Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt

from the a-quote-for-all-seasons dept

Maybe, as in the Olympics, commenters should have to retain their amateur status in order to compete. But since such a rule does not exist at present, the big winner this week is our own Tim Geigner (whose ebooks are now available in the Insider Shop). Tim took the top spot on the Insightful side by a wide margin, and also snuck into second place for Funny, with a blunt response to the now-(in)famous homeless man requesting a cut of the attention generated by his story:

“I was put on YouTube, I was put on everything without permission. What do I get?”


The second place comment comes from our post about Aereo’s recent round in court, in which the judges seemed to realize how insane Aereo’s technical setup was—but were at risk of getting the wrong message. One judge even compared Aereo’s attempts to follow the law with “organizing your business affairs to avoid taxes”, which prompted Robert to quote one of jurisprudence’s most eminently quotable (and inimitably monikered) philosophers:

The lawyers should of responded by quoting Learned Hand:

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

Anyway if the judges in this case are going to use the tax analogy, Aereo’s lawyers should say there is no public duty in arranging their business to pay more the plaintiffs.

Since we’re on the subject of excellent quotations, let’s have another as our first Editor’s Choice, this time from our post about Kim Dotcom being cleared to sue the New Zealand government. Gothenem got in first and made the clear point that Kim Dotcom deserves the full protection of the law no matter how questionable some of his actions and attitudes may be, which prompted Richard to supply us with an appropriate conversation from a classic film:

Yes it’s the “Man for all seasons” quote:

“William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

The US government has most certainly “cut a great road through the law” to go after Dotcom.

We should all be very afraid for the winds that may blow now.

For our second Editor’s Choice, I would be remiss if I did not highlight one of Karl‘s entries in the ongoing debate about copyright, property and the free market. One of our regular critics was pressing the point that copyright is property in “the real world,” and Karl offered an excellent and thorough response:

Joe, I have to say that this is the most ridiculous argument you’ve ever put forth. And that’s saying something.

Copyright is no more a part of a free market than farm subsidies or minimum wage laws. It’s true, government-granted monopolies are sometimes treated as property rights under statute – as is the case with liquor licenses or taxi medallions. But just because they’re modeled after property in the statutes, does not mean that they’re property in any other context.

And you’re simply wrong if you think copyright isn’t fundamentally economic in nature. When the Supreme Court said that copyright is “the engine of free expression,” they were making an economic argument. When they said “The immediate effect of our copyright law is to to secure a fair return for an ‘author’s’ creative labor,” they were making an economic argument. When a fair use analysis examines “the effect of the use upon the potential market,” they are making an economic analysis. Furthermore, copyright is almost always referred to as a “monopoly,” e.g.: “The sole interest of the United States and the primary object in conferring the monopoly lie in the general benefits derived by the public from the labors of authors.” To claim that copyright has nothing to do with economics is exactly as idiotic as claiming that California’s fixing of electricity prices has nothing to do with economics.

Hell, even your “go-to guy” for thinking that copyright is a natural right – Locke and his “labor theory” of property – was fundamentally making an economic argument. (Or at least proto-economic; many scholars think that Locke’s treatise was trying to lay the philosophical groundwork for Adam Smith-style laissez-faire capitalism.) Locke’s property rights were ultimately grounded on the efficient allocation of resources – the basis of economic theory.

You are correct that copyright is merely a statutory right. You are wrong in thinking that this statutory right is something more than a government-granted monopoly right. It is not. And the reason it is granted, at least as far as copyright holders are concerned, is solely for economic reasons.

Of course, the legal reasons are based on a wholly theoretical rationale. Copyright exists because it theoretically provides an incentive to create and distribute works – not because any study, anywhere, actually found that the monopoly will actually result in the creation and distribution of works. Economics is an empirical science; it bases its theories on hypotheses that can be tested with data derived from empirical evidence. In contrast, the law is not. It is based on legal opinion, not on empirical evidence. It is wholly theoretical – and, usually, the statutes are enacted due to the political desires of legislators. Economics, by its empirical nature, represents the way the real world works. The law has nothing whatsoever to do with legitimizing real-world behavior – and does not claim to.

It’s understandable that you, as a law student, would believe that the letter of the law is the most important thing in life. But it’s important that you realize it’s not. Everyone makes economic decisions every day. Few people make any conscious decision to obey the law. And even if they don’t, economics wins over the law every time. Some hippie douche buying a bag of weed is not obeying the law; but when he decides whether to pay $40 for that bag of weed or not, he’s making an economic decision.

On the Funny side, we’ve already had the second place winner from Tim, but it couldn’t beat the champion on our post about patented math. Silverscarcat saw a way for the mathematically inept to use this to their advantage:


A reason to be bad at math!

“Why are you failing at math?”
“Because I’d get sued otherwise!”

For Editor’s Choice, first up we’ve got our comment about the long-awaited death of The Daily. The statement from Rupert Murdoch was laughably circuitous, and nospacesorspecialcharacters dug in to some of the weasel-words and found a hint of the heart of the problem:

iPad only, Paywalled…

“Unfortunately, our experience was that we could not find a large enough audience…”

There’s a link there, I just know it! If I could just put my finger on it…

And finally, we’ve got a comment on our post about the latest comedy of errors surrounding a copyright trolling operation with connections to John Steele, and its lawyer Jonathan Torres. Mesonoxian Eve could already hear the trailer voiceover booming in his head:

Robin Williams as STEELE.

