June 13, 2002

Internet piracy costs Roblimo $100 million!

- By Robin "Roblimo" Miller -
When you hear about huge monetary losses from intellectual property theft, you are probably listening to complaints from the Business Software Alliance, Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Picture Association of America, or a cable TV company. But even a small-time individual like me can be the victim of intellectual property theft, and if I account for my losses the same way the software and entertainment industry yow-yowers do, I figure I have lost over $100 million from illegal Internet downloading, and one of my coworkers has lost at least $1 million. We demand government action! We want the FBI to take care of this! We want all you Internet pirates locked up right now!
This all started when I figured out the secret of making money on the Internet. I'm not joking about this. After all my years of online reporting, and tracking Internet business successes and failures, I really and truly do know how to turn a profit with an online business. I decided that because lots of other people, even executives at big companies, obviously don't know how to use the Internet profitably, this secret ought to be worth a little money, like $1,000,000 to each person or company I shared it with. I figured this was quite a bargain, really, considering the many billions blown on money-losing Internet ventures over the last decade.

So I made a little Web page where they could learn the secret of Internet business profitability, by clicking on a link, but they had to pay me $1 million first. This was not a theoretical exercise. That page is still up, at roblimo.com/secret.html, although I may take it down before long because hundreds of people have clicked on the million-dollar link, but not one single person has sent me my million dollars!

Proof that you are a pirate

Don't lie to me. You clicked on that link, and you didn't pay me my million dollars before you did. This is just as evil as grabbing a copy of Photoshop a friend illegally copied. You have just stolen $1 million from me! I demand justice!

You can point out that you never would have bought a copy of Photoshop but were only using it because you got it free, and that you never would have paid me $1 million anyway, but this is a lame excuse, the sort of thing I'd expect to hear from a radical Free Software zealot, a music-stealing commie terrorist or a third-world entrepreneur trying to start a small Web design business who can't afford to pay for Microsoft or Adobe licenses. You people all belong in prison, and if the BSA and RIAA have their way, that's where you're going to go.

Meanwhile, I am thinking about performing an intellectual property audit on everyone I suspect may have stolen my intellectual property. To avoid that audit -- which will entail looking through every computer hard drive in your home and all the computers at your employer's place of business, plus hypnosis and truth serum sessions for you, your family, and your coworkers -- please send me my $1 million today!

Pudge has lost millions, too

Chris "Pudge" Nandor is a programmer who works for OSDN. He's also one of the primary MacPerl maintainers, and once achieved fame (of a sort) by trying to "stuff" the online ballot box for Major League Baseball's All-Star selections a few years back.

The program Pudge used to accomplish this feat -- a Perl script he claims only took him five minutes to write -- is available for download here. But be warned: If you download it you owe Pudge $1,000. It says so right on the page you download with your browser to see the program, in a bit of circular logic similar to the justification for "agreeing" to restrictive software licenses you can't see until after you purchase the software or a computer on which it is preloaded.

If big commercial software publishers can claim they lose the retail value of a program every time someone downloads an unauthorized copy off the Internet or grabs an illicit copy from a friend, shouldn't Pudge be able to claim damages every time someone downloads his intellectual property without payment?

If every downloaded song is one that would have been bought if it had not been available online for free, than my claim that I have lost millions because you have not paid me for my words of business wisdom ought to get me just as much sympathy from lawmakers and law enforcers as they give to recording companies that whine about their losses. right?

Who are the jokers here?

Pudge and I are intentionally playing with your heads. We put up our silly "intellectual property ransom" sites independently, without either one of us knowing the other had done it. We both love a good joke. We hope you have gotten a good laugh out of this one.

Now comes the question: If Pudge and I are joking about intellectual property theft over the Internet, why do we all assume the RIAA, BSA, MPAA and government people are serious when they talk about it?

Is it possible that this crowd has been pulling a major ha-ha on everyone all along? That on April Fool's Day a year or two from now, they'll let the rest of us in on the joke?

You've got to admit, the inflated piracy loss figures this crowd likes to trot out have produced plenty of hearty guffaws for almost everyone. Everyone, that is, except the companies and government agencies that have suffered through BSA software audits, who should be reimbursed, in cash, for their time and trouble.
Or, better yet, in the form of help for their inevitable conversion to Linux and other Open Source software, which would be the best joke of all*.

*Of course, people like Dmitry Sklyarov who have been directly persecuted by the intellectual property pranksters should receive seriously major compensation for their unwilling participation in this humor scenario. There is such a thing as taking a joke too far. Perhaps Adobe executives and their DoJ buddies considered their actions toward Dmitri amusing, but I believe almost everyone else thought they were just plain cruel.

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