New Reports on Piracy

The Wall Street Journal this week offers two interesting articles about online piracy of entertainment media.  In this piece by Christopher S. Stewart, we get a somewhat rare glimpse inside the counter-piracy unit at NBCUniversal, which provides some context for understanding the scope of piracy and the investment required to address it directly through takedown notices.  And a new article by Ben Fritz  reviews analysis from Carnegie Mellon University on the market effects of shutting down Megaupload, which indicates a measurable increase in consumers switching to legal alternatives.  I recommend both articles as well as the post from Carnegie Mellon itself.

On a personal note, I’d like to suggest that it’s time for a new simile.  Aside from the fact that I’m tired of reading “It’s like wack-a-mole,” I don’t think this narrative adequately or accurately reflects the environment.  For one thing, the reference casts us creators in the role of the guy with the mallet dumbly trying to swat the oh-so-clever mole, and this hardly reflects how many middle-class, let alone corporate, creators feel about combating piracy of their works. I don’t know what the new simile ought to be, but among the indie artists I’ve encountered, the conditions sound less like whack-a-mole and more like hard-working farmers politely asking locusts to leave their crops alone.

© 2013, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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  • Farmers? Locusts? Since we are no strangers to use hyperbole for copyright infringement (eg: “piracy”), why not something a little better.

    Here’s an idea:
    Artists are hard working, righteous Crusaders on the front lines fighting the jihadist horde trying to take down Western Civilization.

    Then we can call people who share files online “jihadists” or even “freehadists” instead. This is necessary because the term “pirate” has became too sexy.

    • The religious warrior connotations are inconsistent with what I’m saying, and it’s hardly hyperbole when TPB alone boasts over 2 billion page views per month.

      • I’m just saying David Lowery and friends has already came up with some new terminology and analogies to replace the now apparently obsolete industry-standard hyperbole terms “pirate” and “piracy”.

        Instead you should be using the terminology “freehadist” and “The Copy-Left”.

        The whole farmer thing is not really contemporary or relevant enough. Most people aren’t farmers. In fact, most food comes from megacorporations who want huge state-size tracts of land that are harvested with machines or illegal labor. North American locusts have been made extinct years ago (who knows what what environmental consequences this has caused).

      • Actually, I’m addressing (and with a bit of tongue in cheek) the overused simile whack-a-mole, which describes a process rather than a point of view or a group of people. I’m don’t think the farmer simile is very contemporary either — although there are more farmers in the US than you may realize — but I think the description is closer to reality.

      • That’s fair enough. But it’s just that you want to provoke a different emotional response. I’m just saying that if you magically got whack-a-mole changed to your chosen analogy, there is plenty of holes in it.

        The whole “provoking a different emotional response” is how the term pirate came along, pirate and piracy was the boogeyman of the olden-days when the term was first used to refer to copyright infringement.

        These days, it feels almost like a neutral word, because of the work of people in the anti-copyright crowd (eg: The Pirate Bay and Pirate Party) celebrating the word considerably. As well has maybe Hollywood themselves with movies like The Pirates of The Caribbean. 🙂 So I’m seeing in the 90s the word was used a lot, but these days I’ve been seeing a lot of new words because pirate doesn’t have the same effect.

        I’m personally trying use the terminologies to provoke the opposite emotional response you want. I like the term file sharing and filesharers, because it’s not exactly hyperbole (it’s what they do: share files), and it has the word “sharing” which is a positive that people learn from an early age is something you should do. This one is used a lot.

        The analogy I’d like to see more is file sharing sites being referred to as “digital libraries”. These file sharing sites are the largest repositories of human knowledge and culture that have ever existed, so I want people to start to realize that and start referring to them as the modern equivalent of libraries, the most comprehensive libraries that ever existed.

        This analogy can also be used to make attacks on file sharing sites be at the ethical level of “burning down libraries”. Especially emphasizing that shutting down a digital library has the effect of causing human knowledge and culture to be permanently lost to the ether. Which fits well into the whole burning of the Library of Alexandria-type emotion, which is the analogy I really want people to start to feel.

      • That may be your point of view, but mine is that you’re employing understatement instead of hyperbole. “File sharing,” as you call it is already popular, so it’s all too easy to evangelize language that makes it sound innocent, harmless, and even beneficial. Neither I nor anyone on my side of the argument is going to agree with you, and there is a point past which I/we don’t care who’s insulted. I stand by the premise that massive, digital theft of these media is net loss for the world, is fundamentally wrong, and that the profiteers in these ventures deserve jail time. So, just because the supporters of piracy have taken up the word as a badge of honor in order to change the politics on the issue is not in itself evidence that the thing they support is ultimately good.

