January 17th
written by Bullet-Point Ben

Ben-Franklin-PirateBenjamin Franklin, inventor, pirate, and patriot, would have been 304 today.

Mr Franklin had an idea: what if I buy a book and then share it with as many people as I can, even strangers?!  In that spirit, he founded the first public lending library.  Today this basic concept has been ultra-optimized, thanks to the Internet, and is generally referred to as piracy.  An elaborate set of contradictory and confusing laws and precedents have been put in place so that libraries are legal and sharing mp3s on the Intertubes is illegal*.  But don’t kid yourself, when you check a book out from the library you are STEALING from the author as surely as if you put it in your pocket and walked out of Barnes and Noble without paying.

But Ben Franklin would approve – of checking out library books, anyway.  He might have approved of pirating mp3s too.  This is a guy who never patented any of his many inventions because he felt they should be used for the good of everyone.  He was also involved in a revolution, so you could argue he had problems with authority. If he were alive today, Franklin would probably be a member of the EFF.

*Downloading mp3s is not the same as checking a book out of the library because when you download an mp3 you make a copy whereas you have to return the book to the library.  Don’t worry, this loophole will be closed eventually.


  1. 01/17/2010

    Good points made here! Record companies are scared to death of this but I have no moral problems as they charge $16 for a $0.50 made disc. If they priced their CD’s better I would be more open to not download music.

  2. 01/17/2010

    As you say, $16 for a $0.50 disc. If someone stole the CD directly from the CD printing factory (not from a music store), would they be stealing $0.50 or would they be stealing $16? My answer would be $0.50. But what if they just stole the music, but left the disc?

    To me it’s all about the difference between *morally* wrong and *legally* wrong. In most cases the two are nearly identical – it’s wrong to murder and you go to jail for it too, etc. But in the field of Intellectual Property, the two have been stretched far apart and a multibillion dollar industry plopped right down in the space between them. With the difference between what people know is legally wrong and what they feel is morally wrong being so far apart, many people just ignore the law completely.

  3. 01/18/2010

    Regarding the *, can’t you legally make copies of the book you borrow from the library?