Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fifteen Lawyers On a Dead Man's Chest

Pirates portrayed in popular media were not the kind of heroes we make them out to be today. Like the modern Somali pirates, they disrupted trade and threatened fortunes. They murdered, raped, and stole. They burned ships and killed innocent people. Centuries ago, pirates would occasionally be acting on the behalf of a government, acting as a Crown thug rather than the rugged rogue we think of them as. Perhaps their only endearing quality is that some were made up of sailors dodging the English draft.

Cyber piracy is different story entirely, highlighted by the Pirate Bay Trial. Internet pirates download and/or view copyrighted material without paying for it. Studios argue that they are stealing media and more than one commercial depicts it as the same as swiping a CD from a store. But that's not quite true.

Granted, it is possible that downloading illegally is effectively the same as taking a hard copy. Taking a hard copy is always denying the company revenue, even if you would never buy it because your theft denies someone else from buying that particular CD. But downloading a file copies it, leaving the original in tact. Your consumption of it does not deny someone else from consuming it. The company loses revenue only if you pirated instead of paying for it. If you were never going to buy it (you value it less than the price but more than zero), the studio/actors/retail store/etc lose nothing. There are no distorted incentives and no real theft.

In an ideal world, only those who download for few are those who wouldn't have paid in the first place. But I know of no way to reasonably get to that world for it requires each consumer to honestly determine what they are willing to pay for, act accordingly, and, when appropriate, resist the romantic call of a pirate's life.

1 comment:

Jason said...

Correction, pirates (by definition) NEVER worked for any government. That was part of the appeal. They answered to no one by themselves and didn't care two bits about the future.

If you did attack ships on behalf of the government you were called a privateer. Privateer Henry Morgan greatly disapproved (to put it mildly) on being called a pirate. He saw himself as a loyal English patriot and broke the Spanish hold Latin American gold and Spanish control over the New World (which made the US possible).