Am I a corporate tool?

The recent discussion over in the games forum about the legitimacy/morality of gold farmers in WoW got me thinking. Sorry if I Koontz a little.

I really don’t like gold farmers, mainly because it is against the rules set down by Blizzard, and by the fact that gold farmers tend to killsteal/exploit/be assholes, but one of reasons for that resonated with me more than any other was that many of these same traits are seen in powergamers, though usually not to the same degree that gold farmers do.

A big part of the moral indignation was that they were making money off of the transaction. Thus, I have the following moral quandary: Why does making money off of something make an immoral act more immoral?

Some examples:

*This warez thread over at Ars Technica. Even those who feel that pirating games is not morally wrong, or at least not terribly wrong, feel that those that sell pirated games are morally wrong. There were similar sentiments in the thread here about the ACME video game store bust.

*Copyleft advocates, like Cory Doctorow, rail against corporate enforcement of copyrights against individuals, but even Doctorow’s books are copyrighted by a license that forbids for profit redistribution, but allows for non-profit redistribution.

*Part of the problem people had with Google Toolbar’s Autolink, versus numerous other solutions like Greasemonkey which did the same thing, was that Google stood to make money off the links, through ads and such.

My gut instinct says that there is a moral difference between a person copying a song off a Bittorrent tracker to listen to, and Coca Cola using the track in a commercial. Is it simply “money is the root of all evil”? Or is it similar to the gold farmers in WoW, that doing something for a profit tends to bring out the worst (morally) in a person? Or is it because the utility that is gained from the action is much more substantial (in a literal sense) when it is money, rather than the enjoyment of the game?

But Coca-Cola paid for the rights, so presumably the publisher and artist got paid for that use. Are they immoral for accepting money from an Evil Corporate Entity?

And if someone is downloading a movie off Bittorent to cut DVDs to sell, that’s presumably more immoral than for personal use? Or is it?

(No answers here, just more questions)

I think that is the closest one. All but the most ridiculous of copyright libertarians acknowledge a distinction between the idea of “personal” or “nonprofit” use of a property and commercial use. The latter is defined simply as anything that is designed to generate income or to promote generation of income. The former, however, is an increasingly narrow category in the business and legal world as Mickey Mouse and his friends run roughshod over intellectual property law, and that is seeping into popular mindsets through the backdoor as it always does.
However, the moral indignation you bring up is actually a whole separate beast a lot of the time. For instance, in the case of Blizzard, “outlawing” a behaviour should happen within the constraints of the game rules, not through punitive measures outside the game. Better yet, give other players the some sort of countermeasure, and turn it into a creative part of the game. But to be mad at people for exploiting flaws in the game is nearly as childish as the conduct in question…just like with FPS’s and campers etc, you just have to find a way to beat them, ignore them, or shut them out of your game experience. Better yet, convince Blizzard to find you a way to do that…I think it would be far more effective to marginalize them than to try to prohibit their actions externally.
There is always a scam to be run in virtually any game that allows a player freedom, multiplayer or otherwise; the games that survive them give enough people reasons not to do it or a way to ignore it.

This warez thread over at Ars Technica. Even those who feel that pirating games is not morally wrong, or at least not terribly wrong, feel that those that sell pirated games are morally wrong. There were similar sentiments in the thread here about the ACME video game store bust.

That’s just the kind of mess that results when people who are doing immoral things(1) seek to rationalize it by setting an artificial boundary beyond which–for whatever reason–they will not cross and then magically be ok with the law or themselves. If you’re going to do something wrong at least have the smidgen of intestinal fortitude to admit it without inventing a bogeyman to make yourself seem comparatively better.

Part of the problem people had with Google Toolbar’s Autolink, versus numerous other solutions like Greasemonkey which did the same thing, was that Google stood to make money off the links, through ads and such.

This is a similar problem. There are a very small number of human actions, especially when it comes to creating internet software, that do not have very specific motives and ends in mind. While certainly nonprofit software is out there, there is quite often a very good reason (or very bad depending on whose perspective you take) for the absence of direct charge to the user; I don’t understand why people are so allergic to a relatively upfront arrangement like Google’s which seems at worst a symbiotic parasitism versus the wide variety of spyware and malware that is often the alternative. Myself, I am far more concerned when I can’t figure out where the profit lies.

(1) I don’t mean that in a holier than thou sense so much as in a literal sense specific to the matter at hand.

I think his example was if Coca Cola got the track off of Bittorrent and then used it in an ad, not a condemnation of the capitalist licensing model in the general sense you suggest

And if someone is downloading a movie off Bittorent to cut DVDs to sell, that’s presumably more immoral than for personal use? Or is it?

Do you think there is a moral difference between drug dealers and users (let’s leave the morals of drugs aside for the moment and just use them as a simple example of something that is facially illegal and possibly naughty to own and distribute)? Because regardless there is a legal difference, based on the common sense understanding of what personal use is and isn’t. It’s easy to run around in circles pushing the boundaries of either extreme, but I think it is best left at “you’ll probably know it when you see it”.

I keeping trying to think of a joke here, but can’t, so instead I’ll just come out and say it: The whole point of law(s) is to keep people doing immoral things constrained within a series of artificial boundaries beyond which they do not cross.

Fair enough, I guess. Keep in mind that I was not talking about that in a legal sense, there, but in the purely social sense of the sort of indignation and self righteousness that bursts forth most frequently from those that feel the guiltiest about their own misdeeds, real or “artificial”.

Let’s go back to Prohibition for a moment.

One day, Prohibition went into effect.

Then, years, later, it was revoked.

Was it immoral to drink before Prohibition? During Prohibition? The day before it lapsed?

When is it moral or immoral to break a law? Or obey one, for that matter?

Not easy questions.

The legal status of something is not equivalent to its moral status, although they can and often do agree. That’s why I tried to separate the two questions to avoid descending into ambiguous syllogisms rife with pedantry. I guess I blew it. Straw men and red herrings for everyone!

There is no right or wrong, there is only popular opinion.

For once, I agree with you.

The matter of timing and personal choice is a thorny one. I’m posing these questions as questions we should all ask ourselves, not to make a point. What’s interesting to me is how most of us often arrive at different conclusions from the same questions.

Life is often ambiguous. That makes it fun, challenging, and often very frustrating.

Kind of like God of War.

Have we met? I don’t recall disagreeing with you. But, yeah, I’ll take what I can get.

The matter of timing and personal choice is a thorny one. I’m posing these questions as questions we should all ask ourselves, not to make a point. What’s interesting to me is how most of us often arrive at different conclusions from the same questions.

Life is often ambiguous. That makes it fun, challenging, and often very frustrating.
This is usually the point where I break out in hives and die a horrible fiery death at the hands of forum philosophy. So I’ll just excuse myself from that portion of it as much as possible, if that’s alright.