Two different things

Understanding is not the same as agreement.

Understanding is being knowledgeable about the matter.

Agreement is consenting to the matter.

That’s why there are terms such as "informed consent" and "blind follower".

The Slow Mood Manifesto

There is a growing concern about what is happening not only in psychiatry and psychology but within the self-help areas, on popular talk shows and in the commercial realm regarding what I can only call designer moods and their increasing push into society. By designer moods I am meaning quick fixes for moods or psychological states which we either deem uncomfortable, and yes also painful in more extreme cases or moods that don’t live up to our expectations in terms of serenity, calm, happiness and so forth.

There is a lot of pseudo-Buddhist push to “don’t worry be happy”, “don’t get into any heavy stuff, it harshes the mellow” and Law of Attraction related phrases such as “If you think happy thoughts your life will become happy.”. It’s alarming and it’s also a lie. Magic thinking doesn’t work. Magic pills don’t work in many situations. Concrete action and increased awareness works.

In with all of this bright-siding, to lift a phrase from Barbara Ehrenreich, is also the notion that it must happen and sooner before later. It has to happen NOW. Instant happiness is becoming the expected norm rather than a psychologically questionable anomaly.

There is a growing backlash against the pharmaceutical industry’s aggressive marketing of inadequately tested chemicals to those who are in mental distress and increasingly to those who simply have a stressful lifestyle that has deleterious effects. Rather than examine the contexts, the physical health of an individual or the emotional situation holistically “happy pills” are dispensed with almost sociopathic abandon. This backlash extends beyond Big Pharma and is increasingly coming to bear on the self-help industry as well as other quick fix methods.

Many blogs and other resources are being developed in order to examine or at least balance out this aggressive marketing.  A blog called The Slow Mood Movement has written up a manifesto to express their concerns on this topic. It was pointed out to me from the Beyond Meds blog who also posted it.

Because they have generously labeled their work as anti-copyright I am producing it in full here.


Read & Destroy.
(If you get it, you don’t need it anymore.)

We are aiming to cultivate new a idea of selfhood.  And a new practice of selfhood as well.

Inspired by the Slow Food Movement’s rejection of fast food, we aim to resist the buying and selling of “fast moods.”

We resist drugs, saviors, and communion wafers.  These “quick fixes” subject us to unwanted power relations, while robbing us of the opportunity to overcome obstacles for ourselves.

We are taking it slow.  Reclaiming our lives one day at a time, one hour at a time, one breath at a time.

We are taking it slow.  Slowly learning to feel our inner states.  Slowly developing the cognitive tools needed to make healthy decisions for ourselves, our communities, and our world.  Slowly learning to expand our emotions and connect with other people as people, not functions.  These things can’t be given to us instantly.  We have to build these things for ourselves, over time.

We do not fear our own thoughts or moods.  We feel them out.  We examine them, without guilt.  We ask ourselves where they come from, why they are within us.  We find friends who are good listeners, and we share.

We do not repress our desires.  We flirt with them.  We let ourselves feel them.  And we laugh as unwanted desires drop away.  And if they return (as they often do) we do not worry.  We simply begin the dance again.

We resist the pressure to act happy all the time.  And we do not put this kind of pressure on others.  Our lives are not sitcoms for fucksake.

We evaluate our own behavior.  Calmly, without guilt, we think about what we have done.  And we decide for ourselves what to do next.

We do not follow strict codes that tell us which actions are “right” and which are “wrong.”  And we don’t bother to write these codes for ourselves. We work to cultivate our minds and hearts, so that we are guided by our intellect and passions, not by some disembodied set of rules.

We are not afraid to do things that have already been done before.  To watch the sunrise, to climb a mountain, to learn to cook, to write a novel.  We have the time to seem unoriginal.

We look to history to understand where we are coming from.  But history cannot tell us who are are, or who we will become.

We are trying to escape our context – the whole 2400-year mythos of Western selfhood – and get back into our bodies, into our environment, into this place and time.

We are ready to create new meaningful rituals. Social rituals, spiritual rituals.   Rituals of selfhood and membership, uniting individuals and the community.  Rituals that dissolve the distance between our core beings and the ends of the universe.

We are ready to work alone, in pairs, and in groups.

