Some thoughts on emotion, life, reason, and murder

A great deal of my friends list (and a great deal of my Twitter list, and a great deal of the Internet) is talking about the murder of Dr. George Tiller by a pro-life whacko formerly associated in some loose way with Operation Rescue.

Most of the people who are talking about it are asking how on Earth it’s possible for someone who identifies as “pro-life” to be okay with murder.

Honestly, I think that’s pretty easy to understand. Warped and twisted, yes, but easy to understand.

In fact, I would like to propose a simple thought experiment that I think would make almost anyone able to understand the mindset of a person who might decide that murder is a reasonable approach to the abortion debate.

First, though, it’s important to understand that “pro-life” does not, in fact, mean pro-life. Words are valuable as symbols, but in the case of the abortion debate, they are symbols more often chosen for their emotional connotations than for their clarity in communication.

“Pro-life” does not actually mean that the person who describes himself this way values life, at least not across the board. It’s an expression of emotional manipulation; we all like to think of ourselves as supporting life, and the phrase can become a blunt instrument in rhetoric (“if you’re not in favor of life, what does that make you? Pro-death?”). Once you understand that “pro-life” is not actually intended as a descriptor of a person who supports life across the board, other contradictions (such as the fact that people who identify as pro-life are statistically more likely to support the death penalty and the war in Iraq) disappear.

So don’t assume that “pro-life” (at least the way it’s used by a radical anti-abortion activist) means “being in favor of life.” That’s #1.

Once you’ve got hold of that idea, the rest is easy. I am about to propose a thought experiment that might take you into the emotional state of a violent pro-lifer.

Before I do that, though, a disclaimer. I want to make it absolutely clear that the analogy I am about to make is absolutely, positively not a valid analogy in the sense that it has any bearing on the real-world issue of abortion. The purpose of this analogy is only to create an emotional response that is analogous to the emotional response that radical pro-lifers have to abortion, and to show how the logic of murder fits into the framework of that emotional response.

Please, no flames about how I am “taking their side” or how I am trivializing the real struggles of people who have had to deal with discrimination and prejudice. That is missing the entire point of the thought experiment.

Ready? Okay.

Imagine something about yourself that puts you outside the mainstream of middle America. My friends list being what it is, I bet almost everyone reading this can do that.

Maybe it’s your race. Maybe it’s the fact that you’re kinky, or polyamorous. Maybe you’re gay. Maybe you’re trans. Maybe you have uncommon or unpopular religious, political, or social views. Maybe you have some sort of physical or psychological disability. Whatever.

Now, imagine that you live in a place exactly like the one that you live in, except that it is legal to kill people like you.

Not only is it legal, but people like you aren’t even considered human beings at all.

The reasons aren’t relevant for the purpose of the thought experiment. Just imagine that oyu live in a society in which it is absolutely accepted to kill, without cause or justification, anyone who’s gay. Or anyone who’s trans. Or anyone who’s black, or likes kinky sex, or whatever.

Imagine there are people who specialize in doing it. You go to a professional and pay a couple hundred dollars and he will detain and then execute someone.

Yes, I realize that there is a difference between an unborn fetus and, for example, a gay man. That’s not the point here; to a True Believer, there is no difference. Just think about living in that society, and imagine how you’d feel.

Imagine how you’d feel if time and time and time again, over a period of decades, every attempt to have this sort of killing outlawed met with “These people are not legally human at all. Killing (gays/trans folk/polyamorists/blacks/kinky folk/whatever) isn’t murder because you can only murder a human being.” Imagine if everyone you spoke to said “You don’t like killing gays? Fine, don’t kill any gays then!” Imagine that you live in this society, and the generally accepted premises for social dialog on the topic is that you simply aren’t talking about human beings at all.

Now imagine that you knew of a place where gays, or kinksters, or blacks, or transfolk, or whatever were taken to be killed, and that the owner of this place personally killed thousands of such people himself. How would you feel?

