The Ones Who Walk Away

At some point in my schooling–high school or college, I can’t recall anymore–I received an assignment to read Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” If you like thought-provoking short stories and don’t like spoilers, I suggest taking a moment aside to read it before proceeding further! (CW: child abuse.)

The story describes a utopian city. People there live in joyful leisure, their every need provided for, never suffering more than the slightest knocks of ill fortune. There is but one catch: to sustain this perfection, Omelas keeps an innocent child imprisoned in abject squalor, fed greasy gruel and sometimes kicked for good measure. Every citizen of Omelas knows that the prisoner is there, and that if they are ever released, Omelas’s prosperity will end. Some few members of the city decide that they can not live under such a cruel bargain, and depart for the unknown lands beyond the mountains: the titular ones who walk away.

In the class, we examined Le Guin’s story as a thought exercise about utilitarianism. Do you find Omelas’s arrangement acceptable, as a utilitarian calculation might suggest? Or would you leave the city, believing that no amount of bliss could justify brutalizing a child? Self-righteous as I was (am?), I wrote my little essay response saying of course I would walk away. I couldn’t bear participating in an injustice like that.

It was a thought experiment, a hypothetical, an abstract what-if. I didn’t apply it to my own life. I didn’t stop to think: this is Omelas. I’m living there right now.

Whatever my struggles with money or productivity or mental health, I have it pretty good. I have a house, and food, and the endless entertainments of the Internet. I live (for now?) in a representative democracy where I can freely choose my religion, my friends, my self-expression.

And every one of those privileges is built upon exploitation and injustice.

The land my house rests upon belonged to the First Nations before white settlers seized it. I own the house thanks to a system of city and suburb, mortgage and credit score, that segregates white from black and rich from poor. Beneath even that is the dollar itself, token in the grand lottery of circumstance that randomly decides some people should have more of the good things in life than others, while lying that they “earned” it. The Internet, for all that it was supposed to save us by making information available to all, thrives by turning people’s attention, dreams, and relationships into data to be mined for profit. Its algorithms will happily tell you the Holocaust never happened, and the creators of those algorithms are okay with this. Our ever-worshiped democracy deploys military force against unarmed people and has selected a xenophobic rapist for its highest office.

I’ve seen the prisoner in the cellar. And yet here I still am, enjoying the Festival of Summer.

From a very early age, when I was sharply punished for saying “bad words” I parroted from my parents, I have been a fastidious follower of rules. It was many years before I would so much as jaywalk. And yet I have also always had a churning transgressive streak. I grew up near the St. Louis Arena. For the years when it lay empty, I daydreamed of trespassing there, wandering its deserted corridors and locker rooms. In college I got to toy with this dream of urban exploration by hiking through a ruined brick factory and learning the basics of parkour. Later I became a proponent of free culture in defiance of copyright. Most recently, I have taken an interest in antifas and cop watchers who stand up to hatred and unjust power in ways that are not always polite, tidy, or legal.

It seems I’m more primed for this than I’d have realized. How, then, can I walk away?

Hardcore anarchism would counsel me to literally walk away–abandon my house, my job, my marriage, and live in free and open defiance of all systems of control. I don’t think that’s me either, though. I can’t embrace the kind of nihilistic relativism that would condone so viciously hurting the people I care most about, as a middle finger to systems they didn’t ask to be a part of any more than I did.

But there are other things I can walk away from. I think I’m done with voting as a means of social change; it’s useless when your vote will just be gerrymandered, machine-errored, and Electoral-Colleged into irrelevance. And even the best possible politicians, like beloved St. Bernard, are more than willing to bow to the incoming kleptocrat-in-chief if it might help get their pet projects accomplished. Better to clog the phone lines and block the streets to make one’s desires heard.

I’ve already observed that video games etc. conspire to dull the mind and keep us from reaching our full potential. What then if I walked away from that? I’m forming a plan to live 2017 free from social media (other than blogs like this) and video gaming. I spend hundreds of hours on those things; if I dedicated all that time to writing, design, and social action, what might I achieve? If my leisure were occupied with reading instead of matching sets of three colored gems, what might I learn?

Will you walk with me out of Omelas? How?

