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Week 11: Piracy

B) Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318). Discuss while giving an example online. 

From creating flawed copies of sheet music for us to play on our pianos at home (Johns, 2002:68), to creating perfect copies of digital recordings and listening to them on the train or in our spare time, there has always been a desire to explore music and creative content, regardless of what copyright laws tell us not to do. Piracy lets us discover film industries and music genres that we’d never even think of or be able to find in any shop. As Medosch writes, “It gives people access to information and cultural goods they had otherwise no chance of obtaining … [people] can use piracy as a counter-hegemonic force by giving them a chance to empower themselves through obtaining information, knowledge and sophisticated cultural productions” (2008: 81).

For example, Jerome Bixby’s 2007 small budget film “The Man from Earth” gained huge popularity due to piracy. The film became the 5th most popular movie for visitors of the Internet Movie Database website after blog Releaselog reviewed it and provided its readers with links to illegally download it. Previous to the blog, it was rated the 11,235th most popular film and its producer Eric Wilkinson credited Releaselog with the drastic rise in popularity, which led to better distribution and, after Wilkinson had directly thanked Releaselog, a better connection with the fans of the film, who then found themselves donating via PayPal for the film. As Evgeny Morozov writes, “If you are in Norway or UK it may be impossible to find a movie like “The Man from Earth” in your local DVD store … All those whose movie tastes are to the far-right end of the long tail have little alternative to piracy”.

Conversely, it is obvious that piracy is not just for the smaller films and the media content that is not well known. Popular albums are available at any local CD shop, yet we still find the music industry claiming CD sales have decreased and that piracy is responsible. Though it is unethical to be taking an artist’s content illegally for free, or distributing it for your own profit, piracy does not always deny producers the financial recognition they deserve. Morozov continues, “in the case of “The Man from Earth”, 2,000 people who downloaded it encouraged 20,000 more to go and check it out in cinemas and WalMarts by giving it a top IMDB rating. By losing money on 2,000 viewers, the film made money on 20,000 more”. This is obviously not always the case, though it does show that piracy is not always financially bad for artists.

What is certain is that piracy has opened up too many avenues for consumers to be able to be stopped. It is up to record labels and film studios to compromise and find a way to make media content widely and easily available, while still maintaining a “respect for cultural production and the life-long commitment of people” (Medosch, 2008: 95). After all, the pirates supposedly costing these industries billions are their very own customers (Katz, 2004: 186).

References:

Johns, A. (2002), ‘Pop Music Pirate Hunters’, in Daedalus, 131: 2, pp. 67-77.

Medosch, A. (2008), ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’, in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies, London: Deptforth TV, pp. 73-97.

Katz, M. (2004), ‘Capturing Sound: How Technology has Changed Music’, Berkeley: UC Press, pp. 158-187.

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