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Author Topic: Ethical moderation issue  (Read 6001 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: May 24, 2011, 11:51:14 AM »

So, the question is whether I'm going to request the Forge community not to link to Torrent or other similar sites/services.

I'm not laying judgment down on any current threads. There are no written Forge rules about this issue and so it's bogus for me to moderate. Nor do I consider myself a cop for copyright in a general sense. No one has done anything wrong.

What I am saying is that I'm on the fence about whether such links should be permitted from now on. The Forge isn't a democracy, so this isn't about how many people say Yea or Nay, nor about how loudly and passionately they argue. But this is definitely a case where community input will help me get my head together about it. I'm asking for input regarding the issue and how it might or might not relate to what the Forge is about.

Best, Ron

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Chris_Chinn
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Posts: 280


« Reply #1 on: May 24, 2011, 12:34:55 PM »

A practical and neutral reason to avoid linking torrents here, at least, is that it generally is one of the things searched for by spambots on what places to spam.

Chris

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lumpley
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« Reply #2 on: May 24, 2011, 12:58:50 PM »

My feeling is that email or private messaging would be the more appropriate way to share torrent links. I don't super care, but if it were a link to a torrent of my work, I'd prefer not to have it in the public forum.

-Vincent
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: May 24, 2011, 04:12:46 PM »

Well, I wouldn't refer to it as ethical as if refering to there being one singular global standard of ethics. Along with not using the word 'should'. And is it a request for people not to post them, or is it one of those phoney requests which is actually an order (relative to site use) - like the 'requests' parents do with their children (well I've atleast caught myself doing that, anyway)?

Really to me these questions come down not to what is right but to what will be the consequences (if any) and can I stomach them? Sometimes a sense of right seems to write people a blank cheque in terms of consequences - ie, if somethings right, it's owed an infinity of consequences because it's right. Ie, it treats 'right' as an end in itself rather than a means to an end. Waxing philosophical, but what else has one on these matters?

So what happens, at a physical level (not some quasi reality moral level) if you, say, put up a post saying you'll lock down threads if people post links to copyrighted material (I'm assuming if they post a torrent to their own free work that's not at all the issue)?

On the flip side, seemingly to me for alot of people it's not about attributing the idea of property and that the person controls their property but instead that the person has to do what is the ethical or right thing with their property. Generally (always?) with ethical or right turning out to be the people confusing their subjective viewpoint for global standards. Doing the above stuff tends to sever ones ties with them and sometimes the question of 'ethical' really comes down to who your willing to lose some amount of social contact with.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #4 on: May 24, 2011, 05:01:41 PM »

To be absolutely clear, we are talking about culture piracy and not about Bittorrent as technology? It is just as easy to use Bittorrent to distribute legal material as illegal, so it'd seem really weird to ban the technology itself instead of links leading to illegally distributed files. A pretty clear example of Rob Bohl's Misspent Youth, which I've been seeding (torrent-ese for hosting for upload) for a few months after he asked us to last year.

Because you asked about the ethics of the matter, I should note that after years of considering the piracy issue I've myself come to conclude that concerted, government-led resistance to the phenomenon would do more harm than good for civil liberties, and for this reason I advocate for radical revision of IP law to account for the new digital reality; effective means for actually stopping private sharing of copyrighted digital data would involve such drastic backpedaling in privacy rights and media independence that it'd make the most pitch-hearted of social conservatives stagger, and therefore any fight for instituting such needs to be stopped in preference for a different type of culture industry that does not require outright bugging everybody's computers to enforce property rights. I would rather cut back on the culture industry than authorize thought police (which is what anti-piracy measures have to amount to, ultimately, to be effective). I expect this would be obvious to everybody if organizations in the field weren't willing to encourage spotty, arbitrary enforcement of widely disregarded laws merely to slow down the drastic changes culture industry is undergoing. Once the inherent injustice of dragging individual citizens to court for supposed crimes millions of others commit every day really sinks in, I'll be surprised if the prevailing societal strategies won't take a swift turn. Meanwhile I would personally consider us all responsible for not causing unnecessary suffering by drawing the attention of the justice system on our fellow citizens who might engage in a practice more widely accepted than any other three civil rights issues combined.

(Whew, that was a pretty amazingly short explanation of a complex argument. Onwards.)

However, the above argument is mainly about government enforcement of IP laws; I don't recognize a particular ethical imperative for you or anybody else to brook IP piracy in your own house as long as you don't go out of your way to attract the law to haunt the occasional pirate you might choose to evict. In fact, my first reaction would be to keep the Forge piracy-free: I don't know of a compelling argument for how distributing pirated files would advance the site's agenda, and I fully acknowledge that the issue itself, and my stance on it, are both highly contentious at this time. Supporters of piracy have no legitimate need for this platform, while the platform could be severely harmed should the considerable contingent of independent game designers and publishers who support IP rights take offense. You don't need that grief, not when the only reason to go for it would pretty much be symbolic support for a principle that's not by any means central to the Forge agenda.

