There has been an abundant amount of talk on piracy lately culminating with International drama that unfortunately has made the United States to seem like a very large international bully that goes around harassing other states of the world. Unfortunately, many views on the “piracy” topic is misconstrued and distorted up to the point that people want to even raise the issue up to the rank of “sin” by blasting things out of proportion, exaggerating and distorting facts. We will present some ideas on “piracy”, argument why it has absolutely no tangency with “stealing” and definitely why it is neither a “sin” nor should it in any way be considered illegal by any state of the world. Additionally, since the issue of “piracy” may be a current world issue, we will present some “solutions”, even if these are not original, that could be adopted by any sovereign power in order to settle the issue and perhaps make states seem less of a bully and rather work for the betterment of society and the people it is supposed to protect.
Moses (yes, The Moses), a highly respected religious figure in many religions has been said to have come down the mountain enlightened by God and granted a set of rules – the ten commandments, that followers of his religion should adhere to in order to maintain a harmonious social order. These rules and principles have been adopted by Christianity and adapted to other religions as well and up this date they are considered to be rather good milestone for a rudimentary legal system even if Christianity tends to want to ignore the old testament in favour of the new testatment. The commandments, passed by God onto Moses and from there spread as the laws governing the early Israelites, as it was said in the Exodus, are a comprehensive list of rules that have, alas, been altered in the interim up to the point of being distorted in meaning in order to suit other purposes. Nevertheless, “theft” is included as being the 7-th or 8-th rule tends to universally read as the following and is pretty intransigent in its statement:
“Thou shalt not steal.”
Of course, it would only help to know Hebrew and Aramaic in order to be able to carry the discussion further meaningfully by being able to find the proper definition of “stealing” – however, we could use a regular dictionary and look up the definition of “stealing”:
“stealing – take another person’s property without permission or legal right and without intending to return it: thieves stole her bicycle, stolen goods, she was found guilty of stealing from her employees”
In its most basic definition the act of stealing, from its definition, seems to have the following meaning: “someone has something and another person takes that something such that the former person does not have that something anymore”. Quite blatantly there is indeed a sense of linearity governing the definition of stealing where some property is lost by the original owner in order to become the property of the new owner. The act of taking in this case means that there is a loss that is felt by the old owner: obviously, the old owner does not that what was stolen anymore. The act is thus stealing and it is reasonable to consider the act as illegal due to the loss experienced by the original owner.
Let us contrast this to the layman expression “stealing” when it is applied to software. You never “steal” software because the original owner still has the goods – the act consists in “data duplication” and not stealing. Let us transpose this in a real case example: suppose that someone steals your car – will you be angry? You definitely should. Now, suppose that someone creates an exact replica of your car – will you (the consumer) be angry? Well, not really because there was no loss on your behalf: you still have your car and basically who cares if someone else has a car identical to yours – in the end, does the car industry mass produce replicas of cars that they sell to different owners? If you do not like someone to have a copy of your car then you are just jealous – and jealousy derives from avarice which is a Cardinal sin, not a virtue!
Unfortunately, our Moses guy at that time never came face-to-face with the act of “data duplication”, simply because it was not an issue back then, such that the term “stealing”, in any religious context, cannot be applied to “data duplication” in the absence of “loss”. Thus, in a religious context, “data duplication” – the act of creating a replica of some goods (regardless how material or immaterial they may be) cannot in any way be considered a sin.
More avid debaters on this subject however will suggest that even if “stealing” cannot be applied to “data duplication” there is still some form of “loss” experienced by the producer of the original item. This brings us to the next stage…
The Proactive and Retroactive Laws
In the fundamentals of democracy there exist two clauses that make “theft” to be entirely unapplicable to software. The first clause states that a law cannot be applied retroactively: you cannot issue a new law such that that law will have an effect on the current situation – you can only issue a law such that, from the moment of the law being issued, its effects will apply to situations taking place from that time on. This is a clause that has been abused many times where states have issued stuff like pension reductions that have been applied retroactively and are, in most constitutions, deemed to be illegal.
A different clause more relevant to the topic at hand derives from the good old saying that “you are innocent until proven guilty”. Although more of a coin-phrase at the time of writing, elaborating a little, it means that you cannot claim losses into the future. As an example, you cannot sue someone because you “think” that in the future they will murder you. You can only blame someone when an act has been committed because it is simply impossible to predict the future!
