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Daniel – Teh Internetz

As a society and culture, we can pretty much obtain whatever form of entertainment we want from the internet nowadays. Sites like Napster, Limewire and PirateBay to name but a few are among the vast arsenal of tools we use on a day to day basis to pirate music, movies, programs and even games.

Tens of billions of dollars’ worth of material has been pirated globally, and until recently it has gone relatively unnoticed. Last year (to the world’s dismay) SOPA was introduced and in retaliation, popular sites such as Wikipedia and Google fought to shut the bill down. Many people around the world were shocked to hear the shutdown of MegaUpload, a popular file sharing site. But I’ll be honest here, I personally didn’t actually think that the government would actually start taking action after so many years.

So with that brief introduction, one must think “hm, I’m sure there’s a lot of controversy surrounding internet piracy!”

Spot on.

Some argue that it’s simply not ethically and morally right to steal other’s intellectual property, be it physical or virtual. Just like as if you or I were to waltz into the nearest Apple store and leave with a freshly stolen iPod, you would (hopefully) feel rather bad about it. The companies with the legal rights, not to mention the artists themselves, lose (potential) money each time a song or movie is pirated instead of bought. To those who rely on their trade to feed themselves and their family, that would be devastating.

As stated by Peter Singer, a professor of bioethics at Princeton University:

Of course, I am more fortunate than many authors or creative artists, because my academic salary means that I am not forced to rely on royalties to feed my family.


Australia, Canada, Israel, New Zealand, and many European countries now have a public lending right, designed to compensate authors and publishers for the loss of sales caused by the presence of their books in public libraries. We need something similar for the Internet. A user fee could pay for it, and, if the fee were low enough, the incentive to use pirated copies would diminish.  Couple that with law enforcement against the mega-abusing Web sites, and the problem might be soluble. Otherwise, most creative people will need to earn a living doing something else, and we will all be the losers.
Read more at http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/the-ethics-of-internet-piracy#qQpJOdsUsqLo3qLq.99


However, others argue that while the property is technically “stolen,” the original is still there. It’s like if I were to steal my friends brand new bike, but he would still have the bike. As would I. We would both have the bike. Some people even go as far to say that companies are robbing artists of money, leaving less for the artists than deserved for doing most of the work. We never know for sure how much of the money 99c we spend on a song in iTunes actually goes to the artist, and how much goes to the record label and pretty much every other party involved.

Digging deeper, millions of dollars are reportedly spent on the enforcement of anti-piracy – the SOPA bill alone took an estimated 435 million from taxpayer dollars. Would it be wise then to continue pirating “free” media with the knowledge that the more you allegedly pirate something, the more the government will be inclined to use your very own tax dollars in order to try and stop it?

It’s really just a big huge game of whack-a-mole. Since the days of Napster, other programs such as Limewire and the aforementioned MegaUpload have all risen to fall, and yet still more such sites continue to rise. Is it truly worth it then, for the government to spend all this effort and resources to build a wall against what seems to be an unrelenting storm when there are much more important and imminent issues to be dealt with?

However considering all this, the internet piracy rate in the world doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all. The internet is turning into a war ground, raging around the definitions of intellectual property and the limits to “free” information. As I listen to my favorite City and Colour song which I did not allegedly walk into a store and buy, I leave you with some more food for thought:

http://www.news.com.au/technology/pay-up-student-charged-six-figures-for-pirating-30-songs/story-e6frfro0-1226363068597 – A newly graduated PH.D student was charged heavily for distributing media, who allegedly cannot pay the charges. At what point does this become ridiculous?

http://zackhemsey.blogspot.ca/2012/03/real-issue-of-online-piracy-and-illegal.html – This guy presents some interesting thoughts but quite a few of them seem to be based on his own standards and general assumptions. There’s a bit of coarse language as well.

http://forums.philosophyforums.com/threads/internet-piracy-54305.html – Some pretty cool finds, though overall none much easier to decipher than our usual classroom discussions, as to be expected from a forum dedicated to philosophy.