(I'm assuming here that culture piracy politics are not on the Forge agenda in the foreseeable future. There's certainly no inherent reason for independent art to be either pro- or anti-piracy.)

In case it matters, let me explain why accepting piracy here would be of no benefit to anybody that I can see:

One of the simplest deeds to do in the Internet today is to search for free culture content, be it illegal (IP-protected) or not. Just put in some keywords in Google; it's easier to learn than word-processors, mainly a matter of knowing the argot used in the scene so you can find the right file in the Internet jungle. Meanwhile, the main benefit I could see for the Forge accepting or encouraging piracy would be in the bibliographic power it represents: instead of merely referring to some obscure AD&D supplement I want to discuss I could link directly to the file itself via some torrent or file-sharing site or whatever. The same goes for more recent minor indie games that have become all but lost due to the publisher disappearing, wouldn't it be neat if you could just put it up when you want to talk about it. But, what would be the exact benefit here? Insofar as I can see, anybody interested in checking out the fifth edition Tunnels & Trolls or comparing D&D's first edition to the Holmes text or finally seeing what that Wuthering Heights game was all about is amply capable of making that Google search themselves. This is how we already operate, whether people want to admit this in polite company or not: talk about something interesting online, and anybody so inclined will have the knowhow to seek out the material you mentioned if it's in the Internet at all. Heck, you can put the torrent up yourself and link to it at Google, if the subject seems so esoteric that nobody's done it before you. No need at all for the Forge to get involved here when an extremely effective (effective enough to beat the commercial alternative most of the time) content distribution system is already in place among pirates.

In a nutshell: while I advocate against anti-piracy (and for revised IP laws worldwide), I do not see a need for the Forge to take the highly controversial stance of supporting in public something that is still largely a taboo in the community. I might change my mind if somebody can suggest a really good use for open piracy at the Forge, but if the only motivation for linking to pirated content is the minor convenience of saving some Google searches... no point at all that I can see, and lots of potential for people getting angry. Best to treat the matter the way Americans treat politics and religion, by being silent about it and avoiding offense.
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Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.
Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #5 on: May 24, 2011, 09:53:54 PM »

All of the above are solid observations.

In particular, Eero raises a good point that peer-to-peer file sharing technology is not the same thing as illegal content distribution. It is potentially an ideal technology for sharing the sort of work creators are willing to give away. There's the technological benefit of reducing the need for web hosting resources. Maybe negligible, maybe not, depending on the size of the file and the demand for the file. There's also the not-yet-fully explored possibility of getting work passed around by audiences who would otherwise never see it, maybe exploiting the thrill of seedy/underground/illicit venue. Independent publishing appeals to a number of definitions for success, and the aforementioned might fit in with that. I think it could reasonably be described as a "new punk avenue" for publishing. I know of a handful of indie RPG publishers who have tried this, I don't know if they feel it has been successful for them.

In terms of day-to-day moderation, however, I do see that it may not be practical to split hairs over what's legit and what isn't, or to recapitulate why every time it comes up. It would be fair to decide you don't want to touch "BitTorrent" with a stick, and let people take responsibility in private communications.

Actually facilitating illegal activities probably exposes anyone involved in the Forge up to a shitstorm of legal consequences. A litany of ethical or moral arguments for or against illegal file-sharing distracts from this reality.

What's your policy on, like, if somebody just posts a link to a PDF they don't have the right to distribute? How is this substantially any different?
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Paolo D.
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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2011, 05:10:07 AM »

(I'll assume that we are talking about links to other rpgs, and not music and stuff. I say this because sometimes I saw discussions about music scores for specific games and session, so I just want to specify what's the subject in my post)

I'll be very "material" here, I don't want to talk about what's good and what's wrong as an absolute, but just to talk about what I think could be better for The Forge.

If I got it right, this forum (and this "community", if it exists) is (also) about creation, discussion and promotion of indipendent roleplaying games and, more generally, of a "new", open-minded gaming culture in our hobby.

So, I think that torrents and in general other similar technological resources can be "good" for The Forge, because can be useful for the designer to experiment new ways of distribution for his indie game. That's why these resources were created in the first place - to create alternate means to share material. And so, I think that if a designer decides to release through peer-to-peer a free game or some other free material about his game, like a preview, a character sheet and so on, he should be able to provide the link in question in Actual Play, Game Development and Indipendent Publishing discussions.

But, sharing links to "not free" games on threads, could damage the author of the game. I say "could" because that's an open debate - if I sell my game's pdf at 15.00 $ on my website, and someone puts it on eMule or on a torrent and here it gets downloaded 100 times, am I losing 1500 $, or am I reaching 100 new gamers who will probably buy it after playing it and maybe talk about it with their friends? That's an open question, and I don't have an answer to it myself... Every author seems to have his own opinion about it, and I think it's good.

