Sunday, June 19, 2005

Second Ethics Article

My second ethics article is written and sent to the Games Journal. Actually, I wrote a nice long article two weeks ago and sent it to Greg, who wrote back that most of it would be uninteresting to the readers, which is what my wife had said, too.

I am covering the topic of "playing games without buying them", and I went on for 2-3 pages on the legal and ethical aspects of copyrights and patents before getting down to business on the last page and a half about how it all relates to games.

I cut it down and resubmitted it; now it is only the page and a half long. Maybe I'll post the entire original piece here sometime, or the parts that I cut out. I certainly find the topic interesting, at least.

The biggest discovery is the pervasive and highly incorrect use in everyday journalism of calling people who violate copyright laws "pirates" who are guilty of "stealing". This is totally without foundation, both legally and morally.

Yes, people who violate copyright laws are doing something illegal - they are in violation of copyright. Violation of copyright is not in any way theft. Nothing has been stolen.

People forget that something that is published is now in the public domain; in fact, that is the legal definition of publishing - putting it into the public domain. Governments, in order to encourage the best ideas to get into the public domain, placed a certain limited restriction on the basic right of individuals to copy text and pictures for a duration just long enough to encourage publication.

So you can't copy when something is first published, because it is a violation of copyright. But theft? Piracy? Give me a break.



Coldfoot said...

Copyrights are being violated if the material is used without attribution. Profiting from the work has legal ramifications, also. Simple use of the material for personal use is fine.

Oddly enough, the US Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on this very topic today (Monday). They will probably limit the ability of Americans to download music for personal use, although you can record the same music off the radio, or from a CD. Look for the decision in a couple months.

A broad rule of thumb: The man (or woman) with the highest paid attorney is always right in the realm of copyright law.

Yehuda said...

"Copyrights are being violated if the material is used without attribution."

You're thinking of "fair-use". That is when you selectively copy something, in which case you have to attribute. Copying an entire song is a copoyright violation, with or without attribution. Copying a car engine - looking at it and then building your own - is not a copyright violation, with or without attribution.

"Profiting from the work has legal ramifications, also. Simple use of the material for personal use is fine."

Now you're talking about patents, not copyrights, and actually, you are incorrect. If the car engine is patented, than I cannot produce a similar car engine, even for personal use. There are no exceptions to this, except for the sole purposes of verifying the viablity of the patent.

You cannot profit by copying a copyrighted item. You can, however, paraphrase the item and resell it to your heart's content. You can't do that for a patented item, however. You can't even make it for theoretical study, let alone personal use.

Now it's true that people may copy patented items, and the patent holder may not find it worth his while to bother suing for damages. That is why it is only worth patenting expensive items.

The point I am making is that none of the above, not copying a copyrighted item, not even copying a patented item, and reselling it; none of this is "stealing" or "piracy". Stealing and piracy involves taking something from someone. Copying an item has nothing to do with that. Intillectual laws are put in place to encourage creation. Violations discourage creation. That's what you are doing - you are discouraging creation in an illegal manner.