Forgive the bad joke, but all this talk of pirating (the illegal practice of downloading content via bit torrent sites and copying it) has made me wonder how these buccaneers of the sea became involved in the first place. The Pirate Bay, the largest search engine for illegally procured content, and certainly the most infamous, has made good use of the pirate genre by fashioning for itself an almost romantic, swash-buckling reputation. It has become the robin hood of the digital age, fighting the greedy entertainment networks, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. What is so wrong about downloading and sharing content? Why are we likened to pirates (robbers of the high seas)?
A TED talk that was given by Clay Shirky titled ‘Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea)‘ gives us some idea of why file sharing has such a bad rep. Shirky introduces us to PIPA and SOPA. Sounding a little like those lovely girls from next door, they were US bills in congress at the beginning of 2012 and were an attempt by the media industries to outlaw copying. PIPA stands for Protect IP (Intellectual Property) and SOPA is very closely related; if you want to get the details you can watch the TED talk here. Shirky explains the link between file sharing and piracy succinctly when he says “The threat [of the U.S. bills SOPA and PIPA] is the inversion of the burden of proof, where we suddenly are all treated like thieves at every moment we’re given the freedom to create, to produce or to share.” He further explains how we have shown that every time a new technology is created, be it analog or digital, we (the so called “couch potatoes”) have consumed it and then produced something new which we have then shared with others. Shirky explains that humans love to create new content from old, not just sit on the couch and consume, as the entertainment industry would prefer us do. Media industries became complacent during the 20th century and now they are bringing considerable pressure to bear on our governments to put restrictions in place so that they can get back to the ‘good old days’.
Copyright laws were originally established to protect and encourage creativity, however its goals have become distorted to the detriment of the prosumer (producer/consumer). Shirky says “Time Warner has called and they want us all back on the couch, just consuming — not producing, not sharing — and we should say, ‘No'”. Copying is the method we use to acquire the skills we need to survive and to move forward in life. The entertainment industry has been able to hang on to its monopoly of the creative industries; that is until the coming of the Internet. Clay Shirky warns us of the threat of Internet censorship bills and as he stated in an article for The Guardian “SOPA and PIPA […] would render the internet a place where the only content to be seen or heard or read is produced by professionals, with the rest of use relegated to the role of pure consumption”. I think this is something which should concern us all.
Defend our freedom to share (or why SOPA is a bad idea) [online video] Retrieved:15 September, 2013, from http://youtu.be/9h2dF-IsH0I
Shirky, C. 2012, ‘Sopa and Pipa would create a consumption-only inernet’, The Guardian, January19, Retrieved:15 September, 2013, from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/cifamerica/2012/jan/18/sopa-pipa-consumption-only-internet?guni=Article:in%20body%20link