SOPA, theft and the new Cold War

People’s justifications for stealing are part of human nature


Will Lion/Flickr

Much has been written about the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act currently being considered by U.S. Congress. The legislation would allow for the taking down or blocking of websites that aid in legally-grey file-sharing, such as The Pirate Bay. From the heads of major tech companies writing about how the Act would effectively break the Internet to commentators chiding politicians for their potentially harmful ignorance on technological issues, just about anyone who is concerned with the Internet’s future is frothing mad.

Most of the arguments against SOPA have been bang on, but not many have taken the historical or psychological context of piracy into account. When such aspects are considered, it becomes even clearer just how futile and bone-headed the legislation—if enacted—would be.

It’s handy if we start with defining “piracy.” Under Webster’s traditional meaning, piracy is an act of robbery on the high seas. The only difference between a pirate and a thief, therefore, is water.

Digital piracy obviously doesn’t take place at sea, yet “pirate” somehow emerged as the term of choice for someone who engages in file sharing, rather than “thief.” Why? It’s probably because the people who object to file-sharing—the entertainment industry—think it’s safer and less provocative to call customers “pirates” rather than “thieves.” It’s a small but important idiomatic distinction, so the industry has probably been correct in its approach.

Nevertheless, if we call a spade and spade and refer to digital piracy by what the industry really thinks it is—theft—then we get to the question that usually gets ignored in all of this: Why do people steal?

There are many reasons. Poverty is a major one; when people can’t afford to buy the necessities of life, such as food and clothes, they often resort to stealing them. Others steal because it’s a compulsion, or they get a thrill from breaking the law (i.e. Winona Ryder). Some also do it for commercial reasons; they steal something that’s of high value, then resell it to make money.

None of these factors really apply when it comes to digital goods such as music and movies, which means people steal them for other reasons. What is likely at the heart of the file-sharing issue is a conflict between the intrinsic and extrinsic values of the goods being stolen. Because music and movies are not necessities of life, they do not have solid value. Their worth is determined either by what consumers are willing to assign to them (intrinsic) or what producers want to sell them for (extrinsic).

What the rise and persistence of file-sharing have proven is that intrinsic values are way out of whack with the industry’s extrinsic value. In other words, content producers are charging way too much for their stuff—and the people who share files are sick of it.

Some of this is understandable. While people have been wanting to get things that don’t belong to them ever since Adam and Eve cracked the DRM on the apple in the Garden of Eden, it’s only over the past few decades that the phenomenon has become widespread. Technology has enabled it, but the entertainment industry itself has unknowingly encouraged it.

Consider how much the average person has been bombarded over the past few decades with images of celebrities—many of whom are of dubious talent—flying around in private jets, driving different cars every day of the week and drinking $1,000 bottles of champagne. How does that not lower the intrinsic value of the products those celebrities produce? To put it another way, it’s really difficult for many people to look at the opulent lifestyles of celebrities and then feel bad for stealing their music or movie.

The same holds true for the industry executives behind the scenes. While their wealth is not continually thrust into the public eye, people instinctively know about it and perhaps feel it’s even less deserved.

The success of iTunes, at least in music, should be proof enough of this theory. Apple’s model happens to be priced much closer to the intrinsic values people assign to music, so people buy from Apple rather than steal. Other media industries haven’t quite figured this out yet, or they’re still in a state of denial, but they will eventually. Not adjusting extrinsic values to the intrinsic clearly leads to more theft.

The reason why people steal digitally, therefore, is obviously because they want stuff for free, or at least cheaper. Content producers have made it very easy to rationalize file sharing: digital piracy has become justified theft from people who are seen to have too much to start with. SOPA, or any other law, will not change this. Justified theft—which in this context has also been called the moral disengagement theory—is part of human nature and it’s not going away.

A more effective counter to psychologically and morally justified theft might be a conscious cutback on the flaunting of wealth by celebrities and executives. Maybe if it wasn’t so in-your-face all the time, the public wouldn’t feel so much like Robin Hood. This sort of reverse move toward inconspicuous consumption, however, is probably as likely as pigs learning to fly. The analogy is almost perfect.

When considering whether SOPA or other similar laws will be effective, it’s also prudent to look at actual piracy—the kind that involves boats and the sea (and rum and squawking parrots). Many observers have said that SOPA is a guns-blazing effort to stop The Pirate Bay specifically, which is the Energizer Bunny of the Internet; it keeps going and going no matter what is thrown at it. Would the legislation succeed in finally bringing down the website? Maybe, maybe not, but so what? Just as piracy continued after the likes of Blackbeard and Jean Lafitte were killed, so too will digital theft, with or without The Pirate Bay.

Indeed, piracy is enjoying something of a renaissance, with the International Maritime Bureau reporting that incidents have been on the rise ever since the end of the Cold War. With fewer military boats patrolling waters and freer trade that has resulted in more shipping, it’s a lucrative time to be a pirate.

The parallel between real piracy and digital theft is obvious. Maritime piracy looks to be an unfortunate side effect of the world becoming freer in both the rights of people and in trade. Online file-sharing is a similar byproduct of the Internet, which has introduced more social and commercial freedom than any other invention in history.