Tread carefully my friends.



16 thoughts on “Daniel – Teh Internetz

  1. Thought-provoking post, Daniel. I like the way you’ve framed the comparison between Internet piracy and physical theft with the bike example: it’s not often you can steal your friend’s bike, and leave him a perfectly useable copy of it to use.

    I think the point Singer raises, as well, is an interesting one: that by changing the payment structure for creators of intellectual property, we could still compensate these folks for their work, and stem the tide of ‘theft’ online. Are you familiar with any of these sort of initiatives? (While I’m really interested in this direction, I haven’t read much in the way of concrete suggestions that would lead the way…)

    Thanks for your post – good stuff!

    Posted by Mr. J | December 10, 2012, 6:51 pm
    • One initiative that currently exists is YouTube advertising – for popular artists. Though we can only say that its getting there, at best, it still is moving in the right direction. After all, if a song is going to exist on the web no matter what happens, you might as well profit off of advertisements.

      Conversely, the money may not always be going to the right place (yet). Vevo’s accusations is a very good example of this http://www.digitalmusicnews.com/permalink/2012/120221vevo

      It will certainly be interesting to see how advertising evolves in the music industry.

      Posted by JonathanToews | December 11, 2012, 12:21 am
      • Funny actually – Matthew Inman gives his own take on this whole situation of the music industry in one short and sweet comic. Of course it’s easier said than done, but it’d be very interesting to see a world this way. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/music_industry

        Everything nowadays revolves around money. Even if you’re not paying to watch a video on YouTube, advertisements pay YouTube each time you watch one. If money weren’t an issue, neither would internet piracy – heck, neither would many problems we have in the world.

        Posted by carrotdandan | December 11, 2012, 4:04 am
        • I saw the Matthew Inman comic a while ago, and it definitely got me thinking about the current state of popular music production. In the final frame of the comic, the artist is in control of sales, getting all the money that he/she earns for creating the music. I like that. But I feel there are a few complications, especially in the current pop music industry. First of all, few mainstream artists write their songs completely independently. Even fewer produce it themselves. Then there is their management team. So it seems that this situation would only be applicable to multi-talented, multi-tasking awesome independent musicians.
          Also, would a musician be able to handle the millions of sales from fans around the world? Isn’t that where agents and business management teams began from? In theory, this way, the musicians can play and make their music, and their management can handle the money.
          I suppose this just proves your point – everything nowadays does seem to revolve around money. There seems to be no way to remove yourself from complex business web. From music making to internet advertisement, the web just keeps growing.

          Posted by irishung | December 13, 2012, 8:08 am
  2. A great framework and set of questions, as we sit in this time where the value of “things” is changing from being in its limited supply to.. something else (what that is remains to be seen). Industries of creative production are struggling to figure that out, and finding as you notes, approaches of protection (DRM, suing people) may not, and should not, be effective in the long run

    It’s the dramatic lowering to essentially zero for digital copies that makes a song, a movie somewhat different from that bicycle.

    The real challenge is how artists can be compensated for the work they do, and especially starting artists. Bands are finding freeing up music is what fuels the sale of concert tickets, t-shirts, etc.

    One of the soundest perspectives I heard recently was Neil Young’s “Donkey and Digital Music” interview

    where he more or less said it is time to accept piracy, that it can be the “radio” of the internet, providing free access to lower quality audio that entices people to p[ay for higher quality. Is that really sound? I kind of trust Neil.

    I will say that in the media creation class I teach, students are gung ho about having full access to content, for free– until it happens to be theirs. They carry a misbelief that “someone will steal it and make money off of it”

    We await some new economic models- I’m counting on you Daniel and your peers to come up with it, cause our generation surely has not.

