Happy Belated Pirate Day!

Yesterday was an International Talk Like a Pirate Day and I almost missed it. I’m a day late but I still wanted to use this occasion to talk to you about a very important issue: namely piracy.

What piracy is and isn't.

Let me tell you a little story. When I was taught that sharing is inherently a good thing. Nice kids shared their toys with the kids on the playground. Nice kids would always bring enough candy for everyone in the class instead of eating it alone. This message was reinforced not only by parents and teachers but also by Saturday morning cartoons and blockbuster Disney movies. Sharing was inherently good.

This is however no longer the case. Current generations are indoctrinated differently. Sometimes sharing is good, but other times it is evil, reprehensible and illegal. Giving your friend an action figure to play with is a good deed. Giving the same friend a copy of your video game counts as “theft”. It is piracy! What is the difference between these two acts? Very minor. The former involves sharing a physical object that cannot be copied, while the later involves sharing digital information that can be easily copied. In fact, that is the property of information – you share it by copying. Avoiding copying it would actually require extra steps (like deleting it from your computer before you give it to someone else).

That’s exactly what I think of when I hear about piracy. I think about sharing information. There is nothing inherently evil or wrong about it. It only becomes wrong when we factor in the rather modern concepts such as intellectual property and copyright law. Concepts which were invented prior to the digital era and were originally designed to regulate book printing industry. Artifacts of a bygone era.

Of course we could argue the validity and utility of these laws back and forward. There are benefits to having them. For example they help to ensure that content creators get paid for their work. Then again the part of the problem is that we as a society still haven’t figured out how to sell information in a digital ecosystem. We still cling to the same methodologies that worked for books and vinyl records. Sadly, these methods do not work with digital goods, which are inherently different from physical ones. You can’t sell ephemeral information the same way as you sell very physical sack of potatoes. And if you try you will run into the piracy problem. A problem which is very much a social phenomenon which can’t be fixed with technology.

Are there better ways of selling information? Yes there are, but hardly anyone is using them yet because they require a radical change in the way we think about information. For now, content creators and distributors are still trying to figure out how to thwart piracy hoping the find a golden bullet that will convert every file sharer into a paid customer. This of course is a pipe dream. It will never work because there will always be people who just want free stuff, and people who are more than willing to give away their own stuff for free. And since the entertainment industry insists on treating information as physical goods, they follow suit and do the same. Physical goods after all can, and should be shared.

Regardless of what piracy is, and how it works, I often ask myself a question: why do we even have a name for it? And is this name appropriate. Whenever you name something, you give it power and validity. Calling petty copyright infringement “piracy” legitimizes and romanticizes it. It makes it into something grand. Same with calling it theft. You can try to pin negative connotations to the act, but people still instinctively know that what they are doing is not what you implying they are. They know in their guts that copying few bytes of data over the internet is at least somewhat different from taking away someone’s physical possession. Sometimes I think that campaigns such as MPAA’s famous “you wouldn’t steal a car” video clip are counter productive.

Just think about it. When you see that clip in a theater with bunch of strangers you can probably safely assume that nearly all of them at some point illegally downloaded a movie, or watched a bootleg video. You can also probably assume that few, if any of these people have ever stole a car – or even considered such an act. So instead of deterring piracy, such a commercial only reinforces how harmless it is. Instead of implying it is as bad as stealing a car, it clearly shows that it isn’t.

Or maybe I’m looking too much into it.

Anyways, happy pirate day folks! Don’t get caught!

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10 Responses to Happy Belated Pirate Day!

  1. Victoria UKRAINE Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Recently I wanted to buy an music album from Amazon. It didn’t let me. It seems, Ukraine is out of the list on music downloads. Well, I found the album in 3 minutes on torrents and in FLAC for that matter. And then there is an independent musician who is selling her music online herself – you can choose download format and pay anything you want above $8.5. I like her and I like what she does, so I paid via Paypal and I paid more than was asked. No problems or restrictions at all. So, despite my torrents experience I am willing to pay, but Amazon is not the only one ignoring me.

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  2. JKjoker ARGENTINA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    i think one of the problems that prevents publishers from changing their approach to piracy is that the peak growth of piracy happened just as the publishers ate each other and turned into these gigantic monsters used to get things by crushing the opposition with their massive weight

    however the size makes their way they thinking too rigid and hard to change

    while a smaller, weaker but more flexible smaller publisher would try to accommodate to the new rules, the big ones rather force their ideas into everyone else hoping they can crush them the same way they go about other kinds of business

    i dont think this stupid stand off that goes nowhere will end until the whole business collapses “North American video game crash of 1983″ style, but then im a pessimist

    about the anti-piracy propaganda, i think the funniest thing of all is that many ppl never though about it or even knew piracy existed until the publishers went and advertised this fact in the mass media

    i cant talk about other countries but here while piracy has always been rampant i noticed a huge growth after the ads, about 2 years ago they started selling the pirate copies openly on the street, right now they are EVERYWHERE (ive seen some right in front of cinemas), add that they get movies faster than cinema (movie distribution is kind of a monopoly and our marketing geniuses never release 2 blockbuster movies together so they tend to get delayed by months), with 3d the price skyrocketed (you can buy 3~5 bootlegs for the price of a ticket), the cinemas are usually small, uncomfortable, dirty and overcrowded with annoying cellphone maniacs with screaming kids and that most ppl here do not have blu ray era hd tvs here so any average quality rip works for them and youll see why they are growing like crazy

