Wednesday, September 13, 2006

comments on orderly global economies and intellectual property

Update: David (of Simulation Weblog) has weighed in on this with some really good points. Read the comments of this post for more -- & Librarians take note:

"...Sometimes growth comes from efficiency. (Look how EBay recycles junk! or - sorry! - how Google cuts down on the number of trips we have to make to reference libraries). What if we applied modern database/ surveillance/ simulation techniques to road traffic management instead of surveillance, for instance - how much gasoline, time and lives might this save?"












The conversation continues...

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In response to this post (link), Sven Johnson had plenty to say. It was worth posting as a new entry.
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csven said...

I disagree with the words, but agree with the idea. In today's world I'd use:

"Respecting intellectual property is a cornerstone of an orderly global economy"

There is no protection. Not from hackers and not from corporate corruption. Rather than fight corporate greed by trying to break DRM which protects their precious media, I say people should ignore their product altogether. Much of what's being fought over is a luxury. No one needs the latest Britney Spears mp3. No one needs to watch whatever movie they can download from Pirate Bay. Worse yet, there is still greed behind those activities. Whether it's a Russian website selling lower cost music (bc they have almost no overhead and a giant legal loophool) or whether it's Pirate Bay raking in bushels of ad money (which they don't like to talk about), someone is getting rich. And you can be sure a fair amount of that dirty money isn't going to social programs to feed the poor or organizations trying to stop the AIDs epidemic in Africa. It's most likely just going into some other corrupt person's bank account.

The best way to react imo is to a) buy the offerings of truly independent artists and b) respect their work by giving them control over it's distribution. Don't do it because it's the moral or ethical thing to do; that removes pragmatism, and I'm very pragmatic. Do it because our collective behavior will either help us or harm us in the years to come. Because just in the way cheap goods purchased by the working class sent their jobs to low-wage countries, the day will come when all things will be pirated as easily as an mp3. And the effects of that technology rippling through our social systems faster than we adjust to accomodate them will result in economic chaos. Something is going to rip if we're not more thoughtful.

Because I don't believe people can stop themselves, and because I believe selfishness trumps, I expect that we'll see some very difficult times ahead. The cornerstone will, in effect, crumble. How or even whether we reinforce or replace it is the real question in my mind.



Woody Evans said...

If we accept that disrespecting intellectual property really amounts to theiving, I have to ask: why is stealing a threat to the global economy?

Using strong arm tactics to gain rights (by way of legal loopholes, like you mention they do in Russia), doesn't seem so different from bending international treaties to invade a country for its resources (or whatever other reasons). These moves can destablize the system in the short term, but WHY do they threaten the longterm stability of the system?

Morality aside, how is theft bad for the global economy?


csven said...

If there's no incentive, progress slows. If nobody respects the inventiveness of creators, then the creators won't invest the energy. That's the lesson of the Soviet Union afaic.

Assume for a moment that you've spent three years developing something. You've sacrificed for this creation; not just time and money but perhaps a marriage. And your reward? Someone takes your work and claims it as their own and profits from it. And you have no recourse because that theft is acceptable to society; society approves of the tricksters and the bullies.

Do we really want social Darwinism? Do we really want to remove the protections that intellectual property laws are supposed to provide?

The United States is the powerhouse it is today because of those laws. Unfortunately, they've become corrupted. The solution is not to wrestle product from the corporations, because there are ways to profit from that attention. The solution is to remove those politicians who votes are being effectively bought by corporations. The solution is to stop giving any attention to the products offered by those corporations. Ignore them. Entirely.

The opposite of love isn't hate - it's apathy toward the individual.

The opposite of IP corruption isn't cracking DRM - it's apathy toward the product.

There's a very good reason so much money is spent on advertising. We should not underestimate the power of turning our backs on companies and their offerings. Apple is a good example. I don't own an iPod. I don't purchase my music through iTunes. The reason I don't is because I don't like the restrictions. So I ignore their product. What's baffling is seeing a bunch of iPod owners angry over the DRM. Huh? Like they didn't know this going in? And they're angry with Apple because they purchased something which clearly limited their options? I think it's idiotic. Nobody forced them to purchase this luxury product. What happened to taking responsibility for our own actions? They shouldn't blame Apple, they should kick themselves for giving Apple the market. Apple's dominance is a result of their attention and nothing else.