    Posted by CogDog | December 10, 2012, 7:23 pm
    • Indeed, there are many different approaches one could take to piracy, redirecting the storm rather than blocking it altogether. However, a problem with Neil’s approach is very much the same as the one at hand. Would it not be as easy to pirate higher quality music than it is to pirate any music now?

      Admittedly it’s very easy to get territorial for own ideas. However, more often than before songs aren’t written by just one or two artists, they’re written by, well, more than two – then one lucky one is chosen to perform and get credit for it.

      It’s important to keep an open mind and to remember that copying is the utmost form of flattery!

      Posted by carrotdandan | December 11, 2012, 4:27 am
      • What if you did your job every day, and people ‘flattered’ you, every day.

        But too bad, no money for you.

        Regardless of how famous you are, money is always very, very important.

        Posted by JonathanToews | December 11, 2012, 5:32 am
  3. “It will certainly be interesting to see how advertising evolves in the music industry.”
    I really don’t think interesting is the right word.

    I think any kind of price tag immediately pushes away a listener. Being asked to spend 99 cents on something manually pushes someone away to a youtube mp3 ripper or torrent. Advertising would be optimal, except add blocking software has become incredibly common. Between such easy pirating and add blockers it looks to me like the death of the internet as we know it. There’s simply no way for people to make money, running websites as a charity. Should it be illegal to block adds, seeing as you are stopping the website from making the money it normally would (potentially theft)? I want to keep my addblocker but I can see anything ethically supporting it.

    Also: http://youtu.be/IeTybKL1pM4

    Posted by torendarby | December 11, 2012, 5:10 am
    • That’s a really good point you bring up Toren – should it be illegal to block ads? I would say that’s actually a question that could be applied to much more than the music industry. Ads are the price of visiting a site, so why should you be allowed to not pay?

      And hence, you get people like Facebook, who weave advertisements into their site as posts, that way they cannot be blocked by adblockers. We all get annoyed by it, but, is it really that bad? After all, they’re just trying to maintain their business.

      Posted by JonathanToews | December 11, 2012, 5:35 am
    • Though adblockers are much more effective, can we not say that turning off the TV or switching the channel is similar in a way? Advertising is an investment that most businesses seem to always believe in, even with the knowledge that most people disregard the ads. As long as there is a place to do it, I feel advertisements will find ways to exist.
      Also, I’d like to believe that the internet relies on more that just ads and stuff that can be pirated, though you do raise a very good point of having to run websites like a charity without advertisement. It made me wonder – Are we responsible to donate to ad-free sites like Wikipedia?

      Posted by irishung | December 12, 2012, 7:55 am
    • Many websites have found ways around AddBlockers – Youtube, a prime example, where the ad plays randomly before the video within the player, and Facebook another, such as Jonathan outlined. As annoying to us they may be, however, addblockers do also protect us from malicious adds such as malware and spyware, and so we once again tread the fine line of weighing the pros and cons of addblockers and their uses.

      Posted by carrotdandan | December 12, 2012, 6:51 pm
      • I didn’t mean to limit it to the music industry, as I said, it threatens the entire internet as we know it. If we cut the funds, there is no free internet. At the Iris, advertising isn’t a misguided place for companies to invest in. Companies put so much money in advertising because it’s been proven to be really very effective. I’d like to ask, if money isn’t coming from consumers or advertising, where is it coming from? I don’t feel we’re responsible to donate, as long as we won’t miss them when they’re gone. In other words, don’t cry when Wikipedia shuts down when you ignore its requests for donation. Lastly, at Daniel, I don’t know what you’re using but there exist adblockers that block every ad, YouTube and all. I don’t know all the mechanics behind it, but it seems more a dead end than an arms race to create unblockable ads.

        I was thinking of changing the question from is it wrong, to should it be illegal, but if we can’t stop pirating,what can we do?

        Posted by torendarby | December 13, 2012, 1:44 am
        • Toren: I think the consequences of what you’re saying, to put it bluntly, are really really bad.