We know that each person has a completely unique experience of consciousness that will never be perfectly understood by another.  But we also know that one of the greatest human endeavors is the attempt to share that experience with others.

We are crafting a new discourse, a way of talking about our self-work. But we understand that words are not universal, that we must take note of the way words and labels change our core experience.  When someone believes they have a “soul,” a soul seems to manifest within them.  When someone believes they have a “mind”…

We must learn to distinguish between labels and the raw psychic energy that is expressed through those labels.

And we will be extremely selective about the labels we use to interact with ourselves.  Always conscious of the power-relations that come with labels like “soul,” “mind,” and “brain.”

But we will allow ourselves to indulge in the rituals and labels we need to express what is within us.

And we will strive to  express what is within us, even if it is illogical, irrational.  Even if it means howling at the moon.  Striving to keep our expression safe but effective.

And if anyone ever tries to spin a web of rhetoric around our labels and claim our internality, we will shake their words off.

If anyone tries to co-opt our rituals and sell them back to us, we will abandon those rituals and create new ones.  (Our boundless creativity will save us from becoming slaves to tradition.)

If anyone ever tells us they’ve found a way to make us complete, we know they’re lying.  As long as we are alive, we still have work to do.

We are not seeking happiness or completeness.  We are seeking freedom.  We are claiming a level of liberation, agency, and free will. This means being aware of our own thoughts, even when they are unpleasant.  It means feeling out our own moods, even when they are uncomfortable.  It means accepting our own behavior.

We are not afraid to examine our own lives – our relationships, our environments, and our workplaces – with eyes unclouded by dreams.

We will not flinch away from the world when it needs us.  And we need it.

No moment of consciousness is outside our work.  No moment need go ignored.

This is slow work.  Sometimes hard work.  But it is the most important work of our lives.

Others might be confused by what we are trying to do. But we will not let ourselves be made slaves for the mere sake of being understood.

We are taking it slow.

Because life is too important to rush through.  Because life should not to be skimmed like a cheap paperback novel.  Because each moment of life is of infinite value, and we are not going to squander our moments away.

We are taking it slow.

Because the full extent of human consciousness has not yet been discovered.  We are not done with ourselves yet.

In this task growing into ourselves, we are ever moving forward, and becoming, becoming, becoming…

Steal This Book (or not)

There is a saying that “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” In past eras, this was probably the case, but now, high speed methods of typesetting, offset printing and a host of other developments have made substantial reductions in printing costs. Literally anyone is free to print their own works. In even the most repressive society imaginable, you can get away with some form of private publishing. Because Amerika allows this, does not make it the democracy Jefferson envisioned. Repressive tolerance is a real phenomenon. To talk of true freedom of the press, we must talk of the availability of the channels of communication that are designed to reach the entire population, or at least that segment of the population that might participate in such a dialogue. Freedom of the press belongs to those that own the distribution system. Perhaps that has always been the case, but in a mass society where nearly everyone is instantaneously plugged into a variety of national communications systems, wide-spread dissemination of the information is the crux of the matter. To make the claim that the right to print your own book means freedom of the press is to completely misunderstand the nature of a mass society. It is like making the claim that anyone with a pushcart can challenge Safeway supermarkets, or that any child can grow up to be president.

Abbie Hoffman in Steal This Book

The ability to print one’s own books is no longer much of an issue with blogs and websites as well as electronic formats like PDF but the other points Hoffman makes, “but in a mass society where nearly everyone is instantaneously plugged into a variety of national communications systems, wide-spread dissemination of the information is the crux of the matter.” and “we must talk of the availability of the channels of communication that are designed to reach the entire population, or at least that segment of the population that might participate in such a dialogue.” are still very pertinent.

Steal This Book was one of the 60’s Yippie revolutionary manifestos. [The other being The Yippie Manifesto [PDF] by Hoffman and Jerry Rubin] Yippies took their name from Youth International Party. These manifestos and revolutionary books were handbooks and theory manuals on getting back at the system and overthrowing corporate capitalist establishment long before the slogan “Information wants to be free” was ever heard. Although the credited originator of the slogan, Steward Brand, certainly did share in 60’s counterculture which shaped his future contributions to the ideologies that came to the fore in hacker, phreaker, pirate, cypherpunk and other technologically related sub-cultures. All of this is also the progenitor of current Wikileaks/Anonymous culture.