Advertisements

CDA 230, Feminism, and Provoking Thought

Earlier this week, freelance social justice writer Arthur Chu penned a piece for TechCrunch calling for the repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. For those who aren’t tech law wonks, Section 230 establishes that platforms hosting user-created content are not liable for the things their users create. In other words, if somebody defames you on Facebook, you can sue the person who wrote whatever ugliness it was, but you can’t go after Facebook itself. According to Chu’s observations, the combination of Section 230’s protections plus the overall engagement economy of the Internet has created a cycle of perverse incentive for these platforms to turn a blind eye to abuse. They have no obligation to moderate their content, thanks to Section 230, and because hateful content generates clicks, shares, and ad revenue like any other kind of user content, they would cut into their own profits if they voluntarily shut such things down. So they let it all slide, making the Internet’s best-known content platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.) staging grounds for hate campaigns that ruin lives.

The piece was pretty widely panned. Ken Levine of Popehat argued that far from protecting the targets of abuse Chu intended this measure to help, it would put lots of fresh ammunition in the hands of their attackers. Techdirt’s Mike Masnick pointed out that the civil redress Chu enshrines in his post tends to be abused to shut down marginalized voices far more often than it allows them to score victories over the establishment. Both of those articles spell out several other sound arguments about the problems Section 230 repeal would bring on; hit the links for the full blow-by-blow.

What I find interesting, though, is Chu’s response to the claim that without CDA 230, the Internet as we know it would not exist. The massive surge in liability would make any user-content-hosting platform untenable as a business. To this Chu has said: good! Let those things burn. Chu pictures, it seems, a much quieter Internet: no Twitter, no comments sections, no user-submitted product reviews. Everyone who wanted to publish material would need to do so using their own resources, assuming all responsibility and risk for whatever they put forth. WordPress, for example, could not host people’s blogs for them; you could download and use their blog-creation software, perhaps, but on your own server only. Alternatively, content platforms might exist, but their pace of output and growth would be a crawl: every piece of user-added material would need exhaustive top-down review, to the point of paranoia, before seeing the light of day.

Would that be better for marginalized people than what we have now?

I’m not convinced it would be. Certainly, abominations like GamerGate wouldn’t take off, without liability-shielded havens from which to launch their bile. SWATting and doxing would take a great deal more effort and secrecy to accomplish. Those would be good things! But without Twitter, we also wouldn’t have Black Twitter. There would be no YouTube to host Feminist Frequency‘s videos. Activist groups couldn’t organize rallies using events on Facebook or Google Plus. Overall, the rapidity with which good ideas spread today would hit a brick wall. I for one would not have come around to my current progressive views on abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. at anywhere near the speed I did, were I not constantly exposed to content currently possible under CDA 230.

I do give Chu credit, though, for putting this bit of tech orthodoxy to the test. I have techno-libertarian leanings on a few topics myself, as my thoughts on copyright evince, but I rank my feminism as a greater ideal than those. If it could be more convincingly shown that the structure of the Internet today is more destructive to the marginalized than it is helpful, then I would reconcile the dissonance of my past pro-Internet stances by abandoning them. If copyright really does help the little guy against the big, rather than the other way around as I’m currently convinced it does, then by golly I will be a copyright goon. Chu’s thoughts as I’ve seen them articulated so far don’t come anywhere close to prompting such a paradigm shift, but props to him for getting me to consider the possibility!

Idioms of Collaboration

Kithia Verdon:

I’m currently involved in a game design collaboration with two dear friends of mine. This is a fantastic thing! I frequently feel the longing to team up with someone on a creative endeavor, yearning back to the glory days of collaborative writing on AOL’s Interactive Fiction forums or my own Galaxy Corps forum. It’s great to have the chance to do something along those lines again.

I’m grappling with a bit of culture shock, though. My approach to collaboration, my very mental model of what collaboration is, doesn’t quite click with the way the other two-thirds of the operation think about things. Creative differences, amirite? It’s not an insurmountable thing; it’s not going to doom the project or force me to drop out. But it does lead to weird moments of dissonance, a Twilight Zone episode about game design.

The short version: I want to go all scrummy with it, taking each other’s material and editing at will, tinkering and exchanging ideas uninhibited. The rest of the crew tends to more a sense of ownership, where if you make a thing, the others need to ask permission before adding to or changing it.

To an extent I can understand the feeling. I used to be that way about my writing; back in the Galaxy Corps days I remember quashing a couple of proposed plot threads because they interfered with my vision for the story as a whole. Today I regret that, and think the project suffered for it. As you might surmise from my posts on copyright, I’ve grown out of permission culture as a whole. The way I now see it, when I scribble some thought and let it loose in the wild, it’s yours as much as it is mine. You want to repost it and change it to express the exact opposite idea of what I originally wrote? Awesome, that’s some frickin’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies coolness there. You want to put it into a book and sell it for moneys? Sweet, more people get to read a thing I wrote!

