Thursday, November 15, 2007

Help! Help! He Took My... 1's and 0's

Recent events in The Netherlands concerning the virtual world of Habbo Hotel® have got many people asking, "Should someone be legally punished for stealing virtual property?"

The answer is yes, but not for the reasons cited by the majority of debaters.  First, some background.  Several teenagers residing in the Netherlands fraudulently obtained users' login names and passwords by creating sites masquerading as the official Habbo Hotel® page (also known as phishing).  They proceeded to login to the accounts, remove virtual property from the victims' rooms, and transfer the items to their own virtual residences.

The fact that the users paid money for their items is not the reason that taking them is a crime.  If someone in real life receives a gift that they do not pay for, taking it still constitutes theft.  The teens' actions are however illegal for other reasons:

  • Creating the fraudulent sites required using copyrighted/registered/trade marked material such as the Habbo® logo
  • They committed fraud.  Fraud is already illegal.
  • They violated the terms of service (which they had to accept to create accounts)
      • "...and not to ask for personal information from other Habbos"
      • "If you steal furniture or Coins from other Habbos [...] violate the Habbo Way or break the law, we can freeze or terminate your account, or if appropriate, report you to the Police!"
      • "You can't sell them, give them to anyone, trade them for anything or pretend you made them." [Implying you can't take them]

No special "virtual property rights" laws need to be enacted.  The legal processes for dealing with this are already in place (property rights, contract law, and fraud laws).

I'd like to take this time to address another prevalent take on the situation.  Many people have been stating things along the lines of "What did they steal?  They didn't steal anything, they're all just pretend things in a silly game."  These people seem to take issue with the fact that the virtual items have no tangible aspect to them.  But this is not a unique property of the items in this "silly game".  To name a few others:  books, music, art, and credit (as in credit on credit cards).  A physical book is tangible, but the tangible book is not what is of value, it's the ideas presented in the book that are.  The text can be digitized just as the items in the game have been.  The same goes for music and photographs.  There is no fundamental difference.

Does stealing a credit card number not constitute theft since the thief didn't steal any physical thing??  Of course not.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Binary Freedom

A recent controversy has arisen in the tech world. The issue is over “net neutrality”. The firestorms came after several major high speed internet providers proposed a system by which higher paying customers’ data would be granted a higher priority while on the particular company’s network. Critics claim that this policy is unfair and even have gone as far as to say illegal.

Let us for a moment do what countless reporters and editors refuse to do, examine all of the premises involved in making this kind of statement.
  • A small business owner/entrepreneur has a right to influence the policies of the company that provides them their service

  • The net is some sort of egalitarian collective

  • It is immoral and/or illegal for a company to decide how the service it has developed and maintains should be used
The fact is, a small business owner (or anyone for that matter) has no right to coerce another into providing him with an internet connection, let alone some sort of “equal treatment”. The fact is, those little fiber optic cables skirting pulses of light around don’t just appear, they are the product of a long chain of productive thought and labor. The companies involved developed or paid another to develop those technologies and no one has any right to it save the rights its owners grant. Is it wrong for airlines to offer “tiered services” such as first and economy classes? What about hotels that have suite level rooms as well as more affordable ones? Or how about the various package delivery providers? Should an organ donor’s kidney be forced to be shipped along with that letter to Santa in spite of the recipient’s willingness to pay extra, just in the name of egalitarianism?

Here is the fallacy few have had the courage and brain power to discover. While human beings by their nature should be seen equal in the eyes of a jury, they need not be metaphysically equal. They in fact can be equal in this regard, but if one individual chooses to utilize his or her brain while another does not, it is pure evil to cut down the productive genius in name of the mindless savage, all the while pandering to “equality”. No one has a right to those networks. A store selling trinkets cannot subjugate a cable company to provide them the same bandwidth as a high-tech GPS tracking service. If there is a legitimate small business with good ideas, then it will only hurt the cable companies that decide to make it irrationally harder for them.

The net is not an egalitarian playground. It was brought about by individual achievement. Yes, the net was initiated by a government agency but that is largely irrelevant. Every important advance has been made by some private firm. Using that as an argument for the collective nature of it is just as rational as attributing the modern automobile entirely to the inventor of the wheel.