[to know how dangerous the Yippies were perceived to be by the government and FBI here is an article-as well as how the co-occuring Libertarian radicals, including the Koch brothers, were overlooked by that same surveillance]

Apparently information still wants to be free in the 21st century if file sharing is any indication. Some of the files being shared are Buddhist materials put out by various publishers. This was noted some time ago, 2009 actually,  on the Shambhala SunSpace blog with Digital dharma downloading: Is it sharing? Is it stealing?. There was lots of back and forth in the comments using various Buddhist points either for or against file sharing. Some were rather reactionary—the world’s going to end if we don’t stop it—to appeals to dana or anti-capitalist activism. Quite a range. Of course nothing was settled and the conversation moved on to other things.

But now the topic seems to have come to the fore again.

The publisher Shambhala Publications is concerned with links being made available at Buddhist Torrents blog to some file sharing services and torrents for some of their materials. They wrote a letter to the blog owner. It is reproduced in this post, Deleting Buddha Torrents. This blog was the subject of the previous Shambhala Sunspace post. Buddhist Torrents does not host these files on their blog nor are they, as far as I (or anyone else) can tell, the original uploader for the texts in file sharing services or in Torrents. The spokesperson for Buddhist Torrents, Leaf Dharma even makes this point explicitly in the Shambhala SunSpace comments. Even though these things tend to be anonymous the volume of torrents and files available of Buddhist materials on the Internet would simply preclude Buddhist Torrents being the originator of most of them since there is so much out there it would take a team the size of a platoon working 24 hours a day to keep up.

I’m not kidding. One private torrent site I looked at before writing this post has links to over 1,800 items labeled Buddhist and these total more than one terabyte of distributed data. That doesn’t count the other items related to Yoga, Taoism, philosophy and similar categories, each of which is larger than the Buddhist collection.  It’s registered outside of North American and Europe hence would be very difficult to shut down. That’s only one small and rather obscure site.  Other sites that comprise what has been termed the darknet make up a whole other unknown level of traffic. There are dozens if not hundreds or thousands of these private or darknet sites.

On public torrents and file servers the number of items and the amount of data is many many times that amount. Peer to Peer file sharing accounts for at least half of all Internet traffic according to numerous reports over the past few years. From Torrent Freak (50-90%), Anarchopedia (50-80%). These are rather loose estimations however. More measured sources state that in some parts of the world it accounts for as much as 84% of Internet traffic such as in Eastern Europe. (ipoque) Other sources (Ars Technica) place it at 19.2% in North America in 2010 stating that video services like Netflix have diminished the growth of P2P. This would seem to substantiate claims that P2P is more likely to be used by people in developing economies and among those with limited funds rather than among the more financially well off. Comments on the Buddhist Torrents site reflect this quite clearly.

While torrents and file sharing may get a lot of traffic they are not most people’s preferred method of acquiring data (books, videos, etc). There are many reasons for that.

While file servers may host the entire file, it is usually under a disguised name and therefore difficult to find.  Torrents are not hosted in one particular place. That is the whole idea behind peer to peer file sharing. What shows up at a torrents site is an information file that points to a specific tracking server that further points to locations of the file pieces. [Although with DHT the tracking server can be bypassed] There may be anywhere from 1 to 1,000 peers that each contribute a portion of the file. This makes for speedy downloads and fewer network bottlenecks which single file servers can suffer from with popular items. And once the original item is seeded (distributed) into torrents it is usually very difficult to determine the original source or seed. Everywhere and nowhere, simultaneously.

Searching for torrents is not a difficult process but does take some skill.  Despite Google now censoring the auto-completes of such words as BitTorrent or other related combinations and more recently expanding it’s list of banned file sharing related words which did make very popular items accessible more quickly it does not effect full length searches or full text searches which use the word torrent or other auto-complete banned words. And there are general torrents search engines available that list the contents of various torrent sites and index those listed contents. It is not always accurate as it is done automatically with a bot so interpretation of the results if often necessary.  And contents can change quickly so items listed from even a few days ago may have been deleted or have become otherwise unavailable.

