Response to "Two Faces and Big Lies" by Eric S. Raymond*


This afternoon I received "Two faces and Big Lies," your article on the ethical issues surrounding the Napster fiasco. I found this document very interesting, especially your comments on the Napsterities who consider their file-sharing activities as revolutionary.

I will not comment at length on the first half of your document; suffice it say that I essentially agree with you about the real motives of the DVDCCA and the entertainment industries in regard to DeCSS - the issue is about retaining a monopoly on production of DVD players by a handful of electronics corporations, and not about the potential threat of video piracy.

It's the second half of your article, detailing your thoughts on the motivations of over 22 million Napsterites, that interest me. In many ways, I agree with you, and I have said as much in articles and messages to Napster, Inc. In fact, when it appeared Napster would be shuttered last Friday, I posted comments on the Dimension Music forum stating my belief it would be a good thing if Napster shut down and went out of business. An immediate and conclusive shuttering of the Napster service would return a sense of proportion to the activity of anonymous file-sharing. Essentially, if not for Napster, the habit of sharing music files would have remained in the exclusive province of IRC, FTP, and temporary websites. It would not have become the "overnight sensation" it now is - complete with media hype, high-powered lawyers, congressmen, and millions of college kids. In other words, it would have remained anchored obscurely in the domain of the hacker and a relatively small number of others possessing the required knowledge and skill.

On the other hand, Napster has advanced the idea of distributed, peer-to-peer file-sharing, an alternative method of network computing that has lived in the aging shadow of traditional server-client computing for years. In the short span of several months, Napster has brought not only media attention to so-called P2P, but also a bevy of hungry venture capitalists desperate to cash-in on what they believe to be the next big Internet horse race. The result may be more of the same - corporate privatization, proprietary code, business plans, the whole smug dot-com mentality - yet in the process an alternative (and some would argue preferable) method of computing is advanced.

If not for Napster, chances are Gnutella would have never escaped the AOL/NullSoft labs to become the dreaded Frankenstein it now is. Granted, many will use Gnutella for questionable practices - trading unauthorized copies of copyrighted music, film, and literature - while others will utilize the software for file-sharing research documents or trading family videos. I am opposed to Lars Ulrich, the RIAA, MPAA, et al, all of whom would outlaw or litigate technology out of existence merely based on the perception of threat. Frankly, the argument, which you seem to support, that Napster (or Napster-like technologies) pose a threat to the ownership of music - or, rather, the ownership of a digital copy of the music - pales in comparison to the threat of multi-national corporations dictating the shape of technological innovation.

You mention "ownership" in your article - artists own their music and thus should be the ones to decide how that music is released, be it on the Internet or pressed on archaic vinyl discs. I certainly agree with you - the ultimate yea or nay should come from the artist. Yet the vast majority of artists are contractually prevented from any direct decision on how their music will be distributed or used. I am not citing this an excuse for the massive trading of music files via Napster, but rather to point out that many artists believe Napster, in theory, is an effective way to promote and distribute music. Of course, Napster has not asked for permission, or do they sincerely believe they need to ask for permission (i.e., "fair use"), but the fact remains: Napster has increased the incomes of many artists without their explicit consent or participation.

In fact, with the current state of chaos within the world of online music, I believe asking for explicit and contractual permission to freely distribute music is nearly impossible (what with the ASCAP, BMI, mechanical rights publishing model firmly entrenched). The industry has expressed little interest in reformatting these models to accommodate what is a completely different way to distribute music. Again, Napster may pose crucial ethical issues, yet the push factor of the technology will force what is a monopolistic industry to accommodate consumers who want music delivered online.

Yes, file-sharing may be a bad deal for some artists, particularly well-known artists like Metallica, yet it is an effective and revolutionary tool for others, such as myself. I have shared my music via both Napster and Gnutella. Of course, the success of that exposure has been limited, even disappointing, and this is more related to my innate talent as a musician than anything else. Regardless, I resent the RIAA attempting to deny me access to this channel simply to insure their own market dominance and financial margins. I realize that I am in the minority - an MP3 trader dealing in his own work and not that of others - yet I am compelled to defend Napster, even with all its warts and defects. Is this selfish? Possibly. But I believe there are negative consequences in outlawing this technology that transcend my own personal reasons for supporting it.

