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SOPA/PIPA and piracy

I just need to say something here, because so much of what's on my dash over on Tumblr(not so much over here, but what the hell) is making me feel vaguely ill.

First, of course SOPA and PIPA are horrific piles of shit. They are the worst example I've seen of laws governing the internet being made by people who do not understand it; they are egregious and if they were to pass, we would all be completely screwed. (They won't, because Obama's already promised to veto them and they don't have enough support to overrule, but I digress.)

That said, guys? Piracy is still an actual fucking problem. Everyone saying 'oh but if it weren't for piracy I wouldn't have legally bought z y and z'? Yeah, that sounds familiar-- those are the justifications I used ten years ago, when I was young and ignorant and trying to excuse running napster when the real reason was that I didn't want to spend the money, or be bothered bumming a ride to best buy, etc.

The music industry is a piece of shit. The RIAA is a piece of shit. No love lost there. But was I buying music from good acts to encourage the industry to give us something worth buying, or protesting the legislation that gave the RIAA blanket power to do things like suing twelve year olds? No, I was sitting there gleefully downloading from napster, then audiogalaxy, then kazaa, on and on, not realizing that I was being part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Bottom line: You do not get to decide something someone has created is YOURS NOW without paying for it, unless said creator has explicitly allowed it. IP is worth something. People's creative effort is worth something. There is no justification for piracy that isn't actually just an excuse.

Do I sometimes do it anyway? Of course. But I don't pretend it's okay, I don't make excuses. I'm impatient to see something that won't air in the US for months, or I'm just too lazy to go to the store, still. I'm not being revolutionary. I'm just stealing.

SOPA/PIPA are horrible, and they are the worst imaginable way to try to 'do something' about piracy. But that does not mean that the pirates are the heroes, here. :\


( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2012 04:48 am (UTC)
See, I loathe thieves. Hate stealing. My issue is, I just can't figure getting a free digital copy of something through a third party the same as "stealing". And it's not "because I want to do it", it's because I can't pin any concrete damages.

If someone steals a good from a store, be it a CD, a pumpkin, whatever, at the least the store is "less" that item.
If someone sells a pirated or counterfit item, then the exact amount of money that changes hands is "stolen", rightfully belongs to originator of said item.

But if someone gives a file of a song they like to another friend? Some would say that is "stealing", the record company is out the money that would have been paid for that song. But the thing is, if the song wasn't free, very likely it wouldn't have been downloaded. I'm not saying there isn't a certain amount of loss there, but it's impossible to predict what it is. And I can't help but think about we're allowed to tape stuff on TV we like, on the radio, loan tapes and CDs and books to friends, rent them from the library, for our own personal edification and THAT'S not wrong. But making a free digital "library" supposedly is.

And it doesn't add up to me.

And I'm aware that some of these sites profit off of advertizing, and that I do think is wrong. If people want to share stuff, it does need to be at their own expense, not for profit.

No I don't think it makes filesharers heroes, but I do think it makes companies who want to legally squash such a natural human behavior rather than work with it stupid and wrong. There are plenty of examples of creators and companies adapting and profiting from encouraging this behavior. I actually prefer to buy stuff I know I like, otherwise I usually just don't buy DVDs, CDs, books, etc.

I know not everyone has the same ethics as me, but I think quite a few folks on the 'net do.

So, that's why I'm not like "ooooh, nasty evil pirates!" (except the ones who are selling copies & counterfits, like I said, THEY are parasites, yes). Not heroes, no, but I can't condemn it either, I just don't see how doing something free for fun (again, NOT profit) is so damaging.

Edited at 2012-01-20 04:48 am (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2012 08:05 am (UTC)
Going to sleep on this and reply in the morning, and hopefully it will be more sensible than the initial post was, which I fully admit was fueled by frustration.
Jan. 20th, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
The 'stealing' thing is the hardest part of this argument to explain, and I fully expected pushback on it. I don't expect this post to change anyone's mind on it. Let me just do my best to articulate my point of view.

The 'library' metaphor isn't completely apt, mostly because in a real library, you have to give the book BACK. If you want your own copy to enjoy whenever you want to, you have to go buy the book - that's why libraries aren't seen as an impediment to book sales. That's also why streaming media/music hasn't been gone after nearly as aggressively, despite technically being a violation of performance laws; hearing a song 'on the radio' does not generally preclude the person buying their own copy. When you start making 'libraries' that people can download and keep forever, that isn't really a library in anything but name.