The reverse parallel is equally as poignant—cracking down on the Internet with something like SOPA would be the digital equivalent of plunging the world into a digital Cold War. Is that really something that we as a society want to do?

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SOPA, theft and the new Cold War

  1. Hit the nail on the head about the intrinsic and extrinsic value, completely agree.

    • As I, but I feel that there should be some sort of middle round which would satisfy the US Legislation and not effect the consumers of these products as much as SOPA would. 

    • A sound argument for sure. In an environment where there is literally an unlimited supply of any one piece of content, it’s an insanity to suggest the old models apply anymore.

      They need to consider their potential and stop grasping at what was.

      Production cost is a pittance to what it was twenty years ago. Logistics costs are practically zero. Advertising is cheap given how much of it is done by the people themselves through social networks. The market size is the whole world. And all of these things will only increase as time passes.

      No one should be thinking that individual electronic copies of something are worth one tenth of what they were twenty years ago. In fact I don’t really think they’re worth anything now.

      Frankly they need to get over the “per unit” model altogether and start considering what they can do with all the potential they have.

      I swear to you that a few decades from now we will laugh at this issue and consider ourselves fools for clinging as we have. The potential income of artists in the future is going to be many times what it is today, so let’s get on with it already!

    • A great example is the recent demise of local video rental outlets. They charged around 6 bucks a pop but had overheads. I-Tune rentals are 6 bucks a pop too, but they don’t offer anything like the service you received at the local places. Now the local places are on the way out, the gouging by the studios and the distributors appears to be beginning with Apple at the forefront.

      • And yet every time you use Itunes you save yourself half an hour to an hour of your time (a finite resource), plus any other resources that would be required to physically travel to another location to make your purchase.

        One can make the same argument with Ebooks – often times they are just as, or even more(!), expensive than physical books.  Obviously production and distribution costs are a fraction of what it takes to make a physical book, yet the opportunity cost of using time and resources to physically acquire a book are clearly higher than the difference in price between an ebook or a regular book, else the transaction would never take place.

        Remember, ALL transactions that do not have violence or coercion at their back (state involvement, regulatory threats, artificial monopolization, etc.) MUST make all parties to that transaction wealthier, or else the transaction would never take place.  If I own a store selling ties, and I list my price for a tie at $10.00, I’m clearly telling a consumer that I value $10.00 more highly than I value the tie I’m selling.  If a customer purchases that tie of his own accord for $10.00, that customer is clearly telling me that he values the tie I’m offering more than the $10.00 he has in his wallet.  We are both made wealthier, according to our individual perspectives of wealth, by trading.

        •  So if I’m getting you right, itunes and the distributors have the right to factor into their bill the fact that I no longer have to drive to the shop to pick up the dvd.  I, in effect, end up paying them the same because they’ve put the convenient, knowledgeable local outlet out of business and in effect restricted my free market choice.
          As for coercion, capitalism is inherently coercive and violent in nature. Maybe I am just old enough to remember the purchasing of rivals just to scrap them and limit choices back in the days of corporate raiding. Are you seriously telling me that a “free-market” wouldn’t work its way towards some kind of monopoly, once the execs had figured out how to corner the market without the existence of the power of the state? Every time companies merge or go out of business the market is reduced and a tad less free. Capitalism is by it’s operation anti free-market.
          I see no difference here. On-line providers are trying to limit how people can use their products as well as any market activity by forcing their competitors out of business. There will be, in effect, no market place and the copyright legislation being forced through by the sponsored on behalf of their sponsors will ensure that. Eventually suppliers will be so limited that there will be no need for legislation, because governments will be out of the loop.

        • But without that neighbourhood indie video store (or big chain for that matter) what will young couples do together when they decide to “just stay in and watch a video?”

          Perusing the aisles at the video store was part of the rights of passage of young coupledom – along with buying a bottle of two of wine and making the pasta together before settling in under the blanket to watch the movie(s) – an action flick for him and a rom-com for her.

          As for the purchase of books, who can have anything against the time that can be spent idling away among the stacks of books in the local independent bookseller (or giant chain as well) and the ability to plop one’s elf down in a chair and flip through some of the works that are there.

    • I think ease of access is also a factor.

      If you have to jump through hoops to pay for the content, but can get it for free with the click of a mouse, you will go the easy way.

      As a personal anecdote, in 2009, I bought Assassin’s Creed II.  It’s a game from Ubisoft, and it has a pretty good soundtrack, so I decided to buy it.

      Said soundtrack was only available in digital format, and only from Amazon (which is not available in Canada) or from eMusic (which is a subscription service).

      The subscription model doesn’t work well for me, as I buy music in  bouts and then don’t buy anything for months on end.  So I just let it be until Christmas of last year, when we were visiting the in-laws in the US.

      I figured, we are in the US, so I should have no problems downloading it from Amazon now…

      Silly me.  My credit card has a Canadian billing address, so I couldn’t use that to download music from Amazon.com, even if I am physically in the US.

      So I went out and bought a Visa gift card, and even that I could only use if I put in my in-laws address as the billing address.  It wouldn’t let me download if I used my Canadian address.

      Any non-digital product that’s not available in Canada, you can just walk into the store and buy it with a Canadian credit card.  But digital goods, which can be easily sent anywhere in the world?  Why no, why would we expect that to work.

