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IP, You P, We All Want Some Free IP

By: on January 19, 2011 in Blogging

There’s been a bit of churn and unrest in the SQL community as of late, with some of it centered around things like  protecting blog content, sharing, and why people give back to the community (or why they choose not to) – see Aaron Bertrand’s post here as a good launching point. I’m going to use music again for an analogy.

Home Taping Is Killing Music (original BPI logo) Source: Wikipedia.

In the modern age of music where physical media is considered passe to many, there are clearly legal ways to obtain music wherever you live in the world. Some artists also choose to put free MP3s or clips on their websites or songs on social sites like Myspace (which has fallen on hard times as of late). Whether the artist is on a major label or independent, at the end of the day, their music is their intellectual property (IP). For that, artists can copyright their works and/or get a mechanical license to use a song if it is a cover to protect themselves.

Going back to the days of reel to reel and cassettes (some of you young’uns may not have ever seen or used ’em), the main concern from the RIAA and its brothers and sisters around the world has been has been piracy. It’s all about getting paid. If someone could take a source, record it to a cassette or easily copy it (such as those old dual well cassette decks), people could steal music. With MP3s (and other file formats; MP3 to me is like calling a Windows machine a PC even though it’s no longer really associated with IBM), torrent sites, etc., music piracy has reached a whole new fervor. Heck, the RIAA for awhile was suing people.

Now, what the listener has no clue about is what it cost to make and produce that music. It could have been done in their bedroom, a hotel room, or a real studio. Each has different costs, and at some point, that artist may (and most likely will) want to recoup that. If music is their full time job, there’s no question they would like to make some money on some music they produce. Some artists make most of their income from touring and merchandise if they’re big enough, but a $10 CD sold at a show for a smaller artist is important for them because the profit goes right back to them. And if you think you make a lot of money in music, even big artists who had a hit single or album often are in debt to record companies and rarely see a dime until all costs are recouped. There are many stories out there.

With cassettes, someone somewhere had to buy the product to start any kind of duplication. A lot of us made mix tapes back in the day for cars or your Walkman, significant others, etc. There was no malicious intent. I know I sometimes bought music based on that stuff.

Did some just copy albums and give them to friends? Sure, but even dubbing at 2x, cassettes were not the most convenient format to copy and if you were recording from LP, well, it was in real time. Fast forward to now. With the introduction of CDs and the ability for computers to copy them, all of a sudden copying got much easier. Then you had music files – not just CDs. Once a file leaks out, you get a bit-perfect copy of the original unless it has been altered (for example, converted from a lossless into a lossy format). It can be sent to a friend in a matter of seconds.

Here’s where the sides come in. I have known a few people over the years that accumulate music files. Size matters – the more the merrier. They probably stopped buying any music from even legitimate sites years ago. They’re not downloading it to sample it to see if they like it and then legitimately purchase it; they’re just getting it like it’s their right to grab it for free. They think it’s their right to just take it, 24×7, with no impunity. Any value has been stripped out.

Who benefits from this other than the person who has the file? No one who needs to. Look at the record companies. Now, I’m not saying they’re right in all of this equation as prices have remained fairly high on CDs even after eliminating the packaging they said was keeping costs up, and they have done enough stupid  business things over the years to put themselves in a difficult financial spot, but what’s the incentive for a label to pay an artist if they get nothing back? If the record company isn’t getting paid, the artists aren’t. For independents, it’s worse. If an up-and-coming artist sunk their life’s savings into making the perfect record and someone just throws it up on a torrent site, who gets hurt? The person who gets the file isn’t; +1 in the files column. However, it removes the incentive for those making the music to even do it unless it’s a hobby (and even then, it may kill it for them).

It’s like Newton’s third law in a way: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The Internet is a funny thing. Like all of you, I read tons of blogs and learn a lot; I don’t just write blog posts. It’s awesome that there’s such a wealth of information for people of all skills from experts who you would have never had access to in the past. Remember the good old days before everyone started blogging you would wait and hopefully MS would release a whitepaper or something useful outside of Books Online? I do. These days, all you have to do more often than not is just do a search with your engine of choice or go to a forum. You may find the information or answer in seconds more often than not. The question is this: is what you found correct? I mean, isn’t everything you read on the Internet correct? If you trust the source, well, it probably is.

The SQL Server community is one of the few I’ve had the privilege of participating in where a lot of us (myself included) like to give back freely and often. To some degree, we police ourselves and will call out bad advice and praise good advice. Even if we’re not full time DBAs or developers but help them, we can relate to your pain because we still see it every day when we’re onsite consulting or delivering training. We know you need correct advice and technical information, not just some hair brained thing we devised for the heck of it that may get you in trouble and take you out of support. That’s why a lot of our blog posts are well thought out and take hours, days, and sometimes weeks to do (I’m in the midst of doing one that requires a bit of testing that will happen over the next few weeks).

When you download free software from many vendors, often they ask you to register or enter some information. You don’t think they are asking for that for the heck of it, do you? They’re hoping that you like it and you want to buy whatever it is you downloaded (if there’s a Pro version of the freeware or it is timed to expire), or they can e-mail you in the future. They’re looking to get paid at some point. Not everyone bites, but they assume some of you will.

For someone like myself, I hope my genuine desire to give back and help here or elsewhere (including on forums, Twitter, and anything else I do) translates into potential customers for the services I offer. Helping is a big part of being in the SQL Server community at large. What I am giving away is my IP that helps make me unique. This is why some bloggers out there will go to great lengths to protect their IP and put taglines in scripts or make it so you can’t copy their text.

