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Counterpoint: Piracy of Cultural Works

Counterpoint: Piracy of Cultural Works

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Published by: cpsc182 on May 04, 2009
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06/15/2009

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Counterpoint: Piracy of Cultural Works
I am taking the position that piracy of cultural works is not beneficial in its current form.To clarify these terms, piracy does not refer to banditry on the open seas, but rather “theunauthorized use of another's production, invention, or conception especially ininfringement of a copyright”
1
 as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. “Culturalworks,” for the sake of this discussion, refer to entertainment and associated media,especially film, music, and software. I will primarily be focusing on the online piracy of cultural works limiting the scope of the discussion away from physical piracy, such asfake designer goods.To start, it is crucial to recognize a distinction put forward by Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation. Stallman makes the important distinction between“free as in free speech” and “free as in beer” and voices the need to separate the two. Inthe media and in general discourse, these two categorizations are frequently lumpedtogether. While I support “free as in free speech,” which allows for increased creativityand access to knowledge, an effort to legitimize a “free as in beer” doctrine for copyrighted works is unacceptable.To start, let us examine the case of Girl Talk, an artist often mentioned in the debate over copyright infringement, or piracy, relating to media. It is clear that Girl Talk adds a greatdeal of his own creativity and skill to produce his successful works. Nonetheless, it isundeniable that at least a small portion of this popularity is due to the acclaim, hard work,and talent of the artists he samples. A significant fact is that Girl Talk charges for hisalbums, a price which consumers decide, and for his performances, such as Yale’s recentSpring Fling.His newest album
 Feed the Animals
is available for free online. However, consumers areincentivized to pay for his album by the promise of enhanced features, quality, and even a physical CD for the increasing-tiers of price paid. The most surprising element of thisalbum sale is that it is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommerciallicense.
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That is, anyone is free to distribute, remix, and use his work, but not for commercial gain. Isn’t this exactly what Girl Talk is doing in the first place? It seems to be okay when Girl Talk distributes, remixes, and uses copyrighted works for commercialgain but it is not okay when others do the same to his work. This stance seemshypocritical and undermines his credibility since he is applying a double-standard. He istherefore not purely a free culture activist as many claim.While Girl Talk should not pay millions or hundreds of millions of dollars in damages asTehranian’s example of “Professor John” suggests as a possibility, he should be properlyattributing and financially contributing to the artists whose work he uses. Artistsroutinely pay the proper licensing fee to sample songs, such as TI and Rihanna’s smash
1
“Piracy.”
Merriam-Webster Dictionary
. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/piracy
2
“Girl Talk – Feed the Animals – Illegal Art.” http://74.124.198.47/illegal-art.net/__girl__talk___feed__the__anima.ls___/
 
