Monday, September 21, 2009

Piracy - The Who, The How and the Y

“The average man will bristle if you say his father was dishonest, but he will brag a little if he discovers that his great-grandfather was a pirate.”(1)

For my first post I would like to shed some light on the topic of internet piracy. It is a topic that is surrounded by much controversy and misinformation and so this discussion may prove useful to people who would like to know, just how serious the "problem" of piracy is.


"Pirate" is a very subjective word. For some it conjurs up romantic images of adventure on the open seas, for others it means blood-thirsty criminality. The copyright industry has made very skillful use of the word in applying it to people who download music/film/tv via the internet. However, calling a teenager who sits in front of a computer and clicks on a mouse a pirate is ludicrous when you consider that an accurate definition of a pirate is "A robber on the high seas; one who by open violence takes the property of another on the high seas; especially, one who makes it his business to cruise for robbery or plunder; a freebooter on the seas; also, one who steals in a harbor"(2). The fact is that the whole copyright regime is predicated on using words in non-traditional ways. The word "theft" is another example, defined as "the felonious taking and removing of personal property"(3), and yet the copyright industry insists that theft of copyright needs neither a taking nor a removing (the original digital copy never leaves its server).

Regardless, subverting words is popular amongst lobbyists whose job it is to see that legislation enacted is favorable to their position. The system of government in the USA is designed for this to be the case. However, I would argue that the copyright industry may be going too far in their attempts to protect their rights, to the extent that blatant lies are being told.

One particular example is the recent news (LINK) from the UK that claimed 7 million British people engage in online piracy. A huge number for a country with a population of approximately 60 mllion. After an investigation by the BBC it was discovered that the 7 million figure was arrived at after relying on a previous study carried out on behalf of the British Music Industry, as well as a habit of drastically rounding up statistics. The most troubling aspect of this story is that the report was commissioned by the UK government.

So in answer to the first question, who are the pirates? They are an indeterminate number of people with internet access instead of parrots, but who do probably have scurvy from a lack of fresh fruit.


Internet piracy covers many acts, including but not limited to; downloading songs, downloading movies, downloading tv shows, circumventing DRM measures, uploading copyright material, etc.
As for the how? All you need is a computer, an internet connection and the ability to use a search engine.

On my own blog I give the following example:

"According to Nielsen ratings...the most popular cable television show in America is "The Closer, starring Kyra Sedgwick, with almost 7 million viewers. When you enter the search term 'watch "the closer" online free" in Google you return 963,000 hits. Clicking on some of these links will bring you to websites where full episodes have been posted by other individuals. You can watch these episodes, hosted on websites such as youtube and dailymotion, for free, without commercial breaks and whenever you choose."(4)


I am 25 years old and so I have been lumped in with the geoup of people known as Generation Y, AKA the Millenial Generation, Generation Next and, my particular favorite, the Echo Boomers(5).

We are generally computer savvy but are more vulnerable to the present economic downturn (LINK).

Oh, and we're not actually stupid. Although the copyright industry's new approach (LINK) to the prevention of copyright theft would suggest that we had no idea that when you pay full price for an artist's album you are actually supporting them and the music that you love. Gone is the heavy hand of the copyright industry of old, the one that would have you arrested for "facilitating" the theft of copyright material(6), replaced it seems with a "oh you silly misguided fool, can't you see how your actions are hurting the ones you love?"

Of course the copyright industry has once again misrepresented the situation. Most profit is generated from ticket sales to concerts, not the sale of individual cd's (7). The copyright regime is not encouraging the creative talent of artists, instead it is devoted to ensuring massive payouts to the industry that is charged with distributing the final product (intended to recoup a cost that is now largely irrelevant since the internet makes it so much easier and cheaper to distribute digital material).


So there you have it. Internet piracy is whatever you want it to be. Provided you are the copyright industry. A true case of might makes right. It's enough to make you say "Aaargh".









NOTE: My thanks go out to Stephanie for her patience while I got my act together, and for the opportunity to contribute to Our Forward Movement.

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  1. Hi Rory!

    Thanks for the note, but life happens (as evident in my awol this past week!).

    Great writing, though! I have to admit to sitting on both sides of the IP fence as regards entertainment ... I have lived in places where IP laws are just simply not enforced, and I - as well as all the other students I knew! - really enjoyed getting dvds of virtually any movie we wanted (great quality, and cents on the dollar).

    Reciprocally, though, I am a neurotic ball of nerves when it comes to my own work ... I do not have a lot of name recognition, nor am I currently associated with an office that is going to chase anyone who copies my work. But, for instance, in an employment market as competitive as the one we currently face, I am very careful to guard any written product I put out (how much does everyone love Adobe, preventing even copying and pasting!).

    I mean, apart from the entertainment industry using their substantial bankroll and connections, what do you think a middle-of-the-road compromise is between IP owners (the artists and their agents, lawyers, and promoters) and the public?

    See you! Have a good weekend, Sls.

  2. Hi Stephanie, thanks for the comment. If you are looking for a discussion of new approaches to copyright then I would recommend "Free Culture" by Lawrence Lessig. It's available to download free online (always a good thing!). He talks about a new system where everyone would pay an extra tax which would then be pooled and paid to rights holders. There's also copyleft/creative commons, where you modify the license you give to end users of the copyright work e.g. to allow copying as long as there is attribution to the original author. Of course if you want a simple idea, just look at Google. Let everything be free but supported by online advertising with revenues given to rights holders. Those are just some of the possibilities. I would argue that they all have their flaws, but that the discussion about a new approach is the most important thing.

    Oh, and one last thing, people can get around the whole copying and pasting thing in Adobe so you might not be safe just yet!

  3. By the way, Lessig gave an interview on the Colbert Report talking about his new book "Remix" which you may find interesting - you can get watch it embedded here:


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