The thing you must understand, if you wish to comprehend why violent pro-life activists do what they do, is that to them, a fetus is a person just as surely as you are a person. To them, there is no difference between the organized, legally sanctioned practice of abortion and the organized, legally sanctioned killing of anyone with brown hair, or anyone who is Latino, or any other group. (In fact, in a supreme irony of the pro-life philosophy, many extremist Fundamentalist pro-lifers would say that a fetus is more human than you are, given that many such people advocate the death penalty for homosexuality.)

If you lived in this imaginary society suggested by this thought experiment, wouldn’t you be tempted to take action against what you saw as the wholesale dehumanization and slaughter of entire classes of people? Can you imagine how profoundly angry and alienated you would feel?

The premises of the radical pro-lifers may be fucked up, but the reasoning is not. If you start with their fucked-up premises, then you arrive logically at their fucked-up conclusion. There’s no hypocrisy or error in reasoning; in fact, if you start from their premises, then even the most overheated, ridiculous rhetoric of the pro-life side (such as “abortion clinics are just like the Nazi concentration camps”) begin to make a kind of sense.

Go back to that thought experiment. Imagine yourself living in a society in which any person who had $200 or so could have you killed for belonging to a class that was not legally human. (Remember, this is what pro-lifers sincerely believe–that you can pay to have a person put to death and the courts won’t even acknowledge that that person is a human being.)

Now imagine someone using on you the most common arguments that pro-choice people use. “It should be a choice whether or not to let a black person live.” “Gays are not even human beings.” “Every transsexual should be a wanted transsexual; there is nothing wrong with killing unwanted transsexuals.” “The law should not infringe on my right to choose whether or not I want to have a Latino around.”

Pretty fucked-up, isn’t it?

The pro-choice arguments do not succeed because they cannot succeed. They don’t start with the same basic view of the world. If you believe that a fetus is a person, then you absolutely, positively cannot accept any arguments about choice, or freedom; such arguments are as fucked up and nonsensical as an argument about whether Matthew Shepherd’s murder was an issue of choice or freedom.

Viewed through that particular lens, pro-life violence becomes, I think, horrifyingly understandable. These people are not insane, unless you count accepting a flawed premise as a form of insanity; once you get past that premise, the rest makes perfect sense.

Am I justifying this kind of violence? Absolutely, positively not. I am not pro-life–not in any way, shape, or form. I do not accept the premises of the pro-lifers, and I also find much of the behavior of organized pro-lifers to be not only counterproductive but also hypocritical. I think that someone who limits their pro-life activism to waving around signs in front of an abortion clinic or sticking a bumper sticker on their car or throwing a few rocks or broken bottles at women entering a clinic are fools at best and the lowest form of self-righteous hypocrite at worst, and I’d really like to see some of these folks–middle-class conservative whites, most of ’em–actually take in an infant Down’s syndrome or an abandoned inner-city baby born addicted to crack if they sincerely believe they have any right whatsoever to tell other people what to do.

No, I am not justifying it. But I do understand it. I get where the violence comes from. It makes sense to me. When examined from inside the premises of the pro-life movement, it is the logical and inevitable outcome of logical reasoning. With people, as with computers, garbage in means garbage out. If you start from an unreasonable premise, you will arrive logically at an unreasonable conclusion.

Home sweet home!

This is where I’ve been spending the vast majority of my time these days.

I’ve been here, in some cases, until midnight, just to get up the next morning and come here again. Yes, that’s why I haven’t been around much lately.

Yes, I use all of them. Hush.

I’m here right now. The laptop is the one I’m using to type this, in case, y’know, you wanted to know.

Arrgh! Con artistry hits work

There is an old-school type of fraud, conducted by phone, that’s the old-world equivalent of the “phishing” emails you get all the time. You know the ones I mean–the emails that say “There has been a problem with your online banking/your online PayPal account/your eBay account/whatever, please click here to confirm your identity.” And then you click there, and you’re taken to a Web site that looks like your bank site, or PayPal, or eBay, and you type in your bank account number or your username and your password, and Wham! You’ve just given your information to Russian organized crime!