Now, I'll agree that there are times when IP laws should be set aside. South Africa and Brazil weighed those laws against the AIDs situation in their countries and took action. There's nothing wrong with this and afaic it was the right thing to do; there's a time when excess profit (and by no means were these companies in danger of going bankrupt) should be set aside for the common good in just the same way that IP laws are for the common good. But access to music, movies, software, etc is a long way from that situation. We live in a world where the privileged use the word "need" far too often. No one needs most of what's being taken. All we're doing is teaching younger generations a behavior that will have a dampening effect on the future.



Woody Evans said...

Okay, it makes much more sense when you put it like that. Respecting intellectual property keeps the innovators innovating. Without respecting their intellectual property the innovative lose an important carrot, feel undercut and cheated by the pirates...

The thing is, as important as it is to fairly reward innovation and to keep encouraging it with law and money, I don't necessarily agree with the assumption that innovation will decline if piracy goes up.

I think need is what drives innovation, not the promise of legal rights or recognition, or financial reward. I think 1.3 billion Chinese hack innovations from Korea, Japan, and the West because they have a need -- imagined or not -- for those goods and goodies. Obviously if we're talking about breaking a patent on a water filter, it's a much stronger and more 'real' need than digicamming a blockbuster in the theatre and selling burned discs of it... Certainly there exists wildly different levels of "need" in the world, and the attempt to solve probelms that comes from that need can be as simple as selling copied movies, or as horrifying and selfish as the common folk remedy for male AIDs victims in rural Africa -- which amounts to incest and rape of minors in the belief that sex with a virgin heals the disease.

What you said (csven) about times when i.p. laws should be set aside for the greater good -- maybe the way forward is to create a more lenient legal evironment in the first place. A Creative Commons for patents?


csven said...

"I think need is what drives innovation, not the promise of legal rights or recognition, or financial reward."

Then how do you explain the economic disaster in the former U.S.S.R.?

My mother is German. When the wall fell she heard quite a bit from friends back home about how difficult it was for the former East Germans to adapt to a society in which they couldn't simply walk away from the jobsite when they felt like it. If they ran out of bricks to lay and the truck wasn't there with more to unload, they didn't wait... they bailed. They had no incentive to wait for more and no initiative to determine when they might be needed. Their basic needs were usually met and so innovation crawled forward. They had no experience with the products being developed in the West, so they didn't perceive a need for them. And when they desired something, they could find that item on the blackmarket - which is where organized crime incubated until the system collapsed.

"I think 1.3 billion Chinese hack innovations from Korea, Japan, and the West because they have a need -- imagined or not -- for those goods and goodies."

I don't know if you've been keeping up, but the Chinese are becoming increasingly concerned with the effects piracy is having on their own development. Chinese software companies are often hit so hard they can't stay in business. If there's nothing to be gained, they don't even try. They're now trying to use the same means as companies like Valve and MS to ensure that their fellow countrymen don't put them out on the street. But we all know that software verification systems can be circumvented.

The Chinese are now reaping what Communism has sown: people don't think piracy is wrong. How is China going to stop it now when it's so firmly a part of their culture? How do you convince a billion people to change their habit and pay for what they can get for free? Is the Chairman going to make an argument for Capitalist innovation where people are rewarded for their ideas??? If not, he needs to. Otherwise China is in real trouble. The world is leveling. Labor is making demands. Salaries are rising along with lifestyles and expectations - and much of it is based on old industrial technology. Meanwhile, those smart Europeans are pushing new rapid-manufacturing solutions forward (the kind of thing you get from a system that rewards innovation) and in the not-too-distant future products made in China will be more expensive and less attractive than those which are RM'd at home.

"Certainly there exists wildly different levels of "need" in the world,..."

I disagree. People only need a few things; among them are food, shelter, safety. No one needs what Pirate Bay offers. No one needs Apple to change their business model to give them unlimited use of the content tied to their devices. All those protestors should be protesting real issues - like this one: Blood Diamonds.

We need to get our priorities straight. Music and movies aren't anywhere near being a priority.

...maybe the way forward is to create a more lenient legal evironment in the first place. A Creative Commons for patents?