Let's use a scenario: you're at an event, trying to sell prints of your artwork. At the very next booth is a guy who went to your deviantart, downloaded your pictures, and made his own prints. He's handing them out for free to everyone who walks by, effectively reducing your ability to sell yours to zero. He hasn't 'taken a pumpkin', but can you really tell me you wouldn't feel as though he's stolen something from you?

The problem, I think, is that that's the side of the argument I'm on, and it's a lot harder to see it as 'fun' and 'not damaging' when you're one of the little people that these hard-core pirates hurt just as callously as they do the big corporations. They don't care how big/powerful or tiny/struggling you are, whether you're a company or a person. If you have content, they will take it, and 'liberate' it, and distribute it far and wide, and they will justify it by saying that you love what you do anyway so you don't need to be compensated, or that your work has no real value anyway. And the rest of the world treats them like robin hood, and says to you 'well, you're a terrible person for daring to want to be compensated, shame on you'.

And after a while, you stop making things. Because there's only so many ways you can be told your efforts aren't worth anything before you start to believe them, I guess.

Anyway, this is all anecdotal, but I feel like there are so few harmed-creator voices in this debate that I needed to explain that perspective somewhat.
Jan. 20th, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
:B FWIW my fiancee feels more like you do and as a consequence never downloads stuff from public sites, unless of course it is creator sanctioned.

But like I said, I just don't think it's the same thing as stealing in the traditional sense. I think it's a new thing we haven't really figured out properly yet, legally and ethically. And different people and industries have different ways they want it to fall; the RIAA and MPAA being the most extreme on the limiting end, tend to piss people off because if they had it their way even copies you buy would be restricted to one computer and tracked and not fully yours, plus RIAA's wonderful track record of attempting to randomly collect gigantic damages against a few individuals unlucky enough to attract their interest (even if someone does think it "wrong", targeting a few people and trying to make them pay the "damages" of many hardly seems "right"). And so people react angrily and in completely the opposite direction, etc.

I DO fully support the rights of license holders (individual creators or big industry) to say "Do not publicly distribute, take this down now". But that's already in place, with the DMCA, and as far as I know most US webhosts comply with requests pretty quickly or do face (reasonable) consequences. I fail to see why new US laws are needed, when supposedly most of the problem is foreign; they should go lobby the foreign governments then. And yes there are issues with that too, the net is fairly "global" and that's probably not the complete answer, but I do believe it's the path to start thinking along (global).

Anyway, as to your particular scenario, aside from me supporting DMCA and the right to say "cut that out!", I actually would be thrilled if someone were bothered to make prints of my stuff and hand them out publicly :P Long as they weren't profiting off it (ie, slapping their advertizing on it, using it as a table lure, etc) I have the original high res copies of my stuff and people can get it signed by me, etc. If they want to buy it from me cool, if not, cool. But I'm aware not everyone feels that way and that's okay.
Jan. 20th, 2012 06:01 pm (UTC)
The issue with DMCA, which becomes obvious once you actually try to file one, is that if you are a small company or an individual and you can't afford a big lawyer, many hosting services will just deny it on some impossible technicality. And it wouldn't stand up in court, but they know you don't have the resources to sue, so they just say 'nyah' and go about their business. I have had a 0% success rate with DMCA in my particular industry, and I have suffered immense losses to an already marginal compensation schedule. Basically if you are a powerless small entity the DMCA doesn't do ENOUGH; and if you are a huge company it does far too much, gives you too much power to, as you said, go after ridiculous remunerations from individuals and so on. But hey, that's life in the US - give more power to the people who already have lots, and strip it away from those who already lack it.

I fully believe DMCA would be enough to protect people if there were some actual consequences for companies ignoring the requests, independent from the complaintant's wealth. Right now, if you have no money to buy a lawyer, the company hosting your material faces no consequences for leaving it up.

Buuuut yes, the global issue is a big one, and I have no idea at all how to address that. One aspect of it is that US law regarding defense of trademarks/copyrights really needs to be revised to only take into account violations that occur in the US; which is to say, I should not be able to lose my rights to X because someone in sweden infringed on it massively and I didn't 'defend' it because I couldn't, due to it being in sweden! (I actually have an acquaintance who used to draw a comic book back in the 80s who lost the US rights to his main character because it was so heavily infringed on in other parts of the world, infringements he was legally unable to fight but which he was still held responsible for, resulting in the character entering US public domain. I have no words for how FUCKED UP that is.) But that's not really related to the conversation, it's just another example of how globalization has dredged up a lot of problems we don't have solutions to yet.
Jan. 20th, 2012 05:53 am (UTC)
You do not get to decide something someone has created is YOURS NOW without paying for it

But I totally do. I can make that decision, and I can execute it. Legally, it might be wrong, but the law is slow and backwards, so I only care if I get caught. Morally, it might be wrong, but it's not necessarily, and I am perfectly content making that moral call for myself.

