHT law (and not copy PREVENTION) are mostly still *IN* the actual copyright legislation, but are being actively and deliberately circumvented by the publishers through other means.

So the real thieves and bandits are those mainly large corporations that have been twisting copyRIGHT law into something that very closely resembles the state of affairs that existed prior to the important concept of copyright. Meanwhile, the general public and the public domain is getting screwed by companies that abused copyright law to get where they are in the first place. Disney stole shamelessly from Buster Keaton. Fox stole from everyone, and they all moved to California because it had much weaker copyright laws.

Oh, and there are more reward mechanisms for authors than Americans currently seem to think exist. For instance, in Canada we pay a levy on all blank media. In return, downloading music for personal use is legal. You heard me, it's not theft. Quite legal, and the artists get their money too.

So the argument is a non-sequitor. A paradox that doesn't exist because the assumptions are flawed. Let's recap the original argument you claim is absurd. You're right, it is absurd, but not for the reasons you think it is:

1. Good people are not criminals.

Not always. Law and morality have nothing to do with each other. "Good" people broke the law to help slaves escape from the USA and other places. "Good" people broke the law to help Jews, Gypsies and others escape from Nazi Germany. "Good" people break the law in order to protest unjust and unfair laws. "Good" people can, in fact, technically be criminals because law and morality are not equivalent sets.
So your first premise is false. Not a good start.

2. Criminals break laws.

By definition really. Of course, entire classes of people are made criminals by law. It's illegal to be homosexual in many places. It's probably illegal for Dilbert to be shown in other places. However, the statement is a tautology, so it stands.

3. I break copyright laws.

Not necessarily. Perhaps one is just executing certain rights that exist, but that are duly ignored by the strident press and their ignorant shills? The concept of "fair use", for instance, is widely ignored by those who claim they are enforcing copyright. What they are actually doing is enforcing small, selective parts of copyright law and hoping nobody actually read the legislation before they can change it to meet their needs. That "fair use" bit though is unfortunately for them a core part of all copyright laws, and very hard to get rid of. It's still in US law, amongst others. Heck, it's even in the WIPO preamble and embedded into that piece of cack. So no, people do not necessarily break copyright law. They are, however, TOLD that they break copyright law. Claims that suddenly seem to fade away when they get a good lawyer. Unfortunately, not many can do that.

4. But since I know I am a good person, my reason why it’s okay to violate copyright laws is (insert something absurd).

Since 1, 2 and 3 are false, 4 is a non-sequitor, does not follow, and hence does not need to be answered other than by pointing at 1, 2 and 3 and making you fix your flawed logic.

Stick to comics about corporate stupidity. You're much better at that.


I don't need a rationalization because I don't give a crap about the law. I obey the law for the sole purpose of avoiding imprisonment, not out of any moral obligation to. If I can get a big pile of free movies and music and software and games and books; great! That means I can afford to buy food AND not have to watch ants crawl about for entertainment.

It's also easier to get away with than decapitating the neighbors.


Copyright violation (speaking ripping stuff off on the Internet, i.e. comics and music) is fine because the path to prosecution is still a dim and oft missed trail through a gloomy wood. Nicking stuff from the local off-license has a much higher risk of destroying your carefully maintained image of "good human in control".

James Andrix

Scott, your belief that you have any right to control of published information is an equally absurd rationalization.

Kilgore Trout

Joe Sherrod

If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
--George Bernard Shaw

I think your problem, Mr. Adams, is that you don't feel like you're getting anything out of it when someone runs off with your ideas en masse without interacting with you directly (or at least by handing you a little bit of money indirectly). The reason this is a problem for you is you are physically incapable of exercising control over distribution on the scale at which your intellectual property is being demanded.

I get it: you want apples too.

I assume there are several reasons you own business and have a creative portfolio that is a bit more diverse than Dilbert, Mr. Adams. There's a group of people our there who aren't going to pay for something they can get for free. If your goal is to make the most money, you've got to come up with things that these people can't get for free and charge them for those. If your goal isn't making money, then why should you give a damn how anyone goes about reading Dilbert? The more options people have, the better. Right? And if your goal is making money... what, are you particularly strapped for cash? I'm sure that one of the world's most intelligent business-educated men is capable of coming up with a person 'get rich quick' scheme that'll work.

