Piracy Wars: Sharing Should Not Be Equal To Stealing


Waging War on Piracy: Enough Say Media Producers
Today, we are looking at increasing crackdowns on piracy – police officials undertaking raids on street vendors, storerooms and middlemen involved in physical piracy of media goods – Music CDs, VCDs, DVDs, books, software CDs, etc; tougher laws with heavier penalties and fines; increasing court cases filed by media producers against pirates. However, piracy is an overwhelming force, with millions of criminals hand-in-glove with consumers – us, the ones who patronize this theft in films, music, comics, books, and other media goods.

Sharing is NOT Selling: At least, it shouldn’t be
How about digital piracy? Digital pirates are the ones who upload media goods online and make profit out of selling and distributing it – for money. The operative phrase is “selling for money” (are you listening media producers). Back in the analogue age, when you listened to music on audio cassettes and watched movies on video tapes, you habitually “lent” tapes to friends. We all know that redistribution, copying or sharing of such content was forbidden – whether for commercial purposes or otherwise, however that didn’t stop us for doing so. Our friends recorded the music on blank cassette tapes and shared it with their circle – again, it’s illegal to do so because the music producer would have made profit had your friend legally purchased a music CD from a store.

The same concept applies to sharing of digital content. Music, film and PDF files that are put up online (copyright infringement) and shared among peers or users – of a torrent site, hosting site, a user’s personal blog – again copyright infringement and No Electronic Theft Act (US). The contention is that the website owner ends up making profits out of selling media goods not belonging to him, and secondly, this type of free sharing disallows media producers from making money legitimately.

Those are the facts. Reality is black and white: a lot of media goods are distributed, remixed, recycled, reproduced and redistributed into the public domain because of such inimitable sharing. Could you imagine a digital age where every college kid was forced to buy a music CD or DVD in order to watch one scene or listen to three songs? I guess the trend of creating Singles evolved from this limitation. It’s economy of scale and clearly, students or those sharing files with other users are not en masse out to make a buck – those who do, can be jailed.

I believe our copyright laws are far too obsessed over the concept of “protection” of artists’ work. Sharing is clearly distinct from selling (media goods) or what is seen as an umbrella term – digital piracy. Recently, a lawsuit was filed against Pirate Bay (Torrent Becomes A Dirty Word, France) and I am afraid it’s the tenth of several hundred lawsuits waiting to be inflicted on the system of digital sharing.

Why do we buy pirated goods off the streets?
1) media goods are expensive. For e.g. if a music CD costs $14.99 in the US, it has the equivalent price in developing countries such as Brazil and India. This means, there is no price ratio taken into consideration by the producers / production houses / marketers while fixing prices across geographic regions. Rather, we (developing worlds) are expected to pay what is generally, 50 to 100 times the price of the CD in local currency.

2) Shoplifting is a crime because you enter a shop knowing full-well that products are on display for sale and not for free consumption. In the online world, while there are dedicated portals to purchase media goods, consumers also have access to free media goods. Research from independent government bodies demonstrate that file sharing has actually helped increase sales of music CDs, theatre / box office collections and book purchases: read three excellent posts on this and here and here.

3) Digital content allows us greater freedom to choose specific content for download. Back in the analogue age, I had to buy a music CD of Michael Jackson even if I loved only four of his 14 songs from the album. Today, I just download a couple of tracks – or pay for it on iTunes. However, not all digital users across the world can afford to sign up with iTunes and pay cents short of a dollar for one song. You do know that in several developing nations, the daily wage of a worker is less than $2; surprisingly the workers are able to afford cheap cell-phones and download caller tunes and music from the mobile service provider. So, choice and pricing once again play a huge role in encouraging digital downloads.

TV, digital and radio campaigns created by media producers appeal to citizens to stop piracy as it is kills artistic freedom and livelihood. Clearly, such campaigns are mostly targeted towards physical piracy, rather than digital, because scores of file sharing and download sites do not make money out of the media content they upload. Advertisements, clicks on banners and donate button are means to keep the website running, not profits incurred from sales of any media goods.

Let me iterate here, clearly: a music album, a book or movie, journals, architectural designs and paid news come with a price tag and need to be purchased from a legal outlet, authorized showroom or distributor premise. The operative word is purchase. If you redistribute physical copies of these goods and make money out of it, then that’s clearly piracy. However, what the Internet manages to do, is circumvent this “store-room only” policy and allows consumers to sample media goods, just like we did back in the analogue age. That should not classified as piracy or any form of criminal intent. It would have been a crime if there was clear evidence that such “free” sharing is leading to decrease in sales or profit making for media producers and artists, writers and so on – clearly that is not the case.

