Companies like Adobe that make propirateary creative software in order to charge licensing fees see themselves as selling products to a market, and see people who don’t pay as thieves. But creativity isn’t a market, it’s a commons, and Adobe, et al. are really just leeching instead of cooperatively participating in it.
At this point, you’re probably expecting me to go into a bleeding heart hippy-dippy rant about how information wants to be free, maaaaan, and that everything that we make we should just, like, share, man, because that would be groovy. While that’s all absolutely true, you’ve probably heard and rolled your eyes at it before. So let’s take a look at this from a more down-to-earth perspective, rather than down-to-Gaia or whatever.
From Adobe’s point of view (which is, of course, an example, and you should feel free to replace them and Photoshop with any other propirateary software that’s used to create stuff), they’re selling a product to the market. Their product, Photoshop, is a tool that lets you manipulate and create images in millions of different ways, which is a fantastically useful capability if you’re designing a book cover, creating visual effects for a movie, making graphics for a video game, building a website, printing business cards, taking a photo of an already beautiful woman and turning her into an impossible alien-like creature with unreasonably small hips and ridiculously shiny skin so that she fits the ludicrous standards of a fashion advertisement, or hundreds of thousands of other creative things that could potentially make a lot of money.
So, because you might, maybe, possibly, at some point be making a lot of money from the work you make with Photoshop, Adobe assumes it’s completely reasonable to put a very, very high price tag onto it, and then eagerly sits there like a spoiled puppy awaiting your payment. If you use Photoshop without paying, Adobe will bark, growl, and pee on the floor — in other words, lobby national governments to pass laws branding you as a thief and a scoundrel.
Ignoring the fact that Adobe is trying to sell access to a non-scarce, infinitely reproducible product — that is, the zeroes and ones that make up Photoshop — and also ignoring the fact that Adobe is a bad puppy dog that has been bad, very bad, and needs to go lay down in the crate right this instant, their point of view is at least coherent. Adobe firmly believes that they are selling a product that they’ve worked very hard on, and that if you take it without first buying it, then you’re stealing. From their point of view, and their understanding of how the world works, this makes sense.
My problem with Adobe is that I didn’t even know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.
Let’s say instead of using propirateary products like Photoshop, Maya, and Windows, I created a project using free software like GIMP, Blender, and GNU/Linux. Then I make a decent amount of money from this project. Now, I didn’t pay a cent to the foundations and volunteers that worked to bring me GIMP, Blender, or GNU/Linux. I really should, though, shouldn’t I?
Free software makers understand their role not as selling products to a market, but contributing tools to the commons. They put their work out there, free and unrestricted for anyone to use, and they make the world better for everyone. Ethically, if I get wealthy from their work, I should spread the wealth and kick it back to them.
That’s why I’ve donated to commons-contributing foundations like Apache and Wikimedia, and use Flattr and Gittip to support certain open source programmers, after I make some money from the work that I do standing on their shoulders. Ideally, when you start out on a creative project, I’d recommend you pick a percentage of your future revenue and pledge to give that to all the free software and free resources that you make use of. That’s my point of view, my ethical stance.
From my point of view, Adobe is asking me to shell out a portion of my future revenue before I’ve actually made it.
See, that’s just disrespectful, is how I see it. Adobe believes they’re so high and mighty, so damn important, that they can just hoist themselves above the rest of the commons and demand that we pay tribute, regardless of whether we’re able to, regardless of how much their work actually ends up benefiting us, and basically regardless of any sense of social responsibility whatsoever. Adobe is violating the rules of the commons. They’re trying to take from it without necessarily putting anything back in. Who’s the thief now, Adobe?
It’s ethically wrong to abide by Adobe’s demand to be paid, because they don’t care about how much money anyone has, or how healthy the supply of money is in the commons, and that kind of attitude is toxic for everyone.
Now, you might say, “Oh come on, Zacqary! You can’t just impose your ethics and your worldview here! You’re not in a revenue-sharing arrangement with Adobe!” To which I’d reply, “Yes I am.” And then you’d say, “No, Zac, they’re in a market, and you’re in a market, and that’s the way the world works!” And then I’d say, “Says who?” Because, didn’t you just say that I can’t impose my ethics on Adobe? Why do they get to impose their ethics on me? And then you’ll say, “Everyone else sees the world this way, and your ethics are dumb and you just don’t want to pay for things,” at which point you’ll be interrupted of the dinging sound that my torrent downloader makes because a full, DRM-free version of Photoshop has just finished downloading onto my computer, all without giving Adobe a cent.
When two different ethical stances butt heads against each other, neither of them can be objectively right. It’s ethics, not physics. You can’t look into a microscope and find Right Particles and Wrong Particles. Throughout history, the ethical stance that wins is usually the one that belongs to the people who have power.
And right now, the people with power are the pirates. Because we’ve got the torrents, we can crack the DRM, and we can encrypt our traffic to create plausible deniability. So our ethical stance is going to be the one that survives in the end, because it’s not like anyone can stop us.
But the ethics here are deeper than “lulz we pwn3d ur shit 4 free,” because, come on, human beings aren’t actually that sociopathic. We share files, and we’re more than happy to share money in a way that makes any sense. That way is not the arrogant “pay now, maybe benefit never” logic of the market. It’s commons logic, the kind where people care about their relationships to one another, and work together for everyone’s mutual benefit.
If, like Adobe, that’s not the game you want to play, you can feel free to get torn apart in the market. Because tearing you apart is the right thing to do.