Monday, May 03, 2010

This is the End

I've had a thing for The Doors ever since I was in high school.  Yes, I'm old, but not THAT old, they had long since ceased to exist when the 1980's hit.  So, I felt in honor of what will probably be my last post before grades come out - I have a ton of work this week, plus two more papers to finish and finals to prepare for - I would flavor this post with a variety of titles from their songs.

I've tried to break down copyright law into a number of posts.  I've spoken about the history of the law itself, talked about Digital Rights Management, examined several topics that might have an effect on what we as video game creators produce.  So I was sitting around yesterday on a blue sunday, and decided that the best way to finish up this topic was to talk about my own beliefs.  Yes, people are strange, and so am I.

As I hinted to before, back in the late 1990's, I discovered the Napster program, and as with many folks back then it had the ability to light my fire and expand my view of music.  No longer limited to purchasing $12 to $16 cd's (which I believe now run in the $20 range), there was no reason I had to be choosy about what I was listening to.  I could break on through to any genre or artist I had an interest in.  This was revolutionary, to more then just me.

It wasn't long, though, before I begin to really think about the effect of this.  For the most part, I ignored the ramblings of the RIAA, which had very little to do with software.  It would be like blaming Zerox because people were photocopying and distributing your books, saying so simply did not mean it was true.  But, as a person interested in the possibility of a writing career, I really did have to think about what it would mean to me if I spent two years of my life, many thousands of hours, pouring my wintertime love and watching until summer's almost gone, only to realize that no one felt they had to buy all that work I produced, they could simply copy it and give it away to everyone else.

Some people like Corey Doctorow would say "who cares?  Free content and me:  we could be so good together!"  But as I sat looking out the window at a beautiful lake in the Adirondacks one warm indian summer day, I realized that a book is my child, my creation, something I want to give to the world MYSELF.  If you didn't create it, you shouldn't feel it's your right to distribute it to others.  Nothing I could say would win over those who believed "information wants to be free", and that the crystal ship had already sailed.  But for me, my personal code would no longer allow me to download music for free.  It wasn't until Amazon mp3 came along that I began to return to downloading music, at 99 cents a track.  I'm willing to pay the price of course, it's only fair.

Perhaps there is this underlying moral outrage that someone is getting rich at our expense.  Why do we care?  Why not go produce something extraordinary ourselves, something people live and share and want to buy so you can continue to produce more of it for them?  Is that not our greatest goal as artists, to create something lasting, that has impact, and that can keep us fed and clothed and roofed?  So what if we also get rich... why is that so wrong? 

As I said, though, this belief of mine breaks down and sinks like a ship of fools when it comes to my education.  I have - and will continue - to download programs to use when I am learning something in class.  This is partly because of the great expense of educational versions of some of these pieces of software, and partly because the cost of driving down to the computer labs for me (both in terms of time, convenience and gas prices) is huge.  I'd rather have the programs to use at home, and in most cases those programs have been removed as soon as classes ended.

There is no doubt that digital content is impossible to control.  People will continue to infringe and trade your works at their will.  The best we can hope to do as artists is continue to produce and trust that enough folks will respect you and what you do that they will be willing to pay for it.  Placing DRM on our games will help, but only if it does not become entirely too difficult for the average user to run our products.  Once DRM breaks the product to the point that it is unusable, we will not only have to face the inevitable backlash, but we will push even the less tech savvy individuals into infringing activities as they try to find ways to use what they have purchased.  That will further reduce our pool of payees, negatively impacting our industry even more.

So I sit here, waiting for the sun.  It has been a remarkably good semester, even with the tragedy that affected my family and myself.  Life will go on now.  I will graduate in a few short weeks, and soon I will have the diploma I have worked 25 years to achieve, hanging on the wall of my new home office at the new house my wife and I have just put under contract.  I am immensely proud, and slightly saddened as well.  Proud of my achievement, sad that I have no more classes to look forward to.  Oh, but I'm sure I'll take more classes eventually... but first I want a year or two off to simply savor the extra free time I'll have every week.  No more getting home at 11:30 every Tuesday and Thursday nights.

So... this is the end, for real.  At least the end of blogging for class.  Next week the blog will return, once grades have been released, and I will return to a bit more of a personal focus, talking about life, liberty and my pursuit of happiness of course. 

For now... Reynolds out.  Take care, all you riders on the storm!

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