      Seriously, I ‘m going to heaven for that one.  :-P

      Fortunately, the Revelations soundtrack was available on iTunes…

  2. I’m against SOPA, however I think it’s a mistake to blame piracy on the victims. There really is no moral justification for piracy, as there be for, say, stealing a loaf of bread when you’re starving. It used to be pirates would swap songs and it was a generally benign activity but now a lot of people abuse the system and take all they can for free. I think it’s part of a broader entitlement complex of this generation. Why pay when they can get it for free? After all, do they not have a right to watch movies and play video games? None of the people I know who pirate all their media are poor. Many are in fact quite well off, although some are poor because they refuse to get a job or they choose to work at way below their potential but they want the luxuries of people who work hard.

    It’s not right to look at the lavish lifestyles of celebrities and say “I’m not paying them.” They earn their keep and for every movie or piece of music there’s thousands of people behind the scenes who need to get paid. Just look at the credits and remember all the agents and lawyers and administrators etc. that don’t even make it into the credits.

    People should stop abusing the system and act with a little more honor.

    We need to stop SOPA but a lot of people need to wake up and start paying for their entertainment. If it’s not worth paying for, maybe you should be doing something else with your time?

    • Do you think the price of entertainment is accurate and fair? Because that’s where piracy comes in, i thinks it’s fair to give someone their due, but not five or six times their due, as is the case with most media today

      • You have every right to decide a price set is not fair and so not pay it.
        That gives you *no right whatsoever* to take the product.

        • “Rights” are only social agreements. What we’re debating is what constitutes a fair and sensible agreement. My view, shared by many (and perhaps in part by a vast majority), is that information is public domain by nature, and should not be artificially protected.

          In contrast to physical property, information can be copied indefinitely without diminishing or reducing the value of the original (other than that value that is derived solely from artificial restriction on copying it). The total value to society of information is in fact multiplied. the more it is duplicated and disseminated. Secondly, because information can be easily and beneficially duplicated, and beacsue it does not involve depriving anyone else of value, copying it is a sort of natural default  – to prevent this from taking place requires active and costly intervention. The libertarian, free-market approach to information would be to have it unrestricted.

          I am not worried about actors or musicians per se. If ultimately, their net pay were to decline, that would be no different to the decline in the revenue of blacksmiths, coopers and farriers, as changing technology changed their industry. We have a system in which intervention has (arguably) benefitted the producers up until now. Would we be better off without the regulations over copying? Do you really think musicians would stop composing and performing? I don’t think so.

    • I gave you a thumbs up for the general principle of what you’re saying, but I wish to note that the industry must first come to grips with their concept of “fair pricing”, which based on an industry model that is terribly out of date.

      Their costs have dropped precipitously over the past few decades, and the idea of charging someone $10 – $20 for an album they buy online, is beyond ludicrous.

      Their incurred cost per unit in this day and age is astronomically lower given the incredibly reduced cost of recording, the practically non-existent cost of real overhead, the minimal cost of marketing relative to any prior period and the incredible increase in the size of their relative markets.

      So to me, they only get to make the piracy argument when they stop engaging in their own far more lucrative form of piracy, and not before. With me they lost the right of first claim when it took decades to even get them online, let alone when they decided to attack their market rather than innovate.

      • That’s crap.  You don’t HAVE to pay them a damned thing. Just don’t think you get to have the product if you don’t.  It’s pretty simple.

        Don’t like the price? Don’t buy it. Don’t copy it either. Live life without it.  That they choose to charge exorbitantly is their business, and we can condemn them for doing so while at the same time condemning those who don’t understand they’re not entitled to it just because they want it. So yeah, they can use the piracy argument all they want, while at the same time being overcharging bastards.

        You’re kind of arguing that the guy who jaywalks doesn’t get to complain about the guy who parks illegally in front of him. Guess what, they’re both in the wrong, and neither one excuses the other.

        • I don’t disagree with you in principle of course, but I think the situation is more nuanced than you seem to want to admit.

          Music and video are culture first and foremost. I know you won’t like this argument, but I think the vast majority of people consider music and video a key aspect of living culture.

          As such, anyone who endeavours to work in that sphere is always balancing the desire to influence and contribute to culture (having their “say” and proliferating their work so that it becomes important within a culture) with the need to make money off it. Obviously, if there’s no money in it, people wouldn’t do it as much or as well, so clearly I’m in favour of recompense.

          However, culture is in part about access by everyone, and so limitations to access to culture need to be very well justified. 

          The only argument in favour of limitation that I find convincing is the need to ensure that these types of works will continue to be developed. I don’t really think the industry has any more justification than that given that they’re asking for license to be a part of culture, which is all of us.

          Given the cost considerations in that context, it is difficult for me to support the notion of 1000% profit margins or more for the simple sale of an album in the digital age. A great deal of the profit they’re making after all, is the result of people sharing their enjoyment of music with each other and thus generating the very proliferation the artists want, within a very low cost environment.

          Now I expect you won’t find this the least bit convincing, and that’s fair. I don’t mean to suggest that you are wrong in principle. You’re not.

          The debate for me however isn’t whether artists should get paid, but how. Banging our heads against the wall of reality has only one predictable outcome: concussion.

