Wednesday, May 9, 2007

FCE4AAA: Financial Code of Ethics For Adolescents of All Ages

    When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, and I hacked as a child. I also stole stuff. This week I rediscovered that inner child.
Digg pisses off “the old me”

Last week Digg had a brouhaha over the “censorship” of a certain 16-byte number. At that time I felt that Digg should not have caved in and allowed the number to be published on its site. At that time I felt that Digg users were a bunch of whining adolescents, without one creative bone in their collective body. Had I written this blog at that time it would have gone something like this:

    You sniveling adolescents. Leave that 16-byte number alone. That number was created by someone else, and it’s sufficiently long that they have every right to decide how it be used, shared, or not-shared. If you don’t like it then go out and make a long number of your own, then copyright it, sell it, give it away, whatever you want to do with it. Or is that too hard for you, Digg-child? Can’t create a number of your own so you have to copy one? How pathetic. Can’t create web content of your own (because you have no original thoughts, do you?) so you have to go around clicking on “digg this” icons, and pretend that that makes you part of a “community”? You think that a bunch of snot-nosed kids clicking on icons makes “user-powered content”. Give me a break! You’re not cool.

    Fine, you need a number to copy? Here’s one. I hereby copyright this number and declare that anyone is free to copy it as much as they wish.

    41 6E 79 74 68 69 6E 67 20 73 75 66 66 69 63 69 65
    6E 74 6C 79 20 76 61 67 75 65 20 73 68 61 6C 6C 20
    61 6C 77 61 79 73 20 72 69 6E 67 20 74 72 75 65 2E

    Now get a job!
But that was last week. I’ve since had a major change of mind--a “Saul on the road to Damascus” moment. Now I’ve seen the light.

How I got to be “the old me”

Until a few days ago I was a staunch advocate of “content creator’s rights”, which is the idea that whoever originates intellectual property has the right to determine how that IP is used. I used to get totally pissed at people who “shared” music without paying, “shared” software without paying, “shared” movies and source code and so on. Until a few days ago I used to say stuff like, “those artists and engineers and musicians and key grips and so on have worked hard, and taking their stuff without paying is like stealing”. Until a few days ago I would tell people “if you want music to be free then go spend years and years learning to play an instrument, write original songs, compose, arrange, control the soundboard, and when you have your original piece of art you have every right to release it just as free as you want”. I had a similar story regarding software, and movies. That old “censorial” me did things like write a secret software program that would seek out all the songs my son downloaded on Napster and add random noise and pops to the files. That old me enjoyed the fact that his Napster would then pass those now-ruined songs to other P2P “sharers”. The old me wanted RMS to mind his own beeswax and stop telling me how I ought to control my intellectual property.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was an adolescent I had a large collection of cassette tapes recorded from my friends’ albums. I joined the Columbia Record Club twice just for the free ten albums, only to record the albums and return them for a full refund. As an adolescent, I was once in K-Mart with a friend who slipped the latest ELO album into her coat and left without paying. I felt a tad bit guilty over being an accomplice in that theft, but those feelings of guilt did not prevent me from making a cassette recording of that album. It was easy to justify: Jeff Lynne didn’t need my money and, anyway, where did he get off making a double album when there was only a single album’s worth of good music in there. When I was an adolescent I broke through the copy protection schemes on dozens of computer games, and let some middle-aged guy take those protection-free games and distribute them. It was such an interesting challenge that I didn’t think twice that I may be depriving some programmers of their daily bread.

So where did my “anti-freedom” ideas come from? When did I stop being such an adolescent? Part of it may have been a backlash to my experience from when I used to write the CEnvi shareware program. I don’t know how many times I would run across CEnvi users who would tell me how much they loved the program and used it all the time, only to learn they’d never actually paid for it. When the 2600 group posted a code to register my software without paying for it, it annoyed the hell out of me because it meant my kids had no shoes to wear and I had to take the family to the local dive-in for dinner (where “dive-in” was our cute family euphemism for “dumpster diving for dinner because dad has no money for food because people are copying his shareware without paying”)

That A-ha moment that leads to “the new me”

Somewhere along the way I grew up. And that’s sad. I didn’t realize how sad until very recently when my wife, Amy, somehow got stuck with a counterfeit twenty dollar bill. Nobody would take this $20. Nobody! There she was with an almost-perfectly good looking $20 and she couldn’t buy coffee, or shoes, or candy. Nothing.

I suddenly realized: That’s just wrong. If somebody can copy something, they have every right to use it. Right? Why should the US Government have some sort of “trademark” on who can make currency and who cannot?!! That is TOTALLY unfair. It’s a violation of our freedom of speech. It’s just wrong. I want to spend that $20 dammit!


Call to action

Let us not put up with this tyranny any longer. I call on all Digg users, here and now. Stand up for our rights and let’s put an end to this censorship of the currency of ideas, and the currency of currency.

All Digg users, do the following right away (don’t think, just do it):
  1. Gather together any $20s you can find (you're probably unemployed, so digg around in your mother's purse).
  2. Scan those $20s (front and back).
  3. Post those scans on Digg and on any other site you can find.
  4. “digg” all links to posted images of $20s
  5. Post more scans (as many serial numbers as we can get because you can’t “own” a number, right?)
If we all work together in cooperation (“community”) we can flood Digg with $20 scans, links to scans, and links to links, until they cave in to our demands. Then send all those scans to your printers as a record of this historic moment on the road to freedom.

We will not be censored!

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