Thursday, June 28, 2012

Argument by analogy and copyright infringement

There's an interesting argument on Jimmy Wales Wikipedia talk page, that deserves the attention of logicians. Jimmy has organised a petition against the extradition of Richard O'Dwyer, the Sheffield student who ran a website linking to and (apparently) streaming copyrighted material. Some called 'Incu Master' argues
If someone facilitates credit card fraud, using the credit card numbers of US citizens, helping US citizens commit fraud against other US citizens, and taking a cut of the "profits", while running a website served out of Sweden from his/her home in the UK, and gets extradited to the US, would you be writing a petition to stop the extradition? It seems you are saying there is something special about copyright law in this regard, and I don't understand it because you seem to agree that copyright infringement is, and should be, illegal. Incu Master (talk) 14:10, 26 June 2012 (UTC)
Jimmy replies
I think one question that has been raised repeatedly in this thread is one that makes no sense. No, I would not launch a petition to save someone from extradition for credit card fraud. But you can't conclude from that anything about my position on credit card fraud or how bad it is relative to copyright infringement nor how I privately think credit card fraud should be dealt with legally, etc. For a variety of reasons, demands on my time among them, I don't take a personal interest in every issue on earth. I am not particularly knowledgeable about the laws surrounding credit card fraud, nor do I have any particular reason to become interested. I am not interested enough in the issue to get involved at all. Nor would the general public be particularly interested in my views on the matter, as I am not known in that field.--Jimbo Wales (talk) 12:18, 28 June 2012 (UTC)
I don't follow his reply. Incu's argument is a version of 'argument from analogy'. Here are two similar cases X and Y. Why is your judgment about X so different from your judgment about Y, given the formal similarity between them? Facilitating credit card theft is illegal in both countries, and merits extradition. Facilitating copyright theft is illegal in both countries, and merits extradition. If you don't organise petitions against one, then logically you don't organise petitions against the other. Jimbo's reply is that there is a difference, namely he doesn't have an interest in credit card fraud, and that he is not particularly knowledgeable about it. So, logically, and given that he does regard facilitating copyright theft as illegal, it is OK to organise petitions against extradition for illegal activities, so long as you have an interest in it, and you are particularly knowledgeable about it?


David Brightly said...

Inca Muster's question is this: Given that there is apparently no reason to act in either case X or case Y, why act in case Y? Wales gives a plausible sounding answer, but an answer to a rather different question, viz, Given that there are equally compelling reasons to act in both case X and case Y, why act in case Y rather than X? This is the situation of Buridan's Ass; it can be resolved by choosing either course of action at random if necessary, if there is no other way of breaking the symmetry. Wales, I think, is being rather disingenuous, not wishing to explain quite why case Y relevantly differs from case X. But he does touch on this in the Guardian piece, where he seems to be urging that 'internet freedom of speech' should trump individuals' intellectual property rights, claiming that telling people where stolen goods may be found is (or ought to be) protected in US law under the first amendment. Or, at any rate, the providers of certain kinds of internet service should be spared the costs of protecting IP rights.

Anthony said...

Why doesn't the "internet freedom of speech" argument apply to credit card numbers?

The only argument for this I've heard is essentially that "privacy" trumps "freedom of speech" which trumps "copyright". But I don't think this is Wales' argument. It's certainly not one I agree with.

Anthony said...

Some other self-consistent positions which don't seem to be held by Wales:

1) Copyright infringement is not wrong.
1a) "Copyright is merely a proper meddling of the government with the free markets, for the sake of the greater good." This position seems to contradict Wales' Libertarian politics.
1b) "Copyright infringement should not be a crime." This is one of the more common Libertarian positions, but Wales seems to disclaim this one.
2) "Aiding and abetting in a crime should not be a crime." If Wales believes this, he's certainly going out of his way to avoid admitting it.
3) "Extradition should not be allowed unless the alleged criminal was physically present in the foreign country at the time the crime was committed." It's possible this is what Wales believes. Again though he seems to be avoiding saying it.