What comes to mind when you hear the word “pirate”? Some of us may in-vision eye patches, hooks for hands, peg legs and violent sword-wielding thieves of the sea, someone who robs, plunders, pillages and steals while taking over a ship in a brutal manner, someone whom, undoubtedly, causes serious harm in doing so.
However, contrary to the vision we may have associated with the word in our head, at the time of writing this blog, the results that are displayed when Google searching the word Pirate could crush our childhood dreams and show us that, in this day and age, a pirate may not be what we’ve been brought up to believe at all. There is no definition provided, no subtlety to the blow, simply the top three results relate to something we have probably all done some point; downloading Music, Movies, Games, and Software.
But is doing this actually that harmful? Does it really deserve to be condemned with a label as harsh as piracy?
What makes a “Pirate?”
Pirate – “a person who attacks and robs ships at sea.” – (Google 07/05/2016)
Luckily, when searching for “pirate definition”, the first result is still true to the original definition, the one we were brought up with, however, there is a newer definition:
Pirate – “use or reproduce (another’s work) for profit without permission, usually in contravention of patent or copyright.” – (Google 07/05/2016)
But there are some key words used in this definition, for profit. While the people running these websites are surely making a profit from the advertising on the pages, in most cases the people that actually made the copies and the people downloading the copies are not making any form of profit, so, by definition, if you download any of these things for personal use you shouldn’t really be labelled a “Pirate” this is, however, still technically a form of theft.
Not a Pirate but still a Thief, Sort of
Although most people don’t download these things with the intention to make a profit for themselves, this action is still breaching Copyright and it does have repercussions. In 2007, it was estimated that the US economy alone was losing roughly US$58 billion per year due to illegal downloads, no matter how large the companies are that’s no small sum and that number has been growing year on year.
When you look at it that way it’s easy to see why corporate entities would call it theft, by downloading something this way you are effectively robbing these companies, and their employees, of money that they will never see. In this instance I’d have to agree, this is a form of theft. One argument though is that these companies are greedy and simply want too much, being that these industries collectively turned over approximately US$1.74 trillion in 2014, I would tend to agree with this argument also.
In taking this “corporate” view you can also begin to see why they’re scrambling to push through new laws and coming up with extreme measures to prevent this copying from happening, but their solution is not the only one and it’s certainly not the best one either. In fact, when looking back at the history of Copyright laws, and prior, it becomes more and more obvious that this approach has nothing to do with protecting creators but is, above all else, designed to save their own skins (profits) with a complete disregard for the creativity it could potentially snuff out.
Way Back When
There is a brilliant article on questioncopyright.org, written by Karl Fogel, that explains the history of Copyright laws, I felt it fitting to include a link to it in this blog because it strikes at the very heart of this topic and explains how Copyright has transformed over the centuries from a censorship law, first born out of fear, into the monstrous corporate business that it is today.
Copyright could, in theory, be used as a means to protect content creators who do not want to openly share their works for free, the problem is, it was not originally designed to do that and it is generally not used in that manner either. Copyright was initially designed by publishers for publishers and, to this day, they are still the primary advocates for it, not to mention some of the only people that can truly afford to press charges for an infringement.
In this day and age, however, anyone with access to a computer and the internet can be their own publisher with little to no cost at all and potentially have their works reach even more people than they would as a physical medium. Artists and creators are getting smarter and this is something that more and more of them are beginning to discover, particularly newer creators who have been brought up with the internet, this also opens up channels that allow people to pay them directly and I for one have and always will feel much happier about paying an artist directly as opposed to paying a publisher.
When Copying is or is not Theft
So far I have covered copying files that are owned by publishers or corporate entities and have explained why I think that is theft, theft from the publishers that is, not the creators, but what if we could remove these corporate entities from the equation? This brings up a few more things to think about.
Without the thought of corporate entities looming, whether or not copying is, or should be, considered theft depends entirely on how the creator feels about you copying it. There are many creators who simply want their creations to be seen, they want them to reach people, anybody, and everybody everywhere, and subsequently they do not care how that happens. In this instance making a copy of one of their creations, be it literature, video, software or music, should not be considered theft but flattery instead.
On the other hand, there are still many creators who either expect or rely on receiving payment first, I think that whether or not copying from these creators is theft depends on your intentions. If you copy one of their creations without any intention of paying then, in my opinion, if you keep that copy, yes, that is theft but this is where I think the lines start to blur a bit.
Take music as an example, this is something I have been guilty of in the past and maybe I’m just trying to self-justify my actions but this is my opinion, if you download a song or an album to listen to before you pay for it then, if you delete it because you do not like it or you keep it with the full intention of paying for it at a later date then I think this is more alike to hearing a song on the radio and deciding whether you like it enough to buy it or not and I view the time between paying for the music you do keep more like a “deferred hire purchase” rather than outright theft, after all, they still get paid in the end.
