Everything online is finders keepers

Geplaatst: februari 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

Everything you stumble upon on the internet is free. I usually don’t pay for free stuff. Legally this may not hold up, but in practice, it is how the internet works. Given that I just said that everything online is free, you might ask why I still spend money online, because I do. Well, that is a long story…

At the Queensday flea market I bought an SNES for 10 euro. I handed the kid the money, he gave me the SNES. He got rid of his old junk, I added a classic to my collection. Trade like we have been doing for millenia. But what if I could get a second SNES by copy/pasting it as if was a pdf. One keystroke and bham: two SNESsen in stead of one. How much would I have been willing to pay in that case?

The Pirate Bay Logo

Economics 101 teaches us that producers will continue to produce untill making one additional unit incures more (additional!) cost than revenue. The market price will be equal to the additional cost of this last unit. So digital products are free: copy-paste. That would make it impossible to sell digital information, right? No, you can sell it. Once. After that, someone will eventually upload your information, freely available for anyone with an internet connection.

For producers that want to sell their product more than once, there is copyright: it forbids me to, after I’ve bought a product, to sell it again. It is illegal to copy paste for me, but the producer of the original content is free to do so as many times as he likes. Sounds like a golden business, but it is based on fear. Fear to be prosecuted. However, there are always a few idiots (heros?) who try to challenge the law. Information is basically free: a logic consequence of the zero-marginal costs when copy-pasting. Any law dealing with information in the marketplace that fails to address that is a waste of paper: either it is impossible to execute, or it is needlessly repressive.

iTunes store logo

And I still pay for online information. In iTunes, I can download a song for one euro. I could of course download the same song using a torrten. However: I would have to wade through pages with unsollicited porn commercials before I can donwload anything. The ease of use that iTunes offers is worth more to me than the one euro that Apple charges me. So online providers of content: if the value that your content has to me, minus the cost of irritation that I incur for getting it, is higher than the price you ask, than I will buy your content. Happily. All you need to know is  what I value most and what  irritates me most. Finally: you shouldn’t mind that I give your information away for free. But if you made getting the information as easy as iTunes did, people will most likely come to you, not to me. And gladly pay you that one euro per song. 

There is other information that I am willing to pay for: information that does not exist yet! Like water-quality of river Rhine. I can not analyse those samples myself, so I pay for someone to do it for me. As with the iTunes store before: I am not paying for the actual information: I am paying for the cost of creating that information. As soon as I have that excel sheet with measurement values, I am going to share it with other scientists for free. Free since it costs me nothing to copy that excel sheet and the original cost to the producer have been covered by my initial payment. It would almost be unethical to not share te data for free when all costs have already been covered. So researchers: once you are done with your own research share your raw data!

Long story short: I do not pay for information. I pay for the reduction in effort when I do not have to gather information myself. And I am willing to pay good money for reduction of effort. Want to make a buck on me: make my life easy.

Therefore I state, as my 9th proposition:

Everything online is finders keepers, not founders keepers!

Thanks to economist Michel, political pirate Jorrit and information theory specialist Steven for all the discussion we had that lead to this proposition.


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