I begin with a hope that this is the last thing I write about this topic, it has already extended to about nearly 4000 words before the start of this piece. So I hope with another 2000 or 3000 words in this one the whole thing is put to rest. Let me begin by saying that all this while I have been having a field day criticising just about anyone and everyone in the ‘industry’ with nobdy speaking up for them and so I therefore believe that either people have just got tired of this non-sense or they must be waiting for that magical solution that I purport to have hidden in my sleeve.

I suppose I could gladly state after my talks with lots and lots of people, whom I always ask one question, do you deal in pirated discs, if so why? I doubt whether the industry has ever tried to find out why people who do so, do so(am talking of the end-users). Whatever the industry view, atleast in my case more than 90% told me it was purely a question of cost. Mind you, more number of people distribute it for free than those who charge any money for it. Yet, almost every one of them them told me if it was cheap enough they BUY it, from the original maker itself. So without wasting more time, I shall launch right into some of the craziest ideas you have heard in a long long time(even if you did, the industry guys probably didn’t, so give them the benefit of doubt).

1. Cheaper than Dirt: The first reason why people don’t buy original is the cost. An original movie DVD costs about Rs. 300 and upwards, whereas a pirated one costs only about Rs. 30 and upwards. But the one fundamental aspect involved in both is that, in a capitalist economy, the ‘industry’ guys are trying to act like communists, demanding that you not only buy their products only, you also pay them whatever they ask even if it is not worth it. A blank DVD I bought yesterday in the market came for almost Rs. 7.50 and I am sure if the industry guys buy them in the qunatities that they do, they can get a blank one for Rs.5, the balance usually made up of middlemen’s profit margins. After taking into account the costs of duplication/recording and packaging, it would probably end up as a finished product ready to ship at a cost of about Rs.10. This would mean that even if they would definitely get in a margin of Rs.5 on every product, after taking into concern distribution costs and retailer margins.

The important point being that, the pirates don’t offer better packaging, nor do they offer better or even equivalent quality, in fact on both these counts they are far inferior. The only single reason why they sell as many as they sell is the price(meaning if the industry sold at the prices the pirates are selling, there would be no more piracy, because piracy exists almost solely due to the price gap, and mind you the pirates are not making losses selling at such prices). I always wonder why the industry refuses to acknowledge that fact and keeps on trying to spend increasing sums of customer-money on better protection technologies and anti-piracy measures. If only they could understand the minimum logic that people like Moser Baer have understood, they would have been much better off than they currently are. I fail to understand why they miss such a simple and obvious logic. In every city, only a thousand people pay for a MIcrosoft OS, because it ranges between Rs. 4000 to nearly Rs. 10,000 per PC. Which would translate into maybe 10,000×1,000, i.e. Rs. 1 crore. Conversely if they priced their OS at Rs.200 and bundled it along with the processor/board, they could have ensured that the more than 10 lakh PC’s that are sold every year are sold every year are sold with an OS already paid for, which would translate into revenues of 200×10,00,000, i.e. Rs. 20 crores. I am sure these people employ professionals who have more experience in the business and numbers than my age, but I would really love to see one of them questioning the logic of this arguement reasonably. I mean what would they prefer, revenues of 1 crore with millions of pirated installations around, or 20 crores of revenues with a million legitimate customers and that many lesser pirated copies going around?

2. New Age, New Avenues: Opponents of the first point might raise a valid point about it being uneconomical to distribute and sell at such low prices, given the margin expectations of retailers and other middlemen. I would simply say, have you tried alternative selling locations at the prices suggested above(I know you have tried the locations I am about to suggest above at your current prices)? Have you tried stocking your discs from the floor to the roof of a Big Bazaar, and then watch them fly off the racks at Rs. 20 per movie? You probably have more chance of selling 1 crore copies at Rs. 20 these days than you have at selling a few thousand copies at Rs. 300. have you tried hard-selling them in the same locations, for example getting Big Bazaar to give out your discs to customers instead of a cash discount of Rs. 15 or more. A cash discount of Rs. 15 might not mean as much to a customer as getting an original DVD from the shop as a complimentary gift although the items have to be paid for at MRP. That would I am sure you would agree, improve not only the industry sale prospects, it would also improve the goodwill for the store. Readers must note that the reason I mention names like Big Bazaar, is because of the changes in the marketplace that time has wrought. Nowadays hardly anybody visits specialty music stores like MusicWorld/PlanetM exclusively for the purpose of BUYING music(I mean hardly anybody goes out of their way to spend time looking for a music store, visiting one and then picking out the music), whereas the kinds of stores I have mentioned are high footfall areas, where even if they fail to purchase anything the store has to offer, they might just fall for this one, simply seeing the prices.

