Wednesday, March 16, 2011

AstroPiracy

So this time I want to talk a little bit about how I feel about internet and information 'piracy,' and near the end bring in how it's related to astronomy.

Internet 'piracy' is something that seems rampant, and always has been in modern internet history (pre-modern being before services like Napster and Kazaa). And most of it I think is wrong to call piracy, the majority of it is sharing. Piracy would be distributing the rights and works of others for your own profit and without the consent of the content creator. Sharing is someone saying 'here, check this out' and letting you experience something new. People have been sharing for as long as there has been piracy. It is letting your friends experience new music, movies, books, and other forms of artwork. No one complains when you lend your friends your DVDs, CDs, video games, books, or comic books. This is a fair thing to do.


To me it seems absurd to have an entire legal industry built around chasing people who do the same kind of sharing on the internet. Sharing ultimately helps artists and content creators increase awareness and profits. The only ones who benefit from these assaults are the legalese, the middle man, the people between you and the content, the publishers and labels. These people are involved in for profit lawsuits, regardless if it destroys your livelihood. That is morally wrong and an abuse of the judicial system, it is often more affordable to pay a settlement then to go court and pay legal fees.

Now that is for nonprofit sharing, people sharing information and not looking to get paid for it. There are still real scum pirates out there. These people are looking to turn a buck off of information. Want to watch our illegal rip of the latest movie? That's $5, hey it's cheaper then the movie ticket price... That I think is wrong. Because, as much as I don't like the legal industry for pursuing innocent sharing, these people prey on that system for their own advantage. The middle people still need their pay checks for publishing and distributing content. It's not cheap to put a movie into theaters.

The way I see how sharing works is that if you enjoy something, you will want more of it. I know I have found authors this way that I enjoy, same with bands and movies and so forth. I may watch a movie that I downloaded, but if I enjoy it and what to own it, I will go buy the DVD. I downloaded and tried out Minecraft for about a week before I went and bought it. And who hasn't found their favorite band through some form of sharing, either on the radio, from an online streaming service, from a friend lending you the CD, or from just downloading the album. The point is, once people experience it, and if they like it, they will purchase it. Provided it is affordable and available.

The provided it is affordable and available clause comes with certain things. The best example I can think of, which is getting quickly remedied, is TV shows. I know plenty of people who would love to watch HBO shows with out registering for HBO. Specifically, I have one friend who loves True Blood, but won't subscribe to the channel for one show. She has instead been resorting to watching it online in ways HBO and her internet provider do not approve. She has the money and is willing to pay a la carte for individual episodes of True Blood, even if she has to wait a week after they air on TV. HBO does not offer this, but they are getting closer with streaming services. But the subscription package for TV seems to a big thing that is holding it back right now and making it a target for massive sharing, that sharing reduces TV viewership, which cuts into profits. The a la carte model is were TV should be moving.

Anyways, enough of that, time to talk about where astronomy fits in. It is one of the reasons why I am advocate of sharing, but also respect the people who go through the work of making material and making it available. To start, the sky is free. No one can ever charge you for looking up at the night sky. That said, it does cost money for the tools (telescopes) to look even closer. But, astronomy has a sharing aspect, a few people make these tools, a few more pay for them, the people who have telescopes more often then not share their view with friends, family, or complete strangers. In another case, with national space programs, everyone in an entire country pays, and everyone in the world gets to experience the view. Look at how well the Hubble Space Telescope has done. Just about everyone in the world has seen an image from Hubble.

There is no advantage in astronomy in not sharing information. It actually seems to be the opposite of some other sciences: chemistry, biology, geology, ect, there are advantages to keeping things a company secret. Such as formulas for specific plastics, gene sequences for potential medicines, or where gold and oil reserves might be. Astronomy is open, the sky is free, and even amateurs can make great contributions to the field.

Astronomy also has a long and cozy history with the internet. It was one of the first sciences to latch onto and adopt use of the internet. The internet provided a system were telescopes on either side of the world can be linked to look at objects in the sky, faster information communication between astronomers, and off site astronomy work. No longer would astronomers have to go up to high altitude observatories and try to do complex work. I know, I remotely used a telescope in northern California while I was sitting in a lab outside of DC. It is really an amazing thing that the internet as provided for astronomers.