I've been arguing for this since before Napster (because I was aware of MPEG Layer 3 almost immediately - being a filmmaking buff, I was following its development). I downloaded some music back when a search for "mp3" yielded maybe 30 returns. But it didn't take me long to realize that we had some serious problems. And the patent issues I've known about for much longer, given my occupation.

Yes, we need to fix the system. I've never defended corporate activity in this arena. But I also won't yield to those who take a militant approach; mainly, because it doesn't work. The way to fix this is to use the power we have: with our votes and with our pocketbook. But the sad truth is that people are lazy. Far easier to download whatever you want and excuse it (often with outright lies) than make a real effort to fix the system.


csven said...

"...with our pocketbook"

Correction: with our attention (because that's how corporations can still leverage what people steal).



Woody Evans said...

"Yes, we need to fix the system. I've never defended corporate activity in this arena. But I also won't yield to those who take a militant approach; mainly, because it doesn't work. The way to fix this is to use the power we have: with our votes and with our pocketbook. But the sad truth is that people are lazy. Far easier to download whatever you want and excuse it (often with outright lies) than make a real effort to fix the system."

Now you've got me worried. If the issue is as serious as it seems to be and the only thing that can change it is political will, things look pretty damn bleak.


csven said...

Agreed. Because now boycotting (or stealing from) a company may not be enough. In today's technological world, attention has value. I can't imagine that some piece of music hasn't already been sold for advertising purposes that didn't include as part of its valuation the number of illegal downloads that the music label has tracked.

So even if people think they're hurting the labels, they may not be. This is where the whole "I wouldn't buy it anyway" turns around and bites the pirates in the arse - because one could then say "Well, you still put money in their pocket. Nice job keeping the greedy suits in control."


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Further comments are welcome.
And if you don't know Sven, you ought to.

10 comments:

David U said...

Carbonated soft drinks are another good example (CocaCola, PepsiCola, etc.) British schools are now being discouraged from selling them or allowing vending machines on the premises. When you think about it, these are completely pointless products: they quench thirst less than water does, and they contain sugar which has harmful effects. But the manufacturers protect their 'secret' formulae and charge premium prices for what is effectively just water. They are sold largely with image advertising: if you drink it, you'll be happy/ cool/ etc like these people are. They've become habits. Hopefully we'll soon have a generation of children who don't like them, and they'll fade away.

Actually, though, on the piracy point, the problem is that even if I knew the Coke formula it wouldn't help me. Even if I could legally market something as 'identical to Coke' at half the price, I need the sales and distribution network to get it on the supermarket shelves. Look at the problems in distributing new computer games - see Greg Costikyan's comments on his Manifesto Games site, for example.

I'm not sure where this takes us, except that we need to change the way we think, and then everything else will follow. That's why the open source revolution and all it brings with it will help, though not overnight. Once we come to expect software to be open-source, even Microsoft has to follow.

Woody Evans said...

David,

I wonder about this kind of model:

copy left --> quick fabrication --> everyware marketing --> copy left

When we start with a legal environment that is lenient and fosters innovation, mightn't it lead to more kinds of goods produced more quickly for more kinds of consumers if the right technology is in place? And that would strengthen the whole system, shoring up the copy-left and open-source attitudes that make it all possible. This thing already is jump-started.

But if we're not careful, this will swell our global consumer culture to a point of no return. Exacerbate ecological devastation, and so on. It's gotta be sustainable -- and that's why it's gotta get spimey quick.

csven said...

"Actually, though, on the piracy point, the problem is that even if I knew the Coke formula it wouldn't help me. Even if I could legally market something as 'identical to Coke' at half the price, I need the sales and distribution network to get it on the supermarket shelves."

It might not help you, but it might very well help others; especially a collective. The problem for a company like Coca-Cola in this example is that while an individual isn't likely to match their distribution network, a few thousand regionally-based, net-connected entrepreneurs could compete. Additionally, they may not directly compete with Coca-Cola. Why bother? They could sell the ingrediants and let people mix their own. You'd have people submitting their own variations of Coke; one from India might remind someone of chai while another from (what's left of) New Orleans might have a spicey kick to it. Open source Coke.

There are of course many hurdles to overcome (most of them probably being erected by the Food & Drug Administration), but something like that could happen.

