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Free P2P Software Ethics

What follows is my lengthy response to Mike Mallari’s questions with regards to P2P software.

How do you feel about the P2P softwares that are created for file swapping and are provided free of service?
Their creations started a way of sharing and transporting data that caused such an uproar from many of thes music producers and companies.
Many of the P2P software authors feel that they should not be held accountable for the actions of their users, as it's the users who "initiate in the illegal activity."
Do you feel that they should be held accountable?”

This is a great question. I'm really glad you pointed out the important distinction between file sharing ethics and the ethics of providing a means to swap files.

This is a challenging question to answer because - for me - the argument isn’t one of copyright ethics at all, but of the tug-of-war between the benefits and damages to different sectors of our economy as a result of new technology. From my perspective it doesn’t really matter whether having the means to file share is ethical or not. What matters is that the things we do with the technology are ethical and how these actions change our world. File sharing is happening, happening for free, and it’s going to continue happening regardless of whether we, as a society, choose to hold someone accountable. Any choice to hold someone accountable for producing free P2P software would be a purely symbolic vindication of copyright laws.

There are several historical analogies that you can play with to think about this issue and discuss it here and among other people. They land on both sides of the argument:

• Small video recording devices and the video feed that makes its way onto the internet. Some of the content is ethical – some isn’t. Should we outlaw the XCam2? What have been the benefits of these cameras? The damage?
• Nuclear weapons. They exist. They’ve undeniably caused horrific pain and suffering since their invention. Would prosecuting their inventers eliminate their existence? But what would that prosecution do?

Bearing in mind that the first consideration in supply and demand is that buyers prefer having more to having less and that free trade produces more innovation, I can see both sides of all these arguments. So Mike, I don’t have an answer for you. But I’d push readers to twist the file sharing question as much as possible. Is the argument about ownership rights? Or is the argument about technological advancement?

And now Mike, my brain hurts. Thank you for making me think way too hard. I hope some of this makes sense.


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Say Lyndsey, have you considered the impact this has on the creative process for these artists? Or the future of music? How will aspiring artists find the motivation to become something valuable to the industry if the product they offer is so easily taken from them? Will the future generations find themselves without Dylan's, Lennon's, Mercury's, or Vedder's?

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