Piracy: A Threat to Democracy or its Elixir?

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By Kyrill Potapov on 22.12.2023

Piracy: A Threat to Democracy or its Elixir?

File sharing giants TorrentSpy lost their case against the Motion Picture Association of America last week on charges of illegal exchange of Copyrighted material. The ruling was made as TorrentSpy had tampered with evidence and acted in an “obstreperous” manner (-like idiots). This will not come as a surprise to anybody who has seen the many illiterate yawps one finds on news and comment pages of Peer-to-Peer websites. The user premise is simple: free access to billions of pounds worth of films, music and software. The only defence seems to be that “everybody does it”. Indeed as much as 80% of the young British population has breached copyright laws using the internet. Logically, even if the current popular method of file sharing is exterminated (as it was with Napster), the consumer will always find her producer. Media analyst Steven Farr believes that “file sharing functions like a virus and [taking this analogy] …advances in antibiotics would be met by evolutions of the strain”. So, users of Bit Torrent can look forward to even more comprehensive media databases. The question however, is not whether the law can be enforced but rather whether it should be. Should aesthetics be encased in capitalist ethics?

Many supporters of piracy believe that copyright laws are an infringement on innovation and freedom to information. Perhaps, rather than the romantically named “piracy”, what we have here is some good honest sharing. The file sharing culture has produced a huge democratic system whereby anybody has the ability to access anything from within the cyber-society without any cost or repercussions to themselves as an individual. Whether you are downloading the latest Jena Haze video or the latest Noam Chomsky lecture, the freedom of your action has the same implicit potential for self-improvement. Many musical artists and actors claim to have used the internet as a source of inspiration for their work. This is not to say that this development could escape consumerist authority, just that it indicates changes that should be made. “This case is not about bad actors,” Says Michael Weiss, CEO of Morpheus developer StreamCast Networks in response to the self-improvement argument, “It’s about technology and who gets to control it, plain and simple.”

Unfortunately it’s not so simple. One can’t spend long using the word “sharing” without wondering where this leaves the rightful owner of the product. One can once more escape into ideology in saying that the author should not have authority over the product once it has been created but this argument does not go far. Indeed, the problem raised here is central to postmodernist ideology and modern democracy. While, for instance, I would not agree that state law should govern the right to view art, as is the case with the latest diplomatic conflict between Russia and England, I can’t deny that such rights necessarily have costs and costs which few are ready to pay. Certainly “inspiration tax” would never go down well in the House of Commons.

The “industry” is well aware of this conflicting problem. The birth of “Open Source” offers users free and easy to use software with full development opportunities; progress is the only personal gain. Similarly, many bands have taken a stand. American punks Bomb the Music Industry do not charge for any album or release and play gigs asking only for “gas money”. Major record label bands are taking the lead and allowing users to access their material online. Radiohead’s new release “In Rainbows” allows buyers to choose how much they want to pay for the album. Companies like Librivox, Soulseek and indeed iTunes Podcast are forming intelligent and liberal networks which will eventually enable direct links from authors and artists to the user. The next generation could see a major split in the way we buy popular and independent media products. It doesn’t seem like the Peer-to-Peer pirates will ever be given parley but they won’t be walking the plank any time soon.


  • Great article and yes, something to be discussed for a long time.

    I personally do not “share” songs and if I truly love a band or an album, I believe there is nothing like buying the hardcopy CD to love and hold ’til death us do part. However, the majority are “sharing” songs online and there is a lot of freedom here at the moment. Something outrageous will happen… a ban? a restriction? silly laws? Who knows, but why can’t music be free? At least older music.

    Get out your guitars, sit on a field and copy singers to your heart’s content!

    By Faith Victoria Allen on 31.5.2023

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  • Great article! It’s almost like the drug crime arguments with legalising canabis. The users will always win

    By Anonymous on 20.3.2024

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  • I don’t like the term ‘piracy’. I think people forget they are just stealing, plain and simple. File sharing is theft. You wouldn’t go into HMV and fill your handbag up with DVDs and CDs and leave without paying, but somehow people think because its over the internet and they probably wont get caught it must be ok.

    Good article!

    By website-enterta… on 30.1.2024

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  • A very astute article on the pros and cons of file sharing. This is something that will run and run. I don’t believe we will see the end of this discussion for a long, long time.

    By Anonymous on 6.2.2024

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