There are other reasons why torrents are not many people’s preferred method of accessing information. Torrents are not eternal. They come and go as people’s interests change. Something that appeared in torrents last year or even last month may no longer be available as people make room on their hard drives for more current interests. And as they can be bandwidth intensive many people actually limit the number they download or upload. I mention this because there is a common misconception that the majority of people using torrents have terabytes of material that they are broadcasting all over the globe 24/7. That is rarely the case. Firstly it would be far too expensive in terms of server maintenance or fees [you’d need a dedicated server for that kind of activity] as well as the bandwidth required and secondly torrents are not that reliable, some can take days or even weeks to download due to irregular distribution patterns. As well, depending on the source, they may be of low quality or unusable for a variety of reasons. So while there are large numbers of torrent/file sharing users, something like 100 million, the data each one will handle is a relatively small amount.

As for dedicated file servers, of those which accept anonymous uploads, most will delete any file after 30 days of inactivity usually unless one pays monthly access and storage fees. This is not cost effective for people who only torrent or file share on an occasional basis.

This sort of instability of access does not make the torrent or shared file a first choice for most people for obtaining information. The majority of people don’t know how to do Boolean searches or database queries so finding what you are looking for with a terminology you are unfamiliar with and using a protocol in which the contents are not indexed makes for quite a few obstacles. Most people can’t be bothered. It is much easier to type into the browser than to try to find something which may or may not be available and may or may not be of much quality from the more shadowy areas of the Internet. This will always keep file sharing somewhat limited to those who by some necessity have to go that route generally or a few who enjoy this type of challenge.

As well many of the Buddhist related books on torrents/file sharing sites are not directly from commercial publishers but are scans of books that someone had purchased. They are not generally very high quality and scans do not always use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software so searching them is not possible. If they are publisher’s books they are overwhelmingly in PDF format which either doesn’t work on some e-readers or doesn’t work as well as the proprietary file formats.

These are some of the main practical reasons why your average book buying Buddhists are not going to massively turn to torrents any time soon. But it doesn’t mean sharing is going away any time soon either.

Copyright Battles and History Lessons

The battle over copyright really began when xerox machines started to become ubiquitous. Students copied texts far more cheaply than they could buy them. In library settings for example many post-secondary institutions as well as public libraries not only embraced the xerox but facilitated that movement by providing easy payment methods to do bulk duplication. In one place I worked we installed card readers on the xeroxes and sold cards that made up to 500 page copies. And the more copies one made the cheaper the price on a per page basis. But library mandates are all about access to information. This has always been so. And it runs quite counter to the for profit motivation of many, though not all, publishers.

With the advent of the internet there were e-mail groups where sharing happened. Listservs were set up expressly for this purpose. Usenet, which is seeing something of a resurgence in popularity these days in some quarters, with it’s uuencode scheme for transforming binary data into text format took off. Compression formats such as .rar and .zip came along and assisted in furthering sharing practices.

FTP archives with dedicated search protocols were then introduced to help find materials and specialized FTP software clients were developed which could access those directories. There were also many other kinds of servers available such as gopher and wais which contained shared files. And these too had dedicated search facilities. Additionally with scanner technology there were numerous forums where people could contact others from around the globe and ask for a scan of a book that couldn’t be found at their location. This was in the 1990’s.

While the web replaced some of these original sharing methods it didn’t replace the impulse to share data. If anything that was enhanced. Endeavors like Project Gutenberg were born wherein plain text copies of public domain works were made available all in one place. A digital library if you will. It has greatly expanded now to include audio and video files as well as formats other than plain text. And it was entirely created by volunteers with computers, scanners and OCR software. This spirit of cooperation and volunteerism is the basis of projects like Wikipedia as well.

Every one of these scenarios has faced opposition by those who would seek to own the knowledge that has been passed. So this is hardly a new phenomenon.

The battle, and all of the preceding skirmishes, has been lost.  Over 10 years ago when BitTorrent first arrived and its increasing popularity has finished it. Here’s an infographic history of BitTorrent. There are now dozens of P2P client softwares, some even customized for certain types of files or other specific uses. There are altered protocols being developed, new compression formats being contemplated, levels of data encryption being added and increasing support for anonymizing net transactions.