3. Impulse vs. Investment: The second major problem with the pricing is that it simply takes music/movies from the regions of the ordinary affordable forms of entertainment into the realms of a premium indulgence, more relatable to filthily rich people. There is a very fine line of difference between what makes up an impulse purchase and what makes up an investment, and the industry with its current pricing structure is far far away form that line. People perceive spending more than Rs. 300 on something that they usually watch once or twice as an ‘investment'(as in would you go to a restaurant everyday, or cook everyday at home and go to the restaurants on the weekends?, remember I am talking of the majority), as compared to spending Rs. 20 which they would deem as anyway lost on lots of other frivolities, instead of which if they bought this it would atleast last longer than those other frivolities. Just think to yourself, would you rather buy a cool drink everyday if it was priced at Rs. 5 or would you do so if it was priced at Rs. 30, and the answer will be clear and definite. One example I would like to quote of a company that was able to see this logic and able to MINT money from it, is Apple. They set up the iTunes store with the intention of selling songs at 99 cents. To paraphrase Steve Jobs own words, the idea was to make music an impulse purchase, so that people would think, what the heck, it’s hardly a dollar, and I get to legitimately own a song that I like, and the hundreds of millions of downloads are a testimony to the concept. Alas it seems the industry is sleeping on such an opportunity.

The industry could probably try to even better that by officially making the songs available for download onto mobiles for Rs.3 or 4 each. I am sure they would get more from 10 people downloading that one hit song, than one person buying the entire album. And in such a scenario we are talking of a market size that numbers in the crores(I understand it can only be done in smartphones, and am sure there must be lakhs of smartphones across the country).

4. Customer is King: For long the music companies have got away with many excesses, the primary of them being, selling the customer an entire album and charging them for the entire album, when most of the songs were trash, and only a song or two were wonderful. The customer had no choice because although he/she wanted to buy only that particular good song, the companies bundled the entire album and forced the customers to pay up for the rest of the mediocre stuff. The arrival of iTunes changed all that, because all those who refrained from investing that $10 or $12 on an album of mostly mediocre stuff or even worse mostly banal stuff, with only one or two redeeming songs, could now buy only that one single song, and hence, there arose a new trend of selling singles, and the sales of those single songs far outcrossed the entire sales of the albums in both numbers and revenues. iTunes was something that put the customer back in the driver’s seat again.

The next phenomenal thing that happened to change the way music is sold is to take it back to the medieval times, when musicians played in the streets and doffed their hats, and people showed their appreciation by filling it with coins. Lesson from it, let people pay when they like the product and let them pay the value they can afford, and the value they believe the music deserves rather than force a uniform price upon them. Case in point, Radiohead, who recently put up their album online for people to pay how much ever they wanted, which also included paying nothing if they didn’t want to. Peopl e who think both they are I are crazy should read the link above to know for themselves the results of such an experiment. By allowing the customer to pay for the music as and when they wanted and how much they wanted, it would ensure that you always brought out only excellent stuff, because nobody would pay you for sub-standard works. That way not only would you be able to give quality stuff to the customers, you would also be able to let them show their appreciation of the same. One small observation, guys like me who can never afford the music currently could get it for free now, and pay for it later when I actually can, kind of like the credit card system, that way the consumer as well as the industry benefits.

Too tired to type anymore now, so this article shall (un)fortunately remain a work in progress to which I shall keep adding, as and when I feel like putting more energy into the topic. So thats it for now. Time for you to let those profanities flow.

Having written in quite a sarcastic manner on the issue of ‘Piracy’, it is time now to focus on the next aspect of the issue, ‘Anti-Piracy’. For the purpose of this piece and for easier understanding of the article, it is divided into three portions.

1) Pirates.

2) Reasons.

3) Anti-Piracy Measures.

Pirates: To fully understand the necessity of any anti-piracy measures, we must first understand the root cause of all these, the pirate. Many people have defined the term in many ways, specially, the ‘industry’ people seem to have an ever-increasing definition of it. I shall however try to demystify the whole concept by presenting what I believe constitutes atleast 99.5% of the pirate population. I believe that these ‘pirates’ can be classified in two very broad categories, those who make money from it, and those who don’t. That seems the broadest possible categorisation, considering the sub-categories under it.