All of this relates to copying things that you do not own but what about making copies of something you’ve already bought and paid for?
More ways to Copy
This is a rather shady part of the law and whether making a copy of something, for the purpose of a backup or personal versatility, is considered legal or not often depends on what it is you’re copying and also who you ask.
Under the current New Zealand law there have been amendments that allow you to legally create copies of albums that you own, providing they are for personal use and you do not make more than one copy per device, I agree with this, I think it’s only fair and a great way to take something you own in a vulnerable semi-obsolete format and transform it into a much more modern and convenient one, this is something I’ve done for years and I’m better off for it, I once possessed hundreds of CDs, right up until an unfortunate incident with an ex-girlfriend left almost all of them unreadable, now all that’s left are the files I have backed up on my computer.
Although this has been made legal for music the same cannot be said for books and movies. Right now it is still illegal to make backups of DVDs, Blu-rays and even most legally downloaded files that you own, furthermore, hardware protection and software protection are making this increasingly harder to do successfully. I think this is ridiculous, if you’ve paid for them I don’t see any reason why it should be illegal to make backup copies and, in the case of DRM “protected” files (including eBooks and music) restrict the devices you’re able to use them on or, even worse, remove any guarantee that these files will continue to work in the future.
Covered, Modified, Remixed, and Sampled
As we all know, or should know, copying is not limited to simply making an exact copy of something, copying also involves recreating the same thing yourself, turning an original into something else, using something in a way that differs from the original or taking part or parts of something and mixing it with other things.
This type of copying has been happening for centuries or possibly much, much longer than that and many people, including myself, would argue that this form of copying is ingrained in our nature and can lead to some of the greatest forms of advancement, expansion, and creativity, in all fields.
Unfortunately, unless permission has been granted by the Copyright holder, which in many cases is not even the creator, this form of copying is quite often labelled “piracy” or a form of theft due to it “breaching Copyright”, if the person shares this as a means to make money then, in a way, I agree that this should not be allowed unless the creator (not the current Copyright holder) deems it okay to do so, but, if this creativity is merely shared as an idea, something for other people to build upon and improve, then I don’t see any reason for this to be condemned with such a label or punished so harshly.
This is part of what many anti-copyright activists are fighting for, the freedom that allows open sharing for the purpose of productive creativity and freedom of expression.
“The dam has burst, we live in the post-sampling era, we take the things that we love and we build on them, that’s just how it goes…
When we really add something significant and original, and we merge our musical journey with this then we have a chance to be a part of the evolution of that music that we love.”
— Mark Ronson, 2014
Pro-Sharing Rights, Pro-Creativity
There are many people and groups fighting to either abolish, change or adapt Copyright in a variety of different ways. One such person is Lawrence (Larry) Lessig.
Larry Lessig is the Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School and is also one of the geniuses that cofounded/co-created Creative Commons (CC) Licensing. This form of licensing is aimed at adapting existing Copyright laws to the digital age. It gives artists and creators an easy way to open their works up to free sharing, to be built upon and improved, with an option to include or omit commercial uses, it also gives them a way to “feed” the modern remix culture without constantly having to approve the use of their work.
Creative Commons Licensing is gaining traction and is becoming increasingly popular for new creators to use on their works, this easy way of sharing could really open the world up to new and amazing advances and opportunities by leveraging one of the greatest intellectual feats of the human mind: Ideas in, newer ideas out.
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange apples, then you and I will still each have one apple.
But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
— George Bernard Shaw, Autor, 1856 – 1950
Sharing does not make you a pirate, although copying, at this point in time, can be considered theft in some instances it is important to understand that this is not always the case, it is also more important to realise that sharing is in our nature and it can be truly empowering.
We have been living in a world with wolves pulling wool over our eyes, we have been branded and labelled as something we are not by those who would try to control us purely to feed their own back pockets, many people already realise that if they were to release this control we could flourish and thrive on a much greater level, the sooner those holding power realise this as well, the better off all of us will be.
“The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn’t exist in the 24th century.
The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves, and the rest of humanity.”
— Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Links of Interest
A TED Talk Radio Hour on Creativity and Originality – http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/321797073/what-is-original?showDate=2016-04-08
Another TED Talk Radio Hour on Open Source – http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/449179937/open-source-world?showDate=2015-10-23
Another link to the article on QuestionCopyright.org, because it’s that good – http://questioncopyright.org/promise
Another good article if you like reading – https://www.article19.org/resources.php/resource/3716/en/the-right-to-share:-principles-on-freedom-of-expression-and-copyright-in-the-digital-age