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March 13, 2006

Astounding new piece from PFF

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Our friends at the Progress and Freedom Foundation (PFF), with whom we frequently agree, have just put out an astounding piece called "Parasitic Technologies and Noncreative Destruction."

Here's a link to Jim Delong's praise of the piece
Here's the link to the PDF (only, it appears):

The author, Stan Liebowitz, with whom I also frequently agree, characterizes a technology that allows consumers to avoid or skip commercials as a parasitic technology that destroys property rights. He also compares technology that allows one to avoid commercials to technology that allows one to steal intellectual property, like file-sharing software in the mode of Grokster.

I find the comparison astonishing, and the distinction between so-called "parasitic" and "productive" technologies arrogant.

It is not theft to avoid a commercial. If I mute the sound during a commercial, or leave the room during a commercial, what have I stolen? Absolutely nothing. Only if you assume that an advertiser has a property right to a consumer does that logic hold.

Sounds silly, I know, but Leibowitz thinks this. He states it. He states toward the end that the "broadcaster/advertiser" has a "'property right' to the audience-contact that otherwise would have been made."

Possible avoidance of advertising, or resistance to advertising, is a risk inherent in an advertising-based business model. Technology that makes it easier to avoid or resist advertising presents challenges and adds risks to a BUSINESS MODEL, but does not violate PROPERTY RIGHTS. It's a distinction that Leibowitz (and apparently PFF) have missed.

Yes, for the record, I know that positions taken in papers do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the organization. And, as I said, we at IPI like the work of PFF, and almost always agree with them on issues. I just find this piece surprisingly confused. If an author presented something like this to IPI for publication, we'd put him through the logical ringer and challenge him on stuff like this.

He then goes on to characterize digital terrestrial radio and satellite radio as parasitic technologies. And he barely lets HD TV off from that label as well.

We do property rights no favor when we conflate property rights with other things. This argument actually confuses and weakens property rights arguments, rather than strengthening them.

Now, it is possible to steal from a broadcaster. If you steal their signal and then rebroadcast it, that is theft of property rights. But avoiding their commercials is resistance to marketing, not theft of property.

And HD Radio and satellite radio obviously pose some challenges. But to characterize them as "parasitic technologies"? Give me a break.

While I'm criticizing a piece from PFF, I should hasten to note and praise another piece recently released by PFF written by Tony Healy, who is a research fellow with IPI. Here's a link to "GPLv3 and Web Business: Is the Free Software Foundation Getting Tricky?"

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