Let us first consider those who make money from it. These are people who have seen a potential business opportunity in a market where there is no physical scarcity, but an artificial inflation of prices by an industry following God alone knows what pricing structure in a self-created monopoly. They are mainly two kinds, the manufacturers and the retailers. Usually in this kind of business, there is a general absence of more  middlemen in order to keep the overall cost low. The manufacturers are the guys who hire a few pros, and get the cover design and other material replicated, often even compressing multiple titles onto one disc. In the case of books, those who scan and replicate the entire material and sometimes also create their own jacket designs. They are probably the only ones in the chain who hire technical help in the process. Next come the retailers, people who simply distribute whatever the manufacturer provides, they are in effect the customer-front of the entire operation,  ones who directly interact with the end-user. They have little or rather no need for technical help, all they need is to get the goods moving off the shelves, as quickly and quietly as possible.

Then come the kind, who don’t make any money from it. Usually the end-user and their associates. This constitutes a vast majority(more than 90%) of the pirate population. They can be further classified into two kinds, ones who redistribute what they have, and ones that don’t. Usually there is hardly any clear demarcation between the two. Most people usually belong to the first category, because there is always the chance that somebody wants something that they have, that somebody has something in ‘exchange’. Exchange is usually the primary reason for people to shift from the second category to the first. With the availability of cheap replication media, namely discs and flash drives, there is hardly any need for advanced technical knowledge to perform these distributions among them.

However there is an alternate categorisation I would like to propose, though I am sure certain groups of people wouldn’t agree with me. It is regarding the nature of criminality concerned and the awareness of it. I believe the two kinds of people concerned are those that know piracy is illegal and those that don’t. I guess I can already feel a number of readers laughing at this, but frankly I have met quite a number, and believe the actual figures may range in the crores, these people don’t even know of the term ‘piracy’ and are not even aware that the actions they are performing are criminal and may earn them lengthy prison terms. If anybody in the industry was to launch the ‘mother of all crackdowns’ then I would only pity these people the most among the lot, considering the law in force at present. Please note however that this does not mean that I either accept the law as fair or just, or that I have any kind of respect for such an unfair law.

Reasons: Obviously this part of the article is where I know the least, and every reader could possibly think of one more new reason than I can mention. So whatever I say here is probably only what I believe are the main reasons, and are probably not by any measure a representative sample of the actual reasons. The two main reasons I would point out to right away are Ability and Cost. I believe the that primary reason for piracy’s existence is the ‘Ability’, or in simpler words the simplicity with which replication can be done. The wide availability of replication devices often made available by those very members of the ‘industry’ is what enables this to be the number one reason for piracy. Copying material has become as simple as plucking an apple, anyway in most cases if you wait long enough the apple will anyway fall on it own. A lot of times it has been proved by many of the industry measures that things that are harder to replicate are less pirated by end-users, initially atleast. That way a lot of the end-users are dissuaded from pirating it, because of the level of complexity involved.

The next major reason for piracy is ‘Cost’. Most people are dissuaded form buying the original because of what they perceive as too high a cost. Meaning it doesn’t satisfy their expectations of the value they perceive they will derive from it. Most people specially regarding computer software believe it to be too much of an investment almost equal if not more to the hardware cost itself. So THEY BELIEVE that it isn’t worth paying that much to the original maker, not when somebody else can provide the same quality at a much cheaper price. You see, after all they are living in a competitive economy, or atleast that’s what their Government will have them believe. Although there are many more reasons they are usually derivatives of the above two to a large extent, like for example willingness to pay but inability with the current financial position, and so on.

Anti-Piracy Measures: This is the one topic that makes me laugh to my heart’s content. It refers to the measures the ‘Industry’ takes to ‘protect’/’enforce’ what they supposedly call their ‘rights’. These take many forms and many shapes, rather than me giving you a general lay of the land, it would be better to leave that to those more qualified. Copy Protection is the term the industry chose to prevent people(read mostly end-users who don’t make money from it) from rapidly distributing copies of their ‘copyRIGHTED’ property. And the kind of methods they use are beyond my usually self-constrained vocabulary to describe. Readers can check out this link for the magnitude of the collusion that occurs even behind the backs of those who legally pay for it. Being the conspiracy theorist that I am, I would say even the anti-virus companies were “paid-off” to shut their collective mouths about the matter. All that is not the actual story, the real story begins when I point out that some hacker found a way to beat this whole system,  one that must have cost Sony upwards of nearly $100 million(including the recalls I suppose), by simply marking a particular area of the disc with a permanent marker! So much for Copy-Protection’.

