To anybody who is old enough to have been aware of recent historical events, there’s good reason to be suspicious when the media, industry and the government all declare that there is some sort of emergency that necessitates the curtailing of civil rights. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal profiles the people at NBC Universal who spend their time combing the Internet for pirated content, sending out takedown notices and complaining that their multibillion-dollar industry is being jeopardized by the activity of Internet pirates.
There’s no argument that Internet piracy is a real thing. There’s also no argument that copyright holders do, indeed, have every right to make money off the content that they work hard to produce. The Wall Street Journal article, however, does a very good job of setting up a scenario where people working for a private corporation spend their time monitoring the Internet activity of regular users, collude with law enforcement and think of new ways that they can use the government to protect their financial interests at the expense of Internet users and, further, casting those Internet snoops as quasi law enforcement personnel.
One of the easiest ways to set up a narrative is to first define a villain and then define a hero and concentrate on the conflict between them. In the Wall Street Journal article, a brief mention is made of an independent filmmaker who claims to have lost a tremendous amount of money due to piracy and, as a consequence, who had to stop paying herself a salary and to reduce employee salaries. This creates a very sympathetic protagonist for the narrative, but it does tend to make a lot of assumptions.
First and foremost, media stories about Internet piracy like to assume that every instance where a video, song or any other content is pirated constitutes an instance where that consumer would’ve taken the option to buy that product if the pirated version wouldn’t have been available. Simply put, many of those consumers would of likely opted not to buy the product at all.
The Journal also makes a passing mention that torrent technology has legitimate uses. In fact, torrent technology has far more legitimate uses than illegitimate uses. It is simply a technology that allows files to be transferred more quickly over the Internet.
The story makes an attempt to link the increase in Internet piracy to faster Internet connections and better file sharing technology. With entertainment companies openly monitoring the Internet activity of Internet users – most of whom are not engaging in piracy – it does beg the question of whether the rise in Internet piracy is more of an act of defiance and spite than it is of wanting a product that is, apparently, not even worth paying for in the eyes of many people.
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