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A Musical Fable

I don't very ofter bother to read the comments on Techdirt, but was interested in what the sensible folk might have to say about Another Look At The 'Does File Sharing Equal Stealing?' Question. With most of the commentors missing the point of the article about as badly as those of The Dilbert Blog, I soon got bored, but luckily this little fable cheered me up:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a very rich man who liked to whistle. He was actually very good at it, and would make up elaborate tunes that he would whistle as he strolled through town with his bodyguards. One day, he heard a shopkeeper whistling, and realized the song was one of his, the rich man's, tunes.

This outraged the rich man. His creations belonged to him and only him, he decided. If someone else wanted to whistle them, they would have to pay him a fee. When confronted with this demand, the shopkeeper merely laughed and kept on whistling. And so the rich man ordered his bodyguards to beat the shopkeeper, smashing his face until his lips were so bruised and torn that whistling was impossible.

As it turned out, this shopkeeper was not the only person in town who liked whistling tunes that the rich man had composed. Whenever the rich man heard other people engaging in such unauthorized whistling, he would send his bodyguards after them. But of course there were too many people in this town for such a strategy to be widely effective. The offensive whistling continued more or less unabated.

But being a clever fellow, the rich man realized there were better ways to go about enforcing his will. He went to the town council and suggested that tunes created by any individual should be legally protected. If someone was caught whistling someone else's tune, the town constable and his deputies should force that person to pay the tune's originator a fee.

When the town council wondered, quite reasonably, why they should spend public time, money, and manpower on such a trivial matter, the rich man had a very reasonable answer. He invited the entire town council to a lavish banquet at his mansion, plied them with fine foods and rare wines, and then explained his thoughts:

Didn't they like listening to whistled tunes? Didn't they want to encourage the creation of as many tunes as possible? Further, didn't they want town trade to prosper from the legal sales of a new items, such as whistled tunes?

Well, of course the town council wanted all of these things. And the rich man's arguments seemed all the more reasonable for having been presented after a splendid meal and excellent drink. The council members immediately held an impromptu meeting and voted in a new law exactly as the rich man had proposed.

And while the rich man would've preferred that everyone lived happily ever after at this point (and always told the story that way), this was not the case. Every time someone was beaten and fined by the constable's deputies for whistling an unauthorized tune, town citizens began to dislike both whistling and the rich man just a bit more. Everyone became very aware of what they were whistling and who was listening to them, and so whistling -- all whistling, authorized and unauthorized -- occurred more rarely, only quietly, and usually in private.

When the rich man noticed the relative lack of whistling in the town's streets, he began to suspect something dishonest. He sent his bodyguards out in disguise to spy on citizens, and discovered the covert unauthorized whistling, both of his tunes and possibly other people's tunes. Clearly this was a serious problem, and so he persuaded the town council to work even harder to enforce the laws that they had created. New deputies were hired and sent out in disguise to punish unauthorized whistling.

Eventually, townspeople stopped whistling altogether. Instead, they started to hum tunes. The rich man heard this newfangled music-making and was outraged.

And the whole story happened again, and again, and again.

By on March 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comment

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