The most laughable part of this entire story is the ‘time, money and effort’ that these companies invest into that wild-goose chase(oh did I offend somebody, i meant the quest for that Holy Grail) called ‘perfect copy protection’ mechanism. I fail to understand why these companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to invent such a system, because even theoretically there can be no such system that can be economically implemented. Not with any amount of specialised tools they might claim to utilise.

The only way to prevent most of the possible ‘casual copyers’  is through a  combination oh hardware AND software, something that the ‘payers’ would vehemently object to. You can’t expect somebody who wants a music CD to also buy your player that is specially configured to protect YOUR interest, by making the consumer throw AWAY their player which was perfectly fine in the first place(oh dear me, how could it be perfect when it didn’t enforce your rights). It is like expecting a customer who wants a new saddle for his horse, to also buy a horse from you, because you only want your saddles to be used on horses to be sold by you. It can be done, as Apple has proved, with their OS, by purposely making it run only on hardware that they sell, effectively forcing a hardware/software combo on the consumer, and look at how much market share they occupy. The industry obviously recognises this, and hence never tries to enforce such a combination on the consumer. However, why they spend those hundreds of millions of dollars per year, on copy-protection measures is beyond my limited mind.

I don’t understand why they think those 100 or 200 hundred people who are ‘hired’ and ‘work for money’, and only seek to get out to home the moment their 9 hours or whatever the stipulated time on the job is finished, can design a ‘system’ (that thousands of people who work day and night as a challenge, free of cost with only one objective of beating that ‘system’), that cannot be beaten. I fail to see the logic of investing those millions on a system designed by a handful, which will surely be worked upon my thousands if not millions to see who has the upper hand. So far I fail to find one area where the industry has gained, and I mean gained respectably good lead on the competition for quite a period of time(some years). if anyone from the industry or their lackeys are reading this, I request you to point me one such example, and I would be glad to accept that probably hackers haven’t concentrated hard enough on it.

For that matter I would like to point one of the most ingenious methods being secretly implemented online, to curb the menace of piracy on many video/audio hosting sites. Allow me to present the hope of all those YouTube clones out there, AudibleMagic. For those uninitiated to the technology world, it might seem like a ideal solution you could sell to a Texas ranger(I know one bright enough to buy it, he currently live in the FFFFFF House), claiming it could prevent his cattle from being unauthorisedly replicated, after all many believe cloning is unethical apart from being illegal.

Anyway my personal feelings aside, the concept they proposed can be simply explained as a method where the content-owners(read ‘Industry’) presented the Host service with a ‘fingerprint’ of all their content(meaning a kind of identification device, for example audio is in the form of a wave, so a method of saving that wave shape information in a fingerprint file, or for example video is in the form of frames, so a method of saving the frame information in a fingerprint file), and the host has the responsibility to scan every file before it is uploaded and compare it with the fingerprint database, if anything matches, it is to be taken down. In the meantime, the ‘industry’ has been given a free hand to examine existing content already hosted, and ‘claim’ their content which will then be taken down.

To the casual observer, it sounds like the death knell of all those free album videos/movies they used to see online courtesy of Google & Co..However it took me all of five minutes to devise a way to beat the ‘system’.  I can challenge anyone in the industry it will probably take somebody who knew programming with my help, only one single day, to  even write an application to  take advantage of this crack. Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that if an amateur theoretical hacker like me can crack something that sites like Soapbox and Youtube are paying millions of Dollars for, it definitely proves two things, firstly, those who are more professionally into it than me, can definitely do much much better, and secondly, the industry is really being run by ‘imbeciles’ who don’t seem to even know how to burn money properly.

It would be nice to simply end the whole topic saying “don’t try such stupid things as stopping the pirates, it is impossible”. However there are a couple of more things I would like to draw your attention to. Firstly, an age-old idiom, about “the pot calling the kettle black”. Readers might find this link of interest, about one of the pioneers of ‘Copy-Protection‘ in the ‘industry’.

Having said that, the last thing I wanted to say in this piece, is those who have been waiting for that supposedly ‘magical’ solution for all this mess. Your wait just got extended by a week. It is only next week that I will be posting my version of the solution. So have a long week ahead.

Having spoken briefly on Copyright in my previous post(my writeup was brief, afraid I can’t say so of the linked articles), it is but natural to speak about the after-effects of the issue. Rarely do the after-effects of an issue overshadow the issue itself, atleast not since Archduke Ferdinand had been shot did the aftermath of an event overshadow the event itself. Today we seem to have accepted the 21st Century equivalent of such an occurrence, ‘Piracy’.

