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<nettime> the triumph of the pirates
Tilman BaumgÃrtel on Wed, 25 Nov 2015 12:10:07 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> the triumph of the pirates


Dear all,

this is my conclusion of the reader "The Pirate Essays: A Reader on
International Media Piracy", that was just published by Amsterdam
University Press.

Yours,
Tilman


The Triumph of the Pirates
Books, Letters, Movies, and Vegan Candy â Not a Conclusion

Tilman BaumgÃrtel

After recently returning to Germany, the country of my birth after
teaching media studies for seven years in Asia â first in the
Philippines, then in Cambodia â I was slapped with two Abmahnungen
in a month. An Abmahnung is a written warning in the German judicial
system, similar to the âcease and desistâ letter used in the
Anglo-Saxon world: a formal request by one person, usually a lawyer,
to another person to immediately stop a certain behavior. In my case,
the undesirable behavior was the downloading and sharing of two
movies: Carnage (2011) by Roman Polanski and Merantau(2009), a martial
arts movie by Welsh director Gareth Evans set in Indonesia.

That this could happen to me â a media critic who has done research
on piracy for a decade â is a major embarrassment. Of course, I was
aware of the fact that film studios and distributors â in Germany as
well as elsewhere â had started to hire law firms and specialized
companies to track down Internet users who shared files thought to be
the intellectual property of these companies. As part of my research
I had read about these goings on in the West, even though I was in
Cambodia, where none of this mattered to anyone: copyrighted DVDs
were (and still are) widely available on the markets, new films could
be bought shortly after (or even before) they were released in their
respective home markets, and monitoring the downloading of music and
movies by net surfers had not occurred to anyone. There were two
reasons, why I was caught: First, I always assumed that the films I
typically downloaded and shared were so arcane that nobody would ever
bother to look for offenders. Turned out that I had one (and only
one) film on my hard disk that was âintellectual propertyâ of,
among others, a major Hollywood studio: Roman Polanskiâs Carnage
(2011), coproduced by Wild Bunch from the US and Constantin from
Germany, plus a number of other companies that shared the costs of
making a film by a director who himself at this time was the subject
of criminal prosecution because of his alleged affair with a minor.
Merantau(2009) â most likely the first film shot in Indonesia
that rose to international prominence since 1980s B-movie fare such
as Mystics in Bali (1981) or Lady Terminator (1989) â had been
purchased after successful screenings on international festivals by
German company Koch Media from Munich, wanted to prevent the film from
being available in Germany before the local release date in July 2012.

The other reason was that I had simply forgotten that a little program
on my computer called ÂTorrent still pumped bits and bytes of films I
had downloaded on my computer back onto the Internet for the benefit
of the international file-sharing public every time I turned the
machine on. Well, I had been living in an environment where there were
no lobby group, no âintellectual rights protection organization,â
no specialized police department, and no lawyers who had turned coming
down hard on file sharers into a business model.

I quickly found out that combating the new German Abmahnungsindustrie
(the law firms that served file sharers with threatening Abmahnungen)
had brought a kind of anti-industry into existence. Just searching for
the words âfilmâ and âAbmahnungâ on Google produced endless
lists of law firms that were more than ready to help me in my fight
against my prosecutors and that undercut themselves for the fee for
their services. I felt like I had become a pawn in a version of the
popular Spy vs. Spy cartoons in which some lawyers threatened to sue
me while other lawyers reminded them that their demands were not
actually legitimate according to German law.

To decide whether I had actually broken German law would have been
the subject of a time-consuming and potentially very expensive
confrontation before the German courts. I did not want to go down
that route. So to make a long story short: I paid â150 each to the
two law firms that helped me in this matter, and, after some short
haggling over the phone between my lawyers and those of the movie
companies, the penalties for my file-sharing activities went down to
â700 for the Polanski movie (originally â2,500) and â500 for the
Indonesian action flick (originally â5,000) â savor, if you will,
the irony of the different sums for âpiratingâ a Western and an
Asian film. The legality of all this is questionable â but thatâs
the way I (and tens, if not hundreds of thousands of other accused of
the same wrongdoing) chose to settle the business with the companies
who felt that I had violated their intellectual property. Case closed
â before it even began.

