back to reality.
As the great Timbaland once said, “It’s been a long time. We shouldn’t have left you, without a dope beat to step to.” Though in this case, “we” means “me” and the “dope beat” is an “article about piracy”. Other than that, exactly the same.
So, let’s get to it!
As I promised last week, I would like to discuss here why piracy is not morally wrong. Keep in mind it may be “illegal” without being immoral, in that it is a violation of intellectual property rights. Copyright specifically. I would love to get into the etymology of intellectual property rights in the US, but that is another article entirely.
The first thing to address is the disconnect in perception between free music and piracy. Free music is available everywhere. The radio has long been a source of it. Top 40 hits stations, college stations that play entire albums and classical stations (to name a few) are plentiful and easily found on the FM dial. Business such as restaurants, stables, doctor offices, even the elevators that convey you to these places all have music lilting through the air. Heck, go to any of a wide selection of bars and you can get live music for free. Yet piracy, also freely available music, is widely criticised. I think the hang up resides with “ownership” of the music. I say ownership with quotes because of it is a separate discussion regarding right of first sale. This “owning” of free music is the same thing that queered a bunch of people out regarding the tape deck. Being able to freely make a copy of music played on the radio was a big issue for a while. Same with VCRs.
Now, I know what you’re saying, “That’s bullshit, it’s just other people paying for it, not you.” True. Radio pays royalties to artists, businesses license a muzak service, and free bar bands may be paid in any number of ways (or they may be promoting for free). However, the crux of the argument is that this music is free to the listener. There are arguments that you pay indirectly through using the business, listening to advertisements, or eating at the restaurant. Those arguments miss the point. The point is whether you need pay for the music in order to listen to something. Yes you buy the radio, but you do not buy the music. Same goes with the others. You may buy drinks or other goods and services, but not the music. This helps create a culture of ubiquitous free music.
Which feeds into my next point, that immorality is a function of cultural norms. And the norms they are a-changin’. To examine this, let’s look at women’s ankles. I mean, really just look at them. How alluring and provocative they are. Just sitting there all… joint like and graceful in their movement. Does this not titillate and offend you? If not, they may be because you are not from the 19th century. Yet at that time it was considered indecent and immoral to display them publicly. The consumption of alcohol is something who’s morality has been argued religiously and politically for centuries across nearly every culture. Is it moral to consume alcohol? Well that depends on who you ask.
So let’s look at music. You can listen to it without buying, and have been able to do so for a while. People still get all defensive when you make a copy of it, be it analog or digital. Is this changing? Seems to be. Perhaps related to the inevitable march of technology, “kids these days” are more comfortable downloading than the older timers. Going back to alcohol for a second Prohibition demonstrated two things: You can make anything illegal and just because something has been made illegal doesn’t mean people consider it immoral. In time, piracy will be considered in the same light, I hope to expedite that process.
I believe the fundamental concern for all this is the misunderstanding between price and value. Just because something has a price, does not mean it has values and vice-versa. Let us examine bottled water, shall we. Water is pretty close to free in the United States. Fill a bottle for perhaps a penny. Surely the stupidest thing you could do is offer the same bottle for two dollars, right? And yet, with a projected 86 billion dollar market in 2011 it seems you can. What the fuck? The water does not cost anymore than the water from the tap, or it costs marginally more, yet the value difference is huge. This applies in reverse to piracy. You can charge $15 for a CD, $20 for a DVD and $60 for a game, that’s fine. The question that must be asked though, is what value does the consumer place on those items? If it isn’t any of those numbers respectively, then you are shit out of luck. It is in that way that piracy does not necessarily represent lost sales. For if the customer would never buy them then there is no sale to be lost. Interestingly enough, piracy can act as a form of advertising and advertising is nothing more than a way to raise the value of a product. So guess what, if people pirate your work enough, it just might make you more money.