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  3. Kevin Benko UNITED STATES Konqueror Linux says:

    What people call “pirates”, I have started to referring to as “unofficial distributors”, “alternate channels of distribution”, or some variant thereof.

    Aaarrrggghhh!

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  4. Zel FRANCE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Then again the part of the problem is that we as a society are still haven’t figured out how to sell information in a the digital ecosystem.

    I think you may have a few too many words there :)

    About the piracy, I agree with JKjoker, current publishers and distributors are using a set model and changing would require much effort, too much such big corporations can actually afford to do because they’d risk losing employee jobs, decreasing the trust of investors and angering the content producers who like the current system (which is true for most big cash earners).

    The revolution will come either from smaller companies that can afford the risk to change or are created entirely on a new model. Their business model will prove to be cheaper and more sustainable and capitalism will play its part. Without all the DRM development and integration costs, the massive ad campaigns and the multiple worldwide services to track down and shut down servers, it shouldn’t be that hard.

    Of course, I know the world isn’t a perfect place and current big names will do everything in their power to sustain their life, and they can do much, like buying out or threatening anyone who gets in their way. There really isn’t much to do until a big symbol emerges, a movie/game/song from a very famous creator inaugurating a new way to do things, and proving it can work as well if not better than before.

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  5. Tino UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    This day was also the national vote of Sweden, and this happened: http://politics.slashdot.org/story/10/09/20/1242221/Swedish-Pirate-Par ty-Fails-To-Enter-Parliament

    So I cannot help but feel disappointed with this years pirate day. What kind of person do not vote for the Pirate Party on the Pirate day?

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ JKjoker:

    You are absolutely right – this anti-piracy propaganda is possibly the best pro-piracy advertising campaign ever. People read “$_some_kid busted for distributing $_blockbuster_movie via bittorrent” and what is the first thing they do? They google bittorrent and go “omg, awesome!”

    @ Zel:

    Thanks. Fixed the sentence. This is what happens when you edit the same sentence several times. :P

    @ Tino:

    Very sad, but it was predictable. I was really hoping the Swedish youth will go out and make that 4% happen but I guess it was too much to ask for.

    Part of the problem is probably the name of the party itself. Yes, it is awesome for gaining support in online communities but if you really want to break into real world politics it helps to have a platform attractive to wide demographic. Old timers, middle aged housewives and gentlemen with a mid-life crisis are definitely not ready to vote for a “pirate party” because it sounds too much like a joke.

    Honestly speaking – I really rooted for them, but I wasn’t even sure if they were serious about this or if they wanted to get into parliament “for the LULZ”. I’m sure a lot of other people had the same concern and for them LULZ in politics are a deal breaker.

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  7. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    When you were growing up, were you also taught that nice boys helped other boys sneak into football matches for free? After all, an extra pair of eyes watching a match does not devalue the match in any way, yet ‘sneaking in the back’ is something that is generally not what ‘nice kids’ do. Same as sneaking into a cinema.

    This stuff is entertainment, the entertainment provider wants a fee per view, and you’re avoiding your fee. Whether it’s piracy or not is semantics, whether it is or should be legal or not is up for debate, but whether it’s moral or not is pretty clear.

    Saying sharing was a universal, blanket good is pure hyperbole – did ‘nice kids’ “share” their ticket for public transport? Were they taught to do that by ‘upstanding parents’?

    There is a monstrous irony in the claim of “these companies can’t keep up with the digital age, it’s not like anything else we’ve seen before” and then turning around and suggesting that sharing a computer program is the same as sharing an action figure.

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    vacri wrote:

    When you were growing up, were you also taught that nice boys helped other boys sneak into football matches for free?

    Nope. But I’m willing to argue that sneaking into a football match is different from letting a friend to copy my CD.

    I wouldn’t sneak into a live performance out of fear of being caught. But after my friend gets back from the match or concert I always ask him/her how it was. We look at the pictures they took with their camera phone and etc… If there was a way to seamlessly copy my friends’ experience I’d probably do it. Like in that movie “Strange Days”. If my friend could record his experience and I could then re-live it in full sensory input mode then yeah – I’d do it.

