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Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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We Are All Pirates

piero scaruffi

piero scaruffi

January 25, 2012

When the Soviet Union divided Berlin in two, US president John Kennedy went to Berlin and shouted “We are all Berliners.” Now that another evil empire has divided the World Wide Web into good and bad websites by shutting down Megaupload, the motto should be “We are all Megaupload users!” even the ones who never used it and don’t even know what exactly it is (was).

This comes at the same time that the government of the USA is planning to shut down websites at will, based on two anti-piracy laws (named SOPA and PIPA) that have been sponsored by the big entertainment companies (corporations for which, admittedly, i feel absolutely no admiration, and that cause the world to be a worse place than it would be without them).

Wikipedia, Google and other popular websites are complaining that those laws severely alter the free nature of the Web. This is precisely what the entertainment industry wants, and it never made a mystery of it: it wants total control of what you can see (their products) and of what you can do (buy those products).  

Unions representing 182,000 actors, directors and assorted Hollywood staff backed the proposed laws: your children and grandchildren will live in the world that you created, and they won’t be grateful for it. 
Virtually nobody dares to talk about who are the real pirates. Take a look at this bio that has been on the Warner website for several years: this is a carbon copy of my bio on the Deftones.

They scientifically removed the copyright line and the name of the real author. This has happened countless times: millions of us have been robbed by these corporate thieves. Warner never responded to my emails, and never will: they know that i cannot afford to hire an attorney. On the other hand, if a teenager downloads some of the garbage that they sell, they do have plenty of attorneys and can bribe plenty of politicians to get that teenager in jail for the rest of her/his life. Who’s the real scumbag in this picture? The corporations that routinely steal, terrorize and bribe, or the penniless teenager who is forced by their marketing pressure to watch a lousy movie and ends up downloading it where s/he can find it for free?

Note that these Hollywood corporations who want to shut down websites at will are the same people who promote violence, rape, drugs and all sorts of amoral behavior in their movies and songs. However, when it comes to cashing in the revenues, they label as “amoral” the behavior of anyone infringing their copyrights. In other words, they hold the copyright law as more important than the whole nightmare of rapists, thugs, junkies and mass murderers that their stinking blockbusters and hits contribute to create in every high school of the world.

Even on purely economic terms, i am not sure who would benefit from these “anti-piracy” laws. There are thousands of independent musicians whose work has spread worldwide thanks to what is, technically speaking, illegal file-sharing. Their work would be known only by a handful of people if everybody, from Japan to Brazil, had to pay for their CDs. I wonder if anyone has done an accurate study: how much did an independent musician earn in the days when his music was only known through magazine coverage and live shows, and how much does a musician earn in the days when his main income does not come from selling CDs but from being invited to countless music-related events because file sharing made him more famous than he would have been in the old days? I suspect that someone at the major music corporations knows this and fears the power that file sharing has to market independent musicians instead of their lousy pop stars.

The government of mainland China is certainly watching amused: wasn’t China the evil country that blocked websites at will? It is time that the world comes up with an alternative to the Internet. 
Meanwhile, let’s download and store somewhere else as much content as we can before they shut everything down and leave us only the choice to listen to the most stupid pop star around and watch the most ridiculous movies ever made. That’s their ideal world: you are just a consumer, just buy their garbage and shut up.

There is another way to look at this story. If you (whether a conservative bigot or a liberal intellectual), think like me that their garbage is worth nothing, and in fact, even a danger to our society (either because it promotes amoral behavior or because it degrades culture), then you almost have the moral obligation to do anything you can to damage their business plan. Hence let us rejoice if they indeed lose money out of the Web. Dear entertainment industry, if you go bankrupt, i would personally come and dance on your corporate graves. We do miss Megaupload (even those who never used it) but we will NOT miss you.

In fact, i would propose that we simply kick out the major labels and major studios from the Internet. The Internet was doing just fine before they arrived. Let simply band any music and any film from the major labels and the major studios, and then, once they are completely out of the Internet, let’s ban any reproduction of their products. Let the Internet be completely free of any reference of any kind to the music and the films of the major entertainment corporations. That solves the problem, doesn’t it?

We know who the real enemy is. We know where to find it. We don’t really know how to fight it because it is so much more powerful than us and their armies of attorneys and lobbyists can easily throw us in jail, but we will find ways. You can throw in jail one person one time, but you cannot throw in jail all people all the time.

We are all pirates, and proud of it.

piero scaruffi is an author, cultural historian and blogger who has written extensively about a wealth of topics, ranging from cognitive science to music.


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