Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Dem Buccaneers Be Broadsidin' Mah Sales! (6/10/10)

Piracy is growing rapidly amongst our culture. No, I don't mean like pirates on ships with cannons, looting and pillaging. I'm talking about media pirates and filesharing. The definition of piracy is “the unauthorized use or reproduction of copyrighted or patented material.” Before the Internet, this was much harder to do, and most people would sell counterfeit product, like burned CDs, and sell them off for cash. With more mainstream use of the Internet, this counterfeiting became more usable to the wider population in the form of Peer To Peer (or P2P) filesharing. This was a simple process that even the most inexperienced computer user could become a part of, and put media on the net. This was not limited to music and movies, but also included books, video games, comics, and many other media mediums (see what I did there?). With media so accessible for free, what's to stop today's entertainment seekers from downloading and sharing to their friends? It has grown from a few peddlers of counterfeit goods to a global population of filesharers. The media conglomerates took notice and since then has waged a massive war against pirates and, ultimately, their customers. The legal battles, lobbying, and ad campaigns have cost them millions, if not billions. Their plan is to change copyright law in their favor, and their claim is that illegal downloading has cost the industry billions in losses. There are two sides to any argument, and this is no exception. In one corner, we have the media industry, vying for their copyrights, lost profits and lost revenue. In the other corner, the challenger: the pirates, also known as Average Joe, the normal guy who works a 9 to 5 like the rest of us (minus you, I suppose. I know how teachers live, you guys deserve some compensation or overtime or something. Just saying... but I guess that's another paper). Who will win? This is a war that will, unfortunately, never end, as it is a war that started with the VCRs and cassette tapes, and continued with our more widespread connectivity: the global market. The push and pull between the two sides will spur on change, yes. But it will also spark advancement in our systems: in our media. It will provoke change, but not in a way either side expects.

The mode of exchange in modern media piracy is through Peer To Peer (hence-forth P2P) filesharing. There are many programs, each with their own ways of doing it, but each remain the same in two ways: they all gather information or data from other computers that have the same files, and they all send files requested from your computer. That may sound extremely dangerous, the thought of millions of computers having access to your personal files, but there are several steps to ensure this doesn't happen through P2P (however, your computer can be vulnerable from other attacks, so it is always advisable to have some good antivirus software). One of the things certain P2P clients (client is the general term for a program that connects the users system to a network of systems) do is create a separate folder for all of the files you will allow others to see and download. Another way to control what files are touched are through torrents.

Torrents are another breed of P2P, similar to basic P2P through programs like Limewire. Torrents are, to put it in basic terms, maps for computers to find specific files from one or more computers. The user who creates the torrent selects all the files to be housed within the torrent and sends it to a torrent hosting site (such as, where people end up downloading the torrent file and then download the data through their torrent client. It all sounds very complicated, because it is. Torrents are widely regarded as the best form of P2P for two reasons: it quicker to download because of more users and connections, and it is less likely to house a virus.

What makes filesharing so potent of a tool is the fact that multiple people can connect together to procure a file. This is a process that divides users into two classes: Seeders and Leechers. A Seeders, in P2P language, is someone who is hosting a file for people to download. It is good etiquette in P2P to “seed” (or host the file) for an extended amount of time after completing the download, so more people can enjoy the music or film. Leechers are the people who are downloading the file from the Seeders. Leechers are interesting because they can connect to both Seeders (who have all of the information) and other Leechers (who have some of the information). This is useful to the process of downloading because one Leecher may have data that you don't have. Basically the more connections you can make, the higher your download speeds will be. A “healthy” torrent is one that has a good amount of Seeders to connect to, as well as a decent amount of Leechers to keep demand up. Torrents live and die, just like a living thing. They depend on people's interest to survive. “Dead” torrents (torrents without Seeders) are quickly deleted to free up room on torrent hosting sites so active torrents can take their place. Because of the deletion of dead torrents, it is hard to find a healthy virus torrent.

