Re: Napster: stealing another's vs. giving away one's own

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 20 May 2000 17:54:12 +0100

On Sat, 20 May 2000, roger hurwitz wrote:

rh> Whatever the merits of the analogy or disanalogy of napster to scientific
rh> eprints, your response indicates considerable ignorance of the exploitation
rh> in the recording industry.

Nolo contendere. I know nothing about exploitation in the recording
industry, and was not defending it from such, if there is such.

My posting was about the fundamental difference between give-aways by
producers and rip-offs by consumers.

rh> Suffice it to say that most recording artists
rh> do not control any circumstances of the distribution of their product and
rh> the issue is accordingly not one of intellectual property but property of
rh> the recording industry.

Again, I know nothing about this. It sounds to me like a problem with
the kinds of contract recording artists sign -- but it is not clear to
me that my posting has taken sides on this, or needs to.

rh> most musicians do not gain from recordings, but
rh> have no academic job either that is promoted by their work.

This is true of (nonacademic) book authors too, but (I think) completely
irrelevant in both cases. In principle, trade-book and recording authors
have the hope of eventual income from the sale of their products.
Research paper authors do not; their only goal is research impact, with
which any access-barrier (other than quality-control) is directly at odds.

rh> They are
rh> consequently interested in the greatest exposure of their products, which
rh> is something that napster enables. like most art, this is based much more
rh> on the notion of gift than on exchange.

There are two points here:

(1) The Web is a fine way to promote (self-advertise) one's product by
giving it away. But then one need merely give it away on the Web. One
need not first sign a contract with the recording industry and then
have it nabbed in bootleg form via Napster.

(2) I have often noted that beginning trade-authors (and probably
beginning recording-artists too) are (temporarily) like give-away
(research) authors in this respect. The difference is that they would
not want to stay that way in the long run.

I did cite the Economist Hal Varian's dissenting view on this question
(originally aired in this Forum) in my posting. Hal thinks there is
much more of the give-away motivation among all authors. (I disagree.)

    Harnad, S., Varian, H. & Parks, R. (2000) Academic publishing in
    the online era: What will be for-fee and what will be for-free?
    Culture Machine 2 (Online Journal)

But it seems to me that if the give-away spirit really prevailed, there
would be nothing to stop people from giving their stuff away; no need to
sign over the exclusive right to do so to anyone else, and then bypass
it through bootleg.

Nor do I hear any reply to my farmer/grain analogy: If (enough of) a
farmer's grain can be nabbed (through Napster), he no longer gets
the revenues to keep producing it, so he doesn't.

In the analogy, nothing would be left of the trade book and record
industry but each author/artist's own "vanity-press" (their own
give-away home-brew). I suppose recording artists might still be
advertising their live concerts with their give-away recordings
(assuming that we don't apply the same give-away model to live products
too!), but how would the book author ever make ends meet?

I presume that if we polled recording artists about Napster, the
successful ones would be against it and the wannabes would be for it;
but that (as they say in biology) does not sound like an "evolutionarily
stable strategy." For wannabes eventually wannabe successful.

I do not wish to be put in the position of defending capitalism here
(for the give-away model can in principle be applied to any product,
artistic, scholarly/scientific, or commercial), however. I merely wish
to clearly dissociate producer-end give-away from consumer-end

rh> I realize Steve that you want to
rh> protect your project from attack on any side, but your misinformed attack
rh> on napster does you a disservice

I'm not sure I attacked Napster (maybe I did). But I definitely want to
distance research open-archiving from the Napster model, for the
reasons stated, without any implied approbation of any extant
injustices in the recording industry.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and phone: +44 23-80 592-582
             Computer Science fax: +44 23-80 592-865
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

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Received on Mon Jan 24 2000 - 19:17:43 GMT

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