The Alliance for Cultural Diversity – UNESCO – works to ‘prevent and fight against an ever-increasing level of piracy, in part brought about by recent developments in the use of new technologies and their consequences on cultural product sales. Piracy is detrimental to authors because it deprives them of the opportunity to profit financially from their work. The publishing, music, audiovisual and software industries are the most severely affected sectors’. Critically discuss the pros and cons arguments regarding the consequences of media piracy and position yourself in the debate. (2500 Words)
This essay will critically discuss and evaluate the pros and cons arguments surrounding media piracy and its consequences. The aim is to evaluate what media piracy is and how it has changed the world’s approaches to legislation and copyright laws. This essay will try to focus on the Political, Economic, Technological and Social factors of the consequences of piracy, doing so by positioning myself within the argument.
Media piracy can be defined as the process of the distribution of someone else’s work without their legal consent. Karaginis (2011, p1) believes that piracy has arisen as the consequence of a ‘global pricing problem’. Panethiere (2005, p9) refers to piracy as ‘the activity of manufacturing unauthorised copies of protected material and dealing with such copies by way of distribution and sale.’ As the prices of media goods have risen, so have the issues surrounding piracy, due to the demand of consumers for sourcing cheaper and more cost efficient means of accessibility. Lessig (2004, p62) states that ‘the recording industry estimate that it loses about $4.6 billion every year to physical piracy’. This emphasises just how serious an issue piracy is, due to the fact that many media distribution companies are losing out on large amounts of income.
A study was conducted in early 2011, questioning participants as to whether they thought illegal file sharing among the public was acceptable. Results showed that 70% of those asked believed that downloading illicit material from the Internet was acceptable. The study also showed that ‘three out four, however, felt it was completely unacceptable to then sell that product for profit’. http://torrentfreak.com/piracy-socially-acceptable-110228/. This emphasises just how high percentage of the public that are willing to commit a crime and illegally share files veer various peer-to-peer (P2P) networking sites.
Piracy can occur in many forms, although as Lessig, L (2004, p67) argues, that the most significant form of piracy is commercial. He describes this as the ‘unauthorized taking of other peoples content within a commercial context.’ However it is important to also look at the economical factors, political factors and technological factors surrounding piracy and their consequences. There are a rapidly growing number of people who are illegally downloading copyrighted material via various peer-to-peer networks. For many, piracy has become a means to access media such as music, films and books for relatively cheap prices and often for free. This is leading to huge problems within the media distributing industries. There are severe consequences for those found to be breaching copyright laws. Bouchoux (2012, p42) believes that ‘one solution in the fight against piracy of media products is to lower the prices’. He argues that the main reason for piracy is that consumers do not believe that they should have to pay these high prices set by the owner.
‘It’s not moral, it’s not right, but it’s there and it’s easy. There’s no one to stop you from doing it, and probably never will be’. (Tassi, 2012). It is easy to predict that if one form of media copying is shut down, then another new method will emerge in its place. Napster is an example of a major P2P sharing site. Launched in July 1999, Napster accumulated over 10 million users within nine months. After 18 months, there were close to 80 million registered users on the site, showing just how vast the potential growth in this criminal market is. In December of 2000, a study showed that a huge proportion of consumers were college students taking advantage of the ‘blazingly fast Internet connections used on most college campuses’. (H2G2, 2003). This demonstrates how technology has become a major factor in the piracy issue, as the students were taking advantage of the advances in technology as a means of accessing free media.
Legal proceedings quickly shut Napster down, however other services emerged to take their place. These continue to provide users with a service that allows them a way of accessing the media they want for free. There are many reasons as to why people engage in media piracy. As shown above, the majority of illegal downloads are made by teenagers and young adults, most commonly in college or university. Economic and social factors make it understandable as to why these downloads are being made, as the high prices of todays media makes it difficult for many to afford the legal product, especially within the current recession and on a student budget. Cost may be a deciding factor amongst the reasons that people illegally pirate media. If the price is higher than they are willing to pay, then they may feel inclined to look for other ways of sourcing the media. A common justification for this kind of behaviour is that the companies providing the legitimate products are enormous and are making millions of pounds. Therefore many people believe that one stolen piece of media would be unnoticeable for an organisation that large and profitable. In other words, the view is that if the victims can’t feel the loss, stealing from them isn’t wrong.