Presently Internet service providers are being pressured to monitor users net activity for high bandwidth usage and asked to attempt to throttle or cap that, while other commercial sectors such as the gaming industry and streaming video companies like Netflix are pushing the other way. There is a battle underway and those who would seek to control the flow of data have a difficult battle.

Even if ISPs cooperate with some of the big media players (as they appear to be doing in the US), who have tried to coerce government into supporting their position, and they manage to sniff our data to determine whether we are using BitTorrent or Netflix or buying a new version of Photoshop from Adobe to account for that 5GB download, people are already working on contingency plans to circumvent such interventions. Some time in the future those who would seek information may well log into their local mesh-net node and use a telnet-like client to access a forum, not unlike the original BBS systems and obtain the data they are looking for. All without any regulatory or government or commercial intervention. A completely parallel under-net if you will.

All in all data sharing is not going away. Ever. So maybe we can be part of the paradigm shift rather than opponents to it who will be left behind.

The Ethics of BitTorrent

Torrents aren’t just for pirates. Several gaming companies, such as Blizzard, makers of World of Warcraft, use BitTorrent protocol based technology to load updates and additional files to their products. The Adoption section in the Wikipedia entry on BitTorrents lists additional uses of the technology by various industries including media. Both Facebook and Twitter also use it to distribute data among their many servers. So the protocol itself is not going away any time soon and since it’s primarily open source many more uses will be found and applications developed.

At American Buddhist Perspective, Justin has written a piece on the ethical dilemma of file sharing of dharma materials. The Ethics of downloading Dharma books looks at the question which BuddhistTorrents presented regarding the pressure they are coming under to close their blog site. And it looks at broader perspectives as well.  Rev. Danny Fisher also makes related comments on his blog in My Two Cents on the Buddha Torrents Discussion. As has Nathan at Dangerous Harvests with Downloading Dharma Books and Ethics. Justin has followed up with a second post Stealing sharing precepts wisdom.

There are a range of reactions in those posts and on the BuddhaTorrents site itself.

One can take their ethical standpoint on this issue from many viewpoints such as

  1. a “Marxist” type perspective of the communal nature of information ownership and distribution,
  2. an egalitarian perspective which considers it the product of the human race for the benefit of all,
  3. an anarchist perspective in that the concept of property itself has no inherent substance,
  4. a radical Randian libertarian perspective that freedom to own by any means available as inalienable,
  5. a narcissistic perspective that puts individual desires to own above all else,
  6. a legalistic perspective that puts adherence to rule of law above all other considerations,
  7. a content/context based approach which differentiates rules based on the data itself,
  8. Buddhist perspective #1 that dharma should be free of material considerations,
  9. Buddhist perspective #2 that taking what is not given is stealing,
  10. Buddhist perspective #3 that the (often perceived and not explicitly stated) intention of the author takes priority over ownership or
  11. a capitalist perspective that ownership is the right of those who can afford it.

There are arguments which can be made against each position and these often involve invoking other positions as counter arguments. Here’s some general arguments against each of these positions.

  1. intellectual property is created by individuals not communally
  2. the human race is divided ideologically and in many other ways, one group’s interests are not necessarily the same as interests of the whole
  3. property is an agreement as to the value of something so interfering with the value system of others is a form of dominance and hierarchy
  4. your self interest ends where mine begins
  5. you are not the center of the universe
  6. law is a human conceptual production designed to serve the population not to dominate it
  7. information is information and should all be treated the same way
  8. there is a difference between the dharma and the distribution of the dharma and the latter costs money
  9. is copying actually taking? Nothing is lost or removed.(See also points made by Jayarava in a comment regarding the interpretation of this precept)
  10. if the author intended to give it away they would have. Few channels exists for truly free production and distribution hence they may have wished to share but structures are not in place to allow that
  11. punishing the poor for being poor by denying them access to information is cruel and classist, one can’t own concepts and ideas

So there is no real definitive position available;none which cannot be argued against with some success. Which is one of the reasons why I’m using this blog post to develop and articulate reasons for my opinion other than to just advocate for leaving it be which is the easy way to go, in that it doesn’t require much examination. Status quo sorts of positions usually don’t and I have been ambivalent and a little lazy about some of it.

