[permaculture] It's free on the web/ was question about PCDcourseprices

Chad Knepp pyg at galatea.org
Mon Sep 13 22:24:39 EDT 2004

Toby Hemenway writes:
 > On 9/10/04 4:50 AM, "neotern-1 at yahoo.com" <neotern-1 at yahoo.com> wrote:
 > > I agree that one should not loose money passing the
 > > information (costs must be shared by everyone), but
 > > can't see why one should gain money either in this
 > > way.
 > How can you pass information without there being some cost? And why is it so
 > bad if some of that cost is money, or if the information passer decides they
 > would like to be paid in money? If the "passer" sets too high a price, no
 > one will buy, and they'll learn to be reasonable. If they're just
 > photocopying easily available work, they can't charge much, although even
 > the work involved in copying and posting on a web site is worth something,
 > yes? It's not free.
 > Stewart Brand says he regrets ever having said "information wants to be
 > free," since it's become the justification for piracy and theft. Basic
 > physics (information theory) says information is not free: there is an
 > energetic cost for assembling a coherent message, a cost for preserving it
 > from corruption, plus transmission and equipment costs. Cost decline with
 > more users, but they never go away.
 > To put that in human terms: Writing and posting an article on my web site,
 > even if I'm just rehashing someone else's ideas, takes my time and energy,
 > the cost of my years of experience, plus a bit of cash to my web host, some
 > of my computer's cost, ISP, phone co., etc. So it's not free. I do it
 > because I want the information to be out there, but also because I hope
 > someone might notice my book or go to one of my workshops, which in turn
 > will give me the cash to pay my mortgage so I can then write more articles
 > in my home office. I could, I realize, live further down the food
 > chain--live in a squat and do my writing at the library, etc, but who's
 > funding the library? Why should the other taxpayers support me? I'd rather
 > live in a way that allows me to see and pay for as much of the true cost of
 > my own lifestyle, rather than sucking resources out others as though they
 > owed me; they don't. A resource is like right-of-way: it is offered, not
 > forced out of someone. That would be called theft, yes?
 > If someone wants to Xerox part of my book, it's illegal but it's fine with
 > me. I want the info out there (but please credit me; that's how you can pay
 > me back). If someone can't afford the book, go ahead and Xerox the whole
 > thing (though if you are stealing your employer's photocopier, where are the
 > ethics in that?). But if wholesale piracy meant that I didn't receive much
 > compensation for the 6 months of research, year of writing, months of
 > editing and design, and weeks of book tours, I would never write another
 > book again--I couldn't afford to. So there'd be a lot less information out
 > there if too many people regarded it as "free," meaning they just take it
 > without offering a quid pro quo. Most creators can't afford to create
 > without some sort of return. (Copyright law was enacted to give creators a
 > monopoly on their work so they would be rewarded and go on creating; read
 > the legal decisions.)
 > Why would anyone ever think they don't need to pay for something they
 > receive? What entitles them to freeload? Where is the possible logic or
 > social justice in "I think X should be free"? Will someone explain that one
 > to me?

Determining the value of intellectual property is difficult in that
there are many interelated and overlapping issues here.  One of the
primary ones is the cost of creating intellectual property and the
cost of distributing it; the confusion occurring when as a cost they
are grouped together.

The cost of creating intellectual property is a real cost and is
certainly worth rewarding if our society expects to support the
continuation of such an endeavor.  Objective valuation of of IP has
become somewhat distorted in western culture with a highly variable
reward system valuing entertainment above most other intellectual
pursuits (if they can be grouped together).  Even in art/entertainment
some work of value goes comparatively under-rewarded simply because it
doesn't catch the eye of mainstream.

The cost of the dissemination of information can vary, but is almost
always a fraction of the cost of creation.  In some cases the cost of
distribution is very close to zero, especially in the distribution of
electronic media where creating a digital copy of something is mere
keystrokes of effort.  I think many arguments necessitating the
freedom of infomation are based on this and ignore (to great expense)
the cost of creation.

For me the problem is that the current system rewards the creation of
intellectual property by overcharging for the packaging and
distribution.  A music CD at the store in quantity costs less than $1
to make but sells for $12-$18, with only a small portion of the
over-manufacturing costs going to the artist.  Obviously something is
seriously wrong here, but I don't think the solution is piracy.  I
have some ideas on how to change this but they are not fully formed
and the my intitial stammering would only take up a lot of
space... blah, blah, blah, something about 'fair trade' coffee,
wikipedia.org, etc. ;-)

In summary, I think part of the direction of this thread has been a
question of whether or not PCD courses accurately reflect the cost of
the dissemination of the information with a subtext that the high
costs may be exclusionary.  There has not been as much discussion that
cost of creation of the IP in question plays a significant role in the
cost of the courses.  Personally I think that high costs are
exclusionary whether or not they reflect actual costs, but I
acknowledge that there is only so much any one person can do.

The way I self-typify my attitude toward the sharing of information is
highly similar to that of a religious advocate/zealot.  I want people
to know about permaculture for the exact same reason that those two
young, clean shaven men in suits where knocking on your door last
month.  We both believe that we have something to tell you that will
make your life better and the world a better place.  I think most
permaculturalists feel similarly and are into PC for
moral/ecological/quality of life reasons, not monetary gain.

Toby: I really appreciate the informal statement of copyleft of your
book.  I realize that merely attributing the work to you doesn't
compensate for your exertion monetarily and I'm sorry I don't have a
good solution to this but I really appreciate that you care more about
sharing your ideas than getting paid for every page view.  I also
appreciate all the folks who chimed in on their efforts to facilitate
low cost workshops.  As a group, I think we are closer to evangelists
than entrepreneurs.

 > <snip>

Chad Knepp
perl -e 'print pack"H*","7079674067616c617465612e6f72670a"'

More information about the permaculture mailing list