    That’s the point – we don’t have anything analogous to digital sharing in the real world. It is inherently different from everything else we know. It does not follow the rules we are used to.

    vacri wrote:

    The entertainment provider wants a fee per view, and you’re avoiding your fee. Whether it’s piracy or not is semantics, whether it is or should be legal or not is up for debate, but whether it’s moral or not is pretty clear.

    But the problem is that the morality here gets muddled in technicalities. When I buy a DVD the creator does not get paid per each view. He gets a small percentage of the retail price and I get a physical copy of the performance which I can play as many times I want.

    Hell, I can even invite some friends and watch it with them no. Is it immoral to watch the movie I bought with few of my buddies? I think it is still ok. Let’s say I invite 3 friends. Is that ok? How about 7? How about 9? 15? Somewhere here it becomes a public viewing and I’m all of a sudden doing something illegal.

    All because the thing I bought comes with a license that proscribes very specific conditions under which I can use it. There is nothing moral or immoral about it – it is legality.

    Same goes for piracy – I’m not saying it’s all good, but it is also not all bad.

    What if I’m downloading a movie I already own because the distributor won’t allow me to format shift it?

    vacri wrote:

    Saying sharing was a universal, blanket good is pure hyperbole – did ‘nice kids’ “share” their ticket for public transport?

    Again, bad example because a public transport ticket is a physical thing, and a real service.

    Let me give you another example. We have this long standing custom of making “mixed tapes”. Who here haven’t made one for a high-school sweetheart. But you can’t do that anymore. Cassette tapes are obsolete. When my younger brother was in high school they made mix-CD’s but they couldn’t do it the usual way because of all the DRM. So they downloaded mp3’s online and burned them.

    Now CD’s are becoming obsolete as well because everyone has a device capable of playing MP3’s in their pocket.

    This is a long standing tradition, perpetuated by several generations, depicted in countless movies, stories and songs. And completely illegal. More so, made seemingly more and more illegal by the progress of technology.

    vacri wrote:

    There is a monstrous irony in the claim of “these companies can’t keep up with the digital age, it’s not like anything else we’ve seen before” and then turning around and suggesting that sharing a computer program is the same as sharing an action figure.

    I guess my point is that we as a society can’t keep up with this digital age.

    There are really two factors at play here. On one hand we have the technology that makes sharing digital information trivial and social compulsion to share. It is easy, it is relatively risk free, and it is sometimes hard to figure out who and how loses or benefits when you copy.

    On the other hand there is a whole industry trying to figure out how to stop it from happening and failing miserably. The more technology they throw at the problem, the worse it gets.

    My point is, I don’t think it can be stopped. It probably shouldn’t because it will have serious implications on how we use our technology and transfer information. In fact, it probably doesn’t have to be. I honestly believe the losses entertainment and software industry incurs due to piracy are irrelevant. I think pirates are not legitimate customers.

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  9. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux says:

    Luke Maciak wrote:

    I wouldn’t sneak into a live performance out of fear of being caught.

    And makes it different from piracy… how?

    But after my friend gets back from the match or concert I always ask him/her how it was. We look at the pictures they took with their camera phone and etc… If there was a way to seamlessly copy my friends’ experience I’d probably do it.

    There is a way – pony up the money and purchase a license to experience the entertainment as requested (ie: buy a ticket). You’ll have the exact same experience as your friend.

    Having your friend sneak you in to avoid you paying for your ticket is the same function as your friend letting you copy his software to avoid you paying for it. You get your non-free entertainment for free.

    But the problem is that the morality here gets muddled in technicalities. … Somewhere here it becomes a public viewing and I’m all of a sudden doing something illegal.

    It’s not as muddied as you make out. The edge cases you described here are pretty rare in real terms: private (ie noncommercial) viewings with a large number of viewers. If you have a family reunion with 50 people and all decide to sit down and watch Spiderman, that’s rare. You could at least pick a decent movie.

    Same goes for piracy – I’m not saying it’s all good, but it is also not all bad.
    What if I’m downloading a movie I already own because the distributor won’t allow me to format shift it?

    I fully agree. Format shifting should be your right. I also remember someone saying that laws need to reflect social norms. If “everybody does it” (as in, truly so, not the teenage excuse) and the law says no, then the law needs to change.

    Again, bad example because a public transport ticket is a physical thing, and a real service.

    There was no first bad example :p
    I was simply pointing out another example where you haven’t deprived anyone of anything by scoring a free ride. Should you pay or not pay for your ticket there, there is no real difference to what happens. When hordes of people pay or not pay… then yes, there is a difference. But that’s also what the anti-piracy folks say.

    Let me give you another example. We have this long standing custom of making “mixed tapes”.

