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09/10/2003 Archived Entry: "POST HOC ERGO PROPTER HOC"
Posted by CKL @ 03:59 PM PST

If you've been following the recent flurry of activity surrounding the RIAA's "anti-piracy" campaign, you'll know about this chain of events:

  1. The RIAA collects data on people who have been running file-sharing programs on their home computers.
  2. The RIAA files lawsuits against individual users alleging illegal file-sharing activity and demanding up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation.
  3. One of the users named in such a suit turns out to be a 12-year-old girl.
  4. Not surprisingly, countless people rush to defend the hapless moppet against the corporate behemoth.
  5. The RIAA settles with the girl-- or, rather, her mother-- for $2,000.
Now, let's just ignore for a moment all the nitpicking-- doesn't COPPA imply that the RIAA's original data collection was illegal?-- and focus on the fundamental, flawed premise:
RIAA President Cary Sherman during a Senate Judiciary hearing [claimed]... that most people don't shoplift because they fear they'll be arrested. "We're trying to let people know they may get caught, therefore they should not engage in this behavior," Sherman said.
Hmm. This sounds familiar. Where have I heard that tune before? Oh, yeah:
[A] simple truth which Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest. He's absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences. Oh, hogwash...

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the "gap" between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.

Thank you, Eric Flint; and you, gentle reader, should check out the Baen Free Library, where you can read the complete text of Eric's rant and download free-- that's right, FREE-- e-books by Mr. Flint and others, direct from the publisher.

Don't believe the doubletalk about "artists' rights" or "intellectual property." Especially don't believe those dopey "Movies, They're Worth It" ads that are now polluting a theatre near you. The entertainment industry is a business, and the people trying to protect their investments are not the artists or craftsmen slaving away behind the scenes.

CDs or theatrical releases are only a method of distribution. Is going to see a movie better than renting a DVD or watching it on cable TV? Is buying a CD better than downloading a song from iTunes or recording it off the radio? Maybe. It depends on who you talk to. It depends on your personal preference.

It's very dangerous to equate freedom with capitalism.

One last thing: some of the news stories on this brouhaha reference the fact that music sales have declined in the past few years, and attribute this to the rise of online file-sharing. Whoa there, Edward Tufte! All you've got is coincidental correlation. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is not a sufficient defense, and you sure as hell shouldn't use it offensively.

The world is changing, and you may delay the future, but you'll never stop it with fallacious arguments.

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