Dave Allen: Give away your work NOW!

 Note: I posted the following as a comment on Dave Allen’s politely-worded but still not quite comprehensible interview about file sharing posted on Willamette Week’s website earlier this week. I also posted it as a comment on Dave’s blog (where he posted it) and am now posting it here because why the hell not? Don’t cost nothin’.

Dear Editor,

I write this on the 4th of July, which feels particularly appropriate given that the holiday is all about the need to keep grabby English folks from taking your belongings in the name of some social/economic construct that has no benefit for its targets.

In this case our British friend is Dave Allen, and the socio-economic construct is his vision of the Internet as a grand bazaar of other people’s intellectual property. 

Dave asserts that much of the dialogue about illegal downloading on the Internet revolves around the wrong questions. However, I think the first question he needs to ask himself is whether he truly understands what intellectual property is, and how its value differs from hard goods and services. (follow the jump for more!)

He quotes Justin Spohn, who uses an iPhone as an analogy for music files. If you walk into an Apple store, Allen quotes Spohn as writing, take a cell phone for a brief amount of time and then put it back where you found it, you’ve harmed no one. The phone continues to have value, the store can still sell it. “Theft seems to be a two-step process,” Dave writes. “I have to take it, and then have to no longer have it.” 

Then Allen/Spohn analogize that digital files of music (and presumably every other form of digitizable work, e.g., essays, novels, poems, recipes, etc.) cannot truly be stolen: “There is no property to recover because no property was actually removed from anyone’s possession.” 


The value in an intellectual property (the song, the poem, the precise balance of Col. Sanders’ 11 herbs and spices) is in the information it contains. The good or service it provides is entirely in its content: the rhythm and melody that makes your heart sing; the novel that opens your eyes to new worlds, and so on. This is what artists/writers/creators own, and can market to an audience that is willing to pay to have the right to use it whenever and however they please. 

The only way the borrowed iPhone could even enter the conversation is if it were possible to absorb its powers — calling, texting, consorting with angry birds, addressing you as Rock God — through your fingertips. Then you don’t need the phone anymore. And assuming your magical iPhone-absorbing skill is transferable to others, who then transfer the complete iPhone package to others, etc, etc, then you definitely HAVE stolen something: you’ve taken the value of that iPhone and thrown it into the public domain. The demand for iPhones evaporates. The store closes, everyone loses their jobs. 

 Here’s the crowning irony: While Dave has given up on the music industry, he continues to create intellectual property for a living. Granted, it’s a more structured environment when you’re developing Internet sales/publicity strategies for the likes of PGE, Subaru and the Regence Health Network, but that only enhances the value of the work Dave performs — those are huge corporations that are accustomed to spending big money for advertising and advertising strategies.  

But what if we had access to Dave’s professionally-wrought strategizing? We could post it on the Internet and allow OTHER companies  — many belonging to the scrappy young folks to whom Dave finds himself so fiercely dedicated  — to thrive, too. According to Dave it wouldn’t even be a crime. After all, Dave, the North advertising company and PGE (or Subaru or Regence or whoever) would still have access to his work, too. As Dave reassures us, there’s no harm in “taking” something if the original owner still has it, too. 

So here’s my challenge to Dave: When you finish media strategizing for some big company you can show your commitment to the new paradigm, and the brave new society that exists beyond the bonds of ownership/theft/etc by posting it immediately on the Internet, in easily-downloadable and shareable files. 

Once you’re willing to do that then we can start getting to the post-ownership questions we need to start asking.


Peter Ames Carlin

Stealing music is the American way. Unfortunately.

So this 20-year-old intern at National Public Radio’s ‘All Songs Considered’ division wrote an essay to explain why she doesn’t feel bad about her 11,000-strong collection of (mostly) illegally downloaded music. The gist of her argument is generational (computer-age generations expect their music to be easily found and instantly downloadable) with a strong undercurrent of situational ethics (it should be FREE!) and, you might argue, amorality.

Stealing is wrong. We all know this well enough, or should know, the letter of the law shouldn’t make any difference. Even if your neighbor accidentally leaves his keys in the Porsche he left unlocked in his driveway you still can’t hop in and drive it away.

Cue the online hurricane of responses to White’s column, and (especially) her 11,000 pieces (give or take; she says she actually paid for a small portion of her collection) of stolen merchandise. Arguably the best was this nearly 4,000-word open letter written by David Lowery, a musician/writer whose career includes stints in hip bands including Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker, pointing out how stealing music not only devastates the lives of the edgy, non-huge artists who make the music, but rechannels that income into the pocket of the enormous corporations whose own sense of social responsibility is tenuous at best.

Which is why stealing from the lesser-privileged in order to maximize the profit of the plutocracy is so very American.

(follow the jump for more!)

Consider Mitt Romney, the extraordinarily wealthy Republican presidential candidate whose appeal rests largely on his expertise as a businessman, investor, and corporate leader. Consider further the chilling history of Bain Capital, the investment/takeover company with which he made a lot of his fortune over the years. Like a lot of big corporations, Bain followed the modern big biz playbook with strict precision: buy undervalued/failing businesses; slash expenses (e.g., pricey American factories full of American workers); find cheaper ways of doing business, especially overseas with lower-paid foreign workers) leverage the value of the company (taking on enormous debt), spend that money on other investments, declare victory, flip the company to some other investors and move on.

So what about the American workers? What about the communities they live in, the economic ecosystem that once kept their town thriving, or the sense of responsibilty to their fellow Americans and the satisfaction of having such an enormous, and enormously positive, impact on their fellow Americans and the nation at large?

Not a factor. Not by the modern playbook, anyway, where the only measure that matters is the number on the quarterly bottom line and maximizing value for the investors.

That’s the job, they say. At the end of the year the one responsibility that looms above all are the needs of the investors. They make the jobs, is the rationalization. And it’s true! Only now hardly anyone cares about making American jobs. Not that they can’t be profitable working on American shores. They can. But if you’re after enormous profits; the kind you can squeeze out of a developing country where workers are thrilled with their $5-a-day, benefitless pay; where ecological/sustainability laws hold no power; well my friend, that action is overseas.

Go east, businessman, and become massively wealthy without the country. Then use your massive fortunes to pay for massive political campaigns meant to insure that every remnant of government-enforced corporate limits vanish and business can do whatever it wants, whenever it wants, all the time.

Social responsibility, let alone patriotism,  doesn’t enter into it. But the investors….for God’s sake, man, the investors!

Ain’t that America?