In your article, you encourage the hacker community to make distinctions when crafting technology. My question to us is: if Napster and Gnutella technologies are a threat to ownership of IP, would you discourage the development of those technologies based on such ethical considerations? Granted, Shawn Fanning developed Napster for one primary reason - to reduce the hassle of broken links and missing files when searching for music files over the Internet. Napster is based on one premise - sharing music files, be they copyrighted or not. Gnutella, on the other hand, allows a person to share all file types, not strictly MP3 files. Sure, people trade mostly music files with the application, but it was not exclusively designed to facilitate trade in music files. If a technology, such as the telephone, has the potential for misuse, what should the reaction of an ethical developer be in possibly designing and programming telephone network software? In fact, some may argue - either rightly or wrongly - that the Internet itself was devised under a corrupt and unethical premise: facilitating the communication of network data under the stress of nuclear war.

Kurt Nimmo

Eric S. Raymond responds to the above:

> In your article, you encourage the hacker community to make distinctions
> when crafting technology. My question to us is: if Napster and Gnutella
> technologies are a threat to ownership of IP, would you discourage the
> development of those technologies based on such ethical considerations?

No. I am not arguing for the suppression of the technology. I am arguing for individuals to be more careful and ethical about the choices they make in using it.

Eric S. Raymond's original document

DeCSS.  Napster.  These are two faces of a revolution -- a
technological wave that is sweeping through the media industry,
theatening to upset billion-dollar business models as though they were
cockleshell boats.  As with every power shift in progress, these
technologies have attracted vocal partisans and bitter enemies.  

Also as usual, the first casualty of ideological warfare is the truth.
The kids chanting "power to the people" and the corporate executives 
blustering about piracy are both oversimplifying some deep and complex
issues.  And both sides -- yes, I said, *both* sides -- are telling some 
Big Lies, trying to get their propaganda positions accepted as truth
by endless repetition in tones of righteous indignation.  

Let's look at some of those lies.  Here's our first: that the DVD Copy
Control Association's attempt to suppress DeCSS lawsuit is or was ever
about piracy.  Yes?  If that's so, why wasn't the DVDCCA up in arms
about DVD-ripper programs eighteen months ago?  It's come out in the
2600 trial in New York that the DVDCCA knew about these programs perhaps
as far back as that -- and the rippers do exactly what the DVDCCA says
DeCSS is for, which is allow people to make digital copies of DVDs
that can be shipped over the Net and burned into writeable CD-ROMs.

Even more to the point, if piracy is the issue why isn't the DVDCCA
trying to outlaw pirate stamping presses instead of software?  Forget
kids making one-at-a-time copies on their PCs with DVD rippers or
DeCSS or anything else; the real revenue threat to the movie studios
is factories churning out thousands of CDs a month.  The real pirates
laugh at content scrambling, because they go straight to the physical
level and copy the pattern of pits and bumps on the disk, encryption
and all.

So what's the truth?  The truth is that the war on DeCSS was never
about piracy at all.  What it's really all about protecting the DVD
player monopoly -- and the DVDCCA, which is run by a cartel of
consumer-electronics companies, has been playing Jack Valenti and the
Motion Picture Association of America for patsies.  If the MPAA
hadn't been grabbed by its territorial instincts and stopped thinking,
it might have figured out by now that cheaper DVD players (and free
DVD-playing software on PCs) actually mean a bigger market for the
DVDs themselves.  

Yes, that's right; content scrambling is actually *hurting the
studios' profits*.  But if they're clueless about this, they're at
least consistently clueless; they were wrong in pretty much the same
way about the VCR.