One of the main arguments that major copyright lobbyists are pushing forward in this sense is that software (and digital media) piracy is a theft because in the act of “duplicating” that data, the original creator suffers a loss due to the economical profits that the issuing company “could have made” in the future! Of course this is anti-democratic (lest illogical) because there is absolutely no guarantee that the issuer of some digital media could have made a profit in the future – what if the digital media sucked so bad that nobody would have paid money for it? What is the media would not have been sold at all? What if the company went bankrupt right after its release due to other unrelated circumstances? In any case, you cannot proactively claim wins into the future – at best, you can create a rough prediction of your company gains for your internal usage but that cannot be considered legal proof simply because it has not taken place yet. Just as well, you cannot arrest someone based on their psychological profile because you personally “think” (or regardless how well you “predict”) that they will commit a crime in the future.
Even if you cannot claim wins in the future there is still the issue that the original creator of some digital media should receive compensation for its creation. However, let us take a closer look at the process of creation of a software package: first, a software or digital media bundle is created. After that, the software or digital media is duplicated at negligible cost relative to the production cost and then resold in mass to every client at the cost of its creation plus the cost of its duplication. This does not make much sense! Let us transpose this in terms of cars: Volkswagen produces a single car. Then, at a negligible cost they snap their fingers and produce millions of cars. After that, they sell the duplicated cars at the same production cost of the original car. Imagine how much profit you could make on a single product just by shedding the responsibility of creating the product ground-up each time for every new customer! Nevertheless digital media producers get rich on a single product that has only one original production cost and then for each customer they just create a copy for them at practically no cost. In that sense, it even voids any capitalist rules because you almost void any responsibility of production but rather generate money out of thin air.
Software does have “updates” – sometimes, however, most of the time, those are an addition to the original product and less frequently a complete recreation of the original software. In the latter cases, where the software is re-written, the producers still suffer a single production cost of the update and then resell that update multiple times practically generating money, not on goods, but rather via the act of duplication and resell of a single product. Work once on a product and then sell unbounded amounts at no additional cost of production…
This brings us to the next level of shafting that is incurred upon clients: have you ever browsed second-hand Internet or real markets such as E-Bay, Oxfam, etc…? Have you ever bought hardware from someone that was selling it as a second-hand product? Did the original creator have anything against it? They did not, in essence you are allowed to sell off your old stuff, against a cost to your sovereign state, to other people wishing to acquire it – in fact, if you give away your old stuff for free, the state in most cases does not even want a share of it. That being the case, how come you cannot resell software the same way and why is that considered to be piracy? For absolutely no reason except the lobbyists desire to keep the gold-mine flowing where you can sell products at no cost…
Let us take a relatively trivial examples and examine some torrents on the pirate bay of some “famous” recently-released movies: “The Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part 2” has been running for a few days with about 140000 distributors. Given an average ticket price in Germany to watch the movie of 8 euros, that would mean a loss of 112000 euros if we assume that the people that download the movie will never see it in the cinema – which is a very gross estimate. Suppose that the number of downloaders will be three times as much. That would lead to a loss of 300 000 euros. The current IMDB statistics note an income of USD 102665981 in just the opening weekend with a gross pofit of USD 281666058 up to now (it has been running for a week). Converting to USD and calculating the losses that means an average (grossly over-exaggerated) loss of 0.11% which, by all means, is negligible – certainly much less than what was spent on the advertisements (hey, piracy can be a form of advertisement too!).
Of course, this should also not let us distract us from the fact that this income is based on a single product sold multiple times to different people by just duplicating it, which seems more of a ponzi scheme rather than a fair business.
The Economy of Acceptable Losses
Given the very minor losses and the overzealous drama to outlaw piracy we can only conclude that piracy is just seen as a mediatic scapegoat where you can justify incompetence by tossing the blame in the pirate’s cove! To paraphrase John Travolta in “Swordfish”: “the problem with Hollywood is that it produces shit” – and, unfortunately, lest quality. Do you think that you can ask your money back after watching a movie? There is such a thing as a shrink-wrap license in law: it is debatable whether you can sell someone a black box such that the person that buys the black box does not know its contents. In the case of movies and software that do not have demo versions – such as, for example, the software sold in the Apple AppStore, it is uncertain whether you will like that software. The amount of losses suffered by people around the world that bought trash software off online software stores without being able to receive a refund is atrocious! Even if the software does have a demo version – are you sure it is some software that you will always use? Or did it just blind you with advertisements, addictive and intrusive propaganda such that they sold you something you did not really want? To return: how about movies? In many places around the world, you would not receive a refund even if you walk out of the cinema – or, it would be possible, but seen as very uncommon – hell, you could be flagged as a “troublemaker” – for what, just disliking a movie? Plenty of people were even offended at Sasha Baron Cohens movies such as The Dictator, Bruno, etc… And they should get their money back!
