Internet Piracy: all the piracy and none of the scurvy!

Given that we didn’t have a tute this week as our tutor was sick I thought it was only appropriate to blog about the arguments my team had come up with for the debate. We were the affirmative team with topic question: should piracy be illegal.

Firstly, we were going to discuss the historical beginnings of piracy and how copyright laws came to be. Initially, laws surrounding copyright were brought in to foster and encourage creativity. These laws were used as a method of balancing profit making from creativity and allowing access to information. It was decided that after 14 years the work would fall into the public domain and allow access to it from everyone. Over time ideas built upon ideas, but with slight variations the new ideas did not impinge on the older ideas’ copyright. Yet, for corporations such as Walt Disney, these ideas of copyright were not enough.

On Mickey Mouse’s 60th birthday, Walt Disney changed the copyright laws in America in order to protect his famous characters (which were themselves, copied). Clearly, laws founded on the basis of monetary gains for corporations are in themselves wrong. Thus, if the democratic ideals of America had outweighed the value of capitalist and monetary gains then extended copyright laws would have never been made in the first place. It is easy to see how to uphold democratic principles copyright abolished… after all, all ideas come from something beforehand.

Furthermore, one must question the reasoning for the establishment of anti-piracy laws. There are actually few reasons not to pirate. One reason could be that bands (in the case of the music industry) lose large sums of money. This is true for the small proportion of artists who earn a ridiculous amount of money. For the rest, it is a method of promotion and often a way to get around the profiteering of big music corporations who take a large percentage of the artist’s earnings (as seen in Radiohead’s ‘pay what you think it’s worth strategy’ with their album In Rainbows).

On his blog the writer Paul Coelho encourages people to “unite and pirate everything I’ve ever written”. Coelho (half-jokingly) believes that everything he’s ever written is just the recycling of four main themes and the more piracy being done, the better.

“The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen,” said the author.

Thus, if piracy only affects the super rich and is actually useful for many artists and the public in order to expand on knowledge and ideas, can we really say that it is wrong? Is it not upholding democratic principles by empowering the people?

If piracy is not considered wrong by the majority of people in society then why is it criminalised? Criminalisation generally revolves around the perception of acts being morally or ethically wrong in wider society. Piracy, given that it gives access to information to people and upholds democratic principles, is often not considered to be ethically wrong and is rarely frowned upon by anyone in the general public. We must deduce that piracy criminalisation is merely a method of allow big industries to gain a greater profit margin on their products. The government bows down to these big corporation at the cost of decreasing democratic rights for their people. Piracy laws are founded for capitalist gains and not out of fairness for everyone.

With the failure of the music industry to regulate piracy and the government’s struggles to enforce piracy laws, we may see an introduction of something such as an information economy (as Good discusses <>) for things that are easy to pirate and share online. P2P sharing is a form of information economy with the taking (downloading of items) and then giving them back to the community (through seeding and uploading). Thus, we may see an increase of freedom of information and piracy might be just a thing of the past!

Yet unfortunately the all powerful US government has chosen to go the other way and reduce democratic freedoms by censoring the internet (as seen in the recent abolishment of the website Megaupload).

*As a side note much of the information talked about in this blog was based on research done in the documentary RIP: A Remix Manifesto    (all 8 parts are available on YouTube)


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