So much for corporate con-jobs.  Now let's look at another kind -- the
kind that masquerades as populist idealism.  Here's our second Big Lie:
that Napster doesn't rip off the artists.  The people pushing this line
often claim that it's OK because musicians don't make money on 
album sales anyway, the real money is in concerts and tie-ins.  Courtney
Love gave this crowd a lot of ammunition in a July Salon Magazine piece --
a blisteringly funny rant which dissected in detail all the scabrous 
scams that record companies routinely use to rip off the bands who
actually make the music they sell. 

It was all true.  But it's only half the story -- and I know both
sides, because I was a rock musician once and I've got friends who are
still.  I've been in a couple groups, recorded on a few albums.  I've
been there, playing bars for peanuts and desperately hoping to get
scouted by some toothy-grinned A&R guy so we could at least get ripped
off somewhere higher up on the food chain.  And you know what?  To the
little guys and indie bands out there, CD and tape sales can make a
hell of a lot of difference.  Like, between playing and practicing
full time or having to hack a day job.  Courtney, three platinum
records later, doesn't have to care about *that* angle any more.

There's a basic disconnect in the pro-Napster position.  OK, so let's
suppose the whole recording game is a total rip-off and the artists
get nothing from album sales.  You're going to fix that, *how*?  By
ripping off the record companies?  Excuse me, I missed something
there.  Not one starving artist is ever going to get a nickel more
money because you *didn't* pay for his album.

But even that misses the real point.  The real point is that by
"sharing" without the artist's consent, *you deprive him of the right
to control and dispose of his work*.  Forget the record companies; for
this issue they are just big bloated red herrings, a noxious excuse, a
convenient distraction.  The real question is this: are you going to
support the artists, or steal away the few shreds of autonomy they
might have left?

It's almost superfluous to add that the Napster guys themselves are
monstrous hypocrites, as Lee Gomes has well described in a recent Wall
Street Journal article.  Napster's inventor, that cute rebel kid Shawn
Fanning, is basically a mascot they trot out for photo-ops; the real
decisions come from Fanning's uncle and an unsavory cabal of fat-cat
investors -- and that's where the money goes, too.  And those are the
guys who will threaten and sue you if you feel like "sharing" *Napster's*
intellectual property -- like, say, by reverse-engineering your owner
Napster-protocol client or server.

And yes, I know that Gnutella is much cooler and will bypass the
central-point-of-suckage model that Napster has now.  And I know that
Napster-like technology has lots of legitimate uses.  But still.
There's a basic difference between the ethics of DeCSS, as it's
normally used, and Napster or Gnutella as they are normally used.
DeCSS is mainly about how you use your own property -- *your* DVD,
*your* machine.  Napster and Gnutella, are mainly about how you use
*other peoples'* property.

We in the hacker culture have a special responsibility, and a special
need, to be very clear about the difference.  We have a special
responsibility because we are the king toolmakers of the digital age;
our work and our values will have a large part in shaping the future
of communications and media everywhere.  We have a special need because
the way these intellectual-property issues work out will come back to
haunt us more than most if we get then wrong.  

One of our possible futures, if the press and the courts and the
public decide we got it badly enough wrong, is an Intellectual
Property Enforcement Association that's a worse nightmare than the DEA
or the BATF -- jackbooted thugs with no-knock warrants battering down
peoples' doors to seize their computers on suspicion of information

Our community must speak out on the basic differences between "our
property" and "other peoples' property", loudly enough to be heard and
clearly enough so the press and courts and public can understand.  We
must help form a new consensus that is staunch for liberty while
condemning theft.  Otherwise, we may well get that grim future -- and
deserve it.
		Eric S. Raymond

[President Clinton] boasts about 186,000 people denied firearms under
the Brady Law rules.  The Brady Law has been in force for three years.  In
that time, they have prosecuted seven people and put three of them in
prison.  You know, the President has entertained more felons than that at
fundraising coffees in the White House, for Pete's sake."
	-- Charlton Heston, FOX News Sunday, 18 May 1997

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