Calling it stealing is wrong, not legally or morally but in the sense of the term simply not reflecting the reality. Piracy doesn't deprive the sharer of the content, and it doesn't even entail lost revenue. If you're calling it stealing, that's exaggerating for an agenda, and I've gotta disagree. Why not call it assault or murder also?

I don't say things like "if it wasn't for piracy I wouldn't have bought..." etc as justifications. I usually do not care about justifying what I download - it's not a moral wrong to me in most cases. I say them, and they need to be repeated, because they're facts, and they're very important for illustrating why the model of treating IP as a physical commodity is crap.

Anti-piracy efforts are a way bigger problem than piracy (which I think you agree with, so...why this post?). Piracy doesn't even rank on my list of evils in this world. Creators going unrewarded for their efforts is a bad thing, but it's not a necessary consequence of downloading stuff.

PS: I am listening to a song on Grooveshark. I paid real money for a physical copy of the album containing this song years ago. I don't know where that disc is now, and I certainly didn't keep the receipt. It should be obvious that it's nonsensical to make any distinction between the copy that I bought and the copy that I'm listening to.

Edited at 2012-01-20 06:02 am (UTC)
Jan. 20th, 2012 08:06 am (UTC)
We've gone over this before - I get that you're the immoveable object when it comes to this stuff. I'm not sure what new territory we could cover.
Jan. 20th, 2012 05:08 pm (UTC)
Though I do want to ask: How can you say it 'doesn't even entail lost revenue'? I mean, I get that you disagree with me on this detail--I say it often does, you say it doesn't-- but how can you have all the necessary market data/sales figures/economic expertise to interpret them correctly, to make a blanket statement that it NEVER entails lost revenue?
Jan. 20th, 2012 05:17 pm (UTC)
It entails the possibility, not the loss itself. No one is claiming that piracy never causes lost revenue.

I'll read more here later...
Jan. 20th, 2012 06:19 am (UTC)
Online piracy is a complicated issue and can very negatively affect creators, yeah. But I think it's extremely disingenuous to dismiss people who download as "ignorant," "impatient" or "lazy." Accessibility and cost are big factors--not everyone has a television, or a nearby Best Buy, or can afford a DVD set or to import a graphic novel that's only sold in the U.S. Your past experiences downloading from Kazaa are not everyone's (And yes, I know people who legally purchased the same works they downloaded as soon as they were able to.) As a friend of mine put it, "calling copyright infringement “stealing” is an emotional appeal disguised as a legal argument."
Jan. 20th, 2012 08:00 am (UTC)
I'm pretty sure all three of those words were things I was calling MYSELF at various points, not other people. That said, I'm going to sleep on all of this, and hopefully have a more articulate reply in the morning.
Jan. 20th, 2012 04:17 pm (UTC)
Okay. First off, I agree I shouldn't have thrown insulting words around; it's easy to do so when you perceive the knives as pointed inwards, but it does logically follow that I'm accusing others of the same (even if that wasn't my intent) and the overall tone should have been less sharp. Otherwise, let me address this as well as I can:

Accessibility and cost. I am of two minds with this one. I've been broke and struggling my whole life so I know the frustration of not being able to afford anything, and during some of those years piracy improved the quality of my life markedly. But having personally benefited from a practice is not a good reason, on its own, to support it. It would be wonderful if creative people could be compensated through some other means and everyone could access their work for free, but at the moment the only way these people earn their livings is if people actually buy their works. And there's an irritating attitude of entitlement among the most vocal of the pirate communities that they have the right to have ALL THE THINGS even if they can't afford them, because creative works have no real value, 'it's just ones and zeroes and you can't copyright ones and zeroes', and most enraging of all, 'creators don't need to be compensated because they love what they do and would do it for free anyway'. Which is pretty amazingly presumptive, to make that call on all creators' behalf, and is also not really how a cash-for-goods-or-services system works?

That said, I do think the artificial worldwide obstacles to getting what you want shipped to where you happen to be need to be done away with, and digital forms of media can largely resolve this. I'm not saying 'no you have to go to best buy', I'm just saying 'if you download something that costs money you should probably pay that money.'

Yes, I'm aware my experiences aren't everyone's.