The future of product, imo, is in the components - not the finished good. Same is true of hardware (as opposed to a consumable). As rapid manufacturing machines migrate to small shops and homes, it's the recipe (3D file and assembly instructions) and the raw material that are important. The 3D information can be pirated. The raw materials (metal powders, plastic pellets, aso) become the new gold. In some ways, we'll see a world of sugar (for what I mean there, I'd suggest reading up on the history of sugar and how it is currently controlled).

If you stop to think about it, printing used to be, more-or-less, a manufacturing operation. Now look at it: a RM device (aka "inkjet"), raw materials (ink cartridges and paper), and an operator station (the PC).

As for open source, there are plenty of IP-protected business models woven into the current open source fabric. We shouldn't get overly gung-ho; creative people can still game that system. If it's not some company developing closed plug-ins for their (much fanfare here) open source app that doesn't really offer all that many features, then it's another one providing an advertising-based variant with those "gotta have" features. In the end, I suspect the ad-based systems will survive... and they'll be advertising sugar. It's hard to pirate raw material.

csven said...

"When we start with a legal environment that is lenient and fosters innovation, mightn't it lead to more kinds of goods produced more quickly for more kinds of consumers if the right technology is in place?"

I don't know if "lenient" is the word. I prefer we simply roll back the IP laws to where they were before corporate hands stuck their fingers into the laws. Maybe build from that in an intelligent fashion. For example, the whole patenting of business ideas is a joke to me since I don't consider coming up with a business idea to be on the same level as developing a drug to cure cancer. The reason for creating IP laws was to ensure someone recouped their investment; there's little real investment in coming up with a business idea.

The system is broken and it needs to be repaired. And if there are any more back room legal writers being promised industry jobs for adding verbage into amendments on unrelated bills, they should be prosecuted.

"...if the right technology is in place?"

But as you started to mention, what IS the right technology? Do we really want to encourage consumption without a clear idea of how to implement a sustainable system. Will tracking product be enough if people don't use the system (and there might be many reason for it not being used)?

I'd rather we adjust our thinking first. And that is the biggest problem I have with today's attitudes wrt piracy: it fuel's the "need" and "deserve" mentality that spurs mindless consumption. Turn on your television and watch for those words... I hear them everywhere. We've created our own form of societal cancer. And it's in the form of an addictive drug. It doesn't get much worse afaic.

david u said...

On a point of fact, 'Coke' clones are already produced in large numbers - eg Virgin Coke in the UK. (Not sure if it's still around). They taste pretty much the same, I imagine, even if they don't have exactly the secret formula. What they never had (even though Virgin is a pretty large group) is the marketing power to get on to supermarket shelves.

Put it another way: Linux is much the same as Windows. MySQL as SQL Server. OpenOffice as Office. PHP as .asp or .net or whatever it is this year. All are free; the MS equivalents are expensive to buy and maintain. So why do people still buy Microsoft products?

Well, my company (an SME) uses them beccause our clients do and we have to be compatible. Our clients (multinationals mostly) use them because they beleive that Microsoft is somehow more 'safe' or 'proper' than some sort of geeky open source code.

I'm not sure that IP really matters quite as much as situational power: being there at the right time with enough money and positioning to back you up. (Try to get a book published. Then try to get the same book published, but written by a sporting hero.)

What really disorders our economies is disordered perception of where real value lies, partly because of our own reluctance to think for ourselves, partly created by advertising. Open source is good because it allows people think for themselves. (I use PHP because I like it. Nobody advertised it to me.)

Woody, I'm not sure that proper economic growth would swell our culture to the point of no return. Sometimes growth comes from efficiency. (Look how EBay recycles junk! or - sorry! - how Google cuts down on the number of trips we have to make to reference libraries). What if we applied modern database/ surveillance/ simulation techniques to road traffic management instead of surveillance, for instance - how much gasoline, time and lives might this save?

csven said...

I don't think anyone is saying open source is bad. On the contrary, not only is it good it's inevitable afaic. The issue, as I see it, isn't in whether we transition, but in how we transition. How do we go from a relatively old, protected "corporate" economic model to a new one in which both power and responsibility fall to the individual? One need only look at the current debt level of most Americans to get a sense that responsibility isn't our strong suit. And let's not get into the pathetic voting practices in our *cough* freedom-loving country.