          So what’s the best way forward to ensure artists get paid? Seems obvious to me: Make it easy and fun, and make it a low cost per unit platform (which ironically might actually mean an increased bottom line rather than a reduced one).

          I so much prefer browsing Itunes than searching for music in other ways, and at a cost I don’t even blink at. Given the shifting nature of piracy sites and the annoyance with blackmarket downloads, I can’t imagine going back.

          Given the new reality on cost and the explosion of market size, it seems to me that a user designed interface with more value add and intelligent cost structure that links to social networks is a smarter way forward than anything else.

          And there at least the law could feasibly prevent piracy from attaining that value add, and thus supporting the industry.

          Of course this is only one set of considerations, but I think there’s something here to think about more carefully.

          • You realize your argument boils down to: If someone creates something that the public considered a public good, they lose the right to control it as they wish.

            And while that’s certainly true in a realpolitik sense, I don’t think we really should be looking for ways to justify it.

            You’ll get no argument from me that the record companies are over charging and not innovating fast enough. That still doesn’t justify people copying artists work without the artist’s permission.  And as I point out below, low cost isn’t going to do it, because even a “pay what you want” deal has been pirated. The thing from Louis CK is another example — with some dickwad uploading his video not because it was too expensive or they’re trying to justify it as some sort of pathetic “I’m fightin’ the man, man!” excuse, but simply because some other people might not have the means to pay.   

            I’m sorry, but there’s no excuse you can give me which justifies some dickwad removing the ability of an artist to choose how their work is distributed. None.

            So let’s stop trying to let people off the hook by blaming the music industry.  This doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing the industry for it’s poor performance, but the moment someone suggests that piracy is justified because of it is when my hackles go up.

          • The Distance from the supply to the demand is the real problem here. We think the price of entertainment is too high, but we don’t have a way to negotiate that price, and the industry has no way know we think the price is too high before they put it on the shelves of department stores.

          • So don’t buy it.
            The industry then has to consider that because things aren’t selling, the price is too high.

            Or then again, maybe it IS selling and you’re just a cheap-skate — maybe the price is simply too high for you. Well boo-hoo. Welcome to the real world where sometimes we can’t afford the things we’d like.

            That still in no way gives anybody the right to simply copy it without the permission of the artist.

          • I think my comment is more nuanced than that Thwim, and it’s not a matter of excusing “piracy” or “theft”.

            You’re making the assumption that in an enviroment where there is literally an unlimited supply, that individual artists should have a right to make money in a particular fashion.

            And of course I don’t agree with that, even though I support the principle that theft is wrong. Clearly wrong.

            Rather than excusing theft as you seem to suggest, what I am suggesting is that this isn’t theft at all. It only seems that way because based on the traditional model it would be.

            But what value can something have when there’s an unlimited amount of it? Only what people are willing to pay.

            If you mine gold only a few times to produce an unlimited amount of it, how much would it be worth? Practically nothing of course, per unit.

            So again, I truly believe that it is fair to suggest that artists make money, even gobs of it, for their work.

            They are under the false impression however that they have a right to make it in a particular way that ignores reality.

            We do no one any favours by allowing them to continue to believe that we can turn back time.

            There are clear and obvious ways to make money in the new environment, and given the market size, ease of transmission and extremely low per unit costs, they can in fact make MORE money than they used to if they just figure out things have changed, and that they need to adapt.

            Itunes is only a hint of what they could do if they wanted. They need to take it to the next level and stop with the foot dragging.

            The new era awaits them. Let’s hope they give up the witch hunts and move forward.

          • No. I’m making the argument that when you create something, you should be able to retain control over who you provide it to. That is all. The money factor is only a side argument.

            Your entire argument seems to be based on the idea that this loss of control is a given and should thus be accepted. I equate this argument to one that murder is a given, and thus must be accepted.

            This is what I keep trying to get through to people. IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY. IT’S ABOUT BEING ABLE TO CONTROL YOUR OWN LABOUR.

          • I think your perspective on the power of an artist is both antiquated and small. The solution is simple. If you want total utter control of something, keep it to yourself, and do not release it to the public. Caress and stroke the work, possibly even whisper to it and call it “your precious”. Once it is out there, it is fair game, especially when it comes to personal use.

            What – an artist doesn’t think that my 1st generation Nano should be able to play his/her song? That artist can kiss me where the sun does not appear to shine.

            I shudder just thinking of your world where artist is all powerful and supreme, and do not believe your vision would serve the better interests of society as a whole.

          • You lose the right to control a good as soon as you sell it.  That’s the point of property.  I don’t tell you want to do with the house I just sold you.  I don’t tell you what colour to repaint your car after I sold it to you.  The intrinsic rights to property are transferred to the new owner of that property.  This is a natural process, imbued in human nature.  Interrupting it can only be done artificially and with the guns of the state pointed at people’s heads.

          • First, you need to look at what you actually buy when you purchase media these days. Your good is the physical media. The specific ordering of the bits thereon belong to the creator/publisher, who are allowing you to use them, with specific conditions. If you don’t like or agree to those conditions, do not purchase the media or utilize the content, as you have no right to it.

            2nd, your argument doesn’t work simply because digital media is not a “good” as such. That’s why the common definitions of theft don’t apply either. If you want to argue that it’s a common good, then you need to acknowledge that the theft argument applies because digital copying is not creating.