Viruses are very rare in torrents, simply for one reason, and one reason only: nobody likes viruses. Filesharers are regular people, who hate having their computer crash from the latest scam virus. Who's going to seed a virus torrent? Nobody normal. Virus torrents get killed fast by the community because they are flagged by people who are just like you and me and don't like viruses and don't want to give them to other people. Torrents are, quite literally, a community of people sharing a common purpose: to get the latest flicks and tunes, and they look out for each other. However, they are still getting these flicks and tunes for free. With the widespread growth of P2P, the big names in media business were starting to take notice, and were even take part in it.

Yes, big business took part in filesharing. Very recently, as in May 2010, Nokia launched an advertising campaign. This wasn't just any advertising, this was viral advertising. Viral advertising is taking advantage of the memetic (self-replicating units of culture, a.k.a. memes) psychology of human social groups to produce an advertising scheme that implants itself into our everyday word of mouth and culture. Recently this has been done through the use of the Internet, as with this example. The Nokia campaign was a series of videos now nicknamed the Blackwell & Briggs videos. The story was that they were leaked government videos that were lobbying videos promoting a security surveillance system in the UK. Shortly after, a group called the Conspiracy For Good began campaigning against Blackwell Briggs. It was quickly found by the Internet community to be a fraud and a marketing scheme, but to anybody else it would have seemed real. Even I was fooled until I did research on it. To think that a corporation could use filesharing to promote these videos for a fake group against corporations is just an interesting thought. Work the system, I suppose. But not every business is as quick to figure that out.

This is an email directed at a torrent hosting site from software giant Microsoft. “Dear Sir or Madam, This letter serves as notification under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. § 512, or equivalent notice provisions of your local law, that content currently residing within your computer system infringes on the copyrights of Microsoft Corporation. Moreover, the source code contains proprietary trade secret information belonging to Microsoft. I am authorized to act on behalf of Microsoft in this matter.” This is a very common occurrence for this particular torrent host, also known as The Pirate Bay, and they enjoy giving these lawyers and companies some advice: “please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.” They have very little care for American law, because they are in Sweden, where torrent hosting is legal. In America it is not, so most, if not all, torrent hosting is done overseas. This causes many problems for the Motion Picture Association of America and they had this to say in a 2008 statement: “Piracy remains a profound global problem that affects not only the motion picture industry, but consumers, the overall U.S. economy and American workers generally. American workers miss out on thousands of new jobs each year and billions of dollars in earnings, in addition to the cities and towns that lose millions of dollars in tax revenue - all due to piracy.” They enjoy saying this, and have been on many occasions over the past 10 or more years. However, the film industry is one of the most wealthy entertainment industries in the world, and despite the complaints of profit drops, the industries profits went up 9% in 2007, and movie ticket prices went up 21%. They claim that piracy of movies makes it more expensive. However, recent Government Accountability Office reports stated that piracy might not be as widespread and devastating as the media might like us to think. "Three widely cited U.S. government estimates of economic losses resulting from counterfeiting cannot be substantiated due to the absence of underlying studies," the GAO said. "Each method (of measuring) has limitations, and most experts observed that it is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the economy-wide impacts." They have also said that, "some experts we interviewed and literature we reviewed identified potential positive economic effects of counterfeiting and piracy.” Even Jeff Raikes, the head of Microsoft's business group, admits that piracy could be beneficial. He stated that people who pirate Microsoft's products are more likely to purchase Microsoft products in the future. Another point that was made was that people who download movies, music and software wouldn't have bought those products anyways.

That is one of the main arguments that the pro-piracy people are fronting: that we, the pirates, don't have the money to be spending on $11 movie tickets or $20 albums. Their alternative is to illegally download. It is something we can all relate to, as it is very hard to find that spare cash for an album or movie. But at the same time, as some media executives and publishers would say, if we, the consumers, just didn't buy the product, and didn't pirate it as well, then this would force the businesses to lower prices. This is how the free market works, if you want to survive, lower your prices to people's standards until they buy. With piracy, the companies have a scapegoat to blame for the decrease in sales, and increase in prices. It is in this regard that this war will never end, and that it is and forever will be a stalemate. This is the way its been since the cassette tape.