When I look at all the above positions and then what’s actually happening in the file sharing world some things become evident. Admonitions won’t work on dedicated torrent users/file sharers, legalistic cease and desist type demands are not realistically enforceable or are cost prohibitive due to the international scale of the practice and the networks are so well developed and fluid that they will simply adjust to any negative incursions.

There are a lot of factors to be considered when one is developing a coherent ethical position on this (or any other matter really) that need to be taken into account. Assessment of what is really going on in the torrents/file sharing world in general is a starting point. I have tried to provide some overview of some of that in this post. In order to have an informed opinion it is helpful to have some grasp of the scope of the issue and its context. The scope is very large here, not merely confined to the Buddhist Torrents blog.

The Shifting Paradigm

Dr. Cornel West wrote:

The challenge artists face today is whether to be an underground, unheard genius, or to dilute their art for the marketplace. 6 July, 2011 Twitter Status

That challenge is just as true in the world of current dharma materials particularly in the spiritual marketplace which is highly competitive. If there were a way for current dharma teachers not to have to worry about their material wellbeing and their futures I am quite sure we would be seeing an explosion of amazing works. [consider the translation and commentary output by some monastics such as Bhikkus Bodhi and Thanissaro for example-utterly astonishing quality and volume].  Not only by teachers but by writers, musicians, artists and other creators inspired by Buddhist ideas. No more mass produced generic cement decapitated Buddha heads rolling about the garden like abandoned soccer balls at the end of recess, but works of art which are a celebration of all things Buddhist.

Whether books are on torrents or not doesn’t make much difference to this scenario. Writers and artists and other makers have always been under-compensated, long before the Internet appeared. The starving artist and suffering writer is such a cliché it’s practically a joke.

In some ways big publishers have promoted this by turning to putting out huge quantities of often mediocre and downright terrible works (ie Harper-Collins) rather than quality works. (ie many small publishers, the university presses)

I’ve yet to see the local big box bookstore have a feature week of small publishers for example. They don’t even carry them most of the time. There was a whole wall display (~20 x 12 ft. of shelf space) of “Eat,Pray,Love” last time I was in one of these places however.

The problem is much bigger than Torrents or piracy. It involves publishers, booksellers, libraries, the marketplace, the reading public and authors.

Information Monopolies

The past situation of somewhat more free information dissemination is already in the process of attempting to be overturned. Traditional copyrights and their subsequent overblown amendments in the name of profit no longer suffice for some. There is a lot happening in the field of information technology regulation at the moment. Net Neutrality is crucial to that. Here is an example. Monolithic companies are currently trying to invoke something like a parallel copyright on materials carried by their equipment. (the WIPO situation which could imperil the status of creative commons and public domain works) This could mean a huge headache for content developers/authors as the original copyright remains but an additional claim is managed and enforced by the distributor which might include any broadcaster, Internet service provider, telco, etc. As a creator you could potentially be unable to disseminate your works via multiple channels without permission from your publisher, service provider, etc. Profit sharing in this regard has not really been broached yet but that too will be coming. This has the potential to destroy any freedom of information we currently enjoy as well as places the power of censorship for economic purposes into the hands of information monopolies.

This can have a effect on publishers too. Here’s a scenario for you. You set up your publishers e-commerce website with a particular host. They decide to enforce their new rights under an expanded WIPO situation (and it will expand if it becomes law). You and the authors must now give part of your ecommerce profit to that provider because they are the owners of the distribution channel-the hardware essentially. Even if you set it up on your own computer in your own home whatever telco or cable company or whomever provides your access service could also make a similar claim. That’s rather frightening.

In a worst case scenario they could claim commercial rights to everything from your personal photos on your personal blog to your email. That is anything you send out on the Internet. Oh wait a minute, Facebook already does that with anything you place there. So it’s not as far off as you might imagine.

This is all part of the Net Neutrality and related discussions going on currently.

I’m not going to go into the whole debate about Net Neutrality because it’s a big one. Suffice it to say without it, your choice of Internet destinations could get a whole lot smaller and a whole lot more expensive.

What is occurring is the commodification of knowledge and knowledge access which is starting to trump the public’s right to know. Knowledge is being confined to those that can afford it particularly to commercial attempts at information monopolies.