Like I have written in the earlier post, the concept of Copyright itself is highly debatable, and therefore it is funny to observe, one floor after another being built on a building without a base, even if it was a virtual castle-in-the-air. It makes me wonder how the ‘Industry’ people could make such a hue and cry about piracy when the concept on which piracy is based, namely, original copyright, is itself without proper foundation. Having a legal foundation doesn’t make it any more acceptable, as having a law that freely permits the killing of any fellow-citizens.

Claiming piracy based merely on a Copyright is like an illegal tenant complaining about the leaking roof. In the first place the tenant wasn’t even supposed to be living in that house. To live illegally is one thing, but to complain as if one owned the place is a completely different thing, and an intolerable one at that. Presently right off my mind, there are three such things that baffle me about this whole ‘Piracy’ issue.

First, the concept of equating piracy with theft. This one begins to get me smiling one of my best smiles, usually reserved for the para-normal jokes. Accepting such a belief would bring two possibilities into play. One, Copyrighted material specially the intangible ones are the equivalent of physical property. Two, they aren’t so. Let us consider the first probability, if such material could actually be ‘stolen’, that would leave the original owners with no possession of it. Which would mean that to actually file a complaint of theft, they would have to stop selling further copies themselves, since they don’t have any, remember, their copy was stolen. Which, given the current circumstances seem contradictory. So it seems theory number one doesn’t work out after all.

Let’s therefore assume, for now, that Theory Two, of it not being equal to physical property being true, implying therefore that it couldn’t have been stolen, in which case, the whole discussion of ‘piracy and ‘theft’ would all seem a greater joke, worthy of only those who have infinite time at their disposal. I would just like to get this one over with, by stating, if by any chance the entire ‘industry’ is run by mentally retarded people, please wake up to the fact that to equate piracy with theft, you must either have it or you mustn’t. You can’t claim somebody stole your material and then go about selling it to someone else, UNLESS the originally stolen one is retrieved from the ‘thief’. If you assume you can, what are you selling the next person, a counterfeit, isn’t that also piracy?

Second, the concept of having ownership over an unspecified, unlimited number of copies. This one starts to get me laughing, hope readers don’t mind my laughing in public. In my life, I have heard quite a number of wonderful claims, people walking on water etc. etc., but nothing as wildly closely to fantasy, as this one. Reminds me of a miser who is reported to have claimed “If only I could count the number of houses I have, I would have been a Maths Professor.” I don’t see much difference between the two. This concept is an extension of the first, wherein not only do the persons/organisations believe that they own a form of knowledge which is equivalent to physical property, they also assume that they have infinite number of these items, an inexhaustible store, the imperishable supply ready to meet a non-existent demand. To get a fair idea of the same, just imagine owning vast, immeasurable tracts of land stretching across planets and galaxies, probably a gazillion acres of land, now upon this gazillion acres of land you own, throw in a few trillion buildings for good measure, after all it can’t hurt to be any more wealthier than that. Now comes the icing on this gadzillion cake, supposing you could stake claim to all of this by walking into a Copyright office and paying a few thousand Rupees as the consideration for this inter-planetary contract. Doesn’t it illuminate what a wonderfully sane world of Copyright we are living in.

To simplify it, for those ‘industry’ imbeciles that I talked of earlier, it would mean, make up your mind, about how much many copies you exactly ‘own'(assume any number, 1 trillion, 50000 trillion, only remember, you can only sell so many, if for example, you said 1 trillion, and you accused one person of ‘pirating’ one copy, then you could legally sell only 999,999,999,999 copies yourself, since one is stolen). Now once you have done that lets move on to the next aspect of this comedy, numbers, ones you publish in conjunction with your ever ready to please ‘media’, for example readers will find it interesting to read about this ‘estimate‘ by the Indian Music Industry. I am not quite sure who writes/approves the accounts for these Industry people, but I am definitely sure of one thing, I definitely wouldn’t want be to be employed by such a firm. I guess even an elementary grade economist/accountant would know that there are two important elements in a transaction of sale, the sale price and the cost of manufacture, the difference between the two is what makes up the profit/loss to the seller. I take it that the industry is dumb enough to call multiplying Rs.150 or Rs.200 per CD * 10 Million CD’s(pirated) as the figure to project as losses(both to the Government and itself). I do not mind such estimate, if only I could be more sure of the cost part of it. Could the industry tell me how much of these 1500/2000 million Rupees, has it actually ‘invested’ to ‘lose’?