‘The Robin Hood Effect’ can be applied to piracy in the context of redistributing wealth and income so that economic inequality is reduced. In other words ‘taking from the rich and giving to the poor’. This is essentially what P2P sharing sites are doing, by providing people with a cheaper way of obtaining their favorite media from the large media corporation’s. Users may feel that their single purchase is not significant in the global scheme of sales, however if every consumer had this same motive, then the major companies providing the legitimate product or services would have no buyers and soon go out of business.
Panethiere, (2005, p9) discusses how ‘it is a maxim of the law in many countries that a right without a remedy is, in effect, no right at all. This is well illustrated in the field of intellectual property where authors and other rights holders are so often unable to enforce the rights that the law gives to them. This is a problem encouraged by piracy.’ Panethiere continues to discuss how the P2P sharing sites too often ignore the rights of the many people whose income is dependent upon the recognition of their work and sales. Panethiere (2005, p11) also suggests that P2P sharing sites are ‘intentionally, deliberately, and systematically attempting to profit from the creations of others’. Due to this, strict laws have been put into place to prevent such piracy actually taking place. ‘Recorded music represents the musical life of a society in a particular time. If the best of a nation’s performers are not being commercially recorded, then their works are not being preserved and the losses to local culture are incalculable’. (Panethiere, 2005). The Recording Industries Association of America are just one of many companies working on tracking down and abolishing piracy, working to protect ‘the intellectual property and First Amendment rights of artists and music labels; conduct consumer, industry and technical research; and monitor and review state and federal laws, regulations and policies’ (RIAA 2014).
Despite the many justification that are offered in its defense, piracy is wrong. By making unauthorized copies of any form of media, the user is breaking the law and could in effect be subject to civil and criminal charges. Penalties for piracy in the USA include up to five years in jail and fines up to $250,000. It is questionable whether given these high risks piracy is worth it (RIAA, 2014). However in response to this question being raised, there are very few cases of people who have actually been caught and ultimately fined. In most cases consumers are given a written warning and some may have their Internet connection disconnected. ‘Between 2003 (the start of the RIAA lawsuits) and mid-2007, only about 20,000 people had been sued, fined or received a written warning’. When taking into account the astonishing numbers of users of P2P sites daily, these statistics on the number of people caught are minute. It is estimated that there are 146 million visits to P2P sharing sites a day, which works out at around 204,000 views and minute and around 53 billion views a year. http://www.go-gulf.com/blog/online-piracy/. As Lewkes & Yar (2013, p50) state ‘what was once an activity of underground counter-culture, now becomes a norm of mainstream culture.’ This emphasises just how untroubled consumers are of the consequences they could encounter when illegally accessing this free media provided to them.
When looking at the issue of piracy, it may be important to consider the artist’s views. Some musicians see the accessibility of free downloads as positive (a form of free advertising) whilst other artists may not see this in the same way. P2P allows users to obtain content for free. In come cases it allows consumers to decide whether or not they like the music and if they will make future purchases. This also with applies to films. Having viewed or listened to an illegal download of poor quality, a user may decide to purchase at legitimate copy. Again this relates back to Karaginis (2011) earlier point that piracy occurs as a consequence of a ‘global pricing problem’. If these forms of media were available at a cheaper price, users may not look to these sites as a way of either a free or test purchase.