hit
 Live Your Life
which prominently sampled O-Zone’s
 Dragostea din tei
. No lessshould be expected of artists such as Girl Talk. An updated copyright regime should beformulated whereby all artists, including Girl Talk, are compensated for their work inamounts that are not prohibitively expensive. This would allow a negotiation of termsthat allow fair use while discouraging piracy. Next, let us consider the landmark case of the Pirate Bay. This is an especially salientexample as it encompasses illegal online sharing of copyrighted film, music, andsoftware. Monique Wadsted, the prosecuting lawyer in the Swedish Pirate Bay trial,made an important point that was a major factor in determining the ruling in favor of the prosecution. Wadsted argued that content has costs associated with its production that, if not borne by consumers and those delivering the content, would result in an unsustainable business-model in which the current production of cultural works would be impossible.
3
This is one of the fundamental considerations in opposition of the piracy of culturalworks.The co-founder of the group that created Pirate Bay, Piratbyran, named Magnus Eriksson passionately argued for the opposing side and for the validity of the Pirate Bay’s model.Many of these points blur the important distinction discussed earlier, however.Eriksson’s first assertion is that “File-sharing is a neutral endeavor.”
4
But this file sharingis hardly neutral as it has been estimated that the costs of piracy totaled $20 billion thisvery year.
5
This huge financial blow to businesses hurts the bottom line of establishedcompanies not only jeopardizing the savings of individuals invested in the business andthe future employment of its workers, but also preventing the producers of cultural worksfrom receiving just remuneration for their innovation.Eriksson continued by saying that “[the Pirate Bay] has great opportunities to be at thecenter of a dynamic cultural life where you don't need large resources to participate andget a global reach, where hidden gems from the cultural history can be revitalized.”
6
Theability to democratize the current system and let any and all individuals participate in the production and distribution of new content is indeed appealing. But in practice, this idealis not always carried out. In fact, there has been a clear connection drawn between onlinecopyright infringement and decline in the sales of the corresponding copyrightedmaterial, such as the case of the music industry.
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Therefore, “dynamic cultural life” isactually damaged by piracy through sites such as the Pirate Bay.Eriksson claims, in connection to regulation of the exchange of online cultural works,that “the option to monitor all communications, fight all new technologies and spread aculture of fear in what should be a free and open communication network is not a
3
“Is Online Piracy a Good Thing?”
CNN 
.http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/Movies/04/17/online.piracy.for.against/index.html.
4
Ibid.
5
Cieply, Michael. “Digital Piracy’s Spread Prompts Hearing.”
 New York Times
. April 6, 2009.
6
“Is Online Piracy a Good Thing?”
CNN 
.
7
Liebowitz, Stan J. “File Sharing: Creative Destruction or Just Plain Destruction?”
The Journal of Law and  Economics
. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. 2006.
 
desirable option.”
8
This defense is a bit extreme as fighting against copyrightinfringement is neither monitoring “
all 
communications,” fighting “
all 
new technologies”or spreading “a culture of fear” (emphasis added). Copyright holders do not seek tomonitor all communication but only to stop gross copyright infringement whether in the public or private sphere. Companies representing the creation of new cultural worksembrace original new technologies and frequently pay for the proper licenses to use them.Finally, such companies have no desire to “spread a culture of fear” and alienate their customers.Eriksson concludes by stating that, “Anti-piracy efforts must be seen [in] the light of acounter-revolution against [information sharing] that goes all the way to the veryinfrastructure of the Net.”
9
This is an extreme claim. Again, adapting to newtechnologies can be mutually advantageous to content producers and users. It is onlywhen gross copyright infringement comes into play that anti-piracy efforts must targetthese infractions.This “free as in beer” use of the service has been defended by its owners as “free as infree speech,” a confusion of these two important categories which questions the validityof the Pirate Bay’s defense and ultimately led to a ruling against the website. As a result,the success of copyright holders in the Pirate Bay trial gives international precedent thatrampant copyright infringement will not be tolerated by international law or theinternational community.On April 1
st
, 2009, slightly preceding the verdict of the Pirate Bay trial, theimplementation of a new Swedish anti-piracy law has curbed internet traffic believed to be connected to piracy of cultural works. In short, anti-piracy efforts can be effective incarrying out their objectives.
Although there has been some backlash, the important point to consider is not whether such programs can work or not, but how they must beimplemented to work effectively.The current relationship between cultural works and piracy of said works is not beneficialand is worsening, as is evidenced by Canada entering the Office of the U.S. TradeRepresentative’s (USTR) “Priority Watch List,” relating to piracy of cultural works, for the first time.
 Reform of our current system is in order and this change must be well thought out. “Freeas in free speech” activists are justified in fighting against an overcorrection or over-restriction of rights in response to the clampdown, on “free as in beer” activities,demanded by copyright holders. This is especially true if tools crucial to the sharing of and access to information, such as the Google search engine, are threatened by new
8
“Is Online Piracy a Good Thing?”
CNN 
.
9
Ibid.
10
“Swedish antipiracy law: Traffic Down, ISP Rebels.”
CNET News
. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10220679-93.html
11
“USTR Releases 2009 Special 301 Report.” United States Trade Representative.http://www.ustr.gov/Document_Library/Press_Releases/2009/April/USTR_Releases_2009_Special_301_R eport.html

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