To illustrate further, lets assume you have set up a 10×4 shop to sell flowers, and stocked it with flowers from your garden, with an intention to sell. Lets assume somebody else has also set up shop beside yours to sell flowers he has plucked from your garden,(obviously without your permission), at a price grossly below the price you are selling. What exactly is the quantum of your loss, is it the amount of money that the other guy makes on selling your flowers, is it the amount of stock you have unsold in your shop because nobody bought your flowers and preferred his instead, or is it the amount you have invested in growing the flowers in your garden? That is only the first question, the second being, will your answer change in a scenario where, this person seems to have exhausted all the flowers in your garden, and is seemingly plucking flowers out of the air above your garden, or maybe putting all those flowers illegally plucked into a replicator and multiplying them, or probably even worse for the consumer, he’s putting all those flowers onto a photocopying machine and delivering the copies to newer consumers. In such a scenario, would your losses magnify to a photocopied exponential level? Oh, pardon my poor memory, I seem to have forgotten that your garden itself is inexhaustible, the moment you pluck a flower, your plant immediately spawns a new flower to take its place, so that it is ready to be plucked from again. In which case, could those people auditing the books of these ‘magical gardening’ firms please tell me, what should be considered as the amount of loss?

Third, the concept of losing revenue from somebody who was never their customer in the first place. This again is an extension of the second concept, readers will obviously appreciate the link between the three concepts when I get to the end of this paragraph. This one makes me break into a guffaw, and I am sure I know atleast one person who is not pleased to see me guffawing. This one deals with their view on those who ‘distribute’ free copies of their works. A worser kind you might say, atleast the other florist was charging something, which could help us quantify numbers to publish, how do we quantify numbers for something that is given away as free? What the hell, write up the entire amount as a loss, makes for a prettier picture of sympathy than the best soap opera. Having set up a competitive shop as a florist, can you lose revenue from the mere fact that there existed somebody who never intended to pay for anybody’s flowers, but was nevertheless, looking to place flowers in his flower vase. If such a person was also a criminal, which crime was he chargeable for, the crime of having the right not to buy a product, or the crime of not paying for the product, that was auto-spawned by God’s grace in your field?

This concept accuses those who approach either those who have bought products from either the ‘Authorised Florist’ or his ‘illegal’ competitor, and request them to put these flowers that they have ‘paid’ for into a replicator/photocopier, and take the resultant output to enjoy for themselves. Wait a minute, didn’t the farmer/florist spend a lot of trouble engineering a magical hybrid flower that auto-spawned itself to give him a botanical version of the ‘golden goose’? Didn’t he pay a princely sum of a few thousand Rupees to the local Policeman to stay at his farm full-time and ensure nobody pluck his flowers, and also pay for the right to drag those who didn’t buy these ‘magical’ flowers from him, as also those who didn’t buy them from anybody but nevertheless managed to get their hands on one, without plucking them from his garden(that’s the problem with creating magical varieties you see), into Court, where a Magistrate whose four generations of grandsons were probably supported and taken care of with that princely sum of a few thousand that the farmer/florist paid the Government(don’t forget to also count the Grandsons of the Policeman) to deliver swift and merciless ‘Justice’ in favour of the farmer/florist, and make threatenigly sure in future the defendant bought flowers only from the farmer/florist and ‘paid in full’ for them. How can the Government let anybody and everybody make clones of these ‘Golden Goose’ flowers when somebody(the farmer/florist) had already paid them to expressly disallow the same?

I guess, some things are never meant to be covered all at once, or rather some meals are too large to be finished in one sitting. So that brings me to end this article, hoping atleast one ‘industry’ person has been able to light his candle. For those of you who were waiting to see my supposedly ‘magical’ solution for all this ‘maniacal auto-spawning flowering plants’ business, I must apologise for not being able to provide the same right now, in this article as promised, that honour(or should I say disgrace, well I shall let you decide) is reserved probably for the next article “On Anti-Piracy”(let me hope that one doesn’t drag on like this one did, forcing me to write another article specially for this purpose, probably titled “On Solving All This Mess”, or maybe that is a good idea after all)

In a fair world, everybody would be equal and have equal rights and opportunities. In a fair world, everybody would be owners, since it would be ‘fair’ of workers to expect their share of the profits made from their efforts. But we do not live in a fair world, nor anything close to it. The environment that society has modelled us into, that we have allowed ourselves get modelled into, understands to a certain extent the unfairness that exists around us, and therefore tries to address that in ways that often leading to the increase in unfairness. One such term for the condition we have brought ourselves into, is ‘Copyright’.

