I haven’t posted on this blog in months, and now is the time to break that bad habit (or non-habit).
This is an essay I’ve had to write for computing (you heard, an essay for computing).
Piracy is a dirty word throughout the film and music industries. Why is piracy bad? “Well”, they tell us. “Piracy, along with any copyright infringement, is very harmful to our revenue and especially to the artists’/actors’ (delete as appropriate) incomes.”
Oh my god! So do you mean that, for every song I illegally download, every film I stream online – there is a poor starving artist being forced onto the streets by my actions?!
What’s more, the music industry is simply an exploitation of human nature. It seems to me that it is a natural thing to enjoy music and create music; everyone I can think of listens to music. The commodification of this unique aspect of humanity is frankly a sad reflection of another, not-so-unique aspect of people: greed.
Almost every product is made solely because it will create revenue – not usually for those that made it, but for those who can afford to pay people to make it and those who own the means to make it. The profit is not that of the workers.
Companies will only pay workers the maximum they can to keep their desired profit margin (i.e. as they pay as low as they legally can). This is what the minimum wage is for – it is what economists think the market can bear – not in the interests of the workers; the wage is set with the profiteers in mind. It has recently been shown that the living wage is considerably higher than the minimum wage – over £1 higher, in fact.
I say this to imply (well, I’m saying it pretty straightforwardly now) that downloading music for free is the least of the world’s problems. In fact, I think it is beneficial. It introduces the idea to people that free access is a desirable “economic” system and also, an incentive is produced to contribute to the community, albeit often in the very small manner of recommending websites to download files from, uploading files for people, or creating a filesharing website of your own. Some people might even create their own music and post if online, ready to be downloaded for free and, importantly, for enjoyment.
This idea of open access/free access is certainly catching on, especially in the scientific world. The debate now is whether journals should be “green” open access or “gold”. The idea behind both is that the public can access scientific papers for free. Knowledge should be free. Publishers overcharge for their services, but open access removes the cost from the journal and reduces the length of time it takes for the public to become aware of the latest scientific discoveries and hypotheses. Pop science publications do this fairly well but almost all of them sit behind a paywall and as a result often publish hyperbole to get people to pay. This is detrimental to the public reception of scientific discoveries and hypotheses and often surrounds quantum physics with an air of mysticism and fantasy. For example, programs like Horizon focus on the especially strange physical ideas such as the holographic universe, without really explaining it properly. Some things just can’t be dumbed-down for public consumption; people have to know what’s really going on in the background of the theory.
Countless ebooks are available online as pdf downloads, whether they are out of copyright or not. An active community uploads them, and there are plenty of online libraries where you can find links to books you’d like to read. Books in shops like Waterstones are extremely overpriced, and I find this a shame because often they contain the key to make you have an idea you haven’t had before and really make you think. What’s more, cheap sites like Amazon are morally suspect on the grounds of tax evasion/avoidance and so cheap books/goods are hard to come by unless you turn a blind eye to the profiteering actions of the corporation you are paying. Admittedly, all companies are morally suspect in that they exist to make profit, but I suppose the distinction is made in how much profit they earn. There is also workers’ conditions to consider and Amazon use zero-hours contracts, which is obviously far from ideal.
Hence, I think the sharing information is to be encouraged and certainly not stifled. Anonymous networks such as TOR aid the distribution of information, although sites are taken down regularly, and some of the sites you really wouldn’t want anything to do with. However, I like the ethic behind the library archives. You go there to get an education and you don’t have to pass through a paywall on the way. No-one is trying to make a profit from your curiosity. What’s more, even though downloading books this way is illegal, in reality it is no different from borrowing a book from a library.
On a similar vein, sites like EdX are fantastic for free information. You can sign up for free courses from universities such as MIT and Harvard. TED talks are also fantastic, and Stanford University uploads entire lecture series on its Youtube channel. I would like more places to follow this initiative, and thankfully an increasing number of places are.
I think the entertainment industry should catch up and stop being an industry. Change the way the system works and finally it will benefit us, the common people and the workers, and we will finally have control over our lives. Currently, the corporations have control. You can hear it in every pop song and see it in every music video and every film sequel. You can see it in the Harry Potter franchise and the Hunger Games. Everything that makes products to further commodify the idea it sells. This is the world we live in – ideas are commodities.
A bottle of water is a commodity.
An acre of land is a commodity.
An mind is now a commodity.
Use it – don’t sell it, don’t buy another. Piracy is just another means of gaining freedom.