Unfortunately, there are other bloggers who would want to steal it and call it their own – welcome to the piracy for the blogger community. See Brent Ozar’s (Twitter) great posts he made during what he deemed Plagiarism Week. In Finding the Slimy Slimeballs, he sums a lot of what I feel perfectly and it really needs to be repeated:

“I have to keep playing because I make a living off my content – it’s my marketing tool to bring in new consulting customers.  This is especially important to me now that I’ve become a full time consultant; I don’t get paid unless I’m working for a client.  I’m not getting paid to write this, either, but I do it because I’m passionate about helping the community and helping bloggers protect their content.”

I am VERY appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been given over the years, and especially since I’ve gone independent. I take none of it for granted. Being able to pay my bills with the day job provides me with the ability to donate my time to do things like blog, pay (out of my own pocket) to attend and speak at SQL Saturdays, etc. I really do enjoy it. There is no greater feeling than seeing a lightbulb moment on the face of someone. When all you’ve got is the Internet or free resources like a SQL Saturday because your boss won’t/can’t pay for anything like going to PASS or a formal training class, getting that information from sources you trust (and I hope I’ve established that) is invaluable. Those of us that give of our time know this and want to give you our best.

What we don’t want is others taking credit for things that we’ve put lots of hours into, even if we give it away for free. There still is a cost involved, even if we never pass it on to you. We hope to get it back in other ways. I know I love to hear it when people come up to me and thank me for some bit of content or another that they read and helped them. But what is the incentive for those of us that really do like to give back at no monetary cost to you when others just want to leech the content from us, post it elsewhere, and call it their own?

No, we’re not going to put a PayPal link on our sites and ask you to each donate money to access content. That’s insulting to you and us. I know I’d never do it. Since we’re giving of our time and our content because we want to make sure you guys are successful, all we ask is to respect us and link back to where you got it from or give us some credit if you repost bits or do something public with it. That’s not an unreasonable request, is it?

Now, I do see the downside of going overly militant, too. You may alienate the very readers you seek to help. There is the concept of “fair use”.  It is a royal pain to try to use something, only realizing you need to chop out or comment out things to use it. I know 99% of the people out there have no malicious intent, but it’s that 1% that makes some people do what they feel they need to do to protect their IP. When I write scripts, I just put the right info in comments so it doesn’t impede anything and I hope it doesn’t get stripped out. I do know I can’t control it once it’s out in the wild, so I have to hope for the best.

Here’s something that may shock you (hopefully not): there are very few original and revolutionary ideas in IT at this stage of the game. To some degree it’s all been done before. We’re offering a new approach or new information not available before to that “old” concept. New things in IT make up a small percentage.

For example, when I talk about SLAs, and their newer bretheren RTOs and RPOs, I didn’t come up with those concepts. But if I decide to write a blog post about them, I can certainly help you navigate them and give you ways and ideas to implement them as they relate to SQL Server and your environments based on my years of experience. That’s what you want from me – something you can put to use. If you wanted a generic interpretation, there are any number of places you can get it. That’s the value add a good blogger should be able to provide and keeps you coming back for more.

I wish things were black and white here. They’re not. They’re a wonderful shade of gray.


3 Responses

  1. Jason Strate says:

    Whole-heartedly agree, Allan. And very well said.

  2. Rob Sullivan says:

    While I am pretty sure that I agree with the overall point you are trying to make… how you get there doesn’t quite make sense to me.

    For example, you make it sound like this is an incredibly massive problem because the 1% of content scrapes might draw some sort of gain from this (you failed to bring up the part where there is zero net gain which is likely the case in many scenarios). This is also the same problem that occurs in your stretch of a comparison to the music industry. If I go out of my way to block sales of my record in a country, do I still count all downloads in that country as lost sales?

    Granted, I don’t make a living off my blog and for the most part, my blog is just my sort of technical notebook/diary. But lets say for the moment that I have this grand new way of showing how Auto-Shrink is the new hotness and makes databases run in Turbo-Mode and I put on my big boy pants and write it up on my public blog. I try to put some bloggy DRM on it to make me feel extra important, some scraper in Cambodia grabs it, scripts out my DRM because lets face it… what can be scripted in can also be scripted out… it is the evolutionary cat and mouse of DRM… and posts it on his blog that is out of the jurisdiction of our beloved U.S. DCMA sledgehammer.

    What do I actually stand to lose at this point? Hopefully, my driving force in publicly posting my solution is that it helps people and whether someone went to my site or the site in Cambodia I can high five myself that people are getting help in general. In that scenario everyone wins. At some point, you really need to just get over yourself and the whole ‘I did this, you better bow down to me’ mentality. If not, I hope you comment every procedure you tune with the person that taught you how to tune that part… because aren’t you at that point ‘robbing’ them by not giving proper attrition when you ‘stole’ their ‘work’ to fix that procedure. See how this starts to become a slippery slope?

    Second, while I concede the importance of a professional blog as it shows a level of understanding, interest, and personality… I can’t imagine how a scrape of my content costs me money. It isn’t like my blog or its content just disappears. That just seems foolish. Most of my business/income comes from me going out to user groups, reaching out to real people and has nothing to do with number of hits a site in Cambodia that has put me in their scraper. People that hit the scraped site instead of mine aren’t looking to hire and are just looking for answers and likely won’t even remember where they got them. But, maybe I just live in a bubble and have a completely non realistic take on this.

    Am I just really missing something huge here or is this situation being completely overblown? Doesn’t Brent Ozar’s bottom line really take a hit (because it sounds like his has more work than he can handle) when some scrapers pick up his content and get 50 hits off it from some dudes in Chile?

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