This is very definitely on the minds of many people involved with the intersection of  information technology and the freedom of information. Wikileaks is perhaps the most prominent evidence of pushback in this area but the sense I get running through the highly connected community is that any effort to curtail exchange of information will be met with resistance. Anonymous, many of whom are supporters of Wikileaks, and their various global operations, affiliates and associated groups (it’s not a formal organization by any means) are the most evident example of radical pushback.

As in the past, people objected to exclusion from the information commons by many means at their disposal. Digital duplication in this way, is rather like the new Gutenberg press…

Some Ideas and Recommendations

In Justin’s two posts noted above he gives a number of examples of sharing not only not damaging publishers and creators but enhancing their visibility. Here are two more Cary Doctorow publishes his sci-fi online, and believes the web empowers writers, Encyclopedia of Science Fiction to go online and free. There are many other examples of potentially commercial endeavors being transformed into shared, public domain, creative commons or other more open paradigms.

I would like to offer a few suggestions to publishers, file sharers and authors/content creators on managing this transition. There’s a whole lot more that can be done with some creative thinking.

File Sharers

File sharers who keep blogs (there’s a lot more than just Buddhist Torrents that do this) link to publishers. It would be interesting to find out if this had an effect of increasing sales for publishers. I personally think it would. But the conundrum is, should a publisher not appear to object to this, would they be perceived as approving file sharing? And if so would that undermine their business model, even if that business model is out-moded? Not an easy question to answer.

Blogs with file links, such as Buddhist Torrents could have advertising, the revenue of which could go to authors (via publishers? I don’t know. Work it out.)

A commenter wrote:

‘Could, for instance, the considerable resources that might be allocated to protecting, policing and, ultimately, sanctioning online file-sharing not be used for rendering it less financially damaging for the creative sector?’

from Scanners, collectors and aggregators. On the ‘underground movement’ of (pirated) theory text sharing


Publishers lower prices on materials in electronic format. One of the most frequent complaints I have run across is that electronic texts cost almost as much as traditional books. Why? One could try to make a case for server/connection costs and the like but that just doesn’t stack up against printing/warehousing/distribution costs. Particularly if there is a hard copy of the book concurrently available. Don’t make me do a balance sheet to illustrate this. Please.

Publishers adopt sliding scales for their commodities just as other industries do around the world. Different prices for different markets. Many book companies who sell online from India do this in reverse. If you purchase from India while in India you pay the domestic price and if you purchase from abroad from the same retailer you pay the price the local market will bear there.  One complaint I did run across a while back about Tricycle magazine in particular was their apparent reluctance to offer copies of their magazines to monastics.(if someone else remembers reading that comment or you’re the one who made it & can send me the original source I’d appreciate it) Perhaps they could set up a dana fund for such purposes. Or ask subscribers or book purchasers if they would add a dollar optionally to the price in order to send subscriptions or books to those who could not afford it. I’ve seen this approach done at many businesses who are raising charity funds.

Subscription services. Making a library, of say the back catalogue available for a reasonable fee. This is of course technologically possible-Google books has demonstrated this.

Publishers share some of their files. Perhaps on a monthly basis one or two titles could be available for free download. Back catalogue is good for that. Once the month is over another title is featured. One could also place a coupon towards a book purchase within the pages and add some advertising copy towards the end so as to interest people in what related materials the publisher has to offer. Offer it as a torrent and it will spread like wild fire.


With grants and similar types of sponsorships shrinking it is getting more difficult to be a creator. I’d like to advocate for adopting Creative Commons licenses or sharing electronic copies whenever possible but those who make their living by writing can’t always do that and make a living.

Or can they? I keep coming back to Cory Doctorow who shares his works electronically and sells hard copies. I’ve actually bought two of his books even though I have all of them in electronic format. Why? Preference for the real book. Note that I say “real book” even though both formats contain exactly the same material. There is an allure to that authenticity factor that can’t be discounted. I’d probably never picked up copies of his books without having seen the e-books first though. Lewis Shiner is another sci-fi writer who has also started to make his previous works available in electronic formats under his Fiction Liberation Front motto.

Crowdsource the funds you need to write something if money is the main obstacle. This is occurring already with programs like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and ArtistShare. This also serves the purpose of determining potential interest in your project.