Have you noticed how “application stores” such as the Apple AppStore or the Amazon AppStore make it so nice and convenient to buy stuff? It’s a very clean and nice interface where you have a big button called “Buy” that transforms into “Install” once you have paid your money out. You press “Buy”, pay out the money and then you click “Install” and the application installs on your device or the movie is downloaded. Very simple process don’t you think? One would have thought that such a simple interface could have included an equally nice “Refund” button where you could claim a refund for the installed software which would then be removed from your device… Hang on, that makes sense! So why is there no such button? None of these stores include a refund method – basically, as simple as the interface is, it works only one way: you spend money and once you have pressed that “Buy” button there is essentially no way to get your money back. E-mailing Apple and claiming your money back on some application is an exercise that I will leave to the reader. My only recommendation is that they videotape the attempt of getting a refund from a mogul like Apple and place it on YouTube for everyone to notice and be fully aware how difficult it is to get your money back on digital media once the money has been paid out. You would most likely be affronted by an army of quasi-illiterate and semi-incompetent staff that will throw at you robot-generated E-mails culminating probably with a formal E-mail where “Article 9, Sub-section 5, Clause 14/2” is thrown at you that is a long wound, patronising and politically correct way of telling you that “we do not do refunds”. The sheer amount of youngsters using mobile devices and just pressing the “Buy” button in different stores and emptying their parents credit card has had such an ample effect that even the European Union has started awareness campaigns that literally boil down to explaining that these stores are, well, in layman terms “evil” to spare other adjectives.
What is even more striking is that many of these App Stores tie your device to the products you buy such that the product is not necessarily attributed to you but rather to the machine. We have seen cases where people had purchased digital media from iTunes such as music, movies, etc… Later had formatted their hard-drive and re-installed the OS but where unable to find an easy way to re-obtain the digital media they had bought. This happened in the pre-“Cloud” era but it is sufficient to observe how reserved these companies are when it comes to even granting you access to the stuff you had bought. Another interesting experience would be to convince Apple to transfer your purchases from one account to a different account which, most likely, is still not possible.
Furthermore, companies such as Apple have invented a sort-of “fast-track planned obsolescence” where the classical obsolescence can range from 5 years or more, this new invention makes planned obsolescence a matter of several months. For example, in case you are the proud owner of an iPad1, you are now literally a proud possessor of a paper-weight. Whilst your iPad1 may still be in mint condition from a hardware point of view, none of the “trash-software” you may have bought for it will work due to Apple pushing for later version of the iOS operating system. Far are the times gone where you could purchase a Texas Instruments calculator and own it for your entire life because it now still performs just as well as it did 20 years ago (a fact that still gets people foggy eyed and full of respect when thinking about Texas Instruments). Surely, this does not apply only to Apple – there is a similar and equally pathetic invention of “fast-track planned obsolescence” that applies to just about any device and any operating system.
All of these create an economy that is built around your losses rather than an economy built on production values – whilst before you made a name for yourself by selling top-notch quality products and competed to make your stuff better and more long-lasting than others, these days it is just sufficient to make a bunch of crappy stuff and sell all your junk to as many people as possible, regardless how trashy it is in order to become a popular company. Is shit worth a lot of money because there are many flies circling it? Well, yes, apparently…
The law used to be a common denominator where regulations were passed in order to give the people a codex of reference through which some form of social fairness could be expressed. However, at the time of writing, this is far from the case anymore. You can elect people to represent you that pass laws however you have little saying in what those people will pass as laws and you essentially vote on promises. Furthermore, due to a massive imbalance of wealth accumulation, in practice, laws are passed with more of a purpose to protect lobbyists and large producers rather than consumers – if you were to count the laws that benefit producers and contrast with the laws that protect consumers, you will see that producers are far more favoured than consumers.
Regardless, the law is not universal and, as we have seen in the case of digital millennium against the pirate bay, no law was infringed and no blame could be placed until the USA forcibly intervened through diplomatic channels (most likely, with less than diplomatic threats) in order to force Sweden to give in to an US-centric point of view. The circus went so far as to place the people responsible with the pirate bay website in jail even if they had committed absolutely no crime under the current governing laws – lest any holy laws. In fact, the arguments got so ridiculously frail that the only way to impose the US-centric point of view was through seer violence and harassment – something that Sweden was traditionally completely devoid of and known to be one of the “free”-est countries in the world. What happened in Sweden with the pirate bay is quite simply a stain on humanities dignity that showed the frailty and un-uniform application of laws, principles and morale.
