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Steal This Essay

Shayna S's picture


"Copyright is the mechanism and the law to make sure that that investment is rewarded and therefore that there will be more money to foster new artists, bring new content to the public. That's how it works."                                                             - Jo Oliver of the IFPI.

Copyright is the legal "right" to copy, distribute, and adjust an intellectual property. Supposedly, it is a "protection" for authors and artists. But what are they being protected from?                                                                             Pirate Bay

Pirate Bay  is the most visited, largest, and most persistent free file-sharing service in the world. Originally based in Sweden, Pirate Bay was founded in 2003 by the anti copyright organization Piratbyrån. In 2004, it became a distinct entity owned by seperate individuals. Then in 2006, ownership changed to a non-profit organization that continues to run the site. Pirate Bay is a multilingual host for over 5 million registered users who use the site to share bittorrent files. Many of these files are pirated movies or music. While the site does save the torrent files, it claims to not be responsible for illegal or copyright-infringing material. Pirate Bay has been threatened by at least 20 different companies for violating copyright laws and ethics. On the 31st of May 2006, the Stockholm headquarters of Pirate Bay was raided by the Swedish Police by orders stemming from the MPAA. The MPAA attempted to take the raid as a victory; stated Chairman Dan Glickman,

 “The actions today taken in Sweden serve as a reminder to pirates all over the world that there are no safe harbors for Internet copyright thieves...” 

The site was shut down for 3 days before it was back online and fully functional. Much to MPAA's chagrin, the raid garnered sympathy and increased the popularity of the site by two-fold.  

Pirate Bay's blog  responded,

 "We shall prove ourselves once more able to defend our Internets, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone."

April 2009, the latest court case ruled against Pirate Bay. The four defendants were accused of facilitating illegal files. They argued that the Pirate Bay was rather like Google in that it was an advanced search engine that pointed users towards files that were already on the internet. What's being targeted is the behavior of the Pirate Bay administrators and their users. 

 "If you are to enforce copyright in the digital age, where a lot of this takes place in private communications, if you are to enforce that you need to monitor all private communications,"

                      - Rick Falkinge, Pirate Party leader

 Is this a fear of the unknown? Of the uncertain future? Companies are afraid of loss of control. Over profit, over industry, over what we have been accustomed to. Not just the big movie studios, but the music industry and other big corporations who fear loss of control over what they claim as their property. Companies are asking for the legal right to control their customer's behavior, their communication, their chatter. File-sharing is communication, it is chatter. How can chatter be regulated without affecting and restricting our reality? Perhaps that is what pro-copyright people want, to stop the transforming reality in its tracks in order to assure that our perception of copyright is static, unchanging, and profitable. 

In the film "Steal This Film", The Pirate Bay Raid is featured as an example of the extreme concern of companies about copyright violations. Can this be what copyright is about? What kind of "rewards" will come from warping a law that was intended to help authors, artists and consumers alike? In the movie, a representative for a copyright-concerned company worries that now the customers are the enemies. How can a company hope to survive by alienating customers? How can it adapt itself to the technology? 

Although Apple was one of the companies who threatened Pirate Bay, I look at its iTunes as a good example of progress. It's free to download and it's not just a store promoting Appleware. It's a program that helps organizes your music whether you bought it from the iTunes store, ripped it from a CD, or pirated it from a torrent. Unfortunately, it has many "protections" such as limiting the amount of CD's a person can burn as well as restricting the program to working solely with Apple products. But it's a step in the right direction. dr, horrible

Of course, the most successful example of utilizing the internet is the phenomenon of Dr. Horrible. Written during the WGA strike of 2007, the musical dark comedy has won many prestigious awards including an Emmy in 2009. It was an internet release. Because of its success, those involved in production have been able to be paid as well as plan for a sequel in 2011. Dr. Horrible is an example of how copyrighted material that is chatter and a widespread presence across the internet can be used as a source of profit while it is even while it is still available for free. It is not explicitly hoarded for fear of loss. Rather, Dr. Horrible is evidence that the harmonizing of copyright law and file-sharing can succeed.  

While the Pirate Bay lost its most recent battle, the site is still going strong, selling t-shirts, getting donations, and arguing for change. 

 "Technology has changed. You can't go back, there's no way to go back. And I don't think there's a will to go back."

                    -Peter Sunde, one of four held responsible for Pirate Bay




B.'s picture

Yo-ho yo-ho...

Interesting you should mention Dr. Horrible. When it first came out, I couldn't watch it, because it would not stream to my country.
Two years later, I stumbled into it again online, what made me a little more determined to see it, but once more I could not stream it (the offender was now Hulu), and iTunes would.Not.Sell.It.To.Me (because of -you guessed it- copyright disagreements - apparently Brazilian Copyright Law is not what Apple thinks it should be).
So I went to this somewhat newly discovered site - Pirate Bay, and torrented it.
Loved it so much I bought the CD. And a t-shirt. And pre-ordered the Blue-ray from Amazon (DESPITE the high shipping costs -spent more on the shipping than on the products XD).