So for me it's not really whether it should or should not happen; it's how it happens. And those who casually encourage illegal behavior instead of advocating methods legally available to the public, don't seem to me to understand that it's not about a piece of music or software, but about a learned pattern of behavior that could have serious consequences under other circumstances. I can only imagine the possibilities - especially when we start looking at the medical and bioengineering fields. If we can already print organs... you get the idea.

Where are the ethical lines drawn and from what perspective are they viewed? What's the difference between pirating a song and hacking into a database that contains the DNA code of a deceased president (JFK clone anyone)? The slope gets slippery pretty fast if one starts looking at the technological horizon.

As to Coke knock-offs, I've had my share as well over the years. And yes, they do exist and have existed for decades (although they never seem to taste quite right which is why Coca-Cola doesn't divulge the formula). And it's also not illegal since, of course, Coca-Cola never patented the formula. The problem is that those companies were still playing by an old set of rules; trying to match volume and capacity to overhead costs and investor payback. What I envisage is something very different. It's more like the people busted today for cranking out illegal CD/DVDs in NYC. With someone else's IP and a little hardware, raw material and effort, someone was making some serious money. Instead of disks they could have been selling Coca-Cola. But like all good businesses, they went after the ROI.

David U said...

dunno, CSven, there was a time when the worst problem for British authors was illegal reprints in the USA, where copyright laws didn't apply. (I'm talking about Dickens.) But Dickens survived, and I stll think distribution is one key. After all, to buy a pirate DVD I need to meet someone in a pub or a street market, I can't do it in local shops. (I assume - I've never done it.)

It's too easy to assume that becasue something can be done (in a technological sense) it will be done. But look at supersonic air travel: Concorde no longer flies. No-one's been to the moon for a long time, even though we could do it much better nowadays. The reason is economic, not technical: we just don't want to pay the price right now. Cloning JFK is an awful thought, but seriously, what would you do with one?

I agree about the ethics point. Most people here and in the USA are honest and decent. A few aren't and never will be. (Look at the response to Katrina - massive generosity marred by some very nasty crime.) But I don't see what one can do about this. It's true that digital technology makes copying things easier, but then it offers the option of catching criminals more easily as well.

What does annoy me is companies like M****s**t and C***C*** who artificially ramp up the value of their IP, so most of us feel that stealing from them isn't really cheating. (Making that second copy of MS Word for your laptop...?) Once formed, this attitude also affects the SME or individual whose IP is far more honestly built up, and far more critical to his/ her survival.

csven said...

"there was a time when the worst problem for British authors was illegal reprints in the USA, where copyright laws didn't apply. (I'm talking about Dickens.) But Dickens survived, and I stll think distribution is one key."

I'm aware of how the U.S. treated IP back then. However, the reasoning - if I recall correctly - was that these were being copied for the purpose of educating the population. Even today that's still mostly legal activity within the realm of copyright.

But Dickens survived (and perhaps thrived) by virtue of the fact that distribution was very much an issue. Printing books used to be not all that much different than manufacturing any other product; we've simply converted text to digital and put the printing press on the desktop. We'll have 3D printers in the home in the next one hundred years.

""After all, to buy a pirate DVD I need to meet someone in a pub or a street market, I can't do it in local shops. (I assume - I've never done it.)"

In larger cities it's easy to acquire them on streetcorners. In China it's everywhere. You don't have to look for it - the vendors will approach you.

"It's too easy to assume that becasue something can be done (in a technological sense) it will be done."

I make no such assumption. I do however assign liklihoods that make sense to me.

"Cloning JFK is an awful thought, but seriously, what would you do with one?"

I don't have one, but I suspect someone could find a use. Some possibilities:

- company representative/spokesperson
- pron star
- the prestige of having done it
- wacko cults cloning their saints

"I agree about the ethics point. Most people here and in the USA are honest and decent."

I don't really take a moral stand on this. I'm a pragmatist. I don't care about corporate IP; I care about an environment which is conducive to creativity. I want more music. I want more art. I want more diversity. I see pirating behavior adversely affecting those things. And while some people are deliberate, many simply don't understand. They don't know the laws and they don't connect to how those laws impact them and their lives. I suspect much of this is because more and more in the West we think in terms of hours, days and weeks. Short-term gain. We don't seem to think long-term.

Similarly, it's rare for corporations to take Patagonia's position on sustainability (those companies need a ROI in three years and so don't follow Patagonia's lead which is more fiscally sound but over a longer period of time). It's increasingly rare for Americans to plan for old age and set aside the funds they need. Our rate of savings is abysmal.