Like the very term itself means literally, it is a system to curb a person’s right to replication of data, and place the authority of the same with another person/organisation. This way, that one person/organisation can get to decide who gets to copy and who doesn’t, as also the obvious, how much do they need to pay to do the same. It is a system approved by society(I won’t say devised, because that it was not) whether actively or passively(like most of us who are guilty of not objecting to its existence) to enable few people to benefit by exploiting the majority of the population into surrendering their right to have a say in the democratic world that they were led to believe they lived in.

There have been a lot of things said about this issue by a lot of people more qualified than me to speak on the subject, from among which, I would like to bring to your notice the following two, What’s Wrong With Copy Protection and The Absurdity of Copyright. While these two articles between them cover almost everything I had wanted to say on the topic, there are a two points left out that I would like to highlight on(the first has already been covered in the article but not given much prominence).

The first problem with copyright is that it encourages inefficiency by encouraging persons/organisations that supposedly function in a free-market system, to subvert that very system, effectively making them socialists in a capital market. The first case in point being that copyright protects substandard works of creativity, since creative works of a high standard don’t require as much rigid protection as copyrighted works do. For example, if the formula to prepare Coca-Cola was known to everybody or was anyway easily decipherable, everybody would have their own soda-pop machines at home dishing out a cocktail nearly as good as, or even better than Coca-Cola. The fact that such a thing hasn’t happened goes to show the inherent security that the product itself bestows on the manufacturer. This means that Coca-Cola not only gets to have a headstart over the rest of the market, because it is the market, it creates the market, it also gets sufficient time to think of other new products to replace the possibility of this one product’s manufacturability becoming common knowledge.

If, for example instead, lots of people could come up with Coca-Cola clones, every restaurant and eatery would be selling their version of the drink, like the case is with pubs and beers. The point being that if the idea is so common that anybody could have thought of it, then it obviously doesn’t deserve the protection that is accorded to it merely because somebody got to the Copyright Office quicker, with a probably half-baked concept. There are thousands of pubs that brew their own beer, and they have co-existed for centuries with bigger breweries that churn out the same products on a much larger scale, simply because the beer breweries don’t have any insecurity against the thousands of pubs that dish out the same product. They are confident that with the measures they have taken, in terms of publicity, product reach, uniformity of product quality and pricing, they still have a particular section of the market for themselves. That is what is called thriving in a free-market. Coca-Cola knows that by sheer product superiority it can survive in the market, and so doesn’t actually need protection from the law. The problem begins with those whose products are not good enough to stand up on their own merits who demand and enforce protection provided by the law, meaning that if somebody had come up with a drink say, merely mixing water with lemon, it would be obvious that anybody else could replicate that since it is not rocket science in the first place. It is such a person who runs to the law seeking protection for a product that is not worthy of such a gross misinterpretation of the intentions of the law.

The second problem with copyright is that it subverts the free-market process and eliminates competition, often to the detriment of the general public. The fact that a company has released a product first, obviously implies the fact that they have got a headstart on the rest of the market, because in the first place they are the entire market until the next competitor comes in. Which itself is the reward for their efforts of coming into the market ahead of the rest. Where copyright fails is to take into account the fact that once a competitor steps in, it means that there are others who have also realised how to replicate the same process. From then on, competition is supposed to be about free-play of the market factors, namely, promotion, awareness, availability, price, quality, service etc. In the copyright era, all of that is eliminated because one person only is allowed to manufacture that product, irrespective of whether customers can get the same product from somebody else at a lower price, or at a better quality. That is only one part of the problems with granting copyright. The real problems begin after that. Even if during the tenure of the copyright, the holder takes no steps to improve upon it or rectify inherent defects in the product, the consumers cannot do anything about it, especially if the product/service has become an almost inseparable part of their lives. Even if during the tenure, other manufacturers develop a much more efficient product, or a more better-featured product, the general consumer is denied full benefit of the same.

In the first place, those who claim a copyright have themselves based their work on other forms of knowledge which is in the public domain. Even if they based their works on other copyrighted works whose permission/licence they have taken, those copyrighted source works can also have their origins traced to knowledge that has always been in the public domain, free for all. The entire concept can be represented with the example of a river. Some hitchhiker who happens to be thirsty after a long climb comes across the river, and wishes he had a way to take the water with him wherever he went instead of having to wait till he got to the river to quench his thirst. So he spends time, effort and money and invents what he calls a bottle. he pours the water into it, and presto, he has a product ready to sell. If that was all there was to the matter, it wouldn’t be of any concern to anybody, especially not to the general public. The trouble begins when he approaches the Copyright Office and gets a declaration in his favour stating nobody else could fill water into bottles and sell it, or worser still, nobody could fill water from the river into anything, nobody could use river water, nobody could look at the river without explicit prior written permission of His Highness the hitchhiker. That is what copyright does to the world of invention. Takes something from the public domain, develops a new concept based on it, then forbids anybody else from doing the same, or improving upon the same.