But I also have a lot of personal experience in having my own IP infringed, since I make my living off of it, and I'm making roughly 1/4 what I used to due to the prevalence of 'liberation'. Yes, my experience, not anyone else's, but it's also a less common perspective on the argument and, I think, a valid one--an individual/small business that has actually been hurt by these things, not hurt as in 'oh not such a pretty bottom line this quarter' but hurt as in 'I may not be able to finish undergrad at this rate because I can barely afford to eat on this money.' And I gotta tell you - it sure feels like theft. 'Feels', okay, so maybe that's still emotional, but if someone accesses something that society has hung a price tag on, and the end result is that they get what they want and the creator doesn't get compensated, what can you call that if not theft?

You said yourself that it can very negatively affect creators, so I guess my question is: why does any one person's 'right' to have something for free trump the creator's right to be compensated for work they've already put in? Why is the first more important?
Jan. 20th, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
One thing I've been trying to wrap my head around is the distinction between digital file sharing and the sharing and redistribution of physical media. I'm very lucky in that, through my job, I have access to pretty much any multimedia item and printed literature I want (barring computer software, magazines, and more specialized texts) used at literally pennies on the dollar. So I buy (and sell back) physical media pretty often (I don't even bother renting shit anymore, since it works out cheaper for me to just buy it outright and then sell it back once I'm done--for example I just finished an audio book that sells new for $15, we sell it for $1.95, and I bought it with my discount for 64 cents, and I'll get about that much back when I sell it again), certainly much more often than I would if I didn't have that access, and yet none of that money goes back to the original creators. It goes to my boss, my coworkers, me, and back out again into our local economy.

I know a good deal of the difference has to do with scale; me buying a CD for 12 cents, ripping it onto my computer, and burning multiple copies to share with my family and friends is different than uploading it somewhere where a thousand people can download copies for themselves. Still I think it's a part of a larger issue we're navigating culturally--namely how "real world" actions and digital actions differ, and when and what kind of standards can be applied to both--that the law has been really slow to address.

I dunno. It's a quandary.
Jan. 20th, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
I agree that it's kind of a mess. The specific issues you bring up are ones I've shied away from addressing simply because I don't know 100% where I stand on them. Part of the problem from a 'compensating the creator' standpoint is that it's much more common these days--with books particularly-- for people only want them to read once and then get rid of; no one KEEPS books anymore. And that is a trend that is detrimental to the creators, but you can't really say it's not someone's right to sell back something they bought! That is a pretty intrinsic right of owning something. It's just an aspect of the model that needs to be accounted for, and yeah, the industry and the law have been really slow to change anything about how all of this works.

But yeah, scale really is important. And I wasn't very clear on that in my initial post because it was basically a bunch of frustration-fueled blather, but when I'm talking about pirates and frothing about it I'm talking about the people who distribute large scale-- the people who essentially assert themselves over the creator in saying what something is worth (nothing, usually) and can seriously impede the creator's ability to live off of their efforts. I let the line blur between this group and the individuals doing the downloading mostly because hearing the same justifications echoed back at me for years is irritating, but it's a distraction from the real issue and if I'd been thinking more clearly I wouldn't have let that happen.
Jan. 20th, 2012 10:07 pm (UTC)
This is a really interesting discussion - I don't have much to add, because I'm impressed and a little intimidated by how much you've thought this out. I guess all I can add from my perspective is that this is an odd time, new technology threatening the entire structure from which the people who make culture can make a living from it, and thus so we can have new culture at all.

Except current culture seems to be a churn of mixing, analyzing, and re-mixing the tropes of the previous century, which refuses to de-grip its bony hands from the present, and atomising it is the only hope for new, less fiction-mediated meaning to eventually grow out of the mulch. The process of which requires taking in a hell of a lot of material, the price of which is often inflated to maintain the same prices justified by the production and transportation and shop overhead of physical things.

But really, after all that thought I just have a gut feeling that I'm an adult, and thus I should damn well be supporting the artists whose work I love by paying for them...in their most cost-effective option.

So, uh, that's three paragraphs' worth of "I really don't understand the complexities here, but it's really awful it's cutting into your ability to pay the rent."
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:01 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's... that's the whole baby-boomer problem. I have a friend who mentioned that our generation essentially got 'skipped'-- we had a lot of good ideas but we never got a chance because the baby boomers held onto power for way longer than is normal/acceptable and now the generation after us is already ready to take up the reins as soon as the boomers FINALLY let go of our collective culture. It's a fucking irritating time to have been born. :\

But, yeah. As you said, none of this changes the fact that if you want people to keep making the things you love, you need to actually support them in a more material way than a pat on the back.
Jan. 22nd, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
That...that kind of makes us the Price Charles generation? Dude. Not cool.

