A Few Clarifications

Wednesday November 16, 2005
Thanks to everyone who commented on my last entry, especially Mary, who raised some very interesting issues. Thanks also to Jerub for posting it to MetaFilter under the subject "did skynet need ethics?". Can you spot the secret reference to Skynet in this article?

Unfortunately the contrast between the MeFi commentary and the comments on the entry implies to me that my point didn't make much sense to non-programmers. So, a few clarifications.

I am not advocating a specific plan. My point isn't "we should license and bond programmers", or "we should throw F4I's programmers in jail". I also don't care that much about the Sony/BMG case except as a specific example of where things have gone wrong already. I definitely don't think that we should crucify some random employees of a software company based on some moral code that they weren't a party to and didn't even know about when they wrote the offending code.

What I am saying is: people who create computer programs have a responsibility to the public. Malware, viruses, DRM, and a variety of other ways to subvert a user's computer against their will are all immoral and people who create them should care about that. I may have been overly narrow in simply addressing "programmers" since obviously management plays a role.

I also believe that the public should assert their rights in this regard. I see that Sony is coming under some incredible pressure in this case. That's great, but their executives are still all universally saying "we still believe in copy protection technology". I think the public should reply with a resounding, "no you don't" and continue to boycott Sony until it abandons all copy-protection "technology".

I do have a few new points to make while I've got the floor.

Some musicians aren't total asshats. If you're looking for some music to listen to while you're waiting a decade or five for Sony/BMG to actually listen to their customers, may I humbly suggest the musical stylings of Jonathan Coulton, He provides some awesome music for free download, and it just so happens that he has specifically said that he is anti-DRM and thinks the Sony rootkit is a travesty.

Also, copy protection just doesn't work. It never has, and it never will. It might discourage people from copying things a few times, for a few minutes, but in the large it has no impact. Tycho put this particularly well:
... people who pirate software enjoy cracking it. The game itself is orders of magnitude less amusing. And their distributed ingenuity will smash your firm, secure edifice into beach absolutely every Goddamn time. There are no exceptions to this rule.
The whole idea of "copy protection" is flawed. If you take a holistic view of the process, it doesn't even make any sense. The only way copy protection is coherent is if you ignore the part of the distribution process where the customer, you know, uses the thing they bought.