Pirates

October 4, 2011

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The ancients said that the Pirate was the enemy of all mankind. Mzwakhe Mbuli wants to Shoot the Pirate, and Olga Sezneva says Russia is doing its best (in its own way) to solve the problem as well. We hear from a real Somali Pirate who will be in an upcoming documentary made by David Cálek. Adrian Johns tells us about the birth of the Pirate listener and the death of Pirate Radio. PLUS Tim Kreider on Errol Flynn!

One Response

  1. rgw

    I preface my comments by saying (i) I love the podcast, and to my discredit I haven’t sent 10 emails of pure praise before this negative one, and (ii) I realize this podcast is a year old. However, I was very distressed that the long commentary by Jeremy Zimmerman about the legitimacy of file sharing wasn’t balanced by any counter-viewpoint.

    I myself have very mixed feelings about what regulations and economic models are sensible and just for digital goods in the Internet age. And I’m willing to stipulate to all of the following:
    * Established industry corporations and associations, sometimes aided by governments, often make decisions that run counter to the interests of both producers and consumers of cultural goods. In fact, they’re so myopic that they sometimes make decisions that hurt their own interests.
    * Copyright law in the U.S. (and I assume other countries) is woefully out of step with the technological state of the art.
    * Because the Internet greatly reduces marginal costs of production and distribution, there ought to be a model that benefits everyone or at least benefits many while making others no worse off. I’ve read that the powers that be have dismissed opportunities to enact such models, though I don’t know enough to know if this is accurate.

    But some of the assertions Zimmerman makes distort the truth or worse:
    * He claims that existing copyright law was designed to protect the interests of producers of physical goods that store digital content (CDs, etc.) This is simply false. Copyright law exists to protect the incentives of people who would produce cultural goods, and to protect their legitimate interest in receiving compensation for their work if they choose and customers perceive value in it.
    * He also claims that it’s proven that the people who “share” content most spend the most on related cultural goods. Even if this is true, it’s disingenuous because not everyone who works to create and deliver cultural goods benefits from this ancillary economic activity.

    But most of all, he makes very broad claims that sharing is “virtuous” and “legitimate”, and that attempts to curtail it are “an attack on the Internet”. Even the term “sharing” implies an activity with no negative consequences for anyone. And while his viewpoint may be genuine, considered and representative of many, it’s not at all representative of alternative views held by many others — and not just those with an interest in maintaining the status quo. In particular, his whole line of reasoning maddeningly ignores a basic truth:

    If you believe that copyright laws have any legitimate objective in protecting the interests of those who invest time, money and other resources in creating cultural goods, then you must also assert that unrestricted “sharing” — i.e. consuming with neither the permission of nor compensation to the creator — is not legitimate. Reasonable people can disagree about the form, scope, and duration of rules that would best balance the interests of producers and consumers and reflect the practical limits on restrictions given the technological reality. But — and I hate to use this term, but this unchallenged monologue really made me angry — it’s irresponsible to not acknowledge the logical and even moral implications of the position. And its negative side effects: many people have a good faith belief that in some ways (collapse of economic models for investigative journalism, for example), the Internet and associated unrestricted access to digital content have harmed consumers and society more broadly. But no mention of this from your guest, who seems to regard anyone who voices any objection to the new reality as a Luddite or corrupt pawn of global conglomerates.

    One could assert that copyright has no legitimacy at all. Many people have done so, and although I think this view is a special combination of foolish, unjust, and outright crazy, at least it’s morally and logically consistent with the position that “sharing” digital goods is universally good, and attempts to restrict same are universally bad.

    Ok, rant over. Thanks again for the podcast, and I cast no aspersions on the delightful Errol Flynn portion of this episode.

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