Some may argue that piracy is insulting and harmful to artist and producers. “When you make unauthorized copies of someone’s creative work, you are taking something of value from the owner without his or her permission” (Yar 2005). Many would strongly agree that piracy is stealing and therefore the producers and artists are more than likely to feel betrayed by fans and viewers and that their talents are unappreciated. When looking at music artists, using P2P sites has a knock on effect throughout the industry. Not only does the artist lose money due to pirating but the recording labels, advertising companies and even the loyal fans are also effected, as prices are inevitably raised in order to make up for their loses (Castells, M & Cardoso, G, 2013) and so a cycle is perpetuated. Some Indy bands make a living solely from the revenue they gain from legitimate sales. Illegal downloads of their music make it extremely difficult for them to continue to compete in the market and to produce their music. We can also use the case of tribute bands. This could be seen as a form of piracy as the bands are performing songs that they themselves did not write or produce. However, an individual may enjoy the song and therefore purchase the original artists version. This supports the case that piracy can often have positive effects. It can be seen as a form of advertising and ultimately increase awareness, future sales and revenue.
Lessig (2004) believes that ‘the internet has provoked piracy’. Strict laws and legislation have been introduced to try and protect media producers from copyright infringements but Lessig believes that with the birth of the Internet, ‘the law has lost its sight of control, the laws role is less and less to support creativity, and more and more to protect certain industries against competition’. Technological advancements are one of the main reasons for the increased use of piracy. The scale of piracy has been led primarily by shifts in technology and cultural practices. We can look back to the introduction of CDs and VCDs in the 1990s, to the growth of DVDs in the early 2000s, and now on to the more recent growth of high-speed Internet connections. The movie piracy business, for instance, was transformed in China, with the introduction of DVD burners in 2003. This caused a huge increase in both the supply and demand of pirated DVDs, as it became extremely easy to make copies of media and sell at a much cheaper price. .
As we can now access the majority of media digitally, it eliminates the need to have physical copies of CD’s or DVD’s. This reduces consumers desire to have physical copies of materials, and therefore may increase the chances of someone engaging in piracy. Before the introduction of the new media technologies mentioned above, consumers would have often preferred to buy a CD for its authenticity, i.e. packaging, artwork and quality. However, now we can easily access digital music files of the same quality as a CD, as well as being able to replace the physical artwork, with digital photos. Assuming the consumer has access to a computer it makes more sense for them to easily download a file in the comfort of their own home rather than going into a shop or buying a dodgy disk from someone selling pirated material in the street. Therefore by providing the public with technology that can deliver such services, it increases the chances of piracy, particularly for those with a low income.
No one should condone piracy and the law needs to stamp down on it in order to allow production and sales of media goods to grow. I believe that despite the many positive effects that piracy can have for consumers and in some cases producers the laws and legislations must find a way to deter consumers for making this their chosen way of obtaining materials, before the damages to the media industries are incurable. One solution I feel could be effective is if the companies use some of their profits to implement a stronger key code system. Whereby each user will only be able to use materials once, therefore making it harder to duplicate and harder to pass onto to others through P2P sites. If piracy continues to take place then it can be assumed that sales will continue to decline. This makes it increasingly difficult for the businesses to survive, as a loss in sales will have a knock on effect throughout the media industry.
Bouchoux, D (2012). Intellectual Properties: The Law of Trademarks, Copyright, Patents and Trade Secrets. 4th ed. p42.
Castells, M & Cardoso, G (2013). Piracy Cultures: How a Growing Portion of the Global Population is Building Media Relationships Through Alternative Channels of Obtaining Content. Portugal: University of Lisbon.
Jewkes, Y & Yar, M (2013). Handbook of Internet Crime. New York: Routledge. p50.
Karagins, J (2011). Media Piracy in Emerging Economies. United States of America: Social Science Research Council. p1.
Lessig, L (2004). Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology And The Law To Lock Down Culture And Control Creativity. New York: The Penguin Press. p62 – 82.
Panethiere, D (2005). The Persistence of Piracy: The Consequences for Creativity, for Culture, and for Sustainable Development. United Nations Educational: Scientific and Cultural Organization. p9.
Tassi,P. (2012). You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You. Available:http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2012/02/03/you-will-never-kill-piracy-and-piracy-will-never-kill-you/2/.
RIAA. (2014). Who Music Theft Hurts. Available: https://www.riaa.com/physicalpiracy.php?content_selector=piracy_details_online.