7.16.2009

Pro-Piracy's Backward Logic


Digital technology suddenly allowed for online piracy, and the practice rapidly spread amongst young, internet savvy consumers. People loved the thrill and excitement of being able to find anything they were looking for, for free. This was really too good to believe. What wasn’t to like about it? We had been told everyday of our lives by advertisers and marketers that we could have anything we wanted, that our infinite human desires could be satisfied. But piracy took that insatiable demand for More and made it amplified and limitless. This felt pure, revolutionary, and real. Then artists and producers began to take notice. To them, the problem was obviously illegal and unjust on many levels, and started their fight against the practice. Rather than simply “doing it,” now any exuberant “Pirate” had to come up with an argument of their own. But rather than seriously and honestly try to evaluate the original practice of taking artists’ works without their permission and its likely effects, their argument started with the assumption that Piracy had to be okay. It had to be a good thing, because they wanted to believe it so badly. Then they worked backwards, searching anywhere possible for splinters of justification. That’s what we continue to see today.

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When I wrote the DIY article, I was unaware of the pro-piracy movement’s idealistic, theoretically-based, and shockingly incoherent arguments. I’ve seen versions of the following repeated again and again.

-Recorded music has no inherent value.
-It’s free and there’s no reason to expect someone to choose to pay when it’s free.
-The music is free because there’s no demand for it.
-Musicians should be making music because they love it and should never expect to be paid, no matter how great they may be. A musician’s labor has no value. The only value is in paying for distribution costs, which no longer need to exist. Therefore it’s free.

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The logic runs backward while the arguments run in circles. They say the music is free, because it can be had for free. No regard is given for the elemental fact that if no permission is granted by the producer, if they’re explicitly offering the product and asking you to pay for it, then one is both taking and stealing. “Sharing” is not going on here. It is “sharing” if the artist gives it up for free, granting their permission. The argument that because it CAN be had for free, it IS free, is the justification of the schoolyard bully, the plundering Empire, and yes, the Pirate.

Sensitive to the likelihood that what they’re doing is in fact stealing, the Pirate resorts to another, seemingly high-minded argument, that recorded music is just an idea and that no idea or recording has an intrinsic value. It’s like water, everywhere. It’s everyone’s. No artists’ labor has an intrinsic “monetary” value and we all need to just get over the dirty concept.

Unfortunately for this argument, it must also conclude that NOTHING else has an intrinsic value. No one’s labor or work has a determined value, except for whatever value someone else, aka “We,” put(s) on it. A world without humans setting value would be a world without money, a hopelessly utopian illusion the pro-piracy movement for some reason allows itself. Of course, this will never happen, so we must return to the idea of value as a social construction.

The pro-piracy movement holds fantasies of objectivity. That art (all art is based in an idea and the ability to execute it, after all) has no value. Period.

But listen...It is those who take without permission, who refuse to pay, who decide as individuals that art has no value. No one else. We determine value by the level of support we’re willing to give. It bears the question, if these things really have no value, then why is the Pirate at their computer so rapt with whatever content they search for? If what the consumer/person “loves” actually has no value, it begins to look as if the person believes they also have no value, that no one has value - either their lives or their work. It’s a contagion of negativity, uselessness, meaninglessness. That is the true philosophy of piracy, one its conscientious practitioners try so hard to flee, ignore, or drape in pathetically phony idealism. Of course, there are others who simply have an underdeveloped value system, one which can’t hear the debate at all. I’ve been getting to know them a bit.

Also, the “no demand” argument...if there’s truly no demand, then why do you want any of the things you’re downloading for free? Demand is a fundamental element of market theory, but it relies on the assumption that people AREN’T STEALING! This is so simple, I almost feel stupid pointing it out. Also, if there were truly no demand, then no one would be paying for these items at all because no one would want them. Those enamored with Piracy seem reluctant to reckon with the simple realities and implications of their own choices and personal responsibilities.

1 comment:

  1. you're so naive it's almost cute

    ReplyDelete