David Braben on ownership, theft, freedom of speech and the outsiders

Understanding ownership

When we buy a house on a plot of land, we don’t own the mineral rights even if we ‘own’ the land.

A local coal mine does not have to seek out the permission of the numerous owners of all the different columns of rock they are tunnelling through, nor can the ‘owner’ of the surface tunnel sell the coal or oil that might be there, unless they have a separate right to do so.

Even with the surface ownership, we cannot do what we like.

Almost all countries have some sort of building/planning control, and that is a good thing. Maybe it is annoying to us, but it also stops our neighbours doing things we might hate. In effect we have a licence to use the land a certain way from the country in which it sits, but we call it ‘ownership’.

Buying a PlayStation 3 (for example), also does not give me unrestricted ownership of it. If I ‘dig’ into it, I can’t just sell or even give away all the information I find. It really annoys me when hackers claim they can do what they like with what they find, especially when it is destructive to the security of all the other PS3 machines.

These people are damaging to everyone with a PS3, not just to the games dev community, because of future security measures that will be needed, but there seems to be a blind spot amongst some players, perhaps because they imagine it will mean ‘free stuff’ in the future.


If someone buys the same model of car as me, and then after studying it at length announces to the world a good way of breaking into that car, it hurts me.

I will have to take extra security measures thereafter, and it damages the manufacturer of that car. In this case though, there is not an equivalent blind spot, perhaps as finding a quick way of breaking into all cars of that type does not mean free fuel in the future.

Almost everyone would agree it is a bad thing, and would get angry with such a person.

There have been suggestions that releasing hacking information is an issue of freedom of speech. That is such rubbish. Some freedoms of speech are also curtailed for sensible reasons. Broadcasting easy ways of breaking into cars is bad for everyone affected, as is the freedom of speech cliché that is always wheeled out – shouting ‘Fire’ in a cinema, which creates a real risk of harm to others. It is common sense not to do it.

There is a more subtle side to this not ‘getting’ ownership. That is the failure to acknowledge intellectual property rights, and rights to a service.

When we buy a new car, we buy an item and a service. In this case, it is mostly the item we are buying, but the service is significant. This is a service, and if you sell the car, the warranty and maintenance cover does not restart.


A game is an item and a service too, except there are people out there trying to prevent publishers and developers detecting whether a game is new or has been sold again.

The equivalent is adjusting the paperwork and registration number on your second hand car to get a new warranty and free maintenance out of your garage.

We see shops using polishing machines on used game discs, and even replacing the outer sleeve to make a scratched game look new. With a game, the service is a combination of the single player game and online support.

Online bandwidth per user is something that gradually dies down after a game is some months old – but if it is then passed to another user, those costs are incurred all over again for the new user – but the publishers providing the service see none of the ‘pre-owned’ revenue to cover it.

It is all about what is reasonable. Hacking into a machine as an academic exercise is one thing.
Broadcasting the information is another. We should all be prepared to roundly condemn such people. Right now it is Sony that is hurting.

Tomorrow it will affect all of us in the development community, so we should stand against it together, now.

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