Commentary: Pirates and Copyright

“Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.”
—Sigmund Freud

PirateMinion

Avast! The safe haven for pirates has been o’ertaken by the law!

As I’m sure you and everyone else with internet access knows by now, police have shut down The Pirate Bay and confiscated the servers. This has naturally created quite a stir in the wild frontier and bastion for free entertainment that is the internet.

The Pirate Bay – never meant to aid illegal file sharing, according to some; not responsible for the files shared by its users, according to others. Why then, pray tell, name it The Pirate Bay – using the well-known term for illegal copying and spreading of programs, movies and books, named after the age-old profession of high sea robbery.

Pirates of old were criminals, pure and simple.

They engaged in stealing, killing and robbing to make a living outside the law. Why pick that term if your intentions are pure? And if your intentions aren’t pure, why complain and try to hide? The current romanticizing of pirates as somehow free and noble fighters against an oppressive government have no doubt rubbed off on self-view of the modern file copying pirates.

File sharing began in the infancy of computers.

Costs for software was aimed at corporations and not home users – people would copy programs that cost a month’s salary or three and use them at home. Back then there was a need for such illegal file sharing, as the market did not yet exist for the individual consumer and the use of such software in the home advanced computer literacy and created a market that might otherwise have gone overlooked. This then spread to games and created a computer based culture of sharing. Over the years, this has morphed into the current mentality of ‘everything that can be copied should be free’. But we do not need free access to most (if any) of the files shared illegally online today – we need better ways of legal, suitably priced access.

Before, the need overcame the availability – now, the availability has overcome the need.

Today I heard someone defend the Pirate Bay by claiming that unregulated media is necessary for democracy, and I found myself wondering how a site providing the technology and intermediary to freely share large files became a Protector of Democracy. Sure, there’s a value in being able to share important information in ways that aren’t controlled by the powers that be – but that’s hardly the same as being able to download the latest blockbuster without paying for it and away from the prying eyes of the law.

What about you, you ask, up there on your high and mighty horse? Do I take part of copyrighted material for my own personal enjoyment? It happens, but it is much rarer than most people would think. Am I perfect and stay completely clear of illegal file sharing? No. As a rule, however, I will pay if I have the option – and often I will pay even if something is legally available for free, if there’s a way to donate or ‘pay what you like’. Or I will find some other way to contribute to the artist, by supporting a crowd funding project or donating on their site.

There will always be both a need and supply of free art and entertainment, but that doesn’t mean that all art and entertainment should be free.

Art is extremely important to any society. Music, stories, images – they have been around since before we became civilized and they are a vital part of what makes us human. I can understand the gut reaction that access to it should be free – a human right. But it’s not that simple, and it is not just about art – it is about anything that can be digitally copied (and these days, that is a lot!).

People say that we must separate between what’s legal and what is right.

They know that sharing copyrighted files is illegal, but they believe the law to be wrong and therefore they ignore it. “Information wants to be free” and they are simply engaging in civil disobedience to prove that fact. But they usually forget that a corner stone of civil disobedience is to break the law openly and be willing to suffer the consequences.

Personally – as a creator and consumer of culture – I welcome a thorough examination of copyright laws, the creation of some form of international standard, and a review of copying fees and artist compensation. All in the name of bringing our legislation and economy up to date with current technology and modern society – a society should be evolving and adapting, after all.

But…and this one is huge as far as buts go:

You cannot achieve a change in copyright law, artist compensation, or societal views by secretly engaging in illegal file sharing for your own personal benefit. As soon as you stop openly breaking those laws and instead try to hide behind others or mere technicalities to avoid punishment you cease being an altruistic rebel and turn into a selfish petty criminal.

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

One comment

  1. Hello,

    Well said.
    Regardless if something is free or not money wise, when one look closer, being disrespectful is always plain simply sad. I remember when I several years ago wrote, on my blog in swedish, that I understood a fellow artist who explained his views from a creators viewpoint, I was attacked by a bunch of pirate bay and pirate party members on the blog. One of them even demanded we all living in Sweden should pay a tax, paying creators a citizen salary to creators, for the sole reason that he the pirate bay, pirate party supporter could continue taking creators work for free. I presume that guy wouldn try to avoid paying taxes also…

    Liked by 1 person

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