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When piracy isn’t theft

November 24, 2009

by Alexandros Stavrakas
from The Guardian

Stewart Brand, during the first Hackers’ Conference in 1984, uttered the infamous maxim, “Information wants to be free”. The implication was that any attempt to control and limit the free dissemination of knowledge and information would be met with resistance. That was yesterday’s news. Today’s is that the British government is seeking to tackle the problem of online piracy by passing a law disciplining those wishing to freely share intellectual property that is under copyright protection.

In 2007, Dan Ariely and Kristina Shampan’er, behavioural economists at MIT, published a paper that established the advantage of “free” over “cheap”. They offered a group of subjects a choice between two chocolates, Hershey’s Kisses for one cent and Lindt truffles for 15c. Three quarters of the subjects chose the truffles. When they repeated the experiment, reducing the price of each chocolate by 1c, the order of preference was reversed: the majority chose the now free Hershey’s Kisses. Although the price difference had remained effectively the same (14c), the effect that “free” had on the subjects’ behaviour was remarkable. “Free” produces a completely different consumer dynamic to any other price.

Even so, the seductive resonance of getting something for nothing is of secondary importance, as are a number of other points that have been made since the announcement of Peter Mandelson’s intentions. more

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