Freedom is indeed a binary entity. You either have it or you do not. You cannot maintain a system by which companies are left “free” to develop these magnificent services but are told how and where to provide them. It is in effect telling a car manufacture that he can produce a luxury car, only he must charge the same as the competition’s lowliest motorized scooter.

The lesson to the world is: stop trying to control that which you have not created.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Myspace - A Place For... Lawsuits?

Myspace -- a web service that allows users to create their own "templated" page, used primarily for presenting information on the users -- is facing its first lawsuit. A simplified version of the reported story is a 14 year old girl from Texas met someone who claimed to be in high school but in reality was 19 years old on the site. The male proceeded to take her out on a date and then raped the 14 year old girl.

The mother of the girl is attempting to sue Myspace for $30 million in damages on the grounds that the company (recently acquired by News Corp) did not take appropriate measures to prevent something like this.

This is insane. It is equivalent to suing a supermarket if your child was kidnapped while they were grocery shopping with their parents. All of the published news articles are ignoring the fact that a parent, by virtue of bringing a human being into the world, are morally and legally responsible for the welfare of their child until said child has developed their rational faculty and are capable of guiding their own lifes. The parents of the girl should be brought up on charges of child endangerment. They are the ones who allowed their daughter unsupervised access to the internet as well as Myspace in particular. They are the ones who failed to warn their daughter about the dangers of internet communications. They are the ones who failed to know where their daughter was while on the supposed "date". They are the ones who failed, miserably, at the task of being a parent.

The 19 year old male did not take their daughter at gun point, he did not break into their home and abduct her, he met her at her school and took her out for a "nice evening". That is why the parents should be held accountable. It's that simple.

As for the abductor. He has forfeited his freedom and resigned his inalienable rights by his own free will. He has violated, at the deepest level, the rights of a 14 year old girl. He deserves life imprisonment if not execution.

Myspace holds no liability in this case. They provide a service. They provide a service just as a grocery store, or mall, or any number of other stores do. The parents and the perpetrator hold sole liability for the fate of the girl and deserve to be punished accordingly, anything else is to commit a grave injustice towards Myspace as well as the girl.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Microsoft [0] - Apple [0] - Europe [2]

In a surprisingly similar turn of events, Apple's iPod and iTunes are under attack by miscellaneous governments of Europe. Said governments are voicing the opinion that it is unfair for Apple to make iTunes interface exclusively with their device -- the iPod. They are deeming it "in restraint of trade". French, Norwegian, Scandinavian, and other countries who participate in the European Commission are pressing legislation through various channels to enact copyright laws which force Apple to modify the service it developed to be compatible with other music playing devices. This is all done in the name of the free market and supposedly to bolster competition.

What no one in the press realises is that those kinds of restrictions are exactly what define an unfree system. What exactly does the proposed bill mean? It means that through an act of government (in example, it is punishable by jail time and/or fines) Apple must make changes in a program and system it developed and owns in order for competitors who did not develop and do not own to benefit from the productive labor undertook by Apple. This is the naked essence of the legislation. Of course Apple's services make it harder for its competitors to compete, that is precisely the point and great benefit of a free market. Apple's competitors have a choice of making a better product or "going home". "But that's a monopoly" you cry, why yes, yes it is. It is not a monopoly that is normally projected by ivory tower "intellectuals", it is a monopoly that puts forth a great service at a price accepted by everyone who pays for it. Everyone who buys an iPod or a subscription to iTunes is saying by implication "even though I can't use iTunes with another player besides the iPod, it's still worth it because it's a service I believe is equal to or more valuable than the price they are offering it for".

A free market is a system where a human being or a group of human beings are not forced to provide slave labor to another human being or another group of human beings. Or, stated in a positive way, a free market is a system that recognizes private property and the unalienable right of an individual to the end result of his own labor. Make no mistake, the European governments are not for free markets, they are not for inalienable human rights, and they are not for freedom. They advocate a policy that punishes the successful and extols the lazy, the incompetent, the parasite. They say their policy is to bring every business to an equal level. They do not force the unsuccessful firms to become successful; no, they force the successful companies to channel away their success to undeserving leeches. They mow down the giants to bring everyone down to the least common denominator -- nothing. How long do you think companies such as Microsoft and Apple will be willing and/or able to give to others the unearned?