The old-school variant is the same thing but on a more personal, more individual level, from con artists who believe in age-old, hand-crafted fraud, not this soulless, mass-produced fraud we see so much of today.

In the old-school, hand-crafted variant, the con man calls you up on the phone and says “Hi there! I’m John from Bank of America. Bad news! We think someone just tried to use your bank account fraudulently! Did you just order $2,000 worth of rare wine to be shipped to an address in Hong Kong?”

And you freak out and your heart starts pounding and you sa “No! No, I didn’t! Oh no! What do I do?”

And he says “Relax, don’t worry, we thought it was fraudulent, we’ve put a freeze on your bank account. And then you’re all like “Phew! That was close!” while visions of bounced checks and ruined credit dance in your head. And then he says “OK, we’ll reverse the charge and unfreeze your account. For security, we need you to confirm that you’re the real bank account owner. What’s your social security number? What’s your bank account number? What’s your debit card number? What’s your PIN?”

And he’s hoping you’re so freaked out that you’ll just gullibly tell him.

This kind of fraud fell out of favor a while ago when folks invented caller ID, because (a) the con man doesn’t want to give out his caller ID number and (b) people get suspicious when they get calls that are supposedly from the bank but it says “caller ID blocked.”

They’re making a comeback, though, since it is now cheap and easy to fake caller ID numbers. The con men put fake caller ID numbers–usually random 1-800 numbers (because people think “oh, if it’s coming from an 800 number it must really be my bank!”) that are not really the bank’s numbers (because the con artist doesn’t want folks calling the bank to confirm the story) into a gadget or computer program that fakes what you see on your caller ID.

So today, apparently there’s a con artist who’s rapid-fire calling dozens of potential dupes…

…and is forging our phone number on his caller ID spoofer.

So folks are calling us (a LOT of folks are calling us) and screaming at us–“How dare you try to get my bank account number, you motherless sons of flea-infested goat herders!”

They are savvy enough to realize that the call is a dupe, but gullible enough to believe that the number they see on the caller ID is actually the number that the con artist is calling from.

*headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk* *headdesk*

The hate for Internet Explorer, it burns!

Last night, I spent about a half an hour fixing some minor bugs in the interactive version of the Human Sex Map. Cleaned up the way the toolbar works when you scroll (so it doesn’t jump all over the place in some browsers) and fixed a minor issue in Firefox where it sometimes moves the pins three pixels down from where they should be.

And then I tested it in Internet Explorer.

And it was totally, utterly, completely broken.

Goddamn festering, pustulant heap of rotting garbage pretending to be a Web browser anyway. I will never, for the life of me, understand why people use that decaying mound of rubbish when there are Web browsers that actually work correctly that you can download for free. Everything the Internet Explorer development team knows about Web standards would fit in the white space of a postage stamp. If these guys had any decency or self-respect, they’d all ritualistically disembowel themselves on Google’s front lawn.

Words can not express my loathing, hatred, and contempt for that tottering mass of bugs and misfeatures that the folks in Redmond laughingly call a Web browser. It’s a mad sick joke at the entire Internet’s expense. So, I turn to a more visual communication medium:

It took me until six o’clock in the morning to code around all of Explorer’s bizarre bugs and rendering issues. Longer, by nearly an order of magnitude, than it took to make that picture. So if you tried to use the Map at all yesterday, sorry ’bout that.

The economy, she is a-sucking

The company I’ve been working with and am a minority partner in, as I’ve mentioned before, is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It’s been closed down for the past three weeks, and tomorrow the principals and shareholders are holding an emergency meeting to decide whether or not to keep the company going. At this point, the equation is very simple: We have $100 left in the checking account, and debts in the hundreds of thousands. We get more venture capital or we die.

This is, as you might imagine, putting a beating on my own finances. My Web site is the only thing keeping a roof over my head right now, and it’s not bringing in enough.

So, decision time.