    • Piracy is a lunatic term to describe the copying and redistribution of digital goods.  If you purchase something you OWN it.  That digital good is stored on your hard drive, uses your bandwidth, etc.

      It is not theft to upload a torrent.  The cost of reproducing something digitally is fractions of fractions of a penny, almost to the point where you could consider it to be “free” (and the cost drops radically each year).  It is not theft to send files to your friends.  Your property is yours to do with what you will.

      Copyright is an artificial monopoly enforced by state violence.  It is touted as being “for the little guy”, but why is it that we see copyright being used by entrenched players to keep new participants in any market OUT, as opposed to bolstering innovation (filesharing is an innovation, as it has circumvented this violent monopoly) and competition?

  3. Mr Nowak mades good points.  I consider that he (mostly) overlooks a grave objection to criminalising what should be at most an civil claim against an individual who listened to or watched some packaged entertainment without paying for it.  To call this piracy is an abuse of language, well on the way to being a lie.  Not only that, it is the same genre of lie as dictatorships employ against individuals, for example (Zimbabwe) prosecuting as ‘treason’ a bunch of people listening to news broadcasts.  Among George Orwell’s worthy remarks:  ‘in order to corrupt a people one must first corrupt its language.’  Three centuries ago a British jury refused to accept the lie that judges tried to put in their mouths.  They refused to bring in a verdict of guilty of ‘sedition’, instead bringing in a verdict of ‘Guilty of speaking in Gracechurch Street.’  Ourraged, the judge fumed ‘but this is no verdict.’  Exactly.  Listening to tunes or watching flicks is not ‘piracy’.  Let us start by rejecting the lie itself, not merely the sleazy and also dangerous consequences of it.

  4. The reason people steal is that they don’t fear jail or hell.  I’m betting poor musicians also get their music stolen – despite not displaying an opulent lifestyle.

    • The Internet has been a great force in letting smaller bands connect with their audience and bringing the control of their art from the hands of the mass media record companies. Is the rise of the Indy Band and the rise of the Internet a coincidence?

      Not to mention there have been a plethora of studies to show that piracy doesn’t hurt sales of media. Video games are a bit of a different situation but with content distribution systems (Steam, for instance) this is becoming a thing of the past.

    • Unknown musicians generally are only interested in geting their music listened to – that’s the only way they get to be successful.

      • I’d bet they’d like to eat too.

        Just my opinion, however.

    • Hardly the case. In fact, I find that you are most erroneous in your choice of terminology, and I would not even consider my actions as “stealing”. I think many of you folks need to take a Nietzsche approach to the bizarre antiquated traditional moral values that you are attributing to situations where they have similarity, but do not really apply. Stop trying to squeeze your square peg into the circle slot, just because square pegs seemingly always fit into the slots before. Just because music for personal use has a history of being “sold”, this does not mean that this interpretation is absolute. There still are plenty of other ways to make money from music. With that said, my views are quite different if someone is using the work of an artist as a means of making money themselves without paying for the right to do so.

    • Most musicians make pennies off of each album sale.  Their revenue is mainly made in performances, which cannot be replicated instantly and for virtually zero cost.  Consumers know this, and that’s why concerts sell out with a single seat going for $50.00.

      A cover band can get charged with copyright infringement.  Yet clearly the people watching them know they aren’t the actual band, or they wouldn’t be playing in a small bar for 50 patrons – their labour would be valued as the scarce good that the performance of the actual band actually is, multitudes higher.

  5. i am allowed to share anything that is mine with anyone i want

    • Sure. But sharing means you give it to them *and you don’t retain it* while they have it.

      Copying is not sharing.

      • Copying is the ultimate sharing. It doubles the value, while costing nothing.

        • No. Copying is not sharing. Just like it’s not theft.

          Sharing is the act of letting someone use something you have, thus depriving yourself of sole usage. That’s why it’s considered laudable, because we’re giving something up to help other people. That’s a pretty cool thing to do.

          Copying, on the other hand, isn’t giving something up. Didn’t you ever learn about sharing in kindergarten? Because I certainly don’t remember anything about them saying, “Now kids, share.. run down to Kinko’s so you can both have it.”

          • It’s more like a cookie that can be divided an infinite number of times, Jesus style.

            How much is a piece of that cookie worth then?

            They need to clue into this and start considering what their actual value proposition is, because it certainly isn’t a per unit value anymore.

          • Thwim, I think you are redefining the language far too casually, here.  When I share my life with my spouse, I’m not depriving myself of the use of it.  Theft has always included the concept of depriving someone of the use of something – sharing has not.

  6. Theft is not the right word for copying something. When you steal something, you deprive the owner of that item, not simply of the theoretical price you *might* have paid, had you bought it. There might be a moral case against copying, but it’s certainly not the same as theft. I agree that piracy is an even more bizarre term, but I suspect it’s used because there is an instinctive understanding by most people that copying is not the same as theft.

    In my opinion, the movie and music worlds are both going to have to get used to the idea that copying is a fact of life. Performers (and producers etc.) will have to earn their money by doing things that can’t be replicated. Live concerts are not the same as CD sales. Nor is going to a movie the same as watching a DVD. Neither of these experiences can be copied, and both have proved to be fantastic generators of revenue – people don’t mind paying for an authentic experience.

