Neil Gaiman: How I learned to stop worrying and love the duplicator machines



Is this the heartfelt opinion of the original Neil Gaiman or one of his exact duplicates?


As it happens, I have a copy of that old Astounding. And it’s hardly the first story to explore the consequences of duplicators; George O. Smith famously did so in 1945’s Pandora’s Millions. Others may have been earlier, but Smith’s story was the one that got a lot of attention twenty years ago when the world started to realize that a lot of things are basically bits and that computers were making bits so cheap to copy that they might as well be free.

Do you know the origin of the lecture format for university classes? Once upon a time, books were too expensive for every student to have, or even access, his own copy. So they were read to the students in groups (the word, “lecture” derives from the Latin word for “to read.”) That changed.

I doubt I’ll live to see the new equilibrium we come to, given that the last one took centuries to establish. But it’s going to be an interesting ride.


If the duplicate is exact, does it make sense to differentiate between an original and a copy?

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Full text of Business as Usual, During Alterations in case anyone else is interested:




If you mean the order of IP-related matters, it didn’t really take “centuries”. Before the XIX century, reproduction was so expensive and scarce that copyright was hardly an issue. The current regime is basically post-1950, when publishers discovered that they could reap all the benefits of technological advancement (broadcasting, industrial manufacturing, the rise of mass-advertising etc) while using laws to avoid all downsides.

I fully expect matters to be settled in the next 30 years, one way or the other. I have an inch that it will be the next “war on drugs”, the War on Copytheft.


For an inert object, not generally. For non-inert object, the accumulation of state-changes post-duplication led to different object almost instantly; but certainly different objects over time.

However, even for inert objects, the accumulation of state-changes – dings in a tabletop, scuff-marks, blood-stains – still leads to differentiation.

So, if we talk about Gaiman-a vs Gaiman-ZZ9PluralZA who was just duplicated this morning, the differences are minor. But Gaiman-B34 who was duplicated in 1983 and devoted much of the past 30 years to interactive storytelling in the videogame industry (save for a brief diversion with CD-i) is quite different, and a real dullard. Brilliant, but he only ever talks about one thing at parties.

For Chrissakes, man, use the d**n [spoiler] tag if you’re going to talk about the next season of Dr. Who!

Can I take this for granted
With your copyright over me?
In this place
This surveilled home
I know there’s always someone on

Twenty eighty four

And so I face the DMCA
Turn my code against it, eh!
How I wish I’d been unborn
Wish I was unliving here

Twenty eighty four

I’ll prints the parts out
One by one
Leave a big pile on the ground
Just where they are looking in



Agreement here. However, it still does not matter at all which one of the objects was an original and which was a copy at the moment the perfect copy was created. Swap them, and their trajectories will still be the same, except the characteristic wear pattern will be on object A instead of on object B.

People knowing enough about one specific domain are rarely dull. At least if they can explain the domain and it is at least tangentially relevant to something interesting.

The narrowest subdomain of interactive storytelling is way less dull than encyclopedic knowledge of current pop-culture actor affairs. Which, sadly, is more common at parties.


I sense wisdom in this author.

The very notion that you could somehow live your entire life on the proceeds of one writing session strikes me as antithetical to the way life works. It’s not a state of equilibrium, that’s for sure. When laws need to be written to support your line of work, you’re in the wrong line of work.

A a maker and seller of hardware that I designed ten years ago and just stamp out copies of, I’m continually amazed that no one has copied my product and undersold me. They could, but perhaps the product’s too weird to copy. Huh… Bully for me, I guess.


Niche markets have a major advantage! The weakness in their volume is their strength in lack of competition.


[quote=“toyg, post:7, topic:45186”]
If you mean the order of IP-related matters, it didn’t really take “centuries”. Before the XIX century, reproduction was so expensive and scarce that copyright was hardly an issue.[/quote]

Everything is relative. Yes, reproduction is expensive. No, it was not so expensive that there was no need for law on the subject. See, for instance, the Statute of Anne (1710). Before that, the matter was handled by licencing the printer; the author was compensated, if at all, by private arrangement with the printer (who held a legal monopoly independent of content – e.g. printing Bibles.)

The United States Constitution (1789) treats patent and copyright in something recognizable as their current forms (property rights to intellectual works). Of course details have changed, but the broad strokes are still related to the idea of a temporary (stop laughing!) monopoly held by those who produce original works.

That worked because printing etc. were expensive enough that there were relatively few who could engage in it (sometimes by State policy to limit permissions) and as a result enforcement was managable. We’re seeing that particular economic basis crumble, basically for the first time in human history.

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The Elephant in the Room here (or maybe we’ve all fully acknowledged this maligned pachyderm) is Spotify, is it not? You pay a measly 10 bucks a month ($120/year is far less money than buying individual albums and iTunes), and you get full access to an artists’ body of work (unless they opt out). And as we all know, most artists get very little compensation. How does Spotify fit in these philosophical musings? This is an honest question, and I’d like to hear people’s ideas. I’m not condemning or praising Spotify. But streaming seems to be the next dominant form of music distribution, not totally replacing but certainly displacing broadcast radio and album purchasing. Honestly, I’m not informed enough to hold forth on what should or shouldn’t be done with this beast we’ve created. But one thing is fairly clear to me…there’s no stuffing the streaming genie back in the bottle.

Over a sufficiently long timeline, the duplicate will involve a lot of dirigibles.

or what @OtherMichael said…


Spotify is the end-result of those musings, I’d expect.

Following the same line of reasoning, Spotify would be considered “advertising” with the “real money” (for certain limited definitions of the term “real money”) coming from personal appearances, t-shirts, other physical product that can’t be easily duplicated.

Gaiman’s conceit was to apply that to writers (Spotify for writers? any random Russian e-book site), but his intro suggests it could happen to physical things, as well (want an Ikea table? Here, we’ll print one!).


Wasn’t the first story to examine the consequence of duplicators the king Midas story?
We didn’t heed that warning so I guess we need a new one :wink:


I’ve always thought of that story as a stern warning about the dangers of currency inflation. In that sense, King Midas is still reigning over us.:stuck_out_tongue: Another folktale is in this vein is “Why the Sea is Salt”.


The point is if you want to make a living at something, sell something that isn’t duplicatable. I can play plenty of Chieftain’s tunes, but seeing Matt Malloy do it is unduplicatable. I can brew a sour Belgian ale, but a 1991 Cantillon is unduplicatable. I can read Neil G. latest book, but hearing him read and talk about it… Etc.

And this is a good thing for culture and civilization. I believe more access will generally improve culture.


What was the 1950s story where the executive drives to work and finds the offices looking deserted and vandalized. he expects this because business has collapsed after the introduction of duplicators. Actually they can make anything. Feed in the bulk material pellets in one end and get a glass of good scotch in a crystal glass with ice at the other end, or a Cuban cigar already lit.

Gradually the executive realizes that he is wrong about the date, and months have passed. People create backup files for themselves. and if they have a bad day they just do “Sands of Time” rewind and jump in the duplicator, recreating themselves without their recent bad memories. Or people have a party and maybe the finish it by all jumping into the machine and resurrecting themselves. The executive realizes he is a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy and he is gradually losing his identity. I think there was a janitor who basically just chuckled when the executive came in looking disoriented and saying the same thing every couple weeks.


When I read the headline I first thought about those hand cranked Duplicator machines they used in school to memeograph tests and hand outs. The ones with the blue ink and the heady smell of acetone.