A new Pirate

Digital Millennium Copyright Act is an effort by congress to bring the copyright laws up to date with the digital age. It does not really go into detail on piracy, but it does define the safe harbour provisions. DCMA defines the safe harbor provisions which protect service providers who meet certain conditions from monetary damages for the infringing activities of their users. This seems like a necessary provision to protect companies. This protects companies like YouTube who have users who post copyrighted content to their site. They merely provide the service. The fact that this service is used for consumption of copyrighted materials, is not on them. However, there are limitations to how far the interpretations of these safe harbour laws can be stretched. An example of the limitations of this law can be seen in the take down of Napster due to their assistance with the sharing of copyrighted material. Where this line is drawn between service providers and copyright infringement facilitators is somewhat vague and undefined. This angers a lot of people, especially musicians, like Kanye West. Website’s that facilitate pirated material seem to be highly resilient, they are taken down only to reappear in a short time under a different name. Going after these sites has proven ineffective, and thus I think a better way to tackle this piracy problem is to reduce peoples want to pirate items. This brings me to an important question, why do people pirate?

I think most people can agree, pirating is bad. It is not ethical to download and share copyrighted material. It doesn’t really matter how you are doing it, it is stealing. This being said, I can see some reasons why people might engage in this activity. I will neither confirm nor deny that I have participated in these acts. If I had done it though I would justify my actions in two ways. The first would be the price of the content. If I think that the price of the content that I am pirating is too much (like school text books) I will feel much less bad getting them from an illegal source. The second reason I would use to justify is the lack of availability of the content. Let’s say a movie is in the theaters, and the content is not available for purchase anywhere on the internet. I would feel less remorse illegally downloading the movie or show if it was not readily available for purchase from another source.Those are the two reasons why I could see someone might engage in this illegal behavior. I think most people agree that pirating is wrong, but sometimes convenience or a feeling that we are getting gyped, or any number of other things can convince us that what we are doing is not that bad. Everyone has their own reasons for pirating, and everyone draws the ethical line for what is appropriate in a different spot. In addition to this, I think the seeming lack of negative repercussions around pirating also lead to more pirating. The behavior is perpetuated and allowed to happen because people are not afraid of getting caught. If I were to pirate some material, I would have very little fear of legal repercussions. This could very well be a naive viewpoint, but I think it is shared by many. So, as I noted earlier, the easiest way to reduce pirating is to reduce the incentive to pirate. From my perspective this can be done by making content more available and affordable, and by increasing the risk of pirating.

Some people think that this pirating problem will just fix itself though. As noted in the article Netflix Is killing Pirated Content traffic for BitTorrent dropped from 31% of total North American internet traffic in 2008 to a measly 5% this year. You could look at this and think that streaming services such as spotify and netflix are just going to take away the problem of piracy, but I think then you would be missing the full picture. I don’t think the emergence of streaming services such as Netflix or Spotify themselves are going to fight off piracy — they are just changing the way piracy manifests itself. Netflix and spotify were enabled by faster internet, and more people being connected to the internet. This faster internet and more widespread internet also lead a change in how things are pirated. In the past, piracy has heavily depended on the existence of a peer to peer network that allows for the sharing of copyrighted material. This peer to peer network depends on not only one, but many, people having a copy of the copyrighted song, movie, etc. This model breaks down when you realize that no one really wants to own anything anymore. With this increased availability and strength of internet, the benefit of downloading and owning a movie or song is just not there. And thus, the peer to peer model does not work anymore. But that does not mean people are not pirating anymore — they are just doing it differently. According to Digital Music News, streaming volume accounts for approximately 74% of all TV and movie piracy online. So, I don’t think netflix and spotify have done much more than inspire a new age of piracy.