    • The reason they used piracy is because the real word for not giving a person compensation or the choice as to whether you’ll use their labour is slavery, and regardless of how true it is, most people would say they’re over-reacting.

      • In copying a CD I am not taking anything from anyone. The idea of restricting ideas or information, as a “right” is a very modern, but already very outdated construct.

        • You are taking away a person’s choice in who receives the product of their labor.

          How would you feel if some random joker came up to you and said, “Hey, you’re gonna work for me now.. for free. But don’t worry. I’ll give your work to other people too.”

        • Bloody Disqus Double Posting again. Apologies.

  7. I think this article is bang on. I’ve said much the same myself as this debate has evolved, especially concerning intrinsic value.

    The position put forward by the industry is in many ways similar to the concerns regarding the proliferation of radio at the beginning of the 20th century.

    If it’s “free” people will stop going to live venues or buying records!

    Seems silly in hindsight right?

    Okay, maybe the context isn’t the same. Maybe the solutions from that time period aren’t applicable to today. Still, it gives me reason to suspect that the industry is simply resisting change.

    After all, they’ve been incredibly slow in terms of even getting themselves online. It’s amazing really how much they dragged their feet. They could’ve led the wave and set a standard, but instead they’ve been caught flat footed.

    Again, what it comes down to from my perspective is the interpretation of “value” and the willingness of consumers to pay. And free isn’t really the issue in my opinion.

    I don’t honestly believe that “pirating” is worse today in an economic sense than when people simply popped in a tape and recorded off the radio. Or hell, we used to have parties where everyone brought their LPs and we made tape mixes for everyone, and believe me, it was a very popular thing to do back then.

    So again, nothing new really. Just a new way of doing it. More efficient perhaps, but then so is everything else, including music and video production.

    I worked at a recording studio when I was young, the mixing board alone cost $200K.

    Today I can get a better mixing board for $2K – $3K. In fact I could set myself up in my basement with a commercially viable studio for under $25K. Think recording has the same value it did 20 years ago?

    Printing CDs, transporting them, warehousing them, buying commercial space etc etc are examples of completely unneccesary costs in the digital age. Markets have gone from the areas you could manage to distribute to, ie reaching millions, to a global arena of billions with a fraction of a percent of the overhead compared to 20 years ago.

    So what SHOULD an album or video cost today? What IS fair value?

    Not what the industry wants you to think it is, that’s for sure.

    I used to rip music online. Then IPOD offered me a no hassle prepackaged way to access singles for a buck. It saves me time, which IS money, and therefore I can’t be bothered ripping things anymore. If I want it I can access it anywhere I go, and it simply charges to my credit card. Easy peasy.

    I agree that online technology and the predictable piracy has put pressure on cultural industries to adapt and innovate, but frankly, I have no problem with that.

    If not for online music piracy, there wouldn’t be ITUNEs or anything else for that matter, given how much they’ve resisted innovation. If the industry innovates and adds value in ways that will attract interest, they will survive, and quite well for that matter.

    Beyond that, ultimately I do not believe they can even maintain the type of control they are proposing without killing their own prospects for the future.

    The more you rework the plumbing, the easier it is to stop the drain.

    I mean for pete’s sake, there are tens of thousands of hackers the world over who are probably more up-to-date than the people they’ll hire to try and stop this stuff. Or hell, they’re probably the same people! LOL

    • Exactly. Well said. 

  8. To be honest, the article is full of crap.
    People take it because they don’t want to pay. This intrinsic/extrinsic garbage is just that.. garbage. People have pirated the Humble Indie Bundles. These are bundles of various indie software that are offered for literally “Pay what you want,” and they *still* get pirated.

    That isn’t intrinsic/extrinsic, that’s asshole, and that’s all that people who copy music and software without permission are.

    Yes, people pay for iTunes songs. But they still pirate them as well. 

    You want people to stop thinking it’s justified theft? Stop calling it theft. Stop calling it piracy. Call it what it is — slavery.

    A person who “pirates” is taking the fruits of someone else’s labour without that person’s consent or compensation.  That they happen not to use a whip as they do it doesn’t change what they’re doing. 

    • You’re stuck in a certain way of thinking about things, that somehow information *has* to be looked at the same way as other “property”. That’s why you imagine that copying is the same as theft (or, umm, piracy?). You wouldn’t (presumably) claim that you can’t listen to music that someone else paid for, yet the idea that you can’t record a copy of that music is actually just as absurd.

      For a very short space in history (say, 1910-1970), recording was possible, but difficult for the public, and that’s the only reason the economics of the music “industry” went the way it did. Prior to that, musicians made a living by performing, just as they can (and do, in fact) today.

      The people who are losing out are in fact not so much the musicians, but the fat record labels, who add nothing of value these days anyway.  

      • First, don’t assume because I’m defending something I’m doing so with the trite arguments you’re so used to rebutting.

        Second, and this is tied very closely to the first, try reading instead of looking like a moron.

        For instance, please tell me in that message where I say or even imply piracy is theft, after all, the message is only 14 sentences, two of which are “Stop calling it theft.” and “Call it what it is — slavery.”  Really, if you had the reading comprehension of a 6 year old, it should be pretty obvious that I do *not* imagine copying to be theft.