I acknowledge of course that this attitude doesn’t work well at all stages of a creative project. If we were in the home stretch, heavily playtested, the text polished and copy-edited (especially if laid out), tearing out or fiddling with things sans careful change control would be a sure-fire way to block your project from ever going out the door. But right now, when we’re still revising core ideas about the game…

It’s like this. I picture this phase of creative collaboration like people sitting around a sandbox full of wet clay. Each person’s sculpting as the feeling strikes them, looking at what the others are doing and taking inspiration from it, working together to make a whole cityscape. Sometimes somebody stops by to add water to the mixture to keep things from drying out, and you have to deal with the fact that can mess with your nascent sculpture in the process. And sometimes you look across at your neighbor’s thing and go, “ooh, what if you added something like this here?” and just tack on a gob of clay as a balcony or spire or whatever to their structure. Maybe their eyes light up and they go “Yeah!” Maybe they make a face and take your addition back off, saying “eh, I don’t think so,” and have to repair the damage, but it’s all part of the fun.

Whereas the hands-off perspective feels to me like making a jigsaw puzzle all backward. Instead of painting the picture and then carving it up, you cut a blank board into pieces, hand them to different people, and start painting on the individual bits, maintaining a careful dialogue along the way where you try to make sure each person’s bits are going to line up correctly with the rest when it all comes back together. Exhausting!

It’ll turn out all right in the end, I’m sure. But along the way, I have to keep reminding myself what world I’m in. “Why don’t I have edit access to this file? Oh, right, that’s NN’s thing.” “Why are we waiting around on this edit we all agreed to? Oh, right, I started this class design so I have to finalize everything.” Tch!

A Brainstorm on Pricing in the Digital Age

I posted a thought a bit ago on Facebook and Google+, which didn’t at the time feel worthy of a blog post. I’ll reproduce it here, though, since the discussion around it has led in some interesting directions:

I think I’ve put my finger on the core error of thinking when people say it’s not reasonable to price digital media affordably. All this stuff about “blood, sweat, and tears,” “what about my sunk costs,” etc. frames the question of price in terms of what the product is worth to the seller. Of course it’s going to command top dollar in the eyes of the people whose hard work brought the art into the world. But the market doesn’t give a damn what it’s worth to you: it’s the value to the buyer that governs the optimal price. You look at your Great American Novel, and it stings to imagine someone buying it for $2.99 (the top-grossing ebook price point according to the data we have), because all those hours of writing and editing add up to so much more than that for you. And that blinds you to the clear fact that it’s better to make 10,000 sales at $2.99 than it is to make 1000 sales at $10.

Folks responded with a few objections, one of which struck me as particularly apt: the fact that it’s really difficult to gauge what the value to the buyer will be, sight unseen. Wherever you set your price, you’re always going to be left wondering, how many of my paying customers would have been willing to give more, had it been asked of them? And how many customers am I missing out on because the price is higher than they’re willing to pay? We can only set an optimal price if we’re armed with that sort of information, and such counterfactual data is extraordinarily hard to come by.

What if we structured a marketplace with the aim of getting that information to the sellers?

Pay-what-you-want pricing can succeed in the right circumstances. Humble Indie Bundles are a spectacular example, with their clever cocktail of buyer-set prices, bundled product, bonus content for greater contribution, and transparency. Viewed from a certain perspective, sporadic sales and markdowns for products on a platform like Steam end up with a pay-what-you-want feel too. A user puts a desired product on their Wishlist, and when its turn comes up to be marked down 10% or 25% or 75%, the user gets a notification–hey, look at the price now! Is now the right time, has it come down enough for you to buy?

I wonder if we could smash these ideas together somehow. Suppose we had a marketplace where for any item that goes up for sale, users can add it to a wish list, along with their suggestion of a price for it. You could start the process pre-release, even: announce that a product will be available for sale on such and so a date, encourage users to queue it up on their wish lists and say what they’d be willing to pay when it comes out. And all that data feeds back to the seller, with nice graphs: 100 out of 800 interested users say $1.99, 250 say $5, and so forth. The system could algorithmically suggest a sweet spot, which the seller could take, or choose their own price based on their own interpretation of the data.

