Piracy: Creating Needed Access

We are consistently bombarded with the notion that piracy is bad; that there is the chance one will be caught and have to pay huge fines or even jail time if they illegally download music or movies; that millions of dollars are being taken away from certain media and technological industries.

Over and over again, we see articles written from the music or movie industry calling for action for stricter piracy laws. For example this year a New York Times article noted that worldwide sales of recorded music fell by about 10 percent and that groups like the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry were calling for tougher crackdowns on digital piracy, which they blame for a “30 percent declines in global music sales from 2004-2009.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/business/global/22music.html_ )

Yet, we usually never hear of some of the positive effects from piracy. Tristan Mattelarts’ article, Audio-visual piracy: towards a study of the underground networks of cultural globalization, notes that there are also profound social, political, and economic factors to piracy. We must look at these impacts as well to understand the full potential and affects of piracy;  one must to move away form approaches that only criminalize it.

Operating through underground channels, piracy continues to be seen as a threat on western cultures, but one must recognize that piracy also has a vital role in development for those impoverished countries.  Needed technology that otherwise could not have been purchased because of its expense, is more accessible and is helping individuals around the world lessen the development/technological gap; it gives the opportunity for certain developing countries to be connected to the world. For example, in Africa, piracy has allowed many individuals to have technologies that otherwise they would never have acquired.

Piracy is also creating the opportunity for other innovations like Hulu and other forms of open source media.

Piracy is not just about profit, it is also about access. Piracy allows the developing world to be included in technological advances and global culture. It is true that certain piracy acts are not good and are unnecessary, but I argue that some piracy is needed. Mattelart does not make the distinction between entertainment piracy versus technological piracy. I would argue that if prices remain so high for technological products, I do not see anything wrong with those in developing countries finding other ways to obtain it. However, it becomes more tricky when one talks about entertainment piracy. Its hard to say whether piracy in its entirety is good or bad but I truly appreciated Mattelarts discussion that one must look beyond just the criminalization of piracy.


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One Response to Piracy: Creating Needed Access

  1. qiongxie says:

    Yes, I also think Mattelart’s article is very vital. Because he does not only look at the downsides of piracy, but it also explains why piracy exists and even grows in developing countries. Copyright seems to be a very common idea for people in the Western countries, thanks to the great efforts by the global major communication Companies. So in countries like U.S. at the individual level, people know what means copyright. I do think it is a good thing, it encourage people to respect other people’s intellectual intelligence.

    But also we have to see that piracy has generated some influence to the impoverished countries to have more chance to engage in the information society. It could potentially shrink the technological gap between developed and developing countries, no matter at the individual or nation states level. But of course, it will hurt those big companies’ interests. But personally, I think due to the cultural difference, people could have different conceptualization about copyright. For example, some countries are collective culture such as China, Japan, South Korea, just to name a few. So for people in those countries, it could be hard for them to distinguish the personal use and commercial use without authorization. For example, if I bought a DVD from a DVD store (nor pirate DVD). But if my friends like it, I might just borrow it to him or her. But I do not know whether he or she will copy it on their computer or not. And they might circulate the DVD to their friends and so on. So in this case, from Western people’s view, it could be violating copyright. But for us, it might not. So the term of copyright is to some degree vague, not universally agreeable.

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