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Tuesday
Mar252008

If I can't get it legally is it OK to steal it?

I love getting these sorts of e-mails:

I have a 9-year-old who is utterly hell-bent on defining himself as a "Super Mega Nerd," and naturally, I am attempting to integrate digital rights and ethics into his brain now, rather than in a few years when the FBI comes knocking at the door.

Here's my problem --

Music.

Specifically video game music, and various niche-market televisions themes.ringtones.jpg

Some video game studios release accompanying soundtracks, but usually for very high budget games, such as the
Halo trilogy, Gears of War, etc.  Some TV shows release soundtracks, or the occasional single MP3 or ringtone.

What do you do about the games/shows that do not?

Case in point:  Microsoft's
MechAssault 2.  He owns the Papa Roach album with the theme song, "Getting Away with Murder," but wants additional music from the game.

Second case:  He wants the
Torchwood theme as a ringtone on his phone, but it is available only in the UK as a 3£ download, as a direct download to your phone to prove you are only in the UK.

My issue isn't in cost -- it is in availability.  He is having trouble with the idea that he cannot simply rip the files because it isn't ethical despite the fact that an "official" version is not available.

This is an interesting question. First, let me tell you that I am not a lawyer so any advice I give should be verified. Maybe twice.

I posed this question to my 22-year-old son who is not a lawyer either, but who is a video game fan and works in a large video game retail store. This was his reply:

As for the game music, if you already own the game you already own the game soundtrack. Therefore if you download ripped files on your computer it's just fine. This is the legal loophole a lot of websites use to get away with emulators, roms, and other files. Like this one called Kingdom Hearts Insider. http://downloads.khinsider.com/ They have virtually every game soundtrack known to man.

As for the TV shows and foreign music, they sell imported albums on Amazon and Ebay. I'm not sure of any other sites or the legal/ethical issues behind downloading these.

OK, that’s a Net Genner's view (who is thoughtful and knowledgeable). Here is my take:

In general, when it comes to intellectual property, a difficult concept for most people, especially younger ones, is that the creator does have the right to control the use of his product. He does not have an obligation to sell it or make it available for use if he chooses not to. If I make a chair and even let you look at my chair, there is nothing that requires me sell you my chair, a copy of my chair or the design plans for my chair. I can legally stop you from making a copy of my chair if the design has been copyright/trademark protected, I believe.

As far as I am concerned, if the music is not on the owned game disk itself or available commercially, acquiring and using it would be illegal and certainly unethical. And we can’t always get what we want. (Hey, that would make a great song lyric!) Not a bad lesson to learn at an early age.

I have no idea if converting a legally owned mp3 file to a ringtone is legal or not. But I am guess not, since it is changing format. I hope there are other Blue Skunk readers more knowledgeable than I about this issue.

Having said that, we need some perspective here as well. As a boy, on more than one occasion I stole apples and watermelons from neighboring farmers. Obviously illegal, but in the view of most rational people, more in the realm of mischief and youthful indiscretion than a grand theft punishable by a stint in juvie. Now had I stolen cars or television sets, the nature of the crime would have different – at least in my view. Where one draws the line as to what is serious and what is mischievous varies by individual. Dollar amounts do figure in, I believe, when it comes to determining legally the degree of a crime.

As a parent, I tended to turn a blind eye to the personal use of music of dubious provenance by my son. I did draw the line at having any computer in my house used as site whereby others could obtain illegal music via a peer-to-peer network.

Readers? A better response for this conscientious mom?

Monday
Mar242008

The Grandpa assignment

Last weekend I received this from my grandson Paul who is in first grade:

grandpasm.jpg

Here is the response I would like to write, but the LWW doesn't think it is such a hot idea:

Dear Grandson Paul,

When I was your age, I was a pioneer child on the prairie in the wilds of northwest Iowa. All 13 of my brothers, all 12 of my sisters, my mom and dad, two second cousins and I lived in the little log cabin that is still in the city park. There are now only me, your great-aunt Becky and great-uncle Jeff left of all my brothers and sisters. Two were carried away in a flood, four were adopted by wolves, a tornado carried away three, a band of robbers captured four, giant rattlesnakes scared away five, one went missing in a blizzard, a great golden eagle swooped down and flew off with one, and we think one just got left someplace and nobody remembers where. We are looking for some of my brothers and sisters to this day. It was a hard life when I was a little boy growing up on the prairie. Most parents always had a few extra children - just to have some spares.

We were very, very poor when I was your age. Instead of toys, we only had sticks and dirt clods to play with. The rich kids in the neighborhood had rocks too, but we didn't. Grandma made all our clothes out of tree bark and animal skins - and not very fresh ones, either. We mostly ate mush, field corn and bullheads for supper. For Christmas, sometimes we got a raisin in our stocking. And were we excited! Breakfast and lunch usually were just the berries we could find in the woods. We had to fight over them with the bears. Our TV set only had 13 channels and color was not yet invented. In fact, the entire world was in black and white except for part of the movie The Wizard of Oz.

Most of the time we just worked. It was my job to gather eggs from the pigs. Pig eggs are very hard to find and sometimes the pigs got grumpy when they were nesting. You had to be careful or you might get bitten. My sister Lefty, had that happen to her. We tied a rope from the cabin to the barn door so we could follow it during dust storms. Once we had a dust storm that lasted so long we planted potatoes in the air around the cabin. When we harvested the spuds, they were already mashed. Yummmm!

I did get to go to school every other year from ages 5 to 27. Like most children, I had to walk to school, five miles each way and both directions were uphill. My teacher was very nice, but very busy with the 837 children in our one room school. Each of us had a laptop computer, however, and when the teacher was busy with other children, we surfed the Internet. I actually got to talk to Miss Snippet (my teacher) twice while I was in school. Both times she told me I was doing a good job. Our library only had seven books and it took a long time to get one to read at home. It was harder to learn to read when I was a little boy since the letters m and r had not yet been invented. They had just discovered the number 7 when I was in 3rd grade so I had to learn my number facts twice.

But I was happy growing up since I knew one day I would be a grandpa and have a wonderful grandson like you. And that's a fact.

Love,

The Grandpa who lives on the lake 

Friday
Mar212008

Print encyclopedias - RIP

From the New York Times "Start Writing the Eulogies for Print Encyclopedias," March 16, 2008:

A series of announcements from publishers across the globe in the last few weeks suggests that the long migration to the Internet has picked up pace, and that ahead of other books, magazines and even newspapers, the classic multivolume encyclopedia is well on its way to becoming the first casualty in the end of print.

worldbook.jpgWhat, first no Readers Guide to Periodical Literature, and now no print encyclopedia? The world is definitely going to hell in a handbasket. (Official slogan of the 50+ club.)

I do have to say that I read this article with a twinge of sadness. As a kid, I remember spending many hours reading the two battered sets of encyclopedias in our home. (Yes, children, by lamplight.)  I particuarly liked the plastic sheets displaying human anatomy in one of the volumes, as I recall.

Will my grandson's will have the same fond memories of Worldbook Online?