What is of importance for the purposes of this book are two things:
First there was my sense of entitlement. I felt that as a temporary
inhabitant of the Third World, I had the moral right to obtain
whatever films, music, e-books, etc., I wanted from the net without
charge. The countries of the Global South had been denied the
possibility of availing themselves of most art house films or movie
classics for decades, the reasoning goes among many intellectuals
in these countries, so it was their right to get these films in the
shadow economy of online sharing. I leave it up to the reader to
decide how morally correct my stance was or is â after all, I was
only a long-term guest first in the Philippines, then in Cambodia,
where I had started to get interested in researching media piracy,
which eventually resulted in the book you are currently reading.

However, the other thing of importance in this context is well beyond
moral reasoning, but about the mere function of a technology â
unchecked, in this case, because of my forgetfulness. I want to argue
in this conclusionthat piracy is a worthwhile subject for academic
study, not just because of the economic, social, and political
significance of this subject and the consequences that it has had
for the way media are distributed and consumed. Working on piracy
has also forced me to put schools of media theory in dialogue that
typically do not have much to say to each other, but that I have found
to be quite fruitful (as well as insightful) for the study of the
subject of piracy: The âmedia materialistâ approach of Friedrich
Kittler I had grown up with and the insistence of scholars like John
Fiske and Henry Jenkins that the audience had its own agency in the
circulation of media âtexts,â the âRevaluation of All Valuesâ
of intellectual property and copyright that was undertaken both by the
international hacker community and by thinkers such as Lawrence Lessig
and Yochai Benkler, with the empiric studies that are still the bread
and butter of Anglo-Saxon media studies.

I myself have grown up in the intellectual milieu of the
poststructuralist German media studies that â inspired and shaped by
the works of Friedrich Kittler â have put the autonomy of technology
at the center of its discourse. Inspired by, among others, McLuhan
(and his focus on âmedialityâ), Kittler developed a brand of media
theory that has been labeled as âmedia materialism,â a term he
undoubtedly would have disagreed with. In this approach, he provoked
the German film and media studies that developed in the 1960s and
1970s â and who often took their cue from the sociology of the
Frankfurt School â by focusing exclusively on material networks
and technologies used for the production, processing, transmission,
and storage of information. Content became data, culture the effect
of the workings of media technologies such as the typewriter, the
record player, or, finally, the computer. âThere Is No Software,â
the title of one of his best-known essays, summarizes this approach
(Kittler 1995), when he declares the Intel 4004 microprocessor to be
the beginning of âour postmodern writing sceneâ or when â as
in his book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter â he keeps reminding us
of Nietzscheâs insight that âour writing tools are also working
on our thoughts,â out of which he develops a whole genealogy
of German literature at the turn of the century (Kittler 1999,
200-214). âMedia determine our situation,â as he wrote in the
introduction to this book, âwhich deserves â in spite or because
of it â a descriptionâ (Kittler 1999, xxxix). Kittlerâs works
have been described as âtechno-deterministic,â which is an
oversimplification, just as my reading of his works is here. Yet, he
has clearly privileged the technological over the social in his media
discourse analysis, and the tensions between users, communications
technologies, and the socio-political systems that govern such
technologies were of little interest to him. This approach seemed to
provide a rich framework to analyze piracy with. After all, could
there be a more radical proof of the all-encompassing power of a new
technology, then the way digital recording media and the Internet
wrecked and reconfigured the way we consume music and movies in the
course of a decade?

On the one hand, there was this new technology, that ruthlessly â
and with a cockiness that brought to mind Kittlerâs own personal
style â imposed its rules on audio-visual culture: Whole cultural
forms such as literature, music, film turned into digital data that
could be copied and reproduced indefinitely without loss of quality.
That could be sent around the globe via the Internet and be listened
to or watched as a file downloaded onto a computer or received as a
data stream. And that this data could be burned onto optical discs and
sold for a dollar on the street corner in a city in any given Third
World country. The grief and the economic upheaval that this caused
to the media industry â an industry that was transformed beyond
recognition in just a few years â seemed utmost proof of Kittlerâs
claim that technology had become the new subject of history and that
this technology neither possessed morals, nor experienced sociability.

But on the other hand, I could not help noticing that all this
happened not just because of the inevitable power of technology that
enabled the process, but also that human agency played a crucial role
in what was happening. While technology made possible the piracy that
I observed â both on the Internet and in the streets of Manila,
Shanghai, Beijing, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Min City, and Phnom
Penh (and could have observed in Rio de Janeiro, Lagos, Bucharest, or
Hanoi, as some of the essays in this book make clear) â it wasnât
technology, that put these films and these records on the Internet or
printed them on DVDs, even though technology enabled that process in a
way inconceivable only a decade earlier.

Hence I had to look for theoretical models that would help me to
understand the role of the facilitators of this process. I was about
to talk about the audience of pirated media here, but the whole
concept of the audience as a mass of consumers had been irretrievably
pulverized by the very same digital media that facilitated the piracy
I had become interested in. Every consumer of media content could
potentially become a producer of digital media content, too â or at
least upload the media content others had produced, on the net. The
creativity of these new, technologically empowered âprosumersâ
could range from creating their own works from scratch torecombining
songs and movies as digital collages/remixes/mash-ups to just ripping
DVDs and putting them on the Internet.

If you f.ind it frivolous to put both the creator of original works
and the pirate who uploads movies on the net in the same category,
keep in mind not only the fact that digitally enhanced creativity is
reproductive by trend, but also that even Lawrence Lessig himself
proudly described his organization of play lists of his MP3s as a
creative act.1 So how about the Chinese DVD pirate who chose movies
for the ever-popular compilation disks (all the f.ilms of Bruce
Lee or half a dozen movies with snakes, all on one DVD), designed
the cover out of images he downloaded from the Internet, created
Chinese-language subtitles, and found ways to have these f. ilm
collections printed and distributed for a profit?

Of course, Lessig himself draws the line between unacceptable theft
of intellectual property and creative use of digital raw material at
what is referred to âtransformative authorshipâ(2004, 203) â
the use of other authorâs material that makes substantial changes
to the original source. In one of the more problematic parts of his
book Free Culture he constructs a brand of âAsian piracyâ that
precisely lacks this kind of authorship, as it adds no value and
contributes nothing to the material it appropriates: "All across the
world, but especially in Asia and Eastern Europe, there are businesses
that do nothing but take others peopleâs copyrighted content, copy
it, and sell it â all without the permission of a copyright owner.
The recording industry estimates that it loses about $4.6 billion
every year to physical piracy (that works out to one in three CDs
sold worldwide). The MPAA estimates that it loses $3 billion annually
worldwide to piracy. This is piracy plain and simple. Nothing in the
argument of this book, nor in the argument that most people make when
talking about the subject of this book, should draw into doubt this
simple point: This piracy is wrong." (Lessig 2004, 63)


Apart from the fact that Lessig used the completely discredited
numbers that the MPAA published as a fact, there is another reality
that needs tobe acknowledged here: in other parts of his book, Lessig
went to considerable lengths to defend the users of f. ile-sharing
services such as Napster, a practice that at that time was â due to
technical constraints and slow Internet connections outside of the
âGlobal Northâ â more or less limited to the Western world. If
North Americans use peer-to-peer services, it isacceptable, but if
the people in countries âespecially in Asia and Eastern Europeâ
sell or purchase DVDs with pirated content, it is wrong? Thesecomments
by a well-respected liberal scholar are but one reminder of how
the discourse about the results of digital technology could wander
intohighly unpleasant territory once the ostensible neutrality of
technologyis left behind.

In any case, technology has social implications that I had to
acknowledgeif I wanted to understand the phenomenon of piracy better
than the German media materialism matrix allowed me to â a fact that
the judicial consequences of the unsupervised functioning of my little
torrent program demonstrated to me with severe financial consequences.
The Internet had brought into being a culture of fans and aficionados
ready to share whatever cultural creation they have on their hard disk
that would have a tremendous impact on the direction that the creation
of art, music, and films would take. By cracking down on those who
availed themselves of this possibility, the media industry also
alienated some of their most loyal customers and criminalized those
that experimented with new approaches to the distribution of media
that the Internet seemed to suggest (Sinnreich 2013).

At the same time, musical newcomers from the Arctic Monkeys to Justin
Bieber to OK Go to Psy to Foster the People were discovered because
they took advantage of the mechanisms of free distribution that the
Internet allowed. (These artists, of course, published their own
songs on the net rather than just republishing material from other
artists.) The much-praised new American television series from The
Sopranos to Lost, from Game of Thrones to Mad Men might have never
gotten so popular if it had not been for their most dedicated and
Internet-savvy fans. The global success of these shows depended to
no small degree on the websites, blogs entries, and postings on
Facebook and Twitter where they were praised and dissected. Some of
these fans enthusiastically put every new episode of these shows
on the net for download minutes after they had been screened on US
cable channels, often subtitling them in their own languages in the
process (Bold 2011;Vandresen 2012). (Isnât that an example of the
âtransformative authorshipâ that Lawrence Lessig argued was the
hallmark of original work?)

George R. R. Martin, the novelist on whose books and scripts Game
ofThrones is based, director David Petrarca, and HBO programming
president Michael Lombardo infuriate the American media industry by
pointing out that piracy had not only not hurt the show financially,
but the fact that the show was âthe most pirated show in the
worldâ was actually âa complimentâ or even âbetter than a
Grammyâ (Dewey 2013). The pirated versions of the show, so their
argument went, eventually led to HBO subscription going up, and
added to the prestige of the cable company even among those who did
not subscribe to the channel. Author Martin was particular verbal
in pointing out that the old practice of releasing television shows
in different markets according to marketing considerations was
deemed obsolete by the new kind of Internet piracy that allowed
right-here-right-now-access to them: If you wanted to stay ahead of
the piracy game, you simply had to make your show available at every
market at the same time.2

These developments made particular sense in the theoretical framework
that media scholars like Henry Jenkins had developed. Influenced by
the approach of the British cultural studies and particular by the
writings of John Fiske, he focused on the active participation of
the audience in the construction of meaning of culture â or even
its (re)creation by that audience. When studying popular culture
and Internet-enabled phenomena like fan fiction, he had come to the
conclusion that the fans had played an important role in developing
and canonizing shows such as Star Trek or The Simpsons. To Jenkins,
the fans who turned media âtextsâ into playgrounds of their own
imagination were âtextual poachers,â who heralded a new kind of
participatory culture. The creative (and âethicalâ) appropriation
of such media content is, according to Jenkins, one of the core media
literacies of the 21st century (Jenkins 2012). He put this idea in
relation to the concept ofâCultural Jamming,â that Mark Dery
developed in his influential 1993 essay âCulture Jamming: Hacking,
Slashing, and Sniping in the Empire of Signsâ (Dery 2014). I was
sure to include this essay â which I had read when it first came out
in 1993, but which now took on an entirely new meaning â as well as
chapters from Jenkinsâs book Textual Poachers in the readings of the
classes on piracy that I taught subsequently.

The materiality of information technology and their social foundation
in very different cultures, however, had taken on an entirely new
urgency in my research, and the best sources came from publications
that looked at the phenomenon of piracy with the tool set of empirical
research, often written from the perspective of intellectuals of the
BRIC and Third World states. This book contains some essays that
take this perspective, namely those on piracy in Vietnam, Brazil,
Romania, and Nigeria. The writings on phenomena such as mod chips,
digital rights management (DRM), and copy protection add to this rich
discourse on piracy by looking at the plain facts on their respective
subjects by employing the framework of cultural studies.

But there had been other examples of texts that took a more empirical
stance toward piracy, some published before I had started my own
research, namely William Alfordâs To Steal a Book Is an Elegant
Offfence (1995), a groundbreaking book on the Chinese approach toward
intellectual property. This book still stands out today, because it
successfully integrated the discussion of piracy into a much larger
cultural context (and in a way, preceded Laikwan Pangâs two studies
on the way contemporary China engages with the international copyright
regime today, books written in a similar spirit [Pang 2007, 2012]).

An important publication that provided ample empirical material on
the way how piracy operated differently in different countries was
the pioneering âThe CopySouth Dossier: Issues in the Economics,
Politics, and Ideology of Copyright in the Global Southâ (Story,
Darch, and Halbert 2006) that looked at intellectual property
issues from the perspective of the GlobalSouth and took a decidedly
political stance toward the issue. The well-funded and globally
conducted study Media Piracy in Emerging Economies (Karaganis 2011)
and Roman Lobatoâs Shadow Economies of Cinema: Mapping Informal
Film Distribution (Lobato 2012) followed in the footsteps of this
highly original work. My understanding of global piracy has also been
improved by studies that looked at the culture of piracy in various
countries(Mertha 2006; Liang 2009; Tolentino 2009; Sundaram 2010;
Torres 2012) to which I myself added essays on the piracy in the
Philippines (BaumgÃrtel 2006) and the impact of piracy on independent
film production in Southeast Asia (BaumgÃrtel 2012).

Then there was, of course, Adrian Johnsâs far-reaching study Piracy:
The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates (2009). And no
list of publications on piracy would be complete without mentioning
some of the more popular studies on the subject (Lasica 2005), that
also include relatively level-headed economic studies (Chaudhry and
Zimmerman 2009), but also books that use the subject for spectacular
accounts of international crime (Phillips 2005; NaÃm 2005), not to
mention the by now legendary rant about how piracy supposedly funds
terrorism from the RAND corporation (Treverton et al. 2009).3

This should by no means indicate that piracy has become (or even is
on his way to become) a well-established subject of media studies or
any other academic discipline. While intellectual property has been
recognized as a highly relevant subject in the digital age (partly
because of the insistence of the media industry) â âthe oil of
the 21st centuryâ as Mark Getty, chairman ofGetty Images, is often
quoted as saying â piracy as its shady counterpart has received
much less attention by scholars. This might be partly so, because
piracy remains a moving target, both in terms of the discourse around
the subject as well as a practice. Whatever you think piracy is, it
stops being, it seems. Since the advent of the Internet, there has
been a variety of brief âpiracy periodsâ centered around scores
of different technologies that appeared and disappeared in a kind
of legal version of the popular Whac-A-Mole game â as soon as one
technology and their providers were successfully sued and bullied out
of existence a new way to share media online arrived.

Just to mention a few examples: The advent of the online distribution
of copyrighted material by âwarez groupsâ via early bulletin
board systems and the Usenet beginning in the 1980s. Early â and
painfully slow â downloadsites on the first iteration of the World
Wide Web. The beginning of filesharing as a global phenomenon â
almost a new youth subculture â with Napster, the development of
more sophisticated and less easy-to-trace network protocols such as
Kazaa, Gnutella, eMule, or LimeWire, and, finally, the triumph of
BitTorrent technology, including the legal battles that brought some
of these services to an early end. The cyberlockers, filehosting
services, cloud-storage services, and online file-storage providers,
from MP3.com to Megaupload, that for a period made copyrighted
content easily available, before the media industry again managed
to squash the majority of these services with legal means. The rise
of invitation-onlyâdarknets,â where the heavy-duty dealing with
copyrighted material tookplace among warez groups that competed with
each other to be the first to release much-anticipated films (see
Lasica 2005, 47-67). The advent of the anonymous, heavily encrypted
Tor network and its subsequent use for illegal purposes of all kinds,
including the Silk Road, an anonymous online black market used for
illegal transactions. The trend toward streaming sites such as
movie4k.to. And â probably most relevant in the context of this
book â the development of a whole political movement against the
increasingly stifling effects of copyright that started with the
founding of the Piratpartiet in Sweden, an example that was soon
followed in other countries.

While the long-term perspectives of these political organizations are
far from clear, it remains a fact that the Pirate parties in countries
like Germany and Sweden were for a time able to channel a wide-ranging
discontent â especially among young people â about their rights
and freedoms in the digital age that resulted, for instance, in
large mass protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement
(ACTA) treaty and articulated their concerns about numerous other
Internet-related issues both on the Internet as well as with protests
in public space. Hence, the rise of online piracy was accompanied by
a new form of political activism. That does not mean that the sharing
of media has become a universally accepted practice, on the contrary.
Of course, there have been initiatives such as Lawrence Lessigâs
Creative Commons that aims to give back the creators of culture some
kind of control over the distribution and monetization of their works.
And there is a growing political awareness that material from publicly
funded institutions such as libraries or public radio and television
stations should be available widely, which means online, and that the
fruits of the intellectual labor that the government has supported
at universities and other research institutions should be published
in âopen accessâ databases. However, as far as commercially
distributed movies, music, and software is concerned, the battle
between those who want to share this material online for free and
those who want to make a profit out of it continues with no end in
sight.

As I write this, the front page of the notorious torrent tracker The
Pirate Bay asks for the support for their founders Gottfrid Svartholm
and Peter Sunde, who are currently serving time in jail. Under
pictures of the two young men, who at the height of the international
controversy around the site served as the outspoken defenders of
the right to share copyrighted material over the Internet, it says:
âShow your support by sending them some encouraging mail! Gottfrid
is only allowed to receive letters while Peter gladly received books,
letter [sic] and vegan candy.â

The pictures have an iconic quality to them; the two look the way
we remember them from Simon Kloseâs film TPB AFK: The Pirate Bay
away from Keyboard (2013), the documentary about their battle with
the Swedish legal system. Despite international support, they were
sentenced to two years in jail and also had to pay a joint f.ine
of more than â3 million. According to a report by European MP
Julia Reda, Sunde is now held in isolation in a prison populated by
perpetrators of violent crimes in Sweden (Reda 2014). Svartholm, who
has been accused of other crimes related to hacking, is in solitary
confinement in Denmark.

However, The Pirate Bay that Svartholm and Sunde helped found in 2003
has seen an tremendous increase in the number of shared files in the
last couple of years despite the conviction of the two and despite the
efforts of the âcontent industryâ to curb piracy. The Pirate Bay
is still among the hundred most popular websites on the Internet, and
the visitor numbers have doubled between 2011 and 2014 (Ernesto 2014);
however, it is not known-how the number of site visitors translates
into downloaded content. At the same time, other statistics indicate
that the net traffic generated by file sharing has gone down in
relation to the total Internet traffic, while video streaming sites
such as YouTube or Netflix â that offer video content that you can
watch in real time rather than waiting for them to download â are
now responsible for more than 60% of network traffic. At the same
time commercial digital services have helped boost the sales of video
and music in the âGlobal Northâ according to figures released at
the beginning of the year. In the UK, for instance, digital sales of
video grew by 40% in 2013, helping to offset a 6.8% decline in sales
of physical formats (Anon. 2014). In the same year, the German music
companies recorded a rise by 11.7% of digital revenues, providing the
industry with its first growth of income in15 years (Anon., n.d.).

Even though nobody in the media industry will ever admit it, this
development is paradoxically a triumph of the pirates. When millions
around the globe started to share music, movies, software, and
digital books via the Internet in the late 1990s, there was very
little opportunity to get these media products in a legitimate way
on the Internet. If piracy has accomplished nothing else, it has
forced the international media companies to start thinking about
how they can allow their customers ways to see films, listen to
music, download software, or read books in a timely, easy-to-use
and affordable fashion â at least in the affluent countries of
the âGlobalNorth,â Western Europe, North America, and the more
developed countries in Asia.

This is a not the âtriumph of the piratesâ that is referred to
in the title of this essay, though. This is about nothing more than
about the convenience of theconsumers. And even though the majority
of people who pirate copyrighted content might have had nothing
else in mind but just that â convenience â this is not the most
important feat that the pirates accomplished. What they did, however,
was taking a key property of digital media and turn it into the
subject of a social, political, and economic debate. Piracy can be
readin a multitude of ways: as a leveler of economic inequality; as
an invitationto free speech, as an act of resistance or simply as an
opportunity for newtypes of business. But in the end, piracy is about
authorship and access, and often the only opportunity to participate
in a global conversation and tomake yourself heard. The global media
pirates challenge the established way of how content is distributed,
a model that had already been put intoperil by the emergence of the
Internet. In a way, they were doing what the Internet â as a medium
that has turned distribution into the copying fromone server computer
to another â seemed to want.

