Friday, July 31, 2009

Pirate: reformed

How we frame a debate can impact the outcome. George Lakoff's book on the subject presents the arguments well, so I won't repeat them here. I got to thinking of this recently at an MPR News Q question of the day popped about whether "illegally sharing music" is moral.

Okay, a few things on this.
  1. "Illegally sharing" is a very specific frame to this debate. After all - why would anyone make sharing illegal? Isn't this the golden rule we were all told to obey in kindergarten? Sharing is nice! So, whatever this "illegal" part is must be some mistake, I'm sure.
  2. "Facilitating theft" is another frame one could use. Maybe you don't actually download other people's music files when you use peer to peer networks (but honestly - when was the last time you got something legal from a BitTorrent?). Maybe you just log in to peer-to-peer networks and you happen to share your music files folder. In this case, you really aren't stealing anything yourself, after all. But what legal purpose could you have for sharing that folder? The only real reason - c'mon people - is to let other people steal a file.
  3. Yes, copyright law is broken. It is insanely corrupted, written by people who make money on the status quo. I mean really, life of the author plus 75 years? The only possible justification for this is to make corporations - not people - rich, and to perpetuate an oligarchy by making sure family members of really rich people stay really rich. Meritocracy? Not under this system.
  4. Yes, copyright law can be fixed. We have a perfectly good alternative in the Creative Commons license. Already working and tested, thank you very much. So, why don't we just move the whole system and remove greater-than-lifetime protection? See above references to who is getting rich, here. Sony and Disney like their money, thank you very much. They've contacted Congress on this. Heck, they wrote the last bill.
  5. Many consumers would rather take the easy way out, thank you very much. Changing laws is hard, especially when you have to compete against Sony and Disney. "Illegally sharing" is so much more convenient. We consumers have gotten really good at rationalizations, as well. Such as:
    a. The artists don't make the money, anyway. (True, often enough).
    b. The corporations have been screwing us for years. (Again, often true).
    c. I can't buy this song anyway, it's out of print, so I can get a copy peer-to-peer. (Many songs have never been made available on CD/digital version - but many very clever people have made their own digital copies from other media).
    d. My few songs won't make any difference to anyone (hmmmm, now we're getting lame).
    e. It doesn't cost the company single cent - it's not like I took something they duplicated and put in a store. (Ditto on the lameness).
    f. I wouldn't have bought this song if I had to pay money, so it's not like they are losing any sales. (Lamer, still.)
You may wonder at point 5 here, just how do I know so much about rationalizations to steal digital work? Yes, I used to pirate stuff from the comfort of my own home, oh those many years ago now. First, I worked up all my rationalizations, then I made a puzzle out of finding the right software, hunting down files, and all the rest.

Then, I had to get honest with myself. (Note to self: blog sometime about getting honest).

I wasn't stealing in order to change a broken system, or to pay artists for their time, or to sock it to the Man, whoever this Man may be. I was stealing to gratify a fairly unnecessary desire for more.

Even then, I had a great deal of legally purchased music and movies. I didn't really *need* more. I wanted more. And taking more because I wanted more wasn't really good for me as it turns out, I have a problem with *more*. So I stopped. I purged any file that I didn't have license to, and made a list of files I liked enough to actually buy. And I started a very slow, methodical campaign to own the songs I wanted to own and to deal with my own gluttony and lust (yes, I was raised Catholic) for the rest.

So this may come off as holier than thou, but I have been way less holy than most, so I cast no stones at anyone lest I get a boulder or two lobbed my way (did I mention I was raised Catholic?). I will urge you to think about the real problem, here. Most people are willing to pay for their stuff. After all, I don't know anyone who steals groceries. The major music sellers are all DRM free now, so you can buy digital copies of your music (a lot if it, anyway) and actually play the stuff. Now, we have to have the will power to expect some change from Congress.


So, let's buckle down, and be honest with ourselves and with them. And if you really want to call attention to a broken system, organize a group of pirates who admit they are stealing and accept the consequences. Go to jail over it. I won't be joining you, but if you get a thousand people arrested for breaking copyright, I bet you'll get some change.

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