        And how musicians make a living isn’t the concern. It’s respect for people’s creations and their ability to maintain control over their own creations. If a musician wants to give away their work for free.. great. If they want to charge a thousand bucks a song, well, that sucks. But either way it’s THEIR choice to do so, and when you copy their work without permission you’re effectively telling them that their opinion is meaningless.

        • “Choice” is an interesting choice of words here. As I understand it, mainstream artist basically have the choice to follow the terms of the contract set by their publisher and distributor or have no publication at all.

          With the exception of a few record labels, of course. Even then…I’m thinking here of Ed Banger records that started out as a collection of french electronic artists that couldn’t find a record label that would allow them the artistic freedom they need. I worked well for a while until EdB found a lot of success in a couple of these artists; Daft Punk, Mr Oizo, Justice… Then I heard the signing contracts got a lot more bigger.

          The moral of the story is; let’s not assume that buying a cd is buying the Artist’s product. I can’t find Amon Tobin anywhere because his label, Ninja Tunes, isn’t enough of a brand to be distributed anywhere. The only way Amon Tobin could be sold in a record store would be for him to give up the choice of record label.

          • Have you tried contacting the label?
            Odds are they’d be quite happy to mail you a copy if you provided funds.

            Your argument is essentially saying “My convenience trumps the artists right to determine who gets their product.”

            And you can’t say, “Well their label doesn’t provide it to as many people as I know the artist would want” because you’re:
            A) Not a mind reader
            B) Likely unaware of what the artist gained from signing with who they did. Once again, I’m pretty sure nobody put a gun to any artists head and said “Sign with us or die”, they choose who they distribute with, and when we go, “Oh that label sucks” we’re essentially saying that the artist isn’t smart enough to make a good decision for their circumstance. That’s offensive and disrespectful.

          • My argument stops at that the artist can’t choose who gets their product.The more a label has reach then the less an artist has control over that reach. 

            The reason I’m making this argument is because yours depend on the premise that people who pirate music do it to harm the artist they want their music from. That just doesn’t make any sense.

            I’m not defending pirating but you’re factoring the middleman out of your argument and it’s the middle man that’s the problem here. He sets the price, he markets the product, he collects the fees

          • They don’t do it with intention to harm the artist, but it’s bloody disrespectful and harms them anyway. Just like graffitti is almost never done with the intent of harming the person who owns the wall, but that person gets harmed anyway.

            So no, it’s not deliberately done to harm the artist, but when a person puts their own selfish desires to have something ahead of the rights of the creator to control the results of their labour, sorry, that’s disrespectful and hurtful.

          • In other words; if your argument is that an artist should have the right to control their labour, then they already have that right up until they sign up with a label, then it’s the label’s right and if that label chooses a medium that makes their product easy to steal or copy then that’s too bad for the artist.

            What they propose instead is that we shut down the internet so they can keep their high volume of sales? That’s what you’re defending?

          • No. Nowhere do I defend what the music industry is doing.
            I’ve been pretty explicit about that a number of times that this in no way lessens the condemnation we should have for the industry and it’s performance. But such condemnation serves in NO WAY as justification for taking the artists’ work without their permission.

            That’s what I’m arguing against, all these idiots who are suggesting that because the music industry sucks, it’s fine, or at least excusable, for them to pirate. NO IT ISN’T.

            And more to the point, if we stop excusing or even justifying this piracy, if we actually start condemning it roundly where-ever and whenever we see it, then we might not have to deal with bills as asinine as SOPA, because the social pressure might be enough that people think twice about pirating in the first place.

        • If my argments are trite, it’s because they are self evident. Copying is like listening – it is inevitable and it is beneficial, overall. I buy some music, anyone can listen to it, anyone can copy it if they want it. See how that doesn’t apply to a physical obejct I buy? If physical objects could be duplicated at no cost, it would be a no-brainer to do it.

          Any behaviour to the contrary is an artificial contruct, designed to protect one generic sector of te population, at the expense of another. If one views information thatr is released into the public domain to *be* public domain, suddenly your argument dissolves entirely. It’s just a mtter of how it’s looked at.

          Regarding your assertion that copying is slavery, I call bullshite. No more than copying is rape, or copying is piracy, or even copying is theft. Slavery already has a definition (no, not yours, sorry). Using someone else’s idea, or “taking the fruits of someon’es labout without permission”, doesn’t fit the definition of slavery in any dictionary, any more than it does the term “piracy”.


          • You’re right about the slavery in that it doesn’t quite fit, but it’s closer than any other description. What else would you consider it when you take someone elses work without their permission or compensation?

            Or do you think that’s perfectly fine, so long as it’s not YOUR work they’re doing that with?

            “They make it cause they want to share their art!” Yeah right, just like plumbers plumb pipes because they want to share their love of sewage treatment. What’s bullshite is that art will get produced even if nobody wants to pay for it.

            In the past, that was done by patronage, meaning only the wealthy got to enjoy it, and that only the wealthy really decided what kind of art got done.

            The sad part is that unless people get out of this self-entitled attitude that just because they want a piece of music or softwear they should have it, for free, and that it’s perfectly fine, that’s where we’re headed. And you selfish twats who defend piracy aren’t helping that at all.

