Friday, September 01, 2006

The Mavericks of Technology

My office window is literally an opening to the little universe around me. At times of little or no work, I find myself staring aimlessly at the outside world. So it came as a shock to me when I counted over twenty satellite dishes in a range of a stone throw from my desk. Three decades ago, these dishes could only be seen in space observatories or science fiction movies. Now they are so commonplace that the apathetic eye could see hundreds of them without registering any impression.

Thousands of viewing choices are accessible to any one individual in the world today. Sadly, many of the more useful channels are encrypted so that a certain amount of hard-earned cash needs to be spent for the privilege of viewing. In days gone by, the high seas were the theater of battles between “legitimate” carriers and pirates. Technology revived these terms, although the nomenclature is dictated by the “haves” as opposed to the “have-nots”. Real pirates, in my opinion, are in it solely for the money. The Internet, however, has diminished their profit. The argument about pirating, especially when it comes to “software and digital media” has always been one-sided. Remember, money talks, and very loudly. Yet, pirates, or mavericks if we want to use a less biased term, persist. There is a simple reason behind this fact and that is they are performing a needed function.

Presently, many of these rebels are driven not by monetary benefit but rather by the challenge of breaking the code, so to speak. Millions of PC users around the world could’ve never entered the digital revolution were it not for pirated software. Lawyers and copyright zealots could argue all they want about loss of revenue and eventually higher costs, but the simple and plain truth is that piracy has broadened the base and allowed disadvantaged groups to get on the bandwagon. Let’s face it, software is ridiculously expensive and beyond the reach of the majority of humanity. In Damascus, a small underground store (it is literally underground and located in a tunnel) is frequented by Westerners from different diplomatic missions. They buy tons of software for virtually a fraction of the original cost. It’s not only the poor who endorse free software but the rich as well, as long as they don’t get caught that is. In the satellite TV business, the operators give a choice. The viewer could either watch stupid shit and get bombarded with advertisement for free, or pay a premium fee for a good movie, a top level football game or a worthwhile documentary. These channels use the latest in encryption technology to insure that nobody gets a free ride. The laws devised by highly paid solicitors are in favor of the broadcasters. Like it or not, rich or poor, everyone has to abide.

Thus came about a new breed of pirates, or mavericks, on the world scene. They might be nerds, but they were able to break the damn code and bring about almost free unrestricted digital viewing to the masses. The smart cards have been cracked and counterfeit circuitry is sold for less than 10% of the retail value, which just about covers the cost of the hardware plus a small profit. To my delight, I found user groups on the Internet where free exchange of codes is rampant. Is it wrong if Paramount or Disney makes less money? Is it immoral if a bunch of out-of-work manual laborers could sit in a humble café by the sea and watch Jean Claude Van Dam beating the shit out of a dozen bad guys for free? Despite all the precautions, despite the threats of legal action, despite and despite, we were able to watch the Germany 2006 World Football Cup without paying a dime. As far as I’m concerned, information should always remain free. Equal access should be the law. The world wouldn’t stop if some lobbyists should find themselves unemployed. They can, as a matter of fact, join the out-of-work laborers in the little café and watch a good martial art movie. Julia Roberts shouldn’t be terribly upset if her fee goes down from 20 million dollars to say one million per movie. May be she’ll work harder and longer to maintain her present lifestyle, and figure. A stupid idiot with a microphone makes more money than a brain surgeon. A Ragheb Alama or a Haifa Wehbe earns more per year than Nizar Kabbani or Nazek Al-Malaika had probably made in an entire lifetime, simply because their kind of “art” is more suitable for digital media. The argument that the quality of the arts would plummet if high monetary compensation is not insured is baseless. Van Gogh died poor and had no idea that years after his death art collectors would make millions upon millions from his paintings.

