Wednesday, November 17, 2010

the black market is the black market

An interesting side note in the aftermath of the defeat of Proposition 19 this month: don't worry, law-n-order nutjobs -- even if pot had become legal, Mexican drug cartels are well ahead of you, branching out into illicit software sales.

In an age when cash is increasingly digital, war is waged via computer virus, mega corporations battle each other over our contact lists, and those same corporations do little more to pile their (digital) billions than aggregate data, the propaganda undertaken to demonize software piracy will make Reefer Madness look restrained by comparison.

The absurdity that underlies stringent prosecution of software piracy makes for Dr. Seuss-like reading:
The most vociferous critics of Microsoft and the overall proprietary software industry describe the anti-piracy crusade as a sophisticated dog-and-pony show. They say the software makers tolerate a certain level of piracy because they would rather have people use their products — even if counterfeit — than pick up lower-cost alternatives. At the same time, the critics say, the software companies conduct periodic raids to remind customers and partners that playing by the rules makes sense.

“It has always been in Microsoft’s interests for software to be available at two different prices — expensive for the people that can afford it and inexpensive for those that can’t,” Mr. Eben] Moglen[, a Columbia Law professor,] says. “At the end of the day, if you’re a monopolist, you have to tolerate a large number of copies you don’t get paid for just to keep everyone hooked.”
We get caught up in the thing that is prohibited -- whether it's illicit narcotics (as opposed to controlled substances) and prohibited forms of media copying -- and instead it would behoove us to look at the boundaries between what is forbidden and what is allowed. That boundary tells us more about ourselves as a society than how many joints we smoke or songs we download for free.

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