Monday, 23 June 2014

Piracy And The Ethical Imperative

Today's post on Falkvinge on Infopolicy's blog was one of those linkbait pieces that gets me hot under the collar because I'm basically conservative and Zacqary Adam Xeper's stance goes against a cherished position of mine: I believe in the rule of law. It's not easy being a Pirate Party supporter when things like this come up because, for the most part I agree with them. But then, the Pirates are not and have never been about conformity.

The picture above is how people tend to see us; ruthless, uncaring thieves eager to take without giving back unless we feel like it, robbing the creatives and the orphan granny kittens of the little they have. *Cue sad music.*

What we are 

The fact is, we're not. Many of us are creatives ourselves. I am; I've got two ebooks for sale and I'm giving one away. See that picture I'm using to illustrate this post? I made it myself. Loz Kaye of the UK Pirate Party is a musical director, among other things. He also writes. Adam is also creative. However, he's... well... read the post.

One of the first things that stuck out for me was this comment:

My problem with Adobe is that I didn’t even know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.

No, we're not. We're living in a dictatorship — a self-perpetuating autocracy in which the working classes... you get the idea. The "we" of whom he speaks is not a large, well-organised group and I'm sad to say we're not making enough noise to be heard above the right-wingers who swept the board at the last election because people aren't seeing us as the solution. We are not in a position to set the pace, at least not yet. We're certainly not autonomous. We are subject to the rule of law whether we are willing to acknowledge this or not, Monty Python notwithstanding.

What we are not

Throughout history, the ethical stance that wins is usually the one that belongs to the people who have power.

No, no, no. Paging Mike Godwin. Mike Godwin to reception, please. Seriously, call that an argument?! "Might is right" justifies every atrocity committed by drone operators every day — because they have the power. It justifies the attack on Halabja in 1988 because Saddam Hussein had the power. And, damn it, it justifies the ongoing mass surveillance by our own governments because, by God, they've got the power. We are not ethical when we force others to play by our rules when they don't want to.

It’s commons logic, the kind where people care about their relationships to one another, and work together for everyone’s mutual benefit. 

Well, yeah, but forcing people into the commons without giving them a choice in the matter smacks of a me-too authoritarianism that I really can't be dealing with. These guys are making the laws so some of us are breaking the laws. The idea that either of the two sides is right is where he's getting it wrong.

What we should be doing instead

From my point of view, Adobe is asking me to shell out a portion of my future revenue before I’ve actually made it.

So do the bus company, your landlord, your utility companies... you're using their stuff, mate. The way Adobe sees it, "Commons, Schmommons." They're about owning the items they create. What we should be doing is using other items to prove that we don't need them because you're right, Zac, they'll whine and growl and piddle on the floor till we can't even use GIMP without paying a damn license. They need to fail because we won't use their programs, not because their DRM wasn't effective enough.

In any case, Adobe already contributes to the commons by providing us with some free stuff. The Acrobat PDF viewer comes to mind, as does Flash, even though it crashes a lot. Browserlab is an invaluable tool for web designers that shows us how our creations look on other browsers. That Photoshop is expensive is down to our flat out refusal to consider using other programs instead.

Open source alternatives

GIMP and Inkscape are perfectly good illustration and artistic programs. I used GIMP to draw the Pirate above with a mouse (it took a while). Here's another thing I did with GIMP. It's brilliant for animation and I love to play with it. I made that pencil drawing a flower all by myself. It took ages. Inkscape is more for logos as it does vectors better than GIMP does. But yeah, other options exist.

As for the rest of the Creative Suite may I introduce Kompozer, which produces light, clean, standards-compliant code, unlike the bloated mess provided by Adobe's efforts? Okay, you've got to use  something like the 960 layout system with Kompozer in Source view to get started if you want stacking columns, but I made some lovely HTML pages with it and it's useful when guest posting if I have to provide the post in code.

The point is, you're not obliged to pirate at all, and when you do you're perpetuating the myth that open source programs simply aren't good enough. I beg to differ: I think they're better. If you disagree, please tell me why. I genuinely want to know.

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