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Sizing the Piracy Universe

Garth Bruen, Tuesday, September 17, 2013
During medieval times it took a monk up to twenty years to copy the Bible. This method was the pinnacle of file transfer until the invention of the printing press. We now live in an age when all 774,746 words of the Bible (depending on your version) can be copied in literally an instant. Even as recently as my youth transferring a few songs from a vinyl record to cassette tape was a painstaking process. Words and sound are now reduced to compact numerical values making their movement simple and quick. This has allowed material to reach far-flung audiences but also raised theft to a grand scale. It is perhaps this ease of movement and copying which has reduced the perceived value; “because it’s easy to download, it must be free.”

 When we look at an illuminated manuscript from the thirteenth century in a museum it is a thing of delicate beauty, it clearly has value. The same can be said of a pristine Led Zeppelin IV album, which must be handled delicately when played to ensure the continued quality of sound. However, when content can be stored and copied in unlimited quantities our view of that material may change. But regardless of our individual views, it had value to the person who created the original. It is easy to give into the cynicism that Lady Gaga, Jay-Z, and Tom Cruise aren’t going to suffer from the loss of a couple of dollars by stealing their content. Or the evil Hollywood production companies raking in billions for this movie or song, they can take the hit of me not paying for content. But songs, movie, books, and video games are about more than wealthy celebrities. There are smaller artists who depend on the micropayments from radio plays and royalties. Beyond the creative talent, there are millions of studio employees, stagehands and publishing grunts trying to pay their mortgages. Perhaps anti-piracy groups should feature key- grips and gaffers in public service announcements instead of celebrities?

 Most do not think piracy impacts their lives, but it does. Modern Internet piracy rings operate like and alongside organized crime while claiming some kind of Robin Hood status. Don’t forget, the pirates are making money, THEY are not giving the content away for free, even if there is no direct charge they collect advertising fees. Like any illicit traffic, digital piracy fuels violent gangs, rogue governments and even terrorism. The distribution of stolen content also sucks up Internet bandwidth which is an additional micro-theft. Everything comes with a price, even if it easy to copy.

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