    Moot point – Romance is dead these days :p

    My point is, I don’t think it can be stopped. It probably shouldn’t because it will have serious implications on how we use our technology and transfer information.

    I thoroughly agree with this, and this is the viewpoint that is so rare in the piracy debate. This is how we behave as a society, like it or lump it, so it should serve as the base for how we share music and whatever. Some controls, fine, but they need to reflect the way we enrich our own lives this way as their base. What I don’t like from the pro-pirates is all the rhetoric about how it’s all completely moral, with the worst rhetoric coming in the form of “but information wants to be free!” (the exact translation is “I’m a tightarse with money”)

    In fact, it probably doesn’t have to be. I honestly believe the losses entertainment and software industry incurs due to piracy are irrelevant. I think pirates are not legitimate customers.

    I don’t know on this one, I think it varies. The indie games that do well on donations and being DRM free have a different audience segment than a lot of the big blockbuster games. I can’t see another Madden football game doing well if it was donation only.

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  10. We have a United States Pirate Party, its actually starting to get some traction… too bad its leadership is shit. Oregon’s Pirate Party recently got featured on CNN, you can look it up (nevermind I did for you http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/us/2010/08/17/dnt.new.pirate.p arty.katu.html ). I think that the name is a great name, we just have to advertise it properly.

    http://www.pirateparty.org.uk/blog/2010/may/4/whats-name/

    Also the Pirate Party still holds a seat or two in the EU, I don’t know from what country, but there is still someone.

    But back to your actual article. I recently wrote a short story for http://travismccrea.com which is on the docket to be released in a few weeks (I will come back and tell you when its released), but its basically this post.
    The story tells of a girl, who gets in trouble for sharing because in this “alternate reality” (which is really just… this reality… just to an extreme), kids are punished for sharing, not encouraged. It doesn’t make sense to her. lol its a short story, thats about the extent of the whole thing, its just more wordy in the story version :P

    Sharing is not a bad thing, and honestly, the media industry paints the picture of “Piracy” as the same thing as “stealing” (You wouldn’t steal a car would you? No… but I would download a copy of one… sure). However, if the law ever got passed to make their definition of “piracy” to be an actual crime of theft… they would have much greater challenges and a much higher burden of proof. The media industries actually fight to ensure that it does not become a criminal charge, because they would have a much harder time “fighting piracy”… and they wouldn’t make as much.

    Now, I am all for protections of certain things — the debate has taken place in the comments already about concerts. Concerts and Merchandise are the areas that the artists ACTUALLY make money, because the recording industry doesn’t get to put their greedy paws on it. However, even then, filming the concert with your camera isn’t going to hurt anyone… its only going to make you go “man I wish I would have gone” and will encourage more people to buy tickets (of course I am talking your crappy cellphone camera, or a still camera that takes videos or something… I am not encouraging people to take in full high definition cameras with audio equipment etc). If you were able to copy your friends entire experience to your brain for free, I would encourage you to donate something to the artist if you enjoyed it.

    The “Pay what you want” price structure works… Radiohead made 10M in a week. It also works for smaller artists, actually file sharing helps small artists out a lot, considering that the issue that new artists face isn’t “Piracy” but its “Obscurity”… the more people that get their hands on your art, means the better chance you can get paid for a live performance, and people will donate money to you… maybe buy some shirts and stuff.

    As it was said above — We can’t stop it… we SHOULDN’T stop it. When they try to stop file sharing they go after the wrong people anyway. They go after service providers, and software developers, instead of the person using it. Software and these services are not inherently bad, people just use them to do things that are illegal in certain areas. Thats no more the fault of the website / software as it is the fault of ford for not making a car that always obeys speed limits, or forces people to fasten their seatbelt (though they do make those fucking annoying beep beep beep sounds now until you do buckle it).

    We are in a digital revolution, and instead of trying to fight it, we need to embrace it and figure out how we can create a business model that fits with the new culture. I will fight you until the very end of times if you try to silence my freedom of speech, my right to free and open education, or my personal privacy… and I know many others who will too. However, I will reward you greatly for adapting to the new market.

    New media will always be created, contrary to what is said by the industry… music for instance has been around since the dawn of man… copyright has only been around a couple hundred years… and the industry behind music has only been around for a few decades. We have always found a way to ensure that our best artists are compensated for providing to the community. Its just a human society thing.

    To wrap up, I think you should look at my recent post on my blog titled something like “In the digital revolution, people will lose their jobs”, in which I point out that yes, there will be people who lose their jobs in the media industries… but new jobs will be created elsewhere. We cannot hold onto the past to protect these people. Some artists will stop making millions of dollars, but thats fine, they can live very comfortably on hundreds of thousands of dollars. We don’t force people to use horse and buggy because it keeps the horseshoe makers employed, so why force us to use archaic music purchasing systems to keep a guy in a suit employed?

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