As the service matures, more and more can be done with it. You’d get the Steam-like notifications of sales, with the additional nudge, well known to sellers of used cars, of “you said you’d be willing to buy at this price, and guess what, it’s now $1 below that!” (I’m sure it wouldn’t be phrased like that. Suffice to say I’m not in sales or marketing myself.) You’d accumulate data on the discrepancies between what people say they’ll pay vs. what they actually spend. You could even aggregate Netflix- or Amazon-like recommendation data back to sellers: “Users who bought similar products tended to pay $4.50 for them.”

I’m sure there are holes in the idea. As postulated, it’s maybe a little too much in the buyer’s best interest to game the system by lowballing, for instance; we’d need to monitor and correct for that. But with work, maybe something like this could help purveyors of digital goods narrow the gap between best-guess and optimal pricing. Hell, maybe this sort of calculation is already going on amid the gears and cogs of Steam…

Ethics and Copyright, Part 3: The Categorical Imperative

Lyn Hawthorn:

For our last venture into the ethics of copyright and copyright infringement, we explored how the moral framework of utilitarianism might approach the issue. I expect I’ll return to that topic and post later, since my rustiness with philosophical argumentation is pretty evident there, but for now let’s move on to the ideas of Immanuel Kant.

Kant is among the best known of the deontological ethical thinkers. In contrast to consequentialism, which concerns itself with the effect or outcome of an action, deontology evaluates the moral right or wrong of an act based on whether or not it adheres to objective rules or duties–laws that do not change according to circumstance. To clearly contrast this idea with rule utilitarianism, rule utilitarianism would acknowledge that if, by some strange and catastrophic event, everybody found themselves reacting with joy to the discovery that someone had stolen things of theirs (“oh happy day! My life has been simplified without any effort on my part!”), the rule that we shouldn’t steal things from one another should be reevaluated and maybe softened or eliminated. A deontologist, however, would hold that shifting circumstances have no bearing on morality: it is always and simply wrong to take someone’s rightful property without prior consent, no matter whether it does them good in the end or not. I don’t see copyright defenders use this angle as often as I see consequentialist lines of argument, but it does come up: “I don’t care if peer-to-peer sharing broadens my audience or even gets me more sales in the end. I have a right to control how my intellectual property is used, and I don’t want it shared that way.”

Immanuel Kant attempted to boil down an entire deontological ethic to one reasoned-out law, from which you could derive all others. What he came up with is called the categorical imperative. It has several formulations, the first and best-known being thus: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” It resembles rule utilitarianism or even our childhood Golden Rules in that it posits a sort of thought experiment: “what if everyone did what I’m doing now?” Unlike rule utilitarianism or the Golden Rule, however, it’s not concerned with whether the thought experiment shows a better- or worse-off society, or leads to personally undesirable situations. Instead, it supposes that if we look at our present action as a universal law, and it becomes logically impossible or rationally absurd, then what we’re doing is wrong. For the “stealing” example, if “I may take things from others without prior consent” were a universal law, the whole point of taking something in the first place would come apart: I could no longer count upon using it myself, since anybody else would be free to snatch it away from me in turn. It’s not that this would go badly, but that it leads to contradiction.

So how does this come out for copyright infringement? The tricky part lies in formulating what axiom an infringer is acting upon. We need to sum up the whole of their action without weaselly additions. The Devil-May-Care Infringer comes out in the wrong, at least! “People may download whatever digital content they like without sharing it in turn” leads to contradiction–without anyone seeding or hosting, there could be no downloading, so the axiom undoes itself. Less moustache-twirling Infringers are trickier, though. There doesn’t seem to be anything immediately contradictory about “People may freely download and share digital content,” for instance, an axiom the Casual or Compulsive Infringers might be said to follow. If you argue that such an axiom would mean no digital content would ever get created to be downloaded in the first place, that’s an economic conjecture, and gets us to my thesis: the moral question is contingent upon the resolution of the economic one.

Perhaps a later formulation of the Categorical Imperative might serve the copyright defender better, though. Kant eventually shaped the Imperative into “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means.” That’s wordy and precise, but expresses the idea that we should never make people into tools, using them to further our own purposes without recognizing their own rights and worthiness of respect. We shouldn’t step on people on our way to the top, but cooperate with them and find ways to enrich their lives at the same time. This formulation serves the copyright defender pretty well! Whenever we flout the content creator’s desires in how their work should be distributed, we’re pretty clearly treating them as a means to an end (entertainment, or education, or whatever), in contrast to purchasing and copying according to their preferred model, which brings them into the transaction as an end. Somebody like the Huge Fan, who works very hard to treat the content creator as an end in themselves, fares better–but is still in the wrong at that moment of unauthorized downloading. The non-consequentialist nature of the Imperative forbids us from arguing economic boons and benefits to society in any Infringer’s favor.