ADSL is making headway in the third world and is becoming the preferred method to access the Internet. This will insure inexpensive and extremely fast communication. Multimedia, music, movies and international phone calls with video-conferencing at dirt cheap prices are the new wave in the digital revolution. Why, one wonders, would the giant companies hang their own gallows and undermine their huge profits of today. Wonder no more. If they don’t do it, somebody else with motives beyond financial gains would. So they figure they can get away with a few sacks of money in the first couple of years before, again, the code is broken. This would continue for some time until total and uniform saturation is achieved. Meanwhile, we could feel guilty and pay whatever we’re asked to, or seek other alternatives and join the rebels on the fringe of the established norms.

Viva La Revolución!

8 comments:

I love Munich said...

Excellent post Abufares ... and right on target! I couldn't agree more about the way "art" is defined! Here in the West there is a group of boys - in my opinion the best example for decline any kind of common sense - of 16-year olds (they started to make big bucks at the age of FIFTEEN!), called the "Tokyo-Hotel"! They're all privately tutored, swim in money .. and are adored by the girls of this age group who scream and faint the moment they get a glimps of them! Well , my generation behaved similarily once the beatles came into the limelight (not I, I might add) ... but certainly NOT infront of 15 or 16-year old who had a problem comprehending what re´lly had happened to them once the dollars started flowing big time!
A physician over here makes initially far less that 2000 Euros a month - and that after years of studying and , during internship, working up to 36-hour shifts ... and these school-kids at the age of 15, barely literate, got millions for their so-called "art"?? The idiom of "price-performance-ratio" or "value-for-money" became meaningless ... a and the majority of hard working people feel more and more fooled!

Information and big sport-events should definitely be free for all, no question! We have just the same problem over here!

GREAT post Abufares, as usual! I really enjoy your style of writing and the way you look at things!

abufares said...

Thanks for dropping by Karin. Always a pleasure.
Today's Tokyo-Hotel kids are similar to the examples I gave in Arabic music. Although the "artists" I mentioned are older and are supposed to know better.
Again, thanx for passing by

Anonymous said...

An original copy of Windows 3.11 was selling for 12,000 syrian pounds when I first bought a computer. I would have never been able to purchase it. Instead, I bought a pirated copy for 200 syrian pounds.
I agree with you on one thing. There is no way the poor around the world can touch computers were it not for pirated software. I don't approave piracy in principle and believe everyone should be payed for his work. But as you said, the prices for software are rediculously high. The developers brought it to themselves.

abufares said...

thank you anonymous
what you wrote about software is, in my opinion, also true regarding, music, TV and movies.
The prices have fallen down since the early days of blood-sucking and in truth if the prices were right or realistic, piracy wouldn't have had a chance to start with.
Again thanks for commenting

Rami the Merciful said...

I completely agree with you Khalo with regards to the necessity of the pirates' roles in cracking down the code for the common man. Without them, millions of us would be stuck in the lower echelon as a result of the hierarchical separation brought about by monetary access.

Such differential access to money is surely the root of inevitable collapses within the walls of a single society.

They say your best friends can become your worst enemies much quicker than a stranger can...

abufares said...

Congratulations on your new blog.
Glad to hear from you Rami and I look forward reading your posts. From the look of it, you're on the right track to some great and entertaining writing.
Thank you for dropping by.

I love Munich said...

I couldn't resist - YOU'VE JUST BEEN TAGGED!!
HAVE FUN!! :)

Ascribo said...

All cost effective treatments should be free
That was a motto that made a big change in the health care system of the UK, and also contributed in the emerge of Evidence-Based Medicine as it is today. That idea was back in mid 1940s!!!

I think we need that thing in all fields. It's ok if some people wants to pay for crap...but if something is REALLY useful, enjoyable, or important, it should be available to all with no big fees.

I think about it myself...If I wrote a very nice book, I would like everybody in the world to read it. I would like to make some money of course, but not a fortune. If it's really a good book, then I'd like my ideas to be all over the world.
The same thing can be said about everything...If something is good, it is to be distributed then. You can't write a good article and keep it for yourself.

I enjoyed everything related to cracking, or sharing whether it is a book, music, tv channel, a computer software....etc. I really have a good feeling when I get a $1000 software for free. The programmer doesn't need that money more than I do, I think to myself. Bill Gates has had enough...

Thanks for the great post