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March 22, 2006

Thoughts on theft of service

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Some thoughts on this topic of theft of service that has been rekindled by Tim Lee's advocacy of leaving WiFi access points open . . .

When you subscribe to a service, such as Internet access from an ISP, or to cable TV service, or satellite TV service, or whatever, you are purchasing a SERVICE.

You aren't buying ONLY the programming from cable TV, and you aren't buying ONLY bandwidth from the ISP. You are buying a service from a company, and there is all sorts of overhead that comes along with that.

You are subscribing to the company's service and technical support. You are incurring billing and accounting costs. There is all sorts of overhead involved from the company's standpoint in having a customer. And your subscriber fee pays for not only the bandwidth, or cable programming, but also all the various and assorted costs of being a customer.

This idea that somehow it's okay to splice into a coax cable and steal cable TV, or to buy a pirate smart card to obtain satellite programming, or to steal bandwidth from your neighbor, because "no harm, no foul," is wrong. There IS harm. Companies have a right to be paid for the services they provide to customers, and to recover the costs of providing what they provide, including the cost of simply having customers. And they are harmed when someone pirates their service or content.

This anti-corporate, anti-profits, "no harm, no foul" mentality is not particularly surprising to me when it comes from anti-property, anti-corporate Lefties, or from neoMarxists like Richard Stallman, but it DOES surprise me coming from libertarians. I'm pretty sure their patron saint Ayn (THEIR patron saint, not mine) would believe in the corporation's right to be paid for their services, and its right to not have its products and services pirated.

There isn't anything from a moral or ethical angle that changes because the bits are being broadcast wirelessly. There is no difference between splicing into your neighbor's coax cable to obtain cable TV programming and stealing Internet access from your neighbor's WiFi access point.

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