The pirate's identikit


Source: BBC NEWS | Technology | Court jails Pirate Bay founders.

Speaking to the BBC, the chairman of industry body the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) John Kennedy said the verdict sent out a clear message. […] “There has been a perception that piracy is OK and that the music industry should just have to accept it. This verdict will change that,” he said.

The New Oxford American Dictionary built in Mac OS X’s Dictionary application defines pirate as (excerpt): “a person who appropriates or reproduces the work of another for profit without permission, usually in contravention of patent or copyright : [with adj. ] software pirates.”

Piracy is not OK, of course. But it isn’t a black-or-white issue, either. There are many, many shades of grey. In 2003 Rolling Stone interviewed Steve Jobs. The iTunes Music Store was beginning to be successful at that time, and Jobs and his interviewer Jeff Goodell had a pretty interesting conversation, also about piracy and the music industry.

Two crucial bits. The first:

Of course, music theft is nothing new. Didn’t you listen to bootleg Bob Dylan?

Of course. What’s new is this amazingly efficient distribution system for stolen property called the Internet — and no one’s gonna shut down the Internet. And it only takes one stolen copy to be on the Internet. And the way we expressed it to them is: Pick one lock — open every door. It only takes one person to pick a lock. Worst case: Somebody just takes the analog outputs of their CD player and rerecords it — puts it on the Internet. You’ll never stop that. So what you have to do is compete with it.

The second:

Lately, the recording industry has been threatening to throw anyone caught illegally downloading music in jail. How smart is that?

Well, I empathize with ‘em. I mean, Apple has a lot of intellectual property. We told ‘em that, too. We said: We really get upset when people steal our software. So I think that they’re within their rights to try to keep people from stealing their product.

Our position, from the beginning, was that 80% of the people stealing music online don’t really want to be thieves. But that it is such a compelling way to get music: It’s instant gratification. You don’t have to go to the record store; the music’s already digitized, so you don’t have to rip the CD. It’s so compelling that people are willing to become thieves to do it. And to tell them that they should stop being thieves — without a legal alternative, that offers those same benefits — rings hollow. We said: We don’t see how you convince people to stop being thieves, unless you can offer them a carrot — not just a stick.

I have downloaded the occasional music torrent. Am I a “pirate”? According to the aforementioned Oxford dictionary definition, not really. I have not appropriated or reproduced the work of another for profit without permission. But technicalities aside, consider this: I own more than 5,000 vinyl records. I own more than 2,000 CDs, and at least 500 of them are the CD version of albums I already own in vinyl format. To have the compressed, lossy digital version of albums I already own in vinyl and CD format, it’s often quicker to look for the music on peer-to-peer networks. Or, sometimes, I just don’t want to fire up iTunes and have it slow down my PowerBook G4 to rip the music I’ve already bought twice. Hence the occasional download. I honestly don’t think I’m doing something that wrong. Sure, there are a lot of freeloaders out there, but, as I said, different shades of grey.

Back to the John Kennedy quote, I have the feeling that this verdict won’t change a thing.

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