Nilofar Ansher

Would like to hear what digital users think of downloading stuff online – is it wrong, do you feel guilty but still continue downloading, do you make money out of sharing?


7 thoughts on “Piracy Wars: Sharing Should Not Be Equal To Stealing

  1. you are asserting that sharing for non-commercial purposes is legal but commercial purposes it is not – under which laws and which jurisdictions are you suggesting this is true?

    1. Hiya Ren, sorry, my bad. After reading your comment, I realized that my post is not clear on what is the current status on copyright infringement on one hand and the point I am making on the other. Thank you. I guess it was much easier in the analogue age to buy an album, share it with friends and not really worry about the FBI knocking on your doors. It was so harmless. However, today, we know that when someone shares files online, there are many who download and redistribute content in exchange for money. I am clearly against that kind of sale or profits – piracy in other words.

      Secondly, digital technologies and social media has bought in new paradigms of content storage and sharing. I purchase a new DVD and using Microsoft Media Editor, I could email a few funny scenes to my friends – which is again, copyright infringement. That’s kind of severe and restrictive and an authoritarian way of stunting culture. There are millions of files on YouTube and almost all of them are copyrighted material, entire movies are online. I wonder how so many of the users who uploaded these films never got caught? Should each and every person have to pay $9.99 to buy a music CD that he or she would rather borrow from a friend? Seems ridiculous. Sharing is innate to our culture.

      Storage in itself does not lead to copyright infringement, sharing for money does…as per my stance at least. Guess the lawmakers would have to be very specific with their wordings if they want to wipe the slate clean on storage, sharing and retrieval and redistribution of media goods. It’s clearly proven by independent government agencies and non-govt-corps that sharing files online has actually led to increase in sales. I hope the government wakes up to this reality.

      1. Hold on. You have changed the text of your post with no record of the change. I had to go to google cache to find out what your post actually read. I’ve posted the full text of your original post below so people can see what I’m actually responding to. It strikes me as rather un-ethical to change a text with no track changes or not of the change as it renders much of many of my comments moot.

        So, you said, among other things:
        “Sharing is NOT Selling”
        “Thus, sharing is clearly distinct from selling (media goods) or what is seen as an umbrella term”

        I take it you have now realized that your post was at best baseless in law and at worst misleading, as if anyone read it with no knowledge of their local law they would believe that they were entitled to commit acts that are most likely illegal in their jurisdiction – as you mentioned the FBI I assume you had the US in mind where, in which case we are talking specifically about Title 17 of the US Code.

        Why don’t you update the post with the erroneous original text in strikethrough together with the factual corrections?

      2. Hi Ren, Again, thanks for policing my post. Will definitely help my readers to get to the bottom of my incompetency and prove that what you wrote in a burst of anger and incredulity is wholly accurate. And the next time I need blogging tips on ethics, will sure write to you!

  2. The kids I talk to have such poor connectivity they use torrents because its easier than trying to buy online, they can leave a torrent running all week to patch song packets together. They get a load of new songs, listen to them then bin them and get some more. If they find something they like they buy the CD. I agree, sharing should increase sales, and at least if you have had chance to listen to the songs first and get to like them you aren’t buying a donkey. I don’t download songs, but sometimes the perfect song for a video I make isn’t used because I am scared of falling foul of copyright. Therefore if I become famous one day (wink) some artist is deprived of their share of my fame because I didn’t use their song.
    I think we need to change our laws now, they are old fashioned and not relevant in a digital age. Its the same as the monks trying to stop the printing presses.
    Time to move on.

    1. Hey Chris, I agree we need to change our laws regarding copyright infringement in tune with the digital age we live in, however, the discourse has to be centered around fair use, instead of “protection” as is the case now. The projection (by media, law makers and producers) is such that the consuming public is out there to harass the creative artists and steal them of their artistic license, money and fame. We aren’t! We just need a reasonable market, where we don’t pay through our teeth to listen to music or watch a film. Pirates who physically redistribute media goods for profit sure need to be punished though. Their system is not the solution to sharing. Thank you for writing in. Cheers.

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