You keep using that word…

I do not think it means what you think it means.

In this case, I’m talking about narcissistic content creators and media companies that throw around the word “theft”, usually accompanied by talking about their “rights.”

You have copyright, which is intended to be a short term, limited concession to publishers in order to incentivize creation of new works.

Now, this has expanded in popular discourse into a “natural right” of authors to restrict users of software and even control how we use the physical things we buy.

A few years back, there was a push in the games press to demonize used games sales.  It seemed effective, since many gamers were rallying around the idea.  Posters called renting and buying used games “morally deficient” and many were claiming it was actually even worse than illegal copying (!).  Somehow the games industry was able to survive from the Atari 2600 up to this point, but if we don’t get rid of used games, publishers won’t be able to afford to make games anymore.

Everyone knows at this point about how Youtube is a nightmarish web of false copyright claims.  Predictably, this has been used as a tool both to stifle and as well claim ownership of review videos of their products.  Once again, the propaganda machine was in full effect, with loud voices claiming reviews and let’s play videos are “stealing revenue” or otherwise equating them with illegal copying.

Ridiculously, a textbook publisher sued a student for re-selling physical textbooks and the case made it to the Supreme Court before it was decided in favor of common sense.

Recently, I stumbled on a tirade by an author who called AdBlock, Ghostery, and NoScript the “trifecta of evil” and bemoaned how these tools are destroying the internet by depriving content creators of their revenue stream, which is what prompted me to write today.

Here’s some choice quotes from the article:

“What makes me angry about the AdBlock plugin is that the author – while happy to destroy our revenue stream – is also profiteering from the very same free content model by asking for PayPal donations when the plugin is installed. Talk about hypocrisy.”

“But educating people and blocking them are different, and given that the majority of users simply leave it blocking everything, the end result is the exact same as NoScript or Adblock – users enjoying our content, without creating revenue.”

“By far the easiest way to keep your private browsing actually private is to keep one particular browser, a portable thumbdrive version perhaps, to do all those browsing needs in.

So even if a tracking script does follow some of your browsing habits, is it such a big deal? At the very worst end of the scale (that is, not the ones that simply act like hit counters), they’re being used for what’s called a behaviourally-targeted market.”

First of all, I completely fail to understand why providing a free utility to users and asking for donations is “hypocritical.”   I also fail to understand why, if this revenue stream works, the author cannot use the same solution if many users dislike the ads.  Maybe users find that AdBlock provides them with more value than the author’s content does.

Second, the insinuation is made that educating users about when they’re being tracked by advertisers is okay, but somehow empowering the user to not be tracked is somehow wrong.  Again, because it’s morally wrong somehow to not create revenue for the author.   The author goes on to say that users should just accept being tracked because it’s not that big of a deal, or if they want to browse privately, the burden should be on them to make a private browsing thumbdrive.

The arrogance is astounding.  If you don’t mind being tracked, and you want to look at or don’t mind ads, then simple, don’t install these plugins.  You aren’t a victim because people value their privacy more than you think they should, and you don’t get to make that decision for others just because you want to make more money.

I did a little more digging and found some articles about a campaign against Mozilla Firefox a few years back because of AdBlock.  Some more quotes:

“Software that blocks all advertisement is an infringement of the rights of web site owners and developers.”

“Numerous web sites exist in order to provide quality content in exchange for displaying ads. Accessing the content while blocking the ads, therefore would be no less than stealing. Millions of hard working people are being robbed of their time and effort by this type of software.”

I would like an enumeration of which rights these are that are allegedly being violated.  Anyone?

Maybe next it’ll be decided that looking away from the ads or going to the bathroom is stealing, because it results in theoretically less effective advertising, leading to reduced ad dollars from sponsors.  Everyone should consent to have their phones and TVs make sure they’re watching with facial recognition and pause the ads if not.  You aren’t a thief are you?  Think of the starving writers and TV producers!  They deserve to make a living!


First of all, the “stealing” argument.  None of the things I talk about are “stealing” under any criteria.  Some of them are illegal copyright infringement, which is not the same.

This nonsense about AdBlock/Ghostery/NoScript doesn’t even meet that criteria, since to my knowledge, none of these are against the law in any fashion.  Calling them “theft” is just a blatant lie.  There’s also this “implicit contract” that gets brought up that website operators deliver content in exchange for viewing ads.  This doesn’t exist.  If you want it to exist make your site have a click-through EULA and see what that does for your page hits.  Either way, still not stealing.

Secondly, users are resorting to these tools due to the greed and malice of content providers.  You have ads that cover the entire screen, ads that pop up when you click a page, ads that slow or harm your computer, ads that blast noise into your headphones.  It’s common sense that most people are lazy and value convenience above all things.  iTunes, Netflix, Steam and other services show people are willing to pay for service and convenience if the prices aren’t abusive.  I know I personally just overlooked ads until they started actively interfering with my ability to use the content it was “supporting.”  That’s when I started using AdBlock, and this is probably the case for many users.  Most people would just not even bother if the websites were not actively intrusive or harmful.

What do the abusers do?  Instead of responding to customers and doing business ethically, they invent wholly fabricated “rights.”  They invented a “right” to get rich from their content.  This right apparently supersedes your right to use your own computer in the way you want, to install useful software on it, view the content you want to view, and to not view the content you don’t want to view.    This right is entirely founded on the fallacious argument that because someone creates something they should have complete and utter control over how it is ever used under any circumstances, and that users have a moral responsibility to provide the content creator with a living that they find acceptable.  If you don’t acknowledge these rights, you’re a “freeloader”, nay, a “thief.”  They play the creator-as-ubermensch card as well, saying that if these rights aren’t acknowledged, nothing will ever be produced again when the Creators go Galt.

The recent boom of services like Kickstarter and Patreon, as well as simple donations show people are willing to support content they find valuable.  In the face of music downloading, bands are creatively inventing new revenue streams and new business models.  Many people “whitelist” ads on sites they want to support.  In a free market, you get creative and provide something of value to customers that they are willing to pay for.  You don’t demand customers give up their rights because you’re incapable of adapting to market conditions, or because you feel you deserve a certain lifestyle.  You may well deserve it, but you aren’t entitled to it.


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