And here I was so proud I kept myself from my usual anti-Boomer rant :)
Jan. 22nd, 2012 09:42 pm (UTC)
I'm not entirely sure what that means, but hey!

...yeah, don't get me started on the boomers, I will go on for hours. >:[


Edited at 2012-01-22 09:42 pm (UTC)
Jan. 22nd, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC)


Yeah, I can drop into a foaming generational rage at the drop of a hat, usually at work when I'm trapped between "I ain't learning that new program because I'm retiring in n years" and "ohmygod why don't we just use twitter because I have like a thousand followers on mine and I could be in charge!"

Jan. 20th, 2012 11:10 pm (UTC)
The problem with the access people's been having to download media is that it will be very difficult to go back.

If I'm not sure I like something (meaning I haven't seen any of it) I won't buy it. Simple as that. Doesn't matter if I know the creator is good, if I've already bought previous works.

Perhaps if they made more difficult to made good quality pirate copies, but to made it all completely inaccessible? Nay.

I have both seasons of Rome on DVD, which was extremely hard to find (I live in Argentina, you get things here at random) and I won't say how much I paid for them because my husband would strangle me. I did it because I wanted all the shiny extras, which aren't in a pirated copy.

That said, I do think you should stop downloading anything and wait out the looong time whatever it takes you to save the money for it/have it in your local tv if you feel so strongly about it.

Edit: I wait whatever long it takes to see something if it's not streaming, because my shabby computer would take so long downloading it isn't worth the bother.

Edited at 2012-01-20 11:43 pm (UTC)
Jan. 21st, 2012 04:58 pm (UTC)
All they have to do is make the pirated copies harder to get and make the legit copies easier to get and much cheaper. And the problem will take care of itself.
Jan. 21st, 2012 05:37 am (UTC)
ok, first: Eth is right.

I don't think there's really a good argument for why making a copyrighted work available for free doesn't destroy the economic value of the work and thereby pick the pocket of the copyright holder. It's stealing.

That said. I still think it's justifiable and that the media companies are in the wrong.

I have been reading a lot about foreign-aid fail lately, and about how initiatives like TOMS buy-one-give-one are bad aid. If you buy a pair of TOMS shoes, they donate a pair of shoes to some third world country. Unfortunately this has the effect of flooding the market with free goods and winds up fucking up the local economy. People who sell shoes for a living can't anymore, because their wares are essentially devaluated.

So, piracy is effectively doing the same thing. But here's my question: why hasn't it had the same effect on prices? there should be tremendous market pressure on media companies to lower prices, and since we're talking about digital media, you'd think they could lower them a lot before losing a profit. Frankly if I could easily and reliably download a high-quality file, I'd rather pay a dollar to do that than search for it on filestube. But a DVD still costs upwards of $10, and downloading a movie on itunes is the same price.

So what gives? The technology has changed and the industry wants to force back the clock. I don't want to be supporting an industry that refuses to evolve and expects that it can change the law to force me to pay their ridiculous prices and subsidize their dying business model.
Jan. 21st, 2012 04:57 pm (UTC)
I totally agree that the current retail model is really broken, and that without the cost of physical pressing, booklets, cases, shelf-space, overhead to rent the store and pay employees etc, the cost of digital downloads of media should be SUBSTANTIALLY less than it is. This becomes tricky though because it gets into baby-with-the-bathwater territory-- you can't 'not support the model' and thus hurt the people responsible for the model without also hurting the artists/creators. They're essentially hostage in a war between us and the media companies that control their IP, and generally, people consider their rights to be far less important than our collective right to make a statement.

At the same time, there's no way to encourage them to move to a new model without refusing to support the current one. It's not a problem I have an answer to.

The other problem with this is that it tends to bleed over onto situations where the model is not to blame; ie, all piracy becomes 'justifiable' in people's minds, despite the fact that a lot of piracy--of indie ebooks, or individual art, or my situation with the IP I make and sell directly-- doesn't 'stick it to the man', it just hurts people. But that all blurs together in people's minds and suddenly everything they steal is part of a grand righteous political gesture.

But yeah. The ultimate answer to curbing piracy is for other media companies to do what the music industry has done and make things available online, cheaply, and conveniently. Make getting it legitimately a lot easier and people will by and large shift in that direction.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )