This is a 5 minute speech which speaks to the proposition “That all content should be made available to everyone, everywhere, immediately.”, presented by Rodney Serkowski, Treasurer of Pirate Party Australia at a Metro Screen piracy debate.
This evening’s proposition that all content should be available to everyone, everywhere, immediately — is actually quite close to reality. Pirates, otherwise known as fans, are satiating demand for services where industry has so far failed, or refused, to catch up to norms and expectations of a connected populace.
The proliferation of the Internet has fundamentally altered how we interact with knowledge, culture and information. Even the ACCC has acknowledged that illicit file sharing is simply a market response to the resistance of industry to adapt to those shifts by perpetuating pre-existing limitations on their customer base, although I will argue later it is both a market response and a wider cultural or generational shift in attitudes.
There are several factors that drive demand towards illicit file sharing.
Global communities engage in back channel conversation and commentary through social media, seeking to access content as quickly as possible after being screened in other markets. Content is often delayed because of the hopelessly archaic and artificial separation of markets by geographic region that developed when global communication was costly and analogue.
Digital Rights Management or DRM is the bane of the consumer’s existence — by placing the equivalence of a barbed wire fence around content, it can limit the consumers ability to transfer content between devices or platforms. It can mean a remote trigger that revokes access or the loss of access if the vendor goes out of business.
Files that are illicitly downloaded don’t have these defective limitations — and this is the crux of the issue. Content industries are losing out because they are not reading the shift in consumer behaviour and delivering content in formats, timeframes, platforms and at price points that consumers will respond to.
The reasons for this are of course, numerous. Complicated licensing structures and the permission culture that current copyright laws foster, hang over innovation like the Sword of Damocles.
Incumbent industry and anachronistic distributors decry the continuing proliferation of the Internet, and the culture of sharing, as a force destroying creativity, profitability and consumer choice as they seek to maintain control of analogue channels of distribution in a digital age.
We see this panic historically, and notably we see incumbent industry, gatekeepers of the old order, try to crush new technologies and lobby for the enactment of legislation that hampers or kills development. Whether it be the menace of mechanical music that will see the weakening of the national chest and throat, the photocopier that would kill academic publishing, home taping that would kill music, or indeed VCRs that would obliterate free to air television.
Invariably all we have seen is the development of new and even more profitable industries as the gales of creative destruction, change consumer behaviour, production and distribution.
File sharing is not a problem that needs to be solved.
Studies like Floor 64’s ‘The Sky is Rising’ shows us that contrary to the doom and gloom purveyed by Industry bodies, revenue, spending and creativity are up by all metrics in the film and video, book, music and video game industry, notwithstanding the structural upheaval currently underway, and that innovation in distribution and fund raising through audience engagement are already happening, to a degree.
The Social Science Research Council in its soon to be released study ‘Copy Culture in the USA & Germany’ takes a look at the ethics of illicit file sharing and private copying, for instance between family and friends. It looks at the industry’s effort to demonize and recast or reverse the ever-growing acceptance of the legitimacy of some non-market, non-commercial cultural transfers by looking to punish, educate or induce fear. These efforts are likely doomed, as the generational divide and understanding of copy culture shift.
We see the focus continually return to ‘piracy’, to enforcement, rather than a discussion of structural determinants of why it is happening. The Social Science Research Council’s ‘Media Pirarcy in Emerging Economies’ recognises that the discourse is narrow, discussions focus on the expansion of police powers, streamlining judicial procedures, increasing criminal penalties, extending governmental surveillance and undermining fundamental rights like privacy, terminating or limiting access to the Internet.
Responses like these are disproportionate, unnecessary, and frankly, unachievable. Yet they continue to be of primacy in trade agreements like ACTA, the TPP or in legislative initiatives like SOPA in the US.
What’s more, we tend to see these responses are justified by studies underpinned by infamous Hollywood accounting, copyright math, that can see an iPod valued at $8 billion dollars. Incredulous claims of harm do nothing to improve this discourse. I do however, hope that tonight does.