Here, the digital machines that â according to Kittler â know
no morals, have no subjectivity, possess no âcontentâ seem to
inscribe their valuesystem (or rather its lack of a value system)
onto the way large parts of the global population consume culture.
But piracy also made it clear that we do not have to accept or even
prop up what this new technological apparatus seems to suggest.
As Evgeny Morozov has pointed out time and again in his critique
of âInternet-centricism,â ultimately it is up to the users of
the net to shape it. What Morozov writes about the socio-political
impact of the net also goes for the way we think about and handle
online piracy: âPerhaps it was a mistake to treat the Internet as a
deterministic one-directional force for either global liberation or
oppression, for cosmopolitanism or xenophobia. The reality is that the
Internet will enable all of these forces â as well as many others
â simultaneously. But as far as laws of the Internet go, this is
all we know. Which of the numerous forces unleashed by the web will
prevail in a particular social and political context is impossible
to tell without first getting a thorough theoretical understanding
of that contextâ (Morozov 2011, 29). Simplistic and ultimately
essentialist generalizations about an inherent logic of the net might
even keep us from fully realizing its possibilities. As Steven Johnson
has argued, what the Internet wants isâa lot of contradictory
thingsâ (Morozov and Johnson 2013), and it is up tous to figure out
which of these contradictory things we actually want to happen and to
become part of our lives.

The battle about piracy is one of the most prominent conflicts where
the conflict between how these digital networks function and what
they dowith us, is played out, but it is by far not the only one, and
most likely not even the most important one anymore. US whistleblower
Edward Snowden made us realize through his disclosures about the
global spying that the NSA and other secret service undertake that
potentially a large part ofour electronic communications can be
intercepted and stored. Here we have another instance where the
dialectic of the new digital technologiesachieve crucial importance.
As with piracy, in the phenomenon of globalsurveillance the distinct
afffordances and characteristics of digital media play out â not
in a clean room of âcyberspace,â but in a specif. ic social
contextwith its own set of norms, values, and practices, and that can
be a messy process.

As with piracy, digital networks might have encouraged certain kinds
of control and surveillance. Their existence and their practice are
not lawsof nature, however. Just as online piracy has been shaped
and transformedby the resistance that it has encountered in the last
decade and a half â a resistance of which the cease and desist
letter I mentioned at the beginning of this essay were part of â so
the global surveillance will be shaped bysimilar dialectics. Hence,
the mass spying that Snowden exposed might encompass the conditions
of its own downfall: While only digital networks made this kind
of mass spying feasible, the net also facilitate the large-scale
leaking of information that was supposed to stay secret. Piracy did
its part in shaping the discourse about intellectual property in the
age of digital media by acting as the most excessive Other to the
far-reaching ownership demands of the MPAA, the Business Software
Alliance. and all these other media industry lobby groups â without
actually and outspokenly participating in that debate.

Notes

1. âI have begun a large process at home of ripping all of my
and my wifeâsCDs, and storing them in one archive. Then, using
Appleâs iTunes, or a wonderful program called Andromeda, we can
build diffferent play lists ofour music: Bach, Baroque, Love Songs,
Love Songs of Signif.icant Others â the potential is endless. And
by reducing the costs of mixing play lists, these technologies help
build a creativity with play lists that is itself independently
valuable. Compilations of songs are creative and meaningful in their
own rightâ (Lessig 2004, 203).

2. This pattern â then using the uniquely Asian medium of VDCs â
had been sharply observed in the context of North Asia already ten
years earlier byKelly Hu in an essay on the appropriation of Japanese
television shows byhighly specialized fan audiences in Hong Kong in
2004, long before this became an international and global phenomenon
(Hu 2004).

3. It speaks to the lucidity of global pop culture that American DJ
Diplo and British singer M.I.A. debunked as early as 2004 these â
often alleged, but never proven â connections between terrorism
and piracy with the title of a mix tape called âTerrorism Funds
Terrorism Vol. I.â The compilation contained âmash-upâ versions
of original songs by M.I.A. from her debut album with samples from
songs from artists such as the Bangles, Jay-Z, Salt-n-Pepa, Missy
Elliott, Ciara, LL Cool J, and Cutty Ranks. In keeping with the motto
of the compilation, it was never officially released because of
irresolvable copyright issues.

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