But even with the free exchange in information between astronomers, there is still a problem of information piracy. You see, when someone makes a potential discovery of something major, like a Pluto-sized object in the outer solar system, it takes time to do follow up observations and make sure your results are correct. It does nothing good for the image of astronomers to say there is some amazing object out there, and then after a bit more research it turned out to be a false alarm. That's why there are things like embargoes, which prevent anyone else from blowing the cover on something until the official results are published.

Unfortunately, there are those that take advantage of the time others might take to do follow up research and submit papers. Going straight to the news and saying you have discovered something major is a way to get things shaking. People have tried this before, it is unfair to the people who have actually put in the hard effort to ensure their results, only to have the recognition go to someone else. Someone who might not have the full appreciation for the work, or even all the details on the object they are claiming exists. Most of this paragraph has been inspired by the events I read in "How I Killed Pluto" by Mike Brown.

So, I guess I want to end this rather long and wordy post by saying: Sharing can be a nice way to explore new things, but if you are able to and really enjoy it, support the people who went through the hard work to make that experience available. Give credit where credit is due (I always try to cite sources in my blog posts). A good way to support this is through Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation. Also, enjoy your free skies! (The Firefly theme song reflects this sentiment well)


19 comments:

Venus said...

good comparison, it makes sense... it all comes down to free & easy access to knowledge

LunaSihne said...

Astronomy is amazing stuff.
Im not sure what else to add here.
But good stuff.

Christophe said...

It's unfortunate, but these days it's expensive to be informed sometimes. And you're right. When there is an entire industry built on squeezing every cent from people who wish to share information, you know something is wrong.

Aaron M. Gipson said...

I seriously think this is probably your best post date. You've touched on a lot of issues that I consider important as well and both my line of work and in my personal life. Being stuck here in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle, I simply do not have access to certain media that is available to everyone else my culture.

And I think that it's important to note, and this could be perceived as arrogance on my part but that's fine, that if somebody is smart enough to give themselves access to information and media through technological means and is not harming anyone; they should absolutely have that right.

ScottD said...

great post but our corporate masters do not care!

Chris said...

So true, this all makes sense!

Pago said...

Good write up! Piracy is bad on both ends. It's the little guy who gets all the crap.

Patti D. said...

You are spot on, specially with the " Give credit where credit is due".

Nigma said...

SHARING IS NOT STEALING!!

Alphabeta said...

"How I Killed Pluto" is a great name for a book (astronomy or otherwise). You just know it will be a tear jerker (astronomy or otherwise). ; ]

I just discovered Creative Commons search yesterday thanks to a fellow blogger.

I make music from time to time and usually submit it on the 'net under Creative Commons. As does Trent Reznor (I believe).

Banacek said...

I think a lot of it just comes down to a matter of convenience. It's hard to find "legit" copies of some of the things I look for.

Robert Fünf said...

I can't agree with you more on this. I have over 100 gigs of music on my hard drive currently. Very little of it was paid for. But all that money that didn't go to greedy record labels, instead went to see the bands I like perform live. And when I go see a band, I always buy a shirt. More money goes directly to the band, and I can discover more bands. Not to mention I typically introduce other people to the bands, and bring them to the shows as well. It's win-win-win.

Raw said...

You make a very good point about sharing vs. piracy.
The industry tends to look at it as if every download is a lost sale they would have made, but just because someone downloads something for free doesn't mean they would have bought it otherwise.
I believe good companies that produce good products will always be supported by the community.

mac-and-me said...

interesting viewpoint

Grafted said...

Great post, and I love the Firefly theme

Malkavian said...

Hell yeah, after all i hate it when for example in videogames they sell you an incomplete game filled with buggy issues and after 2 or 3 weeks BEHOLD A PATCH THAT FIXES SAID BUGS so the game was incomplete, they new the problems it had but sold you full retail price on an incomplete product, so thats why my personal revenge is "SHARING" this kind of things with others like you said.

Biff Tanner said...

Piracy is great you get better tech support, then you would if you paid for whatever it was.

Chuck said...

/agree. Yeah i'll D/L a film, watch a bit, if it's good I'll get the DVD and watch it on my big-ass-TV... on my big ass. I tend to find all my music on Youtube then look for upcoming Gigs in Edinburgh, Newcastle or Glasgow of my fav. Sharing is gd :D

Chris said...

Intriguing discussion

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