Louis CK as TORRES.

Warner Bros. Pictures is proud to present 2012’s Comedy of the Year in…

STEELE DICKS: Two Johns Screwing The Court.

In 3D.

Down, Dark Helmet. I know you’re anxious to guest star, but maybe next time.

I’d pay to see that, if only because of the magic that happened last time Louis CK and Robin Williams were on screen together (which also makes me think J.B. Smoove needs a supporting role).

That’s all for this week—if your thirst isn’t sated, go read some more Learned Hand quotes. See you tomorrow!

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Comments on “Funniest/Most Insightful Comments Of The Week At Techdirt”

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Jay (profile) says:

I agree worth Karl but...

Um… I have to say that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” theory has been horribly mangled by laissez-fair capitalism. We should remember that during his time, the governments were dualistic societies that exploited the worker to no end while making money on their labors. That is the essence of a capitalist system.

Smith, at the time, was speaking out against the means of production being owned by third parties. The monarchs and lords of the feudalist system of his time were the ones he was critical of. So his argument discussing “the invisible hand” was an argument critical of these type of systems of government. The man even stated that merchants who saw too much prosperity for the people would do everything in their power to muck it up. Now, people have to deal with the new mercantilist threat which is copyright. The “merchants” are the labels using their very own police force in the trade industry and their hand picked servants in the government (the Mortons who confuse infringement and theft and the lobbyists who now run the Library of Congresses) to try to pass rules in their favor.

In the end, Smith did NOT advocate a “no government” policy. He was mainly critical of someone else owning the means of production.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: I agree worth Karl but...

In the end, Smith did NOT advocate a “no government” policy. He was mainly critical of someone else owning the means of production.

True. I was mainly talking about Locke’s theory of private property (which really should be called “private possession”) in relation to free-market economics.

Also, you’ll note that I included minimum wage laws as an example of government intervention in a free market. This is something that all economists agree upon, and they also agree that it introduces inefficiencies in the market.

That does not mean that minimum wage laws are a bad idea. It’s just that whatever goods society accrues from the government interference (living wages), it must offset the bads (labor shortages, “black market” labor, enforcement costs, etc).

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I don’t know. I got it from my old tax Professor.

Why is it a falsehood?

Do you not use tax credits? Tuition, rent or property tax credit? That is tax avoidance. Using a credit to avoid paying tax. You do not have to use the credit, you may not even know the credit exists, but, it is certainly not tax evasion in using it.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I do know that “Tax credits” used to simulate the economy come in the shape of pell grants, construction, and more schools and libraries.

I also know that the people incentivized to avoid taxes would never look to taxes too help out their state or their nation. Not everyone avoiding taxes is committing evasion but everyone looking to commit tax evasion avoids taxes.

btrussell (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“I also know that the people incentivized to avoid taxes would never look to taxes too help out their state or their nation.”

How do you know that?

In Canada, tax credits are available to every person who files.

Why should I pay more taxes to give to some of the biggest/richest entities in the world? I should give money to General Motors for nothing?

Sorry, but I need my money more than the government needs it to be bailing out their rich friends.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

Wrong idea here. You pay taxes for public goods and public infrastructure. I know that I want good roads, good internet, and good libraries that come from my tax dollars at work.

I don’t like a government that rewards the rich and successful because that is indeed a plutocratic society. I want a government concerned with education of its citizens, investment in new technology, and equality of opportunity. If I have to pay taxes to create such a world, then so be it. But to say that people look to avoid taxes ignores exactly what a government does with those taxes in a democracy. It creates a public infrastructure that gives a far greater return on investment than the initial “cost” that most people look at.

Jay (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

Because the two schemes are not synonymous. It’s a falsehood to equate them as if they carry the same weight. I’ve only seen conservative ideologies that believe “taxation is theft” so use moral arguments that justify their viewpoints.

Taxpayer money hours to a number of investments such as technology, communication, and education where it greatly benefits the public. That’s my point here. There is some benefit to good government.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I tend to agree, but votes are votes, so my hands are tied!

I will point out though that, having talked at greater length to DH about this, he’s not as insensitive as that single line perhaps made him sound. As for the votes, well, it happens. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

I loathe listening to people discuss the homeless most of the time. I refer them to South Park.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

FYI, I made the AC comment at 7:09 pm but I didn’t realize I was logged out.

Let’s not be so sure of our ideas that we forget to have compassion for the indigent and the ignorant. It’s one thing to criticize the AAholes for their behavior, because they know better, or they should. This homeless guy, not so much. It’s not his job to understand publicity rights. And if he’s so poor he has to try to take the rights angle to get a little dough, who are we to judge?

If my brother had finally decided to visit TechDirt after all the times I have plugged it to him and this article and comment was the first thing he saw, I’m sure that would have prevented him from reading anything else. So it’s a good bet that somebody’s brother somewhere did just that and we lost a convert. And now we probably lost 100 from it being on the front page.

If you want to win this battle you have to win the middle. The average person has to know about it and care about it. That person is not going to listen to you if you aren’t likeable. So it’s bad business to be calling homeless people motherfuckers in all caps.

Also, remember, that was the first comment, so it was written before the updates came out.

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