The situation: I’m in a lease here until May. The lease can not be broken for any reason. That commits me to Atlanta whether I like it or not, and I don’t have the capital to move, even if I were to try to sneak out in the middle of the night.

Biggest expenses are credit card bills, run up many years ago when the company was first getting started and was paying me in stock rather than cash. (Stock which is now worthless, of course. Ha!)

The options:

– Pray for a miracle at Spectrum. Ha!

– Find a 9-to-5 job somewhere else. Possibly in IT or Web work, possibly in prepress, possibly in advertising, possibly saying “You want some fries with that?”

– Hang out my shingle as a computer consultant again. I’m told the market’s pretty good for consultants, as companies fire their in-house IT staff and outsource.

– Find a way to increase the revenue from my Web site. Doubling it would let me survive; tripling it would mean I’m actually better off than I was before.

I’m leaning toward the latter option right now. To that end, one of the things I’m working on is setting up an affiliate system for Onyx, my sex game. Affiliates would get a unique URL, and would get a share of every sale they made. I know a lot of folks out there have Web sites and wouldn’t mind some extra income of their own.

Another of the things I’d like to do is to print and sell posters of the Map of Human Sexuality I’ve created. A lot of folks have asked me about this, and I (just) have enough room on a credit card to pay for a production run of offset posters, of which I would need to sell 77 in order to break even. Doing this and not breaking even would be a disaster at this point.

So, here’s the scoop:

– If you ae interested in selling copies of Onyx from your Web site, let me know. I’m still setting up the affiliate management software. I’ll have to make banner graphics for it as well. Right now, I’m looking at probably paying out $10 for each affiliate sale.

– If you’d buy a poster at $12 (plus shipping), let me know. I’d like to gauge interest before I commit the funds. A part of me thinks I need to be committed for even considering taking that gamble.

– Any other brilliant ideas? I’m all ears!

Update on the Franklin

Still sick.

That’s the bad news. The good news is I’m not horking up internal organs any more, and I can breathe without feeling like I’ve got bits of broken glass where they shouldn’t be. Even felt good enough yesterday to leave the apartment to go shopping and do laundry, both of which needed to be done in the worst possible way.

On the down side, it’s hard to walk from the door to the mailbox without wheezing, and all the various medications are making me feel almost as crappy as the damn bacteria. Plus I still sound like a frog being strangled at the bottom of a deep well when I try to talk. Thank God for Netflix, that’s all I can say.

Liam the kittycat has been absolutely delighted to have me home for the past three weeks, at least. Poor little guy is going to think I’ve abandoned him once I start working again. He follows me around the apartment and curls up on my lap when I crash on the couch. He’s in the habit of sitting on the edge of the tub when i shower and watching me with this expression:

Doctor’s appointment again the day after tomorrow. Probably more chest X-rays and stuff. If they don’t like what they see, the next step may be to go into the hospital for IV antibiotics. Ugh.

Ugh yuck.

Spent the entire afternoon at the doctor’s office today, on account of this nasty hacking coughing yuck that I’ve had for the last three weeks and that has been hanging on like an uninvited house guest. I was swabbed, poked, prodded, X-rayed, poked some more, and several people looked at me and said “hmm” a lot.

After hours of poking, swabbing, prodding, X-raying, and “hmm”ing, the diagnosis is: antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.

Fuck me dead.

The doctor is taking it seriously and treating it aggressively. My kitchen counter now looks like I knocked over a pharmacy. Two different steroids, two different antibiotics, one shot in the ass (that burns like a motherfucker), an inhaler, industrial-strength cough medicine, some foul-tasting bright-orange pills that I don’t even know what they are, two different OTC cough medicines and expectorants that my doctor suggested, and another appointment to go in next week for further evaluation. Hundred and seven bucks for all the prescriptions, and my insurance paid more than twice that.

Apparently it’s going around. Doctor told me I was the third case of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia she’d seen today. Ye gods.

You know it’s bad when you’ve been too sick even to be horny.

