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 One man's pirate

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PostSubject: One man's pirate   Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:08 pm

Piracy is a very topical subject nowadays. Below are two very interesting articles about two very different types of piracy.

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-you-are-being-lied-to-about-pirates-1225817.html
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1120585

The first article, an opinion piece by Johann Hari in The Independent, challenges the popular conception of pirates as bloodthirsty thieves and murderers and claims that this image was fabricated as part of a propaganda drive to turn the people against the real pirates, many of whom were more noble and more human than we give them credit for.

The second article is a legal-type article but is easily readable and very light on legalese. It mainly concerns the use of the word "theft" but also makes reference to piracy and the argument works just as well for piracy. It has a similar thesis to the first article; that the image of unauthorized users of copyrighted material as thieves is not a reflection of legal or social reality but rather the result of extremely well-funded lobby groups and underhanded rhetoric.

Any thoughts on these articles? If Johann Hari is to be believed, then it is quite strange and indeed quite fitting that unauthorized users of copyrighted material are disingenuously linked with another group (pirates) who are in fact disingenuously linked with a third group (senseless thieves and murderers). Old habits die hard and it would appear from these two articles that the major social and economic powers that be are just as prepared to distort and disfigure the reality of "piracy" in its various forms in order to protect their own interests and further their own agenda as they ever were.

It is also interesting to note Hari's claim that the pirates of old were often saved from the gallows by supportive crowds who saw through the government's propaganda efforts. A similar phenomenon can be witnessed today regarding internet "piracy". Though the public are slowly accepting the association of the language of theft with copyright infringement, internet piracy is still on the rise and most do not see it as being socially unacceptable or a serious criminal offence (the former fact being evidence of the latter). This is in stark contrast with the situation regarding "real life" piracy; before reading Hari's article I had not heard of anyone so much as toying with the idea that the Somalian pirates may have a point, or that they may be anything other than criminal scum.

Now I hate to quote 1984 or any Orwell work because I see it as being awfully clichéd, but this may well be a result of the idea mooted in that book that "who controls the present controls the past", or in other words, the unquestioned demonification of pirates today is an example of history as written by the winner. Considering that the aforementioned Orwell quote was immediately preceded in the book by the equally potent cliché "who controls the past controls the future", I would say that the current situation poses a real and clear danger for the future of social, political and legal discourse where intellectual property rights are concerned. If the fate of real life piracy is anything to go by, and the "internet pirates" lose the current war with the copyright owners' lobby, could we have a situation in the distant (or not-so-distant) future where unauthorized users of copyright material, like many people on this site and their friends and families, are viewed as little more than criminal vermin who for a brief period in history roamed the web hell-bent on stealing, plundering and generally attacking the very foundations of our society?

It sounds farfetched and even bizarre but then the image of pirates as painted by Hari is quite different to the one we are used to isn't it?
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:25 pm

The British Empire was built upon piracy, the Crown basically employed them to build their naval empire for them, with blind eyes and nods and winks galore, plus plenty sub-contracted thieving. They did a remarkable job...
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sat Jan 17, 2009 11:41 pm

Name an empire that wasn't... including the American one of today.
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sun Jan 18, 2009 1:49 am

The Mongol Empire....


sorry, I'll get me coat
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sun Jan 18, 2009 1:57 am

Well I think that reinforces the assertion that these misconceptions about pirates and piracy are simply to serve the narrow-minded interests of those spreading them, don't you? It is again analogous with the story of internet piracy. Giant corporations like Microsoft and Apple have themselves been the target of copyright infringement litigation in the past, but you'll never hear them referred to as pirates. Furthermore, Microsoft in particular have fallen foul of the law in other areas, namely competition law.
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:02 am

One advantage of being a large Multinational Corporation is the power of your tentacles and how many places they stretch. Microsoft and Apple have the money and know how to fight a PR battle, they also have the support of consumers who buy their products and like them so ignore the issues - individuals and smaller organisations lack this.
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PostSubject: Re: One man's pirate   Sun Jan 18, 2009 2:20 am

They know how to fight legal battles too, pumping millions into expert legal teams and woe on anyone who tries to challenge them. You know what I mean johnfás when I say we need a copyright equivalent of Steel & Morris.

Though giant corporations having formidable legal teams can work both ways... occasionally. The open source community has celebrated the case of SCO v IBM and other cases through which SCO's greed and copyright-hogging attitude have slowly brought the group to bankruptcy. But unless you are in the unlikely situation of having IBM to hide behind, you had better hope you are not targetted by the bigger corporations, whether you are right or wrong.

But coming back to johnfás's point about fighting PR battles, that was mentioned in the second article I linked to. A US judge mentioned the fact that, while the larger corporations are perfectly within their rights to fund massive lobby groups to campaign for their interests, the other side of the intellectual property debate have no such luxury.
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