Back in the 1920s, with the invention of the vinyl record, music piracy was non-existent. It was impossible to make a legitimate copy of a record unless you ran a record factory, and even then it was made from a press that came from... You get the picture. It was incredibly hard to do. Until the blank cassette came out. It changed everything for piracy, because now you could copy your records by using reel-to-reel tape recording, or cassette to cassette recording. It created piracy, in effect. The same with VCRs and video cassettes, they made it possible to copy videos and TV shows for home use or to sell them off for cheap. In the end, media companies made it so that a percentage of a blank medium's purchase price (mediums as in cassette tapes or video tapes) would go back to the corresponding industry (like film for the videos, music for the cassettes). This was the only way that could somehow get money back from counterfeiting. But the piracy continued and in order to combat this they created CDs for music, and DVDs for film. We all know how this plays out, where we have burned CDs of music and pirated videos on DVDs. There are still levies for blank media purchases, left over from the government taxes on the blank media. This hardly seems fair to some, as CDs are also used for data and other legitimate reasons, and yet the media industries are the ones getting the money from the tax.

Either way, this didn't stop pirates. They continued to burn and counterfeit products, and to the media corporations this wouldn't do. They came out with multiple anti-piracy technologies to try and subvert the pirates. Of course, the pirates broke through and continued. This war moved to the Internet, where we are today, and continues to be a battle of technologies: the media industries continue to come up with new ways to crack the pirates, and be totally free from them. However, the pirates have crossed them at every turn.

This war of technology advances continues today and can be seen in the new 3D films and TVs that have recently come onto the market. Think about it (I actually just made this connection as I wrote this): with media pirating at an all time high, where can the media industries go from there? Create a new media form that cannot be pirated, exactly like what they tried with the CD and DVD. They had made HD DVDs and BLURAYS but those got cracked and pirated. The next venture they hope to get out there is 3D, and to be honest, they seem to be winning. Avatar alone was the most successful box office movie ever, mainly because of the fact that it was in 3D, a novelty at the time for such a high budget film. Millions of people went to see it in 3D Imax and were blown away. I was to be sure. But look at it now, with almost every movie coming out in 3D. The media industry is evolving. What will be next is 3D TVs and 3D computers, and then the pirates will crack those too.

See? Piracy is the means for all of this. It would have definitely happen someday, but not nearly this soon. Piracy motivated the industry to continue to advance, to continue to make it worth our while to pay the money to buy the products legitimately. Since the invention of the blank tape cassette, the pirates have become a part of the media industry, a sick sort of check and balance to make sure that the industry is still making quality products. Yes, it is still illegal. But that has never stopped them before. They keep the media industry on their toes, they don't give them breaks.

However, at the same time, the media corporations don't give them a break either. In 2006, the Swedish police raided the headquarters of the torrent hosting site, The Pirate Bay, and seized over 250 servers from them. This was politically motivated by the USA and MPAA, and they claimed the raid “highly successful.” In all reality, however, it was not. Three days later, The Pirate Bay was back online, and had boosted its membership dramatically due to media exposure. As well as making it more public, it sparked the piracy debate in Sweden and prompted the creation of the Pirate Party, a political party in Sweden that supported filesharing among other things. Winston, an administrator of The Pirate Bay had said, “We got raided once due the american (sic) government going to bed with the swedish (sic) gov and some pillowtalking into an agreement about shutting us down. We were down for 3 days. Not as much of a problem comparing to how long it took us to get online when a former admin went on a drunk rampage and was nowhere to be found (down for 5 days. some million in fines, 4 dead sheep and a story never to be told, without level 4 clearance.)” Clearly, they were un-phased by the event. They just continued hosting. Unfortunately for the former administrators of The Pirate Bay, the Swedish government went farther and charged the four men with, “promoting other people's infringements of copyright laws.” The court case went from February 19th, 2009 and went until April 11th, 2009. It was a highly publicized case, and there were protests and demonstrations every day outside of the courthouse. There were many other demonstrations as well throughout the case, as well as a few hacks of websites and other, more legitimate, Internet demonstrations. In the end, the defendants were found guilty as accessories to a crime, however no crime was acknowledged. They were sentenced to pay approximately $3,500,000 each and were sentenced to one year in jail. Their defense lawyers appealed their sentence on the grounds that the judge was biased in favor of the corporations, which is entirely possible. Every man has his price. Due to Swedish law, the sentence cannot be carried out, and the appeal is scheduled for sometime this year. In light of this, The Pirate Bay has been under new administration, and these events have been documented in the films Steal This Film Parts 1 and 2.

