Jan 6, 2010

Piracy in Monochrome - The Shades

Software piracy is a fact of life. It's there. It will never go away unless and until all software is destroyed, abolished, or the common rabble and riffraff - that being me and you - are denied access to it by the Man. And even then, there'd be some form of illegal or semi-legal distribution of intellectual property. In fact, there's only one way to permanently rid ourselves of illegal information distribution, and that is to make all information distribution legal. A can of worms, that, desirable in part and in theory, but with some strange implications.

However, what piracy isn't is a matter of black and white - like every single other moral question in existence, bar none, it's a matter of grey and gray - although, granted, some moral issues are darker or lighter grey than others.

Here's a sliding scale of piracy:

1. Buying a book from a bookstore.

2. Buying a book second-hand from a friend.

3. Downloading a digital copy of a book you legally own or which is public domain from PirateBay.

4. Downloading a book illegally from Piratebay.

5. Downloading a book illegally from PirateBay and sharing it with your friends.

6. Scanning a book by a large, multi-billion-dollar publisher and posting it to PirateBay.

7. Scanning a book by a small, independent publisher and posting it to PirateBay, where it gets a huge amount of downloads, causing the publisher to go bankrupt for lack of sales.

At what point does it get uncomfortable? Was it at point 3 or earlier? If so, congratulations! You are a corporate tool unaware of your own rights, or too scared by the system to want to use them. Get a spine.

After that it gets shady. To expand point 4, which is where I believe the majority of folks would start having troubles, would you download a book illegally from PirateBay if:

1. It was long out of print, the author dead, the publisher no longer existed, no second-hand copies were for sale anywhere, and you needed it for your doctoral thesis?

2. It was long out of print, the author dead and the publisher no longer existed, but you might be able to dig up a second-hand copy if you really tried?

3. It was long out of print, and the author and publisher have gone on record stating they never intend to print another batch?

4. The book was never made legally available in your country in the first place?

5. The book is legally available in bookstores, but the author personally insulted you the only time you met?

6. The book is legally available, and you need the book for a school project, but you don't really *want* to read it, and don't feel like spending your money?

7. You want to read the book, but it's Sunday, and you know the store will be closed 'til Friday?

8. You're standing in the store thumbing though ithe book, and it looks good, so you go home and download it?

9. You download the book because you're too busy eating the author's babies to go to the store?

I'd personally download it up to and including point 4, and refrain from buying it in case 5. In case 6, I'd probably try to find it in a library or borrow it from somebody, and in case 7 I might download it and then buy a legal copy when the store opened.

My point is, piracy is a complicated issue. Blanket statements get us nowhere. Im pretty sure everybody but fanatics will be okay with the first few points, and if you're okay with point 9 above then you're pretty damn sick. I mean, if you were to go through my harddrive, you'd find quite a few illegal PDFs, but most of those I either own a legal dead tree copy of, or it's stuff that's long out of print and damn near impossible to find - or, at least, prohibitively expensive. "Piracy is wrong?" On occasion, yeah. "Piracy is [insert positive adjective here]?" Sure, under certain circumstances. But there are legitimate arguments on both sides of the fence, so, please, don't be a fanatic or an extremist - just be reasonable, and admit you don't have all the answers, 'cause nobody does.

End of line.

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