The scans of your book that went out online don't come on paper with binding and electricity-free access to the above. Digital paper isn't as good as real paper yet. Until we reach that point, the scanned copy of your book is of lesser quality than the tangible copy, and the people who want the tangible one will still pay for it.

Someone stealing your book online is not the same as someone taking your underwear because it isn't even your underwear they're thieving; it's a picture someone took of your underwear with a magic light-box.

Stop venting about how you're a helpless victim of the internet by picking on your readers for not being as intelligent as you are. You're better than that.


As long you have the hallucination that we all have no free will, it is impossible for you to complain about anyone's behavior. I have to have free will to steal something, otherwise I am blameless. Of course, you could claim that your lack of free will is what makes you care about this. It might even be your lack of free will and mine that is making me type this.

It really is one or the other, Scott. If I have free will, I can be held accountable. If not, then I am no more responsible for my behavior than an oak tree or a rock.

Adrian D.

Scott Adams actually supplied the best response to this.

Scott Adams, I agree with your analysis of your hallucination.

Gaijin Biker

Your borrowing-underpants analogy is flawed. I never had any access to your underpants. There is no reason why I should have any right to come into your house and borrow them.

By contrast, if I buy a DVD, I have the DVD in my possession. Copyright law now comes in and stops me from doing things that I would otherwise have a right to do: share stuff I bought with my friends. That's why so many "good" people end up as copyright "criminals": They're not taking something from you; you're taking something from them.

Matthew Harper

@David W. Robertson (

According to Kant, there has probably never been a 'moral' act in the entire history of mankind, because moral acts can only be committed by purely rational beings. 'Morality' and 'goodness' are thus something we strive for rather than have.

I'm coming at it from philosophy, you from Christianity, but I take the basic point to be the same: what gives these people the right to think that they are 'good' and therefore either that stealing is not always immoral, or that they didn't steal at all?

Nothing except vanity - another form of immorality.


Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go steal some more pants from Nordstrom. I'm not a thief; I'm just trying to convince them to lower the prices. You're welcome.

Stealing a physical object has different results than copying a piece of data and I'm sure you know it. It makes me wonder why you'd say something like this. For comedy value I suppose.

When you steal a pair of pants, not only are you not paying the owners, you're depriving them of the object, which they could otherwise sell to someone else. Not so if you copy some data from, say, a friend. The copyright holders still have exactly the same number of physical objects (CDs, DVDs, etc.) to sell to consumers.

Personally, I buy CDs and DVDs most of the time. I don't know why. It would be so easy for me not to. I guess the answer is that I can afford it, so why not? But I think it's disingenuous to make this comparison without pointing out the flaws in the implied analogy.

Anonymous Coward

Good word! Most Slashdot stories don't have this many comments! Do you really read them all? And if so, WHY?


I believe that breaking copyright is wrong. I also believe that the current law extends copyright law too long, and does not allow for paying customers to use what they buy how they want to.

I am also a realist, and can acknowledge that music/movie/software/etc. piracy will not go away. The genie is out of the bottle, and will not return. The only way for media producers to survive in this hostile environment is to adapt business practices and find new ways to generate income from IP. We still love to buy stuff in America. The media companies need to find new ways to sell us IP that we will actually enjoy.

What dismays me is not so much that there are so many selfish people in the world breaking copyright law, it is that the media companies are so short sighted that they won't find a creative way to stay in business. If they continue on the path they are on, they will die, and there won't be any good media left to steal. Maybe that has to happen before a change can be made.

As long as that happens after the final season of 24, I'm cool.

Jeff Medcalf

Here's the only real problem that I have with Mr. Adams' analogy: pants are not intellectual, but tangible, property. If I put a Dilbert cartoon on my website, I have not deprived Mr. Adams of its use, nor of the ability to profit from the cartoon. On the other hand, if I take the pants from Nordstrom, I've deprived Nordstrom of both its ability to use the pants, and its ability to profit from the pants. That's why copyright violation is not theft, per se.