If Apple choices to license its service to willing customers, then so be it. No one's rights are violated, it is a voluntary trade for mutually benefit as judge by the two parties involved. By forcing Apple to give in to the other companies, the governments are saying that Apple's competitors have an inalienable right to the products of another. A society that sacrifices the productive to the lazy, the successful to the unsuccessful, the moral to the immoral only has one end. If you cannot see the consequences of this gross injustice, you deserve to perish in it, because no human being can survive in that kind of death camp.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Logical Pitfalls And Anti-Trust

Another potential Microsoft anti-trust case has been brought to light. A brief summary of the case is as follows:

Microsoft proposed to license the technology it has developed (Windows Media Audio music format, aka WMA) to several portable music player manufacturers on the condition that they supported the WMA format exclusively.

The judge -- Colleen Kollar-Kotelly -- as well as the journalist who produced the above article seem to be under the impression that Microsoft's action was immoral. Again what are the facts of this case and the moral ideas at work?

  • Microsoft offers, not forces, a contract agreement to whoever is willing to accept its terms

  • The portable music player companies may choose to accept the license agreement, or not. They are not entitled to use Microsoft's property without Microsoft's consent.

  • Consumers do not have a "right to consume" whatever they wish. The product/product combination must first exist. There is no such thing as a right to buy a portable music player that supports every music format. A "right to consume" would in effect be the right of some to force the burden of production onto others, ie slavery.
The correct perspective on this case is very much the same perspective on other current political issues. Two consenting adults may do whatever they wish together as long as they do not infringe upon the rights of others. As applied here, two consenting companies may do whatever they wish as long as they do not violate the rights of others. As explained in a previous entry, rights can only be violated by the initiation of force or through the use of fraud. Microsoft's license agreement employed neither.

As a side note, I believe it is a poor business move on the part of Microsoft. They gain little if my Dell DJ support WMA (which it does) but not MP3. Honestly, it makes the player less attractive to consumers if they have to convert their entire music collection to WMA. Dell will realize this and will be much less receptive of Microsoft's terms. But, the law is not in place to prevent business blunders. It is there to protect every individual from the initiation of force and cases of fraud.

There are NO monopolies under a laissez faire form of government. How could there be? Being private, they are bound by law to not deal with force, if force (or fraud) comes into play, they are justly punished. Without resorting to force or fraud there simply can not be a monopoly. If a company raises its prices to unreasonable levels, they can't prevent other companies forming to sell at a more reasonable price. Companies can't "conspire" and keep prices high. Consumers will simple go without those products, crippling those businesses; again others may enter the field at any time that this "conspiring" is going on. There may be, however, one company which is extraordinary at what they do, producing a lot of the product for a low, reasonable cost. If this is the case, there may not be many competitors, but prices are low! They aren't exploiting anyone.

As an example, Standard Oil was accused in the United States of holding a monopoly. During this time, oil was the cheapest in history even after adjusting for inflation.

There are however government sponsored monopolies such as the United States Postal Service. They hold a monopoly on first-class mail delivery because it is illegal for any other corporation to deliver it. And what is the result? The United States Postal Service is perhaps the slowest, most inefficient, and frustrating way possible to deliver mail. And why should they strive to be good? There is no fear of losing customers since there is no place for customers to turn. As a result, many people do with out the mail, resorting to innovation (e-mail) instead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Red Flag

Back in September it was revealed that Yahoo! (Hong Kong) divulged information regarding a Chinese reporter to the Chinese authorities which then convicted the reporter to ten years in Chinese prison. The reporter's alleged crime? Sending via a Yahoo! e-mail account one of China's many "state secrets". The text of the message was related to the Tiananmen Square Massacre perpetrated by the oppressive regime.

Yahoo!'s "justification" for this outrageous act? They were just following Chinese law. Is this any different than Hitler's soldiers just following their orders? Of course not. Yahoo! voluntarily without a fight or word of disapproval helped an evil regime perpetrate its crimes. Crossing borders does not allow the moral blame to be lifted from Yahoo!'s head.

Yahoo! is not the only company nor is this the only issue surrounding search engines and China. Both Yahoo! and Google agreed to censor their search result in China to prevent searches such as "democracy", "freedom", and other terms termed objectionable by the enlightened Chinese government. Do you know what Google's mission statement is? Now keep in mind a mission statement is supposed to be the reason why your company even exists. It is: "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful". So what is Google's mission on their Chinese page? "Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful, well except the small unimportant information regarding freedom, your inalienable rights as a human being, oh and whatever else your loving government decides goes against the public good".