          Think about it this way: People block advertisements. As a result, the advertisers realize this, and the site hosts cannot make money. But they still see money is possible. Instead, they push at the next ‘unblockable’ step in advertising. This could mean that advertisements could show up mid tv-show (as in part of the show). They could show up or be included in the actor’s lines. Clothing. Story plot. Whatever it is, the people producing the show still need a way to make money, and they will find a way. In terms of music, this could be song writers including advertisements, or allusions to specific companies in songs. HOW AWFUL WOULD THAT BE. And by blocking advertisements, we are pushing for this. We are saying “You can’t get us” and in response, the artists, actors, site hosts, etc, are saying “yes we can, we’lll find a better way.”

          So is it good to push to a point where advertising will be so concentrated in our media? So concentrated that some fo the theatrical affect would be lost? Or should we settle with the minimal advertisements we cope with today?

          It kind of parallels the idea of the price of songs. More people download songs, therefore the artists get more money. For this reason, they must raise the price of the songs.

          In the same way, if we get around the advertisements, they aren’t just going to go away – instead, they will just come back, in a greater, more unavoidable way. Is it worth it?

          Posted by JonathanToews | December 13, 2012, 2:38 am
          • Actually, James Bond drinking Heineken (as opposed to your expected Vodka or whatever) is a prime example of such a subtle type of advertising. Even at the dismay of fans and critics alike, our dear agent is shown to favor the beer due to some advertising deal. Another example of this is in Calvin Harris’ music video for Let’s Go, featuring an excessive amount of Pepsi. Sport arenas and athlete uniforms, hell even monthly bus passes – they all feature advertisements of some sort. So it’s not that we’re pushing for it – it’s already upon us.

            And even if the price of music does go up, I doubt it’ll deter many people from buying. However one thing I foresee is less songs being bought via iTunes (this is just me but I see a lot of people who rely on gift cards for their music) due to the fact that less songs that can be therefore bought per card.

            I wonder what kind of new inventive advertising schemes they’ll come up with next?

            Posted by carrotdandan | December 14, 2012, 3:03 am
  4. Computers (and especially networked computers) are the greatest copying machine ever invented in the history of mankind, so far – not only can they create exact copies, they can shift the underlying way in which copies are made into different media or symbolic systems (think of taking a picture of a painting, posting it on the net where someone then uses the bitstream of the painting as the source of the notes for a song, as just one example. Or steganography.) Hence “whack-a-mole” is not just correct, but in theory will always be so.

    Unless… things like http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trusted_Computing become reality, and then what you are allowed to do is dictated *at a hardware level* – think “no more screenshots” or “no more recording audio from the system buffer,” no more “copying files we don’t want you to make copies of, no matter what you paid for originally.” So despite what the content industries and governments would have you believe, the “ethics” of piracy (and its countermeasures) are not simply about the preservation of commercial transactability and content creator’s livelihoods, its also about control of the places and means of speech and culture.

    You hear a lot about “properly rewarding creators” but what does that mean exactly? We agree that a bike can be used by one person at one time, but that a creative work, especially a digital one, can be used by umpteen people umpteen times without loss of usefulness to the “original.” So the person who creates the bike gets paid exactly once, and what, the person who created the catchy tune gets to print money every time someone plays it? And how about all those royalties they owe to the originator of the pentatonic scale on which their song is based? (joking)

    People would have you believe that the issue is theft of property, but another way to reframe the issue is that the digital era increasingly subverts the conventional notions of “property” that we seem to unquestionably accept, and unveil the stinking underbelly of force that underpins our polite agreements not to question it. When people are fined hundreds of thousands of dollars for sharing a single song yet, as the prof you quote states all but a few in his class conced they do too because “everyone is doing it,” then the law, its penalities and enforcers are no longer consistent with community norms, one of the classic tests of its relevance.

    Posted by nessman | December 11, 2012, 7:57 pm


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