Back from the doctor, and Penthouse Magazine digs me

The last few days of zaiah‘s visit, I was sick as a dog–first with her cold, then with an opportunistic throat infection that moved in while the crack special forces commandos of my immune system were busy dealing with that issue. Stayed awake all night last night with a sky-high fever and hacking cough, lost my voice, went to the doctor’s office this morning, I’m now on some potent broad-spectrum antibiotics which should give the opportunistic bacteria the what-for.

Still can’t talk, though. Which sucks when you’re me.

So not as much kinky sex and other fun stuff as I had hoped.

On the more interesting side, though, I got an email from one of the editors of Penthouse magazine. She said they want to do an article about the Human Sexuality Map, and could I send them a press-ready version of the file kthx? Right now it’s slated for publication in the March 2009 issue. (When I first started working on it, figmentj predicted it was going to turn out to be a big deal. She was right.)

I really, really want to make posters of the map. Unfortunately, it looks like unless I’m prepared to plunk down a lot of cash for a large production run, the posters are gonna cost me in the neighborhood of $12 apiece to print(!), and I doubt I can sell them for much more than that. I can get the price way down if I print a whole lot of them, but then I’m out a bunch of cash I don’t have and I’ll be sitting on a huge pile of posters if nobody wants ’em. Grr.

One thing I think I will do, though, if I do make posters, is put a glossary on the bottom of the poster. I still get a lot of “What does ____ mean?” emails.

Some thoughts on copyright, entitlement, and zero opportunity cost

One of our neighbors keeps trying to steal cable television.

We know this because our neighbor isn’t terribly good at electronics or even the most basic principles of electrical cabling. Our cable modem service keeps going out; last week, while I was visiting figmentj, it went out for three days (leaving my roommate David, whose car still hasn’t been replaced since it was totaled a couple months back by an unlicensed driver, without transportation or World of Warcraft).

The technical guy sent out by Comcast discovered that the main cable junction box feeding our apartment complex had been pried open, and the miscreant, in his clumsy and ham-handed efforts to steal cable, had made a right proper mess of the cable connections. Our cable connection had been cut entirely, and a much of the rest of the junction box had been screwed up as well.

Last night, just at the start of a boss fight in Heroic Pinnacle (that doesn’t mean much to you if you don’t play World of Warcraft, so substitute “a difficult situation where other players were counting on me”), it went out again. David ran outside to try to catch the miscreant, and discovered that the junction box had been pried open again and cables were strewn all over the place.

That’s not what this post is about. That’s just the back story.

This post is actually about intellectual property and opportunity cost. Now, before I get into a full-on rant here, I want to disclose something up front: I have a horse in this race. This is an issue that matters to me because I am a creator of work that is often taken without my permission, something I’ll get into in a bit. This is not an abstract thing for me; it’s something that affects me personally. If it sounds like I’m taking the issue of intellectual property personally, it’s because I am.

We live in a society that is very hostile to the idea of intellectual property. People tend, by and large, to think very little of stealing content; in fact, entire social systems have grown up around it. We are, by and large, okay with bootleg software, illegally downloaded music, and all manner of disregard for the intellectual property of others, in ways that would horrify us if they were applied to physical property.

This stems, I think, in no small part from the fact that we are as a society hostile to intellectual pursuits in general. It’s pretty tough not to notice that US culture today is steeped in anti-intellectualism; an anti-intellectualism so virulent that many folks won’t vote for a political candidate if he’s perceived to be too intelligent or too well-spoken. It’s not surprising that a society that thinks so little of intellectual endeavor should think so little of the products of that endeavor.

In fact, I’ve even heard people argue that intellectual property as a concept should not exist at all. In a strange throwback to Communist ideals, I’ve heard it argued that if a person dedicates twenty years of his life and his entire fortune to the development of a new idea or the invention of a new gadget, his knowledge and the fruits of his labor should be available freely to all, so that anyone who wants to make knockoffs of his invention or who wants to sell the results of his idea should be free to do so without giving anything back to the person who worked so hard to develop it.