The academic situation is well addressed in a series of posts at the immanence blog.

knowledge wants to be free (doesn’t it?)

AAAARG lies in state

The dharma of file sharing – which deals with the current Buddhist Torrents situation as well

Writers would do well to decide why they are writing. If it’s for the money then don’t waste your time writing dharma books. It’s that simple. (I’m agreeing with Bhante Yuttadhammo’s quote below here) Write mindless crap like Sex and the City and you too can wear a different pair of Jimmy Choo’s every day.

There are probably many creative solutions for creative people to get their work out there and to make a living. Creatives have always found ways to go about that. Frankly if one is not even creative enough to figure that out…stick with the day job.


In general there is an increasing pressure on knowledge production and intellectual activity by corporate and other interests. One such example at the moment is an American congressional proposal to cut funding for social and behavioral science and economics research at the NSF. Here is more on that. This is part of a much bigger picture that would seek knowledge devalued in favor of various blind belief systems and corporate interests.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” — Isaac Asimov

Rather than strive for equal education, access to information and knowledge the refrain has turned towards embracing ignorance in the name of equality.

That’s one of the big cultural issues underlying much of this debate at the moment.

The other one involves the ownership of ideas.

Those have to be worked out at the meta level.

On a more particular level it is useful to tease apart the various issues because they are all interconnected. And they bring up a lot more questions than they answer.

What is the motivation for sharing? Is sharing for profit or for knowledge acquisition or for entertainment or to satisfy personal greed? Is duplication actually stealing? Would those copies have been actual purchases if the materials were available?

What is the value of creative work? Is it only financial? Who assesses value? Whose values should dominate?

Who owns ideas?

Have sales dropped since sharing became more available? If someone could prove that in any realm I’d sure like to see the data. “Potential sales” are an illusion. How can any vendor know what’s in the mind of the acquirer of their products regardless of how they are acquired? Sales projections are as dubious as psychic predictions.

Is it fair to hoard knowledge especially from those who cannot afford to purchase it?

By manufacturing desire for products how culpable are publishers and advertisers for sharing behavior among those who encounter these ads? That’s a big one.

Is making the profile of sharing resources a little more public, as Buddhist Torrents does, worse than sharing itself? One might think so since publishers don’t seem to go after file server companies who have the actual data in their possession. This is something like the shooting the messenger scenario.

The battle in this particular area certainly seems skewed in favor of corporate interests. But those who oppose that have a history of adapting to circumstances and continuing with their activity.

And there’s lots more.

One viewpoint I found particularly interesting in the comments to the post on Buddhist Torrents came from Bhante Yuttadhammo. Here’s a copy of that:

Hey Leaf,
This is silly, of course, but I’m sure you know that. Sounds like you might be getting tired of it all, which is understandable.
“So making these available to people for free ultimately does a lot of harm.” How can giving dhamma away for free do harm? What a silly argument. Reminds me of when I started teaching meditation and my former teacher got upset and started telling people I was going to destroy him because he relied on income from his meditation students from the same centre. When I told this to our headmaster, he snorted and said, “how can you destroy someone by teaching meditation?”
I give away my book and videos away for free; not even any ads on my YouTube page, even though I’m a partner. To do this, I’ve had to make a lot of sacrifices. I wear rags, eat leftovers, live in caves and shacks and under park benches, etc. I have no money, go hungry sometimes, sick and have no medicine sometimes, etc. But I’m happy, and I’m not going to let someone tell me that I shouldn’t share dhamma because the author “donates all her proceeds to her monastic practice center to ensure that it can continue in the future.” What a bunch of rubbish. If you need money to write a dhamma book, you shouldn’t write a dhamma book.
Which I guess leads me to the conclusion that your site is pretty useless, from my hpov ;) I don’t come here for dhamma, there’s too much free stuff that makes me feel much better anyway. Even the visuddhimagga is available for free distribution (quasi-illegally). Honestly, I don’t know how Bhikkhu Bodhi can sell his translations.
Just thought I would make come on to some noise :) Good luck with the tea shop.

I have barely touched the Buddhist based arguments for and against in this post. I feel it is up to the individual conscience of each person to decide. In this, like all matters of conscience, one must be a lamp unto themselves.