In the end, it should be made clear that you should not necessarily become civilly disobedient but that you should rather process for yourself whether a law makes sense or not. You are free to use a search engine and find out laws such as “it is illegal to sleep on top of a fridge” or “it is illegal for a Moose to cross the road” (Canada). Laws that have perhaps made sense at some point but that do not make much sense anymore. Perhaps you can subscribe to the commandments passed onto this world by Moses and consider them holy but you should be fully aware that the law is not sacred and definitely not absolute in any way because not all laws have been handed to you by God but rather by your peers. Passing a law can be at the whim of people that do not wholly represent you and, in many cases, do not even represent a large amount of people – which is unfortunately possible.
Demographics and Availability
Whether you are fan or an antagonist of the Illuminati and the New World Order you cannot help but realise that you are starting to become less a citizen of a single country and more of a citizen of the world. The Internet has helped so much in that sense and is perhaps unknowingly one of the few reasons that World Wars will not be possible anymore and surely responsible for your own personal development, enlightenment and capability to empathize with other human beings regardless their distance and their country of belonging. Due to our similitudes, drives, wants, etc… It is clear that what applies to you can to some point be roughly applied to someone else as well: what you find funny, someone else will find funny too, what you find sad, a lot of other people will find sad too, etc…
In this frame of mind, demographical data and availability become and issue when they are applied to digital media. Most digital media has a rather fixed price that is then sold world-wide to a very large audience in very different economical situations. It is alas, entirely possible to be considered “rich” in one country yet be “poor” in a different country such that a fixed price for digital media is just not good enough. Unfortunately, producers do not have the luxury of creating region-oriented products that could be sold at regional prices (with a few notable exceptions). You can find many cases where some software package, for what it is worth, has an acceptable price for some parts of the world but is very expensive for some other parts of the world. Globalization is one of the engines that tries to appease these differences by either raising wages and sinking prices in order to standardize the world. However, a large part of the world is still not globalized yet, such that these differences do exist which makes a fixed price and delivery of content an issue to a world-wide audience.
It is not excluded that a show running in some country is sought after in some other country and, very frequently, it is the case that pirates are the only engine of good-fortune that make shows, software, music, etc… Available to a wider range of humans being across the planet. It is also an altruistic tendency in many cases, with little personal gain, that is something to be revered rather than condemned.
All the aforementioned considered, there still is a lingering empathic longing to encourage creation of digital media and to compensate and raise your glass to the the producers, given some convenient and unobtrusive way. There have been efforts to create a donation system where you can donate money in case you like a digital product which has had some measure of success. Other people have thought up micro-transaction schemes where the price to pay is very minor to a single consumer but considerably large for a large amount of consumers.
Perhaps one of the most striking (and totally ingenious) proposal came from the Russian Duma that suggested a flat additional rate to be collected along with the usual Internet Tax. In other words, if you just want to browse newspapers you can pay the regular tax for your Internet subscription to your ISP. If you additionally want to download digital media, then this media should be made available to you at the cost of an additional fee paid to your ISP. That money would then be collected from the “very many Internet users” and used to pay off the creators and copyright holders of the software you download. This solution seems to hold water under most circumstances because the accumulated money would be more than enough to pay everyone – perhaps similar to HBO, Ne tflix and friends where you pay an extra amount of money to be able to watch prime-time material without regulation or International wide-spread fear and drama. This would have the following effects:
- the government will not bully its own citizens (or the citizens of other sovereign countries) – the USA will not appear like the Biff (from the movie “Back to The Future”) of the world anymore.
- the money accumulated could pay and encourage creators to create even more – at 300 million citizens in the US, if everyone paid USD1 extra, that would total at USD 300 million which is more than what “The Hunger Games – Mockinjay Part 2” made in total in the previous example and this is just a fraction of the gains! Add another 200 million Russians, 500 million Europeans (should we add 1 billion Indians? how about the Chinese?) and oh boy would digital media producers become rich just off pirate tax – nevermind the people that would even purchase a DVD, regardless if they pirated or not, in case you produce something people want to have!
In conclusion, it is less clear how much you should pay, whether you should be the one paying, whether the laws are fair (and it seems they are not), whether “duplication” should be synonymous with “stealing” and it is more clear that “piracy” should be given more rigorous thought than just hauling slogans around such as “piracy is theft” – because it clearly is not.