I think that’s fucked up beyond all measure, frankly.

Now, granted, not everyone takes that extreme a view to the notion of ownership of the results of one’s cognitive labors. A much more common argument in favor of intellectual theft is the “zero opportunity cost” argument.

This argument goes something like: “Well, there was no way I was going to buy Photoshop. If I steal a copy of Photoshop, Adobe has not lost anything, because I was never going to buy it to begin with. Because Adobe has not really lost anything, no harm has been done, and it’s OK for me to pirate it.”

Same for copying music, stealing cable, or sneaking into the movie theater; “I wasn’t going to pay for those things anyway, so it’s not like they have lost any sales. They’re not losing anything, so it’s OK for me to do this.”

It’s a bullshit argument, front to back. The opportunity cost is rarely truly zero.

My neighbor is a great example. In his attempt to steal cable, he has damaged property not belonging to him, he has interrupted a service that I’m paying for, and he has made Comcast send out repair technicians twice now. (Tomorrow will be a third time; they’re replacing the entire enclosure around the cable junction box, because in prying it open he damaged it beyond repair, and the junctions inside are now getting rained on.)

It’s a bullshit argument even if the piracy doesn’t involve crowbars to someone else’s property, though. Take Photoshop (or don’t, please!). Most of the folks who pirate it are not professionals; they don’t do print production for a living. That means they don’t use, or even know about, anything even close to 90% of its capability; they have no need of a $700 image editing program, and there’s no question that Adobe is not out $700 for everyone who steals Photoshop.

What these pirates need is a $49 image editing program; and that’s a $49 image editing program they’re not going to buy because they stole Photoshop.

And hell, there’s a free image editing program called The GIMP that they can have for nothing, legally! It’s not Photoshop and it can’t do everything Photoshop can do, but the folks stealing Photoshop don’t need everything Photoshop can do.

But that’s not even the most important reason the argument from opportunity cost is bullshit. The argument from opportunity cost is bullshit because it rests on a sense of entitlement. Bluntly, you don’t have the right to benefit from someone else’s work without paying that person, even if you would rather go without than pay.

People steal intellectual property and people steal services because they want the benefit. They see benefit in owning Photoshop or having cable TV. Having these things makes their lives better in some way. And they feel entitled to that benefit; they feel that they deserve to have their lives made better from the labor of other people.

If I do something that has value, and you want that value, pay me. If you don’t want to pay me, then don’t take the value. You are not entitled to gain value from my work for free.

Even if–and I’m looking at the folks who steal music here–you think that the money I want is excessive or that I am unreasonable.

If you think that I am unreasonable and the value I offer is not worth what I am asking in exchange, that’s fine. Don’t take the deal. But don’t then also believe that you’re entitled to have that value, and you have a right to steal it just because you didn’t take the deal! You may think the RIAA is a bunch of asshats who wouldn’t know ‘reasonable’ if it bit them on the cocaine-powdered nose, and I’d agree with you, but that still doesn’t excuse the fact that you have no right to take value from them for free just because they’re asshats.

It gets simpler to understand when we think about tangible things. If I rent cars, and you sneak into my parking lot, you hot-wire one of my cars, and you take it for a joyride, then you return it to my lot the next morning and I don’t notice what you’ve done, you could argue that the opportunity cost was zero. I didn’t lose anything’ the car is still there, and you weren’t going to rent it from me anyway, right? You might even say I’m financially better off, if you fill the gas tank before you put it back so it has more gas in it the next morning than it did when you took it.

Yet reasonable people, even people who think that software piracy or theft of music is OK, would draw the line at this sort of behavior. I doubt that very many folks would say that taking my cr for a joyride was acceptable; the “zero opportunity cost” argument would not hold up. Yet it’s the same argument that folks use to steal intangible things all the time.

Now, on to the horse that I have in this race.