Case in point: Detroit. The car companies didn't take a long-term view. They were sucking in profits by selling SUVs that sucked down fuel. The Japanese were much more deliberate and cautious. I remember seeing Honda's CRV in Japan before it came to the U.S. and wondering why they waited. I've no doubt they had a long-term plan. And as country so dependent on others for raw materials, it's not surprising to me. Any wonder the Japanese are better savers?

"It's true that digital technology makes copying things easier, but then it offers the option of catching criminals more easily as well."

I'm unsure what your point is. If it's pedophiles, sure. But then exploitation has increased with the technology. Is law enforcement able to keep up? I don't know, but I doubt it. There used to be a time when a law against distributing pirated content in the form of cassette tapes was sensible because it wasn't easy to reproduce and distribute. Do we really believe that such a law makes sense in a digital age when everyone can make perfect copies with the push of a button? I don't. The problem is too big for law enforcement. This is like prohibition: people want and they're going to get. My issue is in whether they realize what it is they're really doing. If gasoline for dirty old cars were free, we'd be living in an emissions soup.

"What does annoy me is companies like M****s**t and C***C*** who artificially ramp up the value of their IP, so most of us feel that stealing from them isn't really cheating. (Making that second copy of MS Word for your laptop...?)"

I understand, but I also abide by their contract. I have Office and would like to put it on two machines... but I don't. I licensed their software (which is what we really do when we "purchase" it), read the terms and agreed to them. I don't like it, but that's the contract. I didn't have to buy their product. Of course it would impact my business, so I weighed the value based on a business decision. However, I won't buy it again unless they change their license. There are other options. The thing is, at no time will I "cheat". Not because it's immoral, but because it's easy and short-term. By being inconvenienced (having Office on one machine), I actively look for options. So I'm using OpenOffice and will try others (like Writely). That's how we break MS's stranglehood: we support the competition as best we can... even if we are inconvenienced.

And that's where the masses fail. No one wants to be inconvenienced. The public behaves more like a child than an adult. "I want it now. Now. Now. Now." Sometimes it's best to wait until after dinner. When I think back to when I was writing my aerospace projects on a shared typewriter, I don't feel like my approach is all that much of a sacrifice.

Woody Evans said...

"I want more music. I want more art. I want more diversity. I see pirating behavior adversely affecting those things. And while some people are deliberate, many simply don't understand."

To me, this is the meat of the matter. People who want more art, more music, just take it -- so there are two issues here. The consumption issue and the creativity issue.

'Consumers' pirate because they want new tunes and all the better if it's free to them.

Creators sample like mad -- and well they should. "Good poets borrow, great poets steal."

So what we've got to do is change these industries so that sharing and "open" (open license, open architecture, open source; and copy-left) attitudes prevail and win us a climate where sampling is commonplace and credit is given (even if in a dis), AND consumer 'pirates' pay for the goods in non-traditional ways like advertisements.

Will this lead to a world of ambient advertisement? Maybe that's the price we have to pay.

The meat of the matter is: even pirating 'consumers' like to think they are on the right side, because they think "I want more music. I want more art. I want more diversity."

Clearing up our definitions would help.

csven said...

When I say I want "more", I mean "new more". People are currently gaining access not just to new content, but to old, Long Tail-dwelling content. So in this way, it has the appearance of being a bonanza and that, I think, helps people to justify their behavior. But the back catalog is finite. I'm looking to future content. And that's where mass behavior of this sort probably will have a dampening effect; and not just on one count. Today's creator's aren't just in the position of having control over their creation ripped from their grasp, they're also now competing with a huge back catalog of content. So while the opportunities for self-determination are finally starting to appear (e.g. MySpace), the landscape has grown much more difficult.

The bottom line is that this is not a simple issue and piracy is not the answer. This is a societal issue. It extends to educating people; to helping them connect the dots that go from their behavior to how it circles round and impacts them.

People need to view this subject the same way someone might view a decline in housing starts. It's more than just fewer houses being built; it ripples through the economy into seemingly obscure areas. We are interconnected on multiple levels. Piracy to me is like shoving spikes through our toes while sitting down for a manicure. Some day we're going to want to stand up.