Using late Kantian deontology, then, would be a good way for copyright defenders to argue the immorality of unauthorized downloading, without having to demonstrate the economic harm of it. However! What’s good for the goose, and all that: what happens when we apply the Imperative to the copyright holder’s side of the operation? Many features of today’s copyright monopoly run afoul of treating the general public, consumers, etc. as means rather than ends. “Creators should keep their work out of the public domain as long as possible.” “It is acceptable to price educational materials out of the reach of students in developing nations.” “Seek maximum statutory damages against infringers, regardless of the scope of their infraction or their ability to pay the debt.” All these axioms are horrifically awry with respect to Kantian ethics! It somewhat shifts the goalposts of the conversation to take this tack in this series of posts, but I leave it here as an avenue for further thought. Even when we find a moral framework that successfully condemns copyright infringers, it still leads to conclusions that we should reform and moderate our system of copyrights!

Ethics and Copyright, Part 2: Utilitarianism

Lyn Hawthorn:

For our first venture into the good and evil, right and wrong of copyright infringement, we’ll dive into utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is a poster child of the consequentialist model of ethics, which holds that we should look to the outcomes or effects of our actions to determine right and wrong. It’s not the act itself, or our motivations in doing it, or the way it reflects on our character, that matters. Rather, we look to see if the action helped or hurt, made the world a better or worse place, and judge accordingly. It has a definite common-sense feel to it: coming to someone’s defense with “leave him be, he’s not hurting anyone,” or appealing to modern Paganism’s “do what thou wilt, but harm none,” and so forth, take a consequentialist perspective. In discussions about copyright, proponents of copyright argue this angle with lines like “piracy hurts artists!”

Utilitarianism in particular is based on the Greatest Happiness Principle: we should act as to promote the most happiness (well-being, pleasure, fulfillment) for the most people we can, and similarly minimize suffering (pain, frustration, lost opportunity) caused by our actions. In its early form, called act utilitarianism, we do this sort of calculation on any individual act to determine if it’s morally praiseworthy or blameworthy: if I do this thing, how much boon and harm will come from it? If it comes out a net positive for happiness, it’s acceptable, and if negative, it’s to be avoided. A further developed theory called rule utilitarianism works more subtly with this ethical calculus; we’ll get to that in a bit.

Amusingly, act utilitarianism struggles to paint copyright infringement as wrongful, even in the egregious case of our Devil-May-Care Infringer. The Infringer gains some happiness by acquiring and consuming his music or movie; the author or artist loses out on some happiness by the fact that they didn’t get revenue from that consumption. Especially under traditional royalty models, the author’s benefit from a single sale is pretty negligible, so what does that come out to, on balance? About neutral? What’s more, the Infringer’s other expenditures continue to enrich haberdashers and moustache-waxers, so if we’re to say the world comes off worse for the Devil-May-Care’s action, we would need to mount a demonstration that haberdashers and moustache-waxers promote less happiness or common good than artists and filmmakers do. That might indeed be doable, but is a direction that a utilitarian should tread with caution: the more extreme a maximization of happiness we expect of people under our moral system, the less sensible or intuitive it will come out. (Imagine what a paralyzing horror a trip to the grocery store would be, if you were required to purchase only those items that utterly maximized charitable works, environmental safety, etc.)

The other Infringers come off even easier, since their tactics are less extreme. The discussion gets more interesting, however, when we introduce rule utilitarianism. Under this scheme, we look not at an individual act, but consider what rules or laws we should enact and follow to bring the greatest happiness in society. There might be some odd case, rule utilitarianism acknowledges, where someone robbing someone else comes out happiness-positive; but if we didn’t disallow robbery as a general rule, the resulting might-makes-right definition of property would greatly diminish our safety, human progress, etc. So instead of puzzling out who’s helped and harmed by one infringing act or the individual choice to download a movie and buy a hat with the savings, we ask: what would the world be like if everyone were free to download and share copyrighted material, unrestricted? Would that setup be a net boon or harm to us all?

Plainly, such a paradigm shift would force a reevaluation of business models across the creative industries, which lands us square on my thesis: in order to evaluate the moral question of copyright, we need to have out the conversation of what economics would be like without it. If it turns out that creative industries could thrive the same as or better than now, were they to adopt non-monopolistic practices with respect to copying their material, then it seems infringement might be acceptable under rule utilitarianism. At most we would have to ask, does infringement under the current regime help accelerate the coming about of a thriving post-copyright business environment, or does it hold it back? The answer there would give final blessing or sanction.