In the past few days, intangible theft has affected me twice. First, my cable modem service was interrupted because my neighbor thinks that theft of service is OK. (Which, I suspect, will soon become a self-correcting problem; the police and the cable companies take theft of service seriously, and I started the ball rolling on a theft-of-service investigation this morning.)

Second, because I create intellectual property. I create content in the form of software, such as my game Onyx, and in the form of a great deal of writing on a number of diverse subjects.

Now, I like to think that I’m a reasonable fellow. I don’t much like the way the software industry works, so I give away a limited version of my game for free. I don’t like DRM and Draconian copy policies, so I license the pay version to people rather than to computers–if you buy the game, you’re free to put it on as many machines as you own, under whatever operating system you like, and the same serial number will work on all of them.

I believe that outreach, especially on subjects like non-traditional relationship and lifestyle choice, is important, so I permit anybody who wants to to copy any of the information on my Web pages, provided they credit me for it. My BDSM and polyamory pages are wildly popular, and I get several requests a month to copy part or all of the site elsewhere. Go for it! Do whatever you want. You don’t even need to ask me first. Seriously.

You want to print my stuff out and use it as a handout at a seminar? Be my guest! You want to translate it into other languages? Go right ahead! You want to put it on your own Web site? No problem! Just credit me as the author. That’s not an undue burden.

Yet, even that is apparently too much to ask for some folks.

Lat week, I discovered that large sections of my BDSM site were being used on the commercial, for-profit site of a prodomme who makes her living from her Web site, and they were posted without attribution. I sent her a nice email explaining that I was fin with her using the material, but I’d really appreciate credit. She responded by saying that she’d never heard of me or my Web site, and that she hadn’t taken the material from me, she’d taken it from another site.

I looked, and sure enough, she had–she’d lifted it from another site that had lifted it without attribution. From, get this, still another site that had lifted it without attribution.

No honor among thieves, I suppose.

So I’ve spent, over the last day or so, about four or five hours working my way up the chain and sending out copyright infringement notices. And I bet that over the next week I’ll probably be hearing from a bunch of pissed-off people.

That seems to be how it happens. People do geniunely seem to have a sense of entitlement to the intellectual work of others; when I’ve dealt with this kind of thing in the past, it’s shocking how often someone will become angry, as if to say ‘how DARE you tell me that I can’t take material you have created and use it on my own pay-for-access Web site!’. It’s not just me, either. In any dispute over intellectual property, the person whose work has been stolen is often cast as the villain–in ways that they are not if, for example, someone has his car taken.

Which is weird, and more than a little fucked up.

And sometimes, it’s by folks who really, really ought to know better. One of the Web sites that has lifted content from me belongs to the Triskelion Society, a well-known and generally well-respected BDSM organization. (Edit: As it turns out, the material was given to the Triskelion Society by a third party claiming copyright; they were blameless and have since removed the material.)

I’m sure that there will be folks who think I’m being unreasonably hard-assed about this. After all, my own site is free; what’s the harm in taking content from it for their own site? It’s not like I’m losing money, right?

In the end, I think that it comes down to respect. We (well, generally, most of us) respect the property of other people, and the labor of other people, but it seems that same level of respect does not extend to the intangible creations of other people. The zero-opportunity-cost argument displays an appalling lack of respect for other people’s effort and creation; it essentially boils don to “I want this, but I’m not going to pay for it, so I should have a right to have it anyway.” It’s even worse when it’s dressed in the language of self-righteous indignation; there are many music bootleggers who will rail against the RIAA as a corrupt, archaic, greedy institution that exploits its own members (which is true) and doesn’t pay its own artists (which is also true), but the difference between the RIAA and the misic pirates is that the RIAA believes artists should be paid a trivial pittance, whereas the music fans, incensed by this arrogance, seem to believe that the artists should be paid…nothing at all.

Now, me, I don’t ask for money; I merely ask that work I created should be attributed it to me. And apparently that’s too high a cost for some folks–even folks who use my content to build Web sites that they do charge money for.

But after all, they weren’t going to pay me for it anyway, so I haven’t really lost anything, right?