Oh, I see Scott Adams got there much more first on copyright

My post about photographs, photographers and copyright stirred up a few people, but I hadn’t realised that Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams had posted on precisely this topic, but (naturally) far more wittily, back in April of last year.

Take it away, Scott:

When you violate a copyright, you take something valuable from the copyright owner that he can’t get back. You take his right to control where his creation is viewed and how. It might be your opinion that the “free publicity” you provide outweighs the loss – and you might be right – but you’ve taken from the creator the right to make the publicity-versus-overexposure decision himself. That might not seem like a big deal to you, but it feels that way to the person who lost control of his art.

Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say your neighbor sneaks into your house while you are gone and borrows your underpants. After wearing your underpants all day, the neighbor launders them, folds them neatly, and returns them to your house in perfect condition, all while you are gone. He tells himself that he will say good things to people about your business – whatever business that is – so this arrangement is good publicity for you. The next time he sees you, he tells you about the underpants because he figures you’ll thank him for saying nice things about his business. He informs you that it’s a win-win scenario.

And (after some more exposition, all worth reading) he invites people to show up their daft rationalisations for stealing stuff (well, you know, violating copyright) in the comments. Which they duly do. Which he then spoofs to the heavens in his next post.

Worth reading in its entirety. Found via the Virtual Economics blog, which if you aren’t reading you should be. (It’s only a pity he’s working for DMGT, but, well, folks got to earn a living. Probably quite a good one, if this is his surplus output.)


  1. Your point and Adams’ is a reasonable one which I agree with; I have to say, however, that Adams analogy is daft. Unless you made your underpants yourself or are perhaps an underwear model?

  2. I notice, Charles, that you didn’t get anywhere near so irked about copyright infringement when twittering about the sale of CDs once they’ve been ripped to MP3, not a few weeks ago. Care to clarify?

  3. Charles

    Sunday 22 June 2008 at 9:04 pm

    @Guy – dunno, perhaps I’m inconsistent. Then again, selling a CD (which you’re allowed to do) after ripping it to MP3 (which officially you’re not allowed to do) means you’re selling the backup copy for it your hard drive fails. You’re selling the high-quality version, which you’ll never get back. Not exactly like taking an exact copy of a photograph or a piece of text.

    But yes, strictly it’s a breach of copyright. You’re entirely welcome to go after that person and harass them. I’ll watch.

  4. One of the themes that runs through the comments at Scott Adams’ site is that ideas aren’t things, and therefore they have no value. One commenter tells Adams that he’s made plenty of money from his old work and if he wants to earn more he should just create more new cartoons, since the poster himself doesn’t get paid unless he goes to work and slogs for the day.

    A lot of the people posting on the Dilbert blog seem to think copying intellectual property is a new thing. Fashion designers have long had to grapple with the problem — they have to produce new collections because last season’s work has been copied and ripped off, so they have to slog through another collection. Fashion designs don’t have the protection that the Dilbert cartoon does.

    The copyright law and patent process in the U.S. are seriously flawed. But it makes me angry that people think there’s no need to compensate a person who has a creative idea. I’m in favor of laws that allow people to make money from ideas, and I’d like to see more respect for originality. At the same time, locking up access to copyrighted material for a lifetime after the author dies is wrong, and going to a 25-year term for copyright seems fair to me.

    If someone wants free information, they can figure out the information themselves. If you don’t want to pay to read a weather forecast, learn to look at the sky or do without. What the clouds tell you about the weather is free to you and anyone else. What the weather report tells you about the weather costs money, because the people who are providing you with that convenient information deserve to be paid for the work and for the equipment that collects and disseminates the information.

    Free music is fine. You can hum any song you want and I won’t expect you to buy a CD or pay for a download. If you don’t want to hum, learn to sing or whistle.

    In the U.S., copyright and patent have allowed ordinary people to get out of lower economic classes and rise socially and economically. This is the so-called American Dream. Apparently a lot of people in the U.S. now believe that if you pursue the American Dream, you don’t deserve to have it if you want to get rich from ideas.

  5. “Free music is fine. You can hum any song you want and I wonít expect you to buy a CD or pay for a download. If you donít want to hum, learn to sing or whistle.”

    Ah, sorry, if you hum, sing, or whistle in certain places (like, for example, at work, or in public) you have to pay royalties. Yes, this is why restaurant staff don’t sing “Happy Birthday To You” on your birthday.

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