A Dissection of Internet Piracy

At the beginning of the week, Paul posted a TED talk and commentary about fair use. He asks: “Does the fight against piracy end up, in some ways, encouraging it? I wonder how the general public’s view of piracy has changed over the last decade or so. I’d be interested to hear what the class has to say about that.”

There are three kinds of people that use the internet. The “casuals” who don’t do much on the internet aside from checking their facebook and email, and maybe repinning things on pinterest every so often; the people who are slightly more invested in the internet, who maybe know a little bit of code, are consistent online gamers, or run a blog in addition to the daily activities of the casuals; and the people who build their lives off the internet i.e. web developers, internet celebrities, etc.

What does that have to do with piracy? Well I think that each of these kinds of people have different prerogatives when it comes to illegal uploading and downloading. Casual internet users are probably the most likely to download movies, music, and other entertainment media. They don’t have much use for software programs and aren’t at much risk for legal action if they steal or reproduce that kind of data. The middle group is probably more likely to download software programs in addition to entertainment files. They’re also more likely to have the know-how to perform more complex acts of piracy like creating torrents and streaming files. The third and final group is probably the least likely to steal or reproduce data simply because they are at the highest risk for getting caught, and have greater access to certain kinds of files and programs because of their work– not because they don’t know how to do it. However, they are still likely to pirate media that they only intend to use privately. The only exception to this group would be the people who make a living out of internet piracy.

The common denominator between these groups is that they will most likely illegally download entertainment media, whether that be movies, TV shows, or the entire discography of The Mountain Goats. Everyone knows that it’s illegal to get these kinds of files without paying for them, but because sites like the iTunes store, Google Play, and Amazon Media offer individual tracks, entire seasons of TV shows, and movies for a much lower cost than buying them at the store, people think that downloading won’t be stealing much from anyone. In that sense, I think that the “methods to protect against piracy” have encouraged people to pirate data.

Otherwise, I think a majority of piracy occurs simply because people don’t really care. Internet piracy has become a widely accepted part of our culture, which is pretty well represented by our reactions to anti-piracy warnings:


Because there’s so little risk involved with internet piracy, unless you’re operating a large-scale pirated movie business, I think people generally don’t worry much about stealing. If the internet were a different kind of platform where file sharing could be controlled, I think that attempts at stopping piracy would have been more effective. But as it is, the attitude about piracy has always been either “whatever” or “I think it’s probably wrong, but I’m going to do it anyway.”


One thought on “A Dissection of Internet Piracy

  1. I wonder if our idea of what constitutes piracy is changing. It’s not considered piracy if I record a TV show so I can watch it on my own schedule, although Universal Pictures fought a long court case against that technology. The RIAA said it was piracy when I used to make tapes of my LPs so I could listen to them in my car, but was not able to get Congress to agree. Both cases were forms of personal, non-commercial use that were considered acceptable by the people who made the rules.

    I could buy TV shows as downloads or DVDs, and I could buy additional copies of recordings in different formats. This is what the media industry wants me to do, but the legal system says I don’t have to, if I am doing it for personal, non-commercial use.

    The Internet seems to be changing that. Downloading, even for personal, non-commercial use, is considered wrong. It’s OK to watch a video on Youtube on my iphone, but if I make it an MP3 and listen to it on the same phone then I’m engaged in some shady business. Why is that? The internet lets us do it at an unprecedented scale with unprecedented ease, which the media industry sees as a grave threat. They’ve created these advertizing campaigns to change public opinion, and they’ve been lobbying Washington for a long time to delegitimize the very idea of fair use. I think that they’re succeeding, at least on some levels.

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