So, my opinion is: if I were the moderator here, every time I see a link to a "not free" game, I'd ask straight to the author with PM or email, "Do you want to see this link removed?", and remove it if he wants. At first this procedure could be a pain in the ass, but after some time you will know which "politic" each author has about this kind of links, and so you will be able to do it without necessarily asking to the author himself.

Best,
Paolo
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2011, 08:35:53 PM »

I pretty much agree with Eero.  I don't have much truck with IP myself, and indeed despise "property rights" more generally, but to endorse "pirate" material, actively or passively, is in effect picking a side in a war in which you may have no particular reason to be involved.  If you DO have personal reasons to be involved, then all well and good, and you'll presumably have some idea of what you're getting into.

I happen to know (cough) that the entirety of WEG's Star Wars D6 material is available for download via torrent.  I neither know nor care what the precise, current, legal status of this stuff might be, but I think it illustrates the potential danger that being known as "a haven for copyright theft" might introduce.  It could potentially overshadow everything else you or the site does.  If that's a banner you specifically want to carry, then fine.  And while it's true in principle that torrents et al are a neutral technology, that's not really the case in practice.  Because who in the world investigates everything thats made available for peer-to-peer download?  In reality, no-one, and so if you yourself didn't make it your business to check that links posted here were clean, some of them inevitably won't be.

I say all this with some sadness, but because I know that the Forge's mission is somewhat distinct from my own interests.  To date it has specifically supported at-least-break-even independent publishing in a conventional copyright context.  A lot of that bugs me, because I'd rather see a society of pure enthusiasts, as it were, and sometimes it feels like you have to buy stuff to take part in the conversation, something like a mutually exploitative Tupperware party.  But whatever my feelings might be, I can't see that the Forge can support something like, say, DiTV, and also risk hosting links to free copies of of the material via torrent or whatever.  If you want to let authors make free links to their own work available, which some well might want to do, then limit it to their sub-forums.

So, I agree with Eero's points in both respects.  Personally, I think old style copyright law has been made redundant, and some sort of new settlement will eventually be achieved.  But in the meanwhile, everyone has to deal with the litiginous defenders of the ancien regime.  There is even an organisation, Righthaven LLC, that has made a practice of purchasing the copyright to media articles for the express purpose of suing for infringement.  There's no neutral stance here, unfortunately you do have to pick a side and either subvert or support the status quo, and given the Forge's practices and principles to date I cannot see that it would benefit from taking the controversial position.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2011, 10:49:06 AM »

Thank you to everyone! I'm posting not to stop the conversation but to provide some clarity, or to acknowledge the bit that really nails the issue for me. Gareth wrote,

Quote
I don't have much truck with IP myself, and indeed despise "property rights" more generally, but to endorse "pirate" material, actively or passively, is in effect picking a side in a war in which you may have no particular reason to be involved.

That's very close to my view and probably exactly why I'm on the fence, or started there.

As a quick clarifier of my views on sales and publishing, my call is that both free and for-sale games are fine things. The emphasis on breaking even that Gareth mentioned is a secondary feature that I consider historical: that too many RPG publishers have gone commercial when they didn't necessarily have to (and might not have wanted to if they had known the options), and when they did, they ran into financial disaster due to incomplete and false information. I really don't want to give the message at the Forge that for-sale publishing is somehow better, or even that an acceptable (presumably minor) loss is a bad thing, if that's where you're coming from.

Everyone, please keep the posts coming as they are very helpful for lots of reasons.

Best, Ron
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2011, 10:05:51 AM »

I don't think, in general, it's reasonable without the consent of the creators. I think that downloads/torrents without creator consent kinda go against the principle of creator control.

yrs--
--Ben
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lumpley
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« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2011, 12:43:01 PM »

Any legal consequences would presumably land on me, as the guy who hosts the Forge. That would suck.

-Vincent
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Matthew V
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Posts: 27


« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2011, 07:59:09 PM »

I don't know of a compelling argument for how distributing pirated files would advance the site's agenda, and I fully acknowledge that the issue itself, and my stance on it, are both highly contentious at this time. Supporters of piracy have no legitimate need for this platform, while the platform could be severely harmed should the considerable contingent of independent game designers and publishers who support IP rights take offense. You don't need that grief, not when the only reason to go for it would pretty much be symbolic support for a principle that's not by any means central to the Forge agenda.