  9. I don’t really agree with about the intrinsic and extrinsic value. There are costs associated with making records or software and some of those costs are unavoidable and not known by the average consumer. People don’t want to pay 20 bucks for a cd? Sure but do they know why the CD is being sold for 20 dollars? I’d bet you they do not.
    But I agree with the general idea that the industry is having a very hard time adjusting to the new realities of the internet. All this SOPA bill is trying to do is make it so the big players don’t have to by relying on a bill that allows them to shut down anything they think is illegal.

    • I can assure you that the cost/unit of producing a CD in this day and age, given the potential market and given the lack of distribution overhead, is literally pennies.

      This issue is similar to a great many industries in fact.

      Long distance calling used to cost a fortune. Suddenly, with the injection of only a small amount of competition, you could get unlimited long distance for $20 a month. Think we weren’t being over charged then in hindsight?

      Ditto cellphones, cable, cars etc. In fact pretty much every possible good is overpriced strictly on the basis of a lack of competition, not instrinsic value.

      In the case of music and video, the sudden ability to derive unlimited copies in a market that is suddenly as big as the whole world, and the music industry still thinks it can charge $20 a CD?  ROTFLMAO

      Sorry, but if every last musician on Itunes today suddenly disappeared, they’d be almost immediately replaced by equally proficient artists producing similar content.

      I’m all for artists getting paid. Even paid as well as they are today.

      Given the market size and given the cost, they could sell their stuff for $1 an album and STILL make millions.

  10. The implications of any internet censorship in western countries are far reaching, and quite possibly catastrophic. Do not fool yourself, this is about power and control, not falling record sales.

  11. Piracy is one issue, but SOPA is only nominally about that. What SOPA will actually do is give the United States Department of Justice over-arching control of the World’s Internet. 

    Here is an authoritative account of how SOPA will destroy the Internet and how it will affect Canadians: http://www.circleid.com/posts/20111222_how_sopa_will_destroy_the_internet/

  12. When one is faced with a new reality that completely changes the game, one has to stop and consider the ultimate goal.

    There will come a time when the value of any one thing will be effectively zero. Energy and staple goods will be a non-cost factor. We already see inklings of this in modern physics, and the reality won’t be as long coming as many assume, and it’s already happening in many ways.

    What happens when limitations on supply cease to be a real factor?

    How will society function then?

    Considering this is a starting point for considering what direction one should take in this matter.

  13. I use P2P as I use the listening posts in CD shops; if I like what I hear or see, I’ll go buy it, if not, I delete it.
    And yes, I’ll go into Walmart or somewhere and buy several $5 or $10 movies that were $25 six months ago, but I won’t buy any “new” movies for $25. Lower the price and it wouldn’t even be worth taking the time to download something.

  14. Very interesting read. But the comparison with old-time pirates is a poor attempt at being stylish.

  15. The ‘base law’ for all of this is the copy write on written works. It has been around for centuries. Did you ever notice, in the middle of vast libraries of copy written works… is a photocopier? Reading the copy write in a book shows that it is and always was legal to ‘copy’ it for personal use. This is evidenced by millions of photocopied pages exiting university libraries daily. Why is it different for other media? Why is it even considered different for other forms of media. A book on CD can also be copied for personal use or research, why is a song different?
    Answer? Because corporations BOUGHT laws that make it different.

    • You may THINK it’s legal to copy the contents of an entire book for your personal use, but you’re WRONG.

  16. You may be interested to know that the concept of “piracy” as unauthorized reproduction is as old as the printing press, and pre-dates any formal notion of copyright.

    I’m currently reading “Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates” by Adrian Johns, and it’s really amusing to see that we’ve literally been having this argument for 500 years.

  17. If the so called conservative congress is so very concerned about excessive regulation of business than they ought to revamp the entire patent and tradmark system to make it harder for the holders of these patents and trademarke to sue for violations. Everybody pays for the legation one way or another. Many businesses are seriously harmed by having to defend themselves against lawsuits brought by all the holders of these unreasonable patents and trademarks. Consumers are forced to pay much higher prices for the patented and trademarked services and products than would otherwise be the case.

  18. Copyright is a monopoly enforced by government violence.  It is not a natural phenomenon and does not occur when all parties to all sides of trade are voluntarily involved.  You can’t lock someone in jail for reusing a recipe anymore than you can lock someone in jail or destroy their property (website) for using their own bandwidth and hard drive storage space to make something available to the public.

    The REASON people pirate is because people understand that it is not innately wrong.  Have they signed a contract voluntarily with the party claiming “ownership” of the item after they have sold it, waiving their property rights as as consumer?  (When you buy something you OWN it)

    Absolutely not!  Any business that attempted to engage in this sort of behavior would be run out by competitors in weeks.  Copyright puts the power of state violence in the hands of the producer, and removes the naturally endowed power that consumers have in a voluntary market – the right to do with their property as they see fit.  It is extremely dangerous and results in the type of “Customer Service” you see when you hit up the Ministry of X versus the return line at Walmart.  Placing violent power in the hands of producers is a dangerous step – copyright costs western economies tens of billions of dollars + per year in waste, outside of the huge moral hazard.

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