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