Microsoft has recently opened a blogging service in the Chinese language. They have applied to it a word filter which considered words like "freedom", "democracy", and "human rights" as "profanity" and blocks them. Hackers quickly discovered away around the filter by creating the blogging account in English then switching over to Chinese version but the fact remains that Microsoft went along with labeling "freedom" as profanity. To put things in perspective lets examine the definitions of freedom and profanity.

The use of profane or vulgar language
Deficient in taste, delicacy, or refinement
Liberty of the person from slavery, detention, or oppression

Practices which facilitate evil like the ones mentioned above bear no moral exception.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Anti Trust

There has been an influx of anti trust related lawsuits brought against Microsoft lately. Microsoft's alleged crime is "restraint of trade" by such practices as holding proprietary APIs and packaging Windows Media Player with their operating system Windows XP. The European Union responded as so:

  1. Microsoft was forced to pay a fine of $613,000,000.00 to be allowed the "privilege" of offering a version of Windows XP without Windows Media Player bundled (Windows XP N).
  2. Microsoft was forced to make available the APIs that they developed.

There are other such cases but these two will suffice to expose the wicked philosophical ideas at play here. Let’s start with the facts:

  1. Microsoft developed Windows XP and owns it.
  2. Microsoft developed Windows Media Player and owns it.
  3. Microsoft developed its server APIs and owns them.

Any moral society is based on the inalienable rights of its citizens. This has only one application, that each individual owns his own life and the product of his or her effort. Having individual rights means that there are no "communal rights" or "public good" or “public property” (for the community and the public are made up of sovereign individuals, they are not entities of their own) but only property rights, private property rights. If you are not in control of what you produce, how you produce it, etc. do you have rights? No! You are a slave. This means that if property rights are non-existent, it simply means that some (who?) have the "right" to the products and efforts of the others (again, who?). Of course this is not a right in the true meaning of the word.

What is to be banned in this moral society you ask; nothing, besides that which infringes on another individual’s rights. How does this infringement occur; only by the initiation of physical force or through the use of deception and/or fraud.

Did Microsoft defraud anyone by packaging Windows Media Player with Windows XP? Did they force their product onto computer distributors? Did they physically harass others in their field? No! They simple developed a product and attempted to sell it. They entered into voluntary agreement with computer manufacturers to package in Windows XP which includes Windows Media Player. To tell Microsoft that this activity is illegal, is to tell them that they are not allowed to enter into voluntary agreements (thus leaving only non-voluntary agreements dictated by the government). This my friends, is what you would call Statism.

Now that the anti trust enforcers’ moral case has been defeated, let’s look at the economic case. Did Microsoft's actions cause the market to stagnate; of course not. People choose to buy the Microsoft products. This would indicate that they are better than the competitions (Real Networks, etc.). But by forcing Microsoft to give away their technologies to competitors means that Microsoft has no motivation to be innovative. Why spend time and money to develop something when it will be forcefully given away to lesser companies that did not spend said time and said money? What’s the effect? The leading producer will simply not produce anymore (and Microsoft is the leading producer aren't they, or else this anti trust case would be directed against someone else).

And to wrap it up, let’s try to apply this "logic" to anything else. Many restaurants have "special recipes". These are kept secret from their competitors. Why shouldn't the government "level the playing field" and force said restaurants to publish these secret recipes to every one who does not have the culinary talent to produce a dish of high quality? Or printers for example. Mine came with a color cartridge in the box. I mean, that’s outrageous! Think of all the other printer cartridge producers who can't have their cartridge inside this printer. I demand that the government, by force, make HP release an Ink-Jet N. I mean, it’s only "fair". And cars, I mean, you have no choice which seat Honda puts in your car, what about the other seat manufacturers? Think of them. I demand a Honda Accord N, without the pre-installed seats that "restrain trade". Now do you see the illogic of the European Union's argument? Morally it’s evil, setting back the standard of living of everyone and depriving everyone of property rights. And economically it’s equally insane, massively stifling progress.

People have a right to what they produce, they should not be forced nor should they be willing to sacrifice themselves for lesser competitors. Period.