Even with these high-profile cases, piracy is still predominant in modern culture. It is wishful thinking to assume that piracy will ever go away. It will always be there. As long as there is a will, there is a way, and there is always a will for free things. However, this ongoing fight has sparked some food for thought: is piracy necessary? Is it a healthy part of our economy? Who can hold the big media companies accountable, and keep them from decreasing the quality of their product? Only the consumers can assure that Hollywood and the likes keep creating good movies and music. Pirates help keep them from slacking off. I'm not saying that piracy is right. I know that stealing is wrong. I know that piracy is another form of stealing. But as a musician, I know full well what businesses are capable of; and shouldn't art be about the art, and not about the money being made off of it? Sean Stubblefield said “I firmly believe that, first and foremost, our primary motivation should be creating for ourselves, because we are motivated to create.” This is a true statement. Maybe piracy will motivate modern musicians to move away from studio recording and move back towards performance art, like the way it used to be. As for the film industry, maybe this will lead to more productions of theater, and more productions of live shows. This will push us away from the grips of excessive consumerism, and piracy will remind us that if we work together, we can and will succeed. It is an interesting way to think about it, to be sure. It is something that pushes community spanning from one side of the globe to the other, in a way that only the Internet can. Maybe that's reason enough to accept this as a part of our lives and our culture. Another interesting thing to ponder: Youtube, the massive video hosting site, has pirated songs and trailers on it. So knowing that, you realize that just about anybody could be a pirate for listening to that music. Almost the entire student body at (insert high school here) is a pirate, and some of them don't even know it, they just thought they were Buccaneers. Yaar. How could we possibly hold the whole human race accountable? Knowing this is what makes me realize that piracy is mainstream, now more than ever before. Blackbeard would be proud.

That sentence isn't as conclusive as I'd like, but really there is no way to conclude this in any way besides to say that there is no end, there will never be an end, and if we ever want to keep our technology advancing, we can't let it end, not in this mega-corporate economy. But, even with that, I'd still like to end this paper with a pirate reference. In a paper all about copying, I'll copy myself and I WON'T PAY A CENT! Maybe that'll churn more quality work outta me. Work the system, you know? Blackbeard would be proud.

 Ironically, much of my research was on the web, and the two documentaries I watched were procured via torrents. This was legal, however, as the producers of the films set the torrents up and are seeding them as we speak. I suggest watching those for more info, or following up on some of the topics I touched upon. I'm sure there are many more out there who can word this better than I can, or organize it better, or go into more depth. But I'm a high school senior suffering from Senioritis and this is actually the best paper I think I've ever written. So that right there is an accomplishment.

I really hope you learned something, or maybe have a much more broad view of piracy, and see that it is more than just illegal trading of art. It is that, but it is communities sharing knowledge and connecting across the globe. It is bringing people together through moral debates and helps us come together for a common cause. I think that issues like this are going to bring more people together for more legitimate reasons than war or religion could ever do. And yes, stealing is wrong. But Big Business steals from us everyday. It's really our job to keep them accountable and honest, and this is one of the many ways to do this. They can't stop all of us, we have power in numbers. Thank you.

“A people should not be afraid of their government, a government should be afraid of its people.”
^(Quote from V For Vendetta... am I a toolbag or what)^


Bibliography (but its really just a list of sources right now... I'll fix it later) 

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