Anne Dalke's picture

Pirate Attack!

you've done such a wonderful job of visiting --and commenting-- on your classmates' blogs, that I knew, before I arrived @ yours, what it was likely to be about. What I didn't anticipate, though, was your focus on piracy! What interests me about this as a concept is that --unlike, for example, the Creative Commons that rmeyers features in her blog --it keeps the concept of "property," as a thing to be guarded, protected, and/or stolen, in play, rather than refusing to reify ideas (tunes, creations) as objects to be traded.  It highlights, rather than diminishes, in other words, that "oxymoron" that is intellectual property. Why do you find yourself led in this direction, rather than towards the "compromise manifesto" you identified in rmeyers' work?

Perhaps the way not to "stop transforming reality in its tracks" is not to keep such concepts alive? As I also suggested to rmeyers, perhaps you'd be interested in learning more about Lewis Hyde,  a poet and literary critic whom we read together in our ESem last semester, and who--along with his work in Native American studies--has been exploring "gift-giving" as an alternative to commodity-based culture. His vision of open exchange isn't commercial, he says, but "erotic," and so keeps the gift in play (sounds like the internet to me!).

P.S. You're really using the resources of the internet in your paper--all the striking images, all the links...what's disconcerting is the way in which the whole text is centered. Makes me realize how much I expect (and need, paradoxically, to center my reading!) text that is left-aligned. Did you chose to center it, or did the program decide that's what you wanted? (If so, I could make some crack about hi-jacking here....)

Shayna S's picture

Of the Questions in Your Post

 Why do you find yourself led in this direction, rather than towards the "compromise manifesto" you identified in rmeyers' work?

I'm not sure of the exact process that led me to write about piracy. I had scratched the surface in reading about it vaguely in high school. It seems to go alongside of plagiarism. Both piracy and plagiarism are words with stigmas that have puzzled me. I can't quite understand entirely why both are made to be such big problems in our society. Pirate Bay, of course, was the obvious choice for centering this essay around, it being a place of its namesake. 

Speaking of centering...

Did you chose to center it, or did the program decide that's what you wanted?

I chose to center my essay because I thought it looked better as a webpage. It was visually more appealing, and I thought it made it less like an academic paper and more like a blog post. 


Perhaps the way not to "stop transforming reality in its tracks" is not to keep such concepts alive?

Interesting thought. If we let go of the concept of property for the sake of property, what would that entail? 

A side note: I ran across a quote from Albert Einstein about creativity on a random quote website. He says,

"The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."

spleenfiend's picture

pirates are cool

First of all, I love this essay because it is visually pleasing and easily to read (despite my short attention span).  Anyway, I agree completely that Dr. Horrible is a perfect example of why content can be free online and still make a profit.  Even though I rarely pay for music, movies, or television shows, I bought the itunes version of Dr. Horrible so I could easily have it in good quality on my iPod...but originally, I saw it for free like everyone else and did not necessarily have to buy it.  I find out about most of the things I like via the internet but often do end up purchasing them, so I think that without downloading anything from the internet, people would discover less music/movies/whatever and therefore purchase fewer products.

I actually never knew that itunes restricted the number of CDs one can burn.  One interesting thing about itunes is that even though you're not supposed to burn CDs with protected songs bought from itunes, the program has a feature that lets you convert them to ordinary mp3 files, so you could put them on as many computers as you wanted.  Maybe this is just a mistake on the part of itunes.

jrf's picture

Steal This Film, along with

Steal This Film, along with Remix and the discussions we've been having about free knowledge and copyright, makes me wonder about how to balance/harmonize copyright law and file-sharing. Our current system, and I think the system that copyright law was originally intended to protect, tries to reward people financially for their artistic/intellectual creations; this makes sense to me, since it makes it (in theory, anyway) possible to support oneself by creating ideas/rewards people for their contributions to the general pool of ideas. File-sharing, while it also frustrates the less-sympathetic corporations who want to make money off of things they did not themselves create, skips the part of the idea-sharing process where the music/movie/etc.'s originator is rewarded. Is the expectation that we should make money off of the things we create as self-centered as the idea that we should receive credit for ideas we contribute to a class discussion (not that I'm clear on whether that idea is useless, either)? Requiring payment for ideas or creations hinders the free exchange, but in a capitalist system, preventing contributors from being reimbursed for their contributions is also likely to limit the amount of new material being produced.

Shayna S's picture

Truly, a Difficult Question

 I often wonder too, how a free-knowledge ideal could be reached without compromising our entire capitalist economy. The problem as I see it is that copyright right now is far too focused on the monetary reward rather than the social or political benefits an idea can have. I agree that it would be a wonderful thing for an author to receive credit for his/her work and a monetary reward. Yet, it is worrisome to see that money is the focus of copyright laws. Someone takes something that you authored, that's theft. Not because he/she stole it, but because you don't get paid. Perhaps (to extremely generalize) the modern society's obsession with boiling everything down to money is the true barrier in this discussion. How does one function in an economic-obsessed society without having to absolutely address money? Our motivations, the "reward" for copyright are driving this controversy of file-sharing.