Bad Ideas: Trying To Make Content More Like Physical Property

from the bangs-head-on-desk dept

Let's play a little hypothetical. Let's say that someone had discovered a way to automatically -- without any additional cost -- create all the food that the world's population needed, and automatically have it appear wherever and whenever needed. Think of it like the "replicator" device in Star Trek, where you can just walk up to it, and it'll create whatever food you want. The entire issue of hunger and worries about the "scarce resource" of food would go away. Who, in their right mind, would want to break such a machine, and force this newly abundant resource back to being scarce?

Yet, that seems to be exactly what's happening in the music world. A whole bunch of folks have sent in this positively ridiculous attempt by some guy named Paul Sweazey to get the IEEE to endorse a new standard to make content act more like physical property by allowing it to be "stolen." It's basically a weird DRM system that would allow the content to be fully "taken away" from the original holder. I've read the article a few times, and I have to be honest, that I don't quite get it. Those who get the content would still be able to share the actual content with whoever they wanted, however many times they wanted it -- but there's a separate "playkey" and someone can "take" that away, such that those who had it before can't use it after. But why would anyone "take" the playkey, other than to be a jackass?

But the bigger issue is why bother in the first place? Why purposely try to limit an abundant resource by making it scarce? Sweazey claims:
His answer is that such freely-copiable goods breaks the basic business model of human commerce by making goods nonrivalrous; it no longer has aspects of a private good, and this makes it difficult to sell.
But, this is wrong. It shows an out-of-date understanding of economics. While it may mean that you can't directly create a (paid) market in that private good, it opens up and enables many more markets. Going back to the food analogy: if you had many more people in the world who weren't hungry, and didn't have to spend all their money on food or food production, would that be good or bad for the economy? It seems rather obvious that it would be good, as money could be spent on higher level things that expand the economy.

Taking an abundant resource and actively working to make it act like a scarce resource makes no sense. It limits progress and the wider economy, and it's the last thing that a group like the IEEE should be supporting.

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  1. identicon
    Ryan, 9 Sep 2009 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: You still don't get it

    I have taken a discrete math course, and I realize the scale. I mentioned every possible permutation as a theoretical achievement, but I would expect some discrepancy in filtering by expected result. You don't think that by creating a stack of dough and some other ingredients as a template, then replicating 50 times with slight modifications, etc. and basically creating hundreds of permutations based on slight modifications to favorable initial conditions would significantly advance food experimentation? That sounds like a hell of a party to me. I know several guys that have spent decades cooking barbecue in just this way, and this would eliminate a gigantic limitation to their weekly trials.

    Furthermore, you make the comparison with chords for a song; however, these are not the same thing. Whereas in cuisine you can think up a few initial ingredients that might work well together and then try hundreds of small changes based on temperature, time, flavoring, etc., musicians don't really start a song by getting a few chords that might sound good together and then throw them together for three to four minutes. These are completely different things.

    And yet, being able to compose and mix music digitally nevertheless has enabled a lot of things we couldn't do before. Mike has already mentioned the vastly lower cost of production and distribution of new music, and it seems to me that food recipes would only benefit even more from this same type of process.

    So no, it doesn't sound silly to me at all that we might get a lot more recipes and creativity with a food replicator.

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