That does not mean that copyright violation is justifiable (excluding fair use and so forth). Even if you are not charging for the viewing of the copyrighted work you do not own, you are distributing the work in a manner contrary to its owners wishes and privileges (despite the term, copyright is a privilege granted by the government, not a right) and by doing so, potentially reducing the owner's profits from the work. That's not theft, but it is doing an indirect harm, and that should be enough to prevent moral people from violating copyright, other than in limited circumstances.

Me? Yes, I've violated copyright in a couple of cases. I've downloaded music from P2P networks that (a) I already own on album, but wanted to get in my iPod without buying a USB-equipped record player, and (b) that were not available for sale at any price (like a song from the soundtrack to Dogs in Space).

In case (a), I don't see how I've caused any harm, because I already own the track, and have paid a license for listening to it as much as I want, whenever and wherever I want. I suppose you could say I've harmed the manufacturer of the USB-equipped record player, but that's a pretty tenuous claim, and I suspect I'd be able to puncture it thoroughly with one question: every time I fail to buy something I've thought about buying, have I harmed the seller? (If so, of course, the reductio ad absurdam is immediate: I cannot avoid doing much greater harm than the putative copyright violation, and copyright violation cannot ever be more harmful than background noise of the dozens of times per week that I think about buying things, and don't.)

In case (b), if I ever see the track for sale, I'll buy it then and there, because I want a higher-quality copy (and would like the entire soundtrack, which presumably would be available with the before-mentioned song). Again, no harm done, because there was no way for the owner to profit from the track, since the owner is not selling the track.

Copyright can be a useful privilege for the government to extend, because it actually does achieve its aim of increasing the cultural and technological works available. Would Mr. Adams have published Dilbert for so long, and so consistently, if he were not able to profit from it? I doubt it.

All that said, I think that copyright is problematic at this point, because of the excessive length of the copyright term. The current term prevents copyrighted material from becoming available for the public to use prior to all but a tiny fraction of it has disappeared from usability. Consider: if there is a textbook written in the 1930s, it won't be available for public use until some time in the 2080s. How many copies, if any, are likely to survive to that point? Yet there is no ability in the meantime to meaningfully preserve the book, because it's not profitable for its owner to do so, and non-owners may not (legally) copy the book into a more durable medium.

I think that sensible copyright reform would increase the amount of public-domain creative works (its ostensible goal).

Anon Y. Mous

"Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go steal some more pants from Nordstrom. I'm not a thief; I'm just trying to convince them to lower the prices."

That's not what IP infringers are doing though, is it? The typical infringer buys the ipod, blank cd, etc., and then makes copies of some IP. So, if you were to go down to Nordstrom, note the exact design of the jeans they are selling, go buy the raw materials and necessary tools, and then make your own pair of jeans - you would then have a comparable situation. One other note, you would not sell the jeans, though you might post the design on the internet.

Not quite so outrageous, at least in most people's eyes. The basis of your confusion (intentional or otherwise)is you are trying to say that 2 different things are the same - stealing someone's actual property, and copying an idea without permission. They are not the same thing.

Tim in PA

People have an amazing ability to rationalize their behavior. This ability usually starts when they have something they wish to do, and they then proceed to shape their ethics on a case by case basis to fit their actions. Basically, they define what is "right" as "what I would do".

There are certainly some excesses and stupidities associated with copyright law these days, but the basic premise remains sound: to help creative workers profit from their work, thereby encouraging the arts. It's a similar concept to the patent system.

David W. Robertson

Scott, I appreciate your motive for creating your cognitive dissonance experiment. From a Christian perspective, the model that you use is based on a false dilemma. According to Jesus, nobody is good except God alone. Thus, I have one question: If people claim that they are good, then what standard are they using to determine whether or not they are good? Whatever standard that they are using certainly isn't the New Testament.

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