I absolutely agree with that statement. Unless the Forge has some reason to begin supporting pirated copies of for-profit RPGs, then I can't think of a single reason that allow their distribution would make the Forge "a better place" for independent RPG designers and players to talk with each other. Also, it strikes me as a bit rude (at the least) to distribute other's work in a way the original author may not intend. If the Forge intends to be a resource to new indie RPG writers, it seems unfriendly to new RPG writers to give the impression that you're "giving a pass" to links to pirated materials. Lots of people might consequently be concerned that their work would be improperly distributed as a result of participating in this community.
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Rafu
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Raffaele, from Italy


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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2011, 04:08:32 PM »

I don't have much truck with IP myself, and indeed despise "property rights" more generally, but to endorse "pirate" material, actively or passively, is in effect picking a side in a war in which you may have no particular reason to be involved.

Sorry, but I have to disagree vehemently.

If there's such a war going on - and I believe indeed it's raging - you can't not pick a side, not as a "public" person dictating policy for a discussion forum.
In fact, to take the most "conservative" option and stay "away from trouble", so to speak, Ron and Vincent would have to actively policy users — rule out a certain kind of links, remove those from threads or close threads… Can you see where this is headed, right? That's taking a side, it's basically unavoidable.
The alternative - doing nothing at all, not stating an explicit policy, letting each user take care of themselves - is already being described in this thread as "encouraging piracy" or "taking a stand". Which is typical of civil wars: those are most often fought over uneven fields.

Eero: I agree, as usual, with your dispassionate analysis. But to jump to such conclusions…

In a nutshell: while I advocate against anti-piracy (and for revised IP laws worldwide), I do not see a need for the Forge to take the highly controversial stance of supporting in public something that is still largely a taboo in the community. I might change my mind if somebody can suggest a really good use for open piracy at the Forge, but if the only motivation for linking to pirated content is the minor convenience of saving some Google searches... no point at all that I can see, and lots of potential for people getting angry. Best to treat the matter the way Americans treat politics and religion, by being silent about it and avoiding offense.

…implies an additional, omitted step: that one is comfortable being a hypocrite just for the sake of being left alone.

The simile with politics (which this topic is!) and religion is particularly fitting here, as I don't recall Ron as being one of those "Americans" who stay silent to avoid offense. :)


Any legal consequences would presumably land on me, as the guy who hosts the Forge. That would suck.

The "legal consequences" of not playing IP cop to any big company's tune are largely overstated, I purport, and would merit further investigation. Do we even know what the actual dangers are while we're speaking?

Notice: Yes, I'm passionate about the topic. But I'm not trying to pick a fight, I'm just stressing what I believe are obvious implications or points which often get overlooked.
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Raffaele Manzo, or "Rafu" for short. From (and in) Italy. Here's where I blog about games (English posts). Here's where I micro-blog about everything.
Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2011, 04:59:18 PM »

BitTorrent, eMule, etc, are means of distribution (illegal means of distribution most of the time, but not always)

The mission statement of the Forge is about indie publishing.  Helping people to publish their games by themselves, making their own choices, about the game's content, shape, printing, distribution and pricing.

Should a game be distributed by IPR? It should be the game creator's choice (if IPR agree, of course). Should a game be available on BitTorrent? The same.

Not only allowing links to pirated copies would be a legal risk, it would even be against the site mission. (the only exception would be having the game creator writing the link himself, by his or her choice)

Even if you, or me, believed that it would be "right" for the game to be available on these networks, even if we believed that it would be in the game creator's best interest... it's simply not out choice to make.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: June 02, 2011, 08:21:02 AM »

Hi everyone,

First, thanks to everybody has posted. You have thoroughly helped me understand which issues are most important.

1. The issue is clearly not about Torrent et cetera as technology, particularly publishing technology. There will be no Forge mandate against linking to such services for publishing purposes.

2. I also don't especially fancy myself or the site as a representative for any government's notions about intellectual property. So I'm not going to link to an official copyright-definition site and say that activity here must accord to its standards.

2'. However, I do think that a site specifically devoted to self-publishing and creator ownership needs to have standards regarding public use of creator-owned materials. Rafu and others are absolutely right that there is no neutrality in an issue of this kind.

So ... my take is that I should moderate against linking to owned materials. And the criteria for that are going to come down to two things: (i) whether the actual owner has an opinion about it, and (ii) in the absence of such an opinion, a totally moderator-driven judgment about it. Which unfortunately makes the whole thing a little bit case-by-case, but at least I can say, "Don't link to free versions of stuff if its owner is obviously trying to sell it."

The grey areas which immediately appear include older material whose ownership is no longer commercially relevant (long-gone companies, et cetera), or material whose ownership is disputed, and probably a whole ton of circumstances which you will all identify for me. I'll have to work out that sort of thing as we go along, I suppose, or at least rely on good-faith effort type thinking, that the person who's linking to it makes some inquiries if necessary. So for the moment, sentence 2 of the policy I have in mind would be, "If you don't know whether its owner is trying to sell it, then make a good effort to find out before linking to this free version."

Thoughts and comments are very welcome.

Best, Ron
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