        So, use the word library if you like, but libraries do not exploit works without permission in order to generate private wealth for a few individuals. People may start to believe what you’re saying — many already do — but you’re not going to convince me certainly that this is anything more than a rationalization of selfishness. Moreover, your emotional analogy fails because of the technological age itself. Wiping out your so-called library (i.e. a torrent site) does not destroy the works themselves for all time as with an ancient library like Alexandria. I know you’ll say it makes the works available to fewer people, but we’ve already done 10 or 20 rounds on that subject, haven’t we?

      • I realize that I can’t convince you. But I can (and have) convinced others. My intention is to present filesharing as beneficial and innocent. And not only that, attacks on on the systems of filesharing to be viewed as unethical and immoral. All through the science of using the right words and analogies to describe the same exact things as you, but with an opposite effect. It’s an interesting idea in it’s own right, and sometime I studied in the past is how two different people can come to two different conclusions on the same issue.

        I asked myself a lot recently, why do I bother with this? Why am I not on your side? I think financially speaking, I would be better suited to be on your side. But I can’t support it.

        So I spend some decent amount of time every week for the last year playing a game of trying to convince people to agree with me on various issues, copyright probably being the biggest these days. I’m not really the best player at it by any means, but I think I’m alright. But the point is, why do I even do it? So I’m not sure if you do this, but I’m always reevaluating my stance on issues. I’ve switched from [mildly] religious to atheist once I was realized how silly the whole idea of religion is after comparing atheist websites and religious websites. So it happens.

        So I think after a year or so of reading the pro-copyright stuff out there, I don’t see the whole situation with copyright here as black and white. Some of your points I feel are quite sensible.

        But ultimately I rather live in a world where the pirates win (and all the real consequences that will entail to artists) then one where copyright enforcement wins. So I continue to work with that objective in mind.

        At the basic level, there is also something that I view as genuinely awesome about the notion that anyone in the world can get access to the sum of published human knowledge and culture. It’s really amazing how much this is available now to the world population, even if it is illegal. By supporting strong copyright enforcement, I would have to ignore this or brush it aside. It seems rather difficult.

        The thing I would support very strongly would be a system that maintains the status quo of filesharing and digital libraries funneling money to creative industries at the same time, but I’ve read to come across an acceptable system for this (and I’ve tried coming up with some myself, while not being totally happy with the results). I support streaming which is the close to this idea, but has issues in that is still not as good as filesharing, and is not available to most of the world. So filesharing still has an important niche.

        Anyway whatever. 2 cents. 🙂

      • Sorry I never responded to this, M. Really busy. I recognize that your position is not off-the-cuff and that you spend real time researching and reconsidering your biases and conclusions. And, yes, of course I question my own position on plenty of things, including why bother getting involved in this particular discussion on a regular basis. And I am flattered that, despite the fact you remain in an opposing camp, you seem to consider this blog a place worth visiting to test your thinking and that you do so respectfully and thoughtfully. In fact, part of the purpose of this blog is to find out if people can have discussion about a contentious matter via the Web without disintegrating into personal attacks and assumptions; and so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the comment threads so far.

        I also understand that you perceive the choice your making as the more humanistic of the two you feel your offered. It’s hard to argue with that as a personal position, yet we come to different conclusions. All I can say, especially as I’m presently exhausted, is thank you for continuing to have the conversation.


  • M: you can call it what you wAnt, but it is in no way beneficial or innocent.

  • M wrote “My intention is to present filesharing as
    beneficial and innocent.
    ” . . Would you like to see my
    medical bills? Nothing like good old lining ones’ pockets with the
    blood of others labor. The fact that you don’t have to look me in
    the eye as you stick your hands into my and others’ coffers may
    make it ‘feel’ innocent to you, but i assure you “M”… there is
    not one thing ‘innocent’ about copyright infringement. Dressing up
    the language into bumper-sticker fluff doesn’t change the activity.
    It just makes you look cowardly. Own up to your actions.
    Own it. If you have to make up some delusion to
    convince yourself of your purity, maybe you should look hard at
    your actions… or take that money you saved from ‘sharing’ and
    spend it on a good head doctor.

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