Other fruitful conversations we could have, in a discussion of copyright and utilitarianism:

  • Which is more conducive to the general good: the current “permission culture,” where any use of a creative work requires permission and possibly licensing from the copyright holder; or a “remix culture” where people can freely reuse, transform, and build upon prior art? The tremendous vibrancy of mashups, music videos, and the like on the Internet and beyond, versus the chilling effect of legal threats and DMCA takedowns, suggests utilitarianism would favor a looser arrangement than we have now.
  • The public library effect: our Compulsive Infringer and Hoarder (or, to put a different perspective on it, the Pirate Bay and its ilk themselves) are modern Libraries of Alexandria, storing up knowledge and cultural works against future disaster. Free copying by the general public would be strong insurance against the art itself being lost forever, should the originals ever go missing or be destroyed. Which is the greater good vis utilitarianism: nearly undefeatable historical preservation, or the ability of a copyright holder to profit from every copy made?
  • While we’re on the topic of knowledge, a common point of pain under the current copyright regime is educational material. In colleges and universities, students must often pay exorbitant sums for the textbooks needed in their classes; in developing countries trying to bring their educational systems up to speed, the cost of licensing educational resources can stop a course of study before it’s ever taught. Which is of greater utility: education for all, or only for those who can pay a premium?

On the whole, utiltarianism looks to favor less copyright rather than more, and might even condone individuals’ infringement! What do you think? What other arguments can we bring to bear in the context of utilitarianism, for or against copyright?

Ethics and Copyright, Part 1.5: Piratical Archetypes

Lyn Hawthorn:

As I embark upon this series of posts examining the ethics of copyright and the infringement thereof, it occurs to me that one more bit of preparation would be useful. For various thought experiments, and to look at infringement through the lens of different theories of morality, these are a few scenarios we can refer back to over the course of these posts. Keep these portraits of different sorts of unauthorized downloading in mind as we go on!

The Casual Infringer: This is the sort of person we’ve all likely met, and if we’re not talking about any other template, we can assume we’re on about this person. The causal infringer sometimes buys copyrighted materials according to the law, and sometimes gets them by unauthorized means, according to their needs and feelings of the moment. They might watch a pirate stream of a sporting event one week, then buy a deluxe Blu-Ray film the next. They don’t give the ethical considerations much thought.

The Devil-May-Care Infringer: Our extreme example of piratical attitudes, this is the “wants everything for free” media consumer that copyright proponents love to hate. He doesn’t pay for any entertainment if he can get away with it! Nor does he buy merch or do anything else that could be construed as generating revenue for the artists and authors whose work he soaks up. In fact, he’s selfish even by pirate standards, not even sharing out what he downloads–always a leecher, never a seeder, on the torrents. We can suppose he spends the money saved on entertainment to buy black hats and moustache wax. Surely if we can succeed in nailing anybody with moral blame for copyright infringement, this guy would be one!

The Compulsive Infringer: This odd duck doesn’t even use the stuff she downloads. She simply amasses as much of it as she can and shares it back out to whoever is in search of it. The ultimate torrent seeder, building as vast a catalog of copyrighted stuff as she can find, without much attention to what it is she’s getting or distributing. A variation where she downloads anything and everything but doesn’t share it back out might be called a Hoarder.

The Huge Fan: This person is a devoted follower of one or more media creators. They download and share things because it’s the fastest and most effective way to get ahold of new content, and they want others to have the chance to see, hear, or read their favorites too! They might not always buy copyrighted material according to their object of adoration’s wishes, but they’re conscientious about making up for it in concert tickets, T-shirts, direct donations, etc.

The Underserved Customer: A Casual Infringer with a coherent pattern to what they infringe on and what they don’t. This person has particular standards on price, convenience, format, quality, or the like. If some content hits what they feel is reasonable on those criteria, they buy; if it doesn’t, they pirate. People who live outside of regions where content is legally available, but acquire it anyway, fall into this category.

The Broke Infringer: Somebody who simply doesn’t have disposable income to pay for copyrighted material. For our purposes, we can say they have exactly enough money for basic needs and an Internet connection, but not a penny more. If they’re to partake of copyrighted media at all, they have to get it for free somehow–which they regularly do, typically by pirate download.

That should cover most of our bases! What reactions do you have to these portraits? Are there any other motivations for or patterns of infringing behavior that might be relevant to these discussions?