Although there are a lot more things bad about the copyright system, most of these have already been covered in the above-mentioned articles. However I am not the one to publicly criticise anything, whatever my personal private misgivings on the matter unless I have a reasonable alternative to the object of my criticism. The alternative to the copyright regime will be suggested in the next post which has received equal if not more prominence recently than copyright, namely, piracy. Since the two concepts are so inter-related, I believe the solution must also address piracy as a concern for copyright-holders, if any effective solution must be found. Hence you can look forward to my little contribution to this global debate over right and wrong, in the next post, “On Piracy”. Unlike most other debaters, I only ridicule the opposition when I have a reasonable replacement for the existing system, which I believe I may have in this case. So looking forward to a lot of criticism for this maniacal approach to creativity, as also to suggestions to improve the alternatives I suggest.

Knowledge. The original reason for this blog. I need not say anything about knowledge because the word itself completes its sentence. What I however need to write about, is free, the purpose of this blog. Put the two together, and what you get, is free knowledge. It all started in a very small way, back in 2002. There was a couplet of Bartruhari in our Sanskrit textbook, that left a lasting impression on my mind. I cannot obviously type the Devanagri version here properly, and so I make do with providing the simplest English translation of it;

“Oh Goddess of Knowledge, how wonderful is your wealth,
It multiplies on spending, and perishes when hoarded.”

It left me thinking of the nature of knowledge as a commodity, being an Economics student then. I found that the concept of spending leading to increased economic activity held more truth for knowledge than economics.This kindled in me the desire to make sure that whatever knowledge I had gained was passed on freely to anyone who was interested in the same. After all, almost all of the knowledge I got was almost for free, and just because I paid for the rest of it doesn’t mean everybody else has to. I probably paid for that portion of my knowledge because I could afford to, what of those who cannot afford to, should they be denied the knowledge because they are too poor for it?

Is knowledge a privilege of the rich? Is knowledge an asset only of those creative? These thoughts led me to determine to spend some part of my life advocating the cause of spreading knowledge freely to all that seek it. A knowledge without ownership, a knowledge without cost.

For society to improve and develop, there are two things that fundamentally hinder progress. The lack of new developments, and the lack of awareness of existent knowledge. It is my belief that if the second is worked upon, it most often leads to improvement in the first. That way both improve, leading to an improvement of society as a whole. Unfortunately, the people who can impart the existent knowledge have put many a barriers, some of them formidable, between knowledge and the common man. I was at a loss, about how to counter the tide.

It was then that I heard of the OSI and FOSS. Needless to say, I began to try and replace every piece of software I used with an Open Source alternative, and began recommending(actually forcibly pushing) ones that I had used to a lot of my friends and acquaintances. I began converting a lot of my friends to atleast try out OS-OS(Open Source – Operating Systems) and then take a decision. Some have, some haven’t, but atleast the effort was worth it.

The reason I went about doing this was quite simple. Freedom and Development. Having the source that makes an application frees you from having to wait for the original developer to release patches and fix bugs, something you could yourself do if you knew how. Having the source lets you make improvements to the code yourself, to suit your requirements and sensibilities, and helps bring in more advanced customisations to he product itself. Having the source, helps bring in a thousand more people to work on the project, thus bringing in far better features and improvisations, ultimately leading to the benefit of every user.

While I still continue this effort even today, I was feeling bad that all this had to do with software. All this talk about open source, was for programs that could be only run on pieces of silicon. What about that vast ocean of knowledge that isn’t in the domain called software? What about setting it all free? This fire was specially kindled, when from time to time, recently I happened to come across many of my friends’ blogs that stated terms like ‘Creative Commons‘ and ‘CopyScape‘. I did my usual search on them and found them to be theoretically free, almost to the last bit, but then, not completely. They still had those last vestiges of restraints on them.

It was at such a juncture, that I happened to come across LibreKnowledge a few days back. In fact it was this discovery that turned my procrastination into action. I immediately set about designing a logo for all those who were free, those who wished to spread knowledge freely without any shackles, something that those who support LibreKnowledge would be proud to display, proud to be a part of. And so began this blog. A place for all those who wish to give away, the fruits of their efforts, because they feel the work itself was the reward.

More details about the logo or concept itself can be found on the Seekers page.