Hacker, Crackers and Pirates, Oh My! (Part 3)

Ok, so I’ve talked about hacker and crackers, so now its on to Pirates.

But wait, what is a Pirate? Am I talking about “Arrr! Shiver me timbers!” or “I’m going to download this movie”?

Actually, neither.

What is meant by “pirate”? Well, it depends on who you ask. According to the dictionary, “pirate” is “a person who robs or commits illegal violence at sea or on the shores of the sea” or “any plunderer or predator”.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America(RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America(MPAA) a pirate is “a person who uses or reproduces the work of another without authorization” and “to use or reproduce (a book, movie, song/audio recording etc.) without authorization or legal right” or “any person who buys our product and uses it in any manner by which we make no money.”
Ok, I made that last one up; but if you’ve ever been frustrated in an attempt to use your legally purchased song or movie on your legally purchased hardware, it sure seems like it.

Now that the definition is out of the way, who is a pirate. Again, it depends on who you ask.
Are overseas counterfeiters who acquire master disks of music and movies, and then use industrial duplicators to make thousands of copies, pirates?
According to the RIAA and the MPAA, no.
Why not? Because they are outside U.S. jurisdiction.

Does that mean that the teenage daughter of the past president of the RIAA, who was caught downloading songs from the Internet that she didnt pay for, is a pirate?
No. Because that would have embarrassed the RIAA too much in the media.

So who is a pirate? The accepted (as far as anything is accepted on the Internet) definition is the person who takes a camcorder into a movie theater, records the movies and posts the ‘shaky-cam’ version online. And all the people who download it.

Really? Thats a pirate? No, not just them. Anyone who downloads anything off the Internet that they dont own, and havent paid for(or given the rights-holder something in exchange) is technically a pirate. This includes pictures, artwork, articles, lol-cats, anything and everything.

Even the things you think are free, but aren’t actually.

Even the cute things you put on Facebook, but down own, and dont have the legal right to re-distribute.

How is it for you, living the pirate life?

Really, its a matter of degree, as you may already have surmised. Re-distributing pictures and videos via your Facebook Wall, is technically pirating, but nobody will accuse you of it because the culture of the Internet (and broader society) accepts it.
Have you ever seen one of those Internet videos that is so funny, or emotional or whatever that you just have to tell your friends about it? Of course you have.

That’s a “viral video.” Videos cant go viral without “piracy”. Remember the definition above: “to use without authorization or legal right”?
What did you think you were doing by forwarding that email joke? Or by reposting that viral video?

Yep. Piracy.

So, yes; a matter of degree. But who gets to decide to what degree you are a dirty, dirty pirate and must be punished?
Is it the police? Nope. Copyright enforcement is a civil matter not a criminal one.
Is it the courts? Nope. They merely weigh the claims for and against you and apply the appropriate laws. Its called “the system” because it just a big machine.

So who, then?
The copyright owner. In most cases, one or more representatives of Hollywood. Usually the RIAA or the MPAA.

Yep, Hollywood gets to determine whether you have committed a crime, and what your punishment should be.

But wait, I hear you say; Isnt this America? Dont we have laws and courts and stuff?
Yes, this is America; and we do have laws and courts and stuff. And they are all dedicated to eradicating the scourge of PIRACY!

So, lets sum up; piracy is taking something you dont own and havent paid for. It usually happens willingly; everyone does it, and only Hollywood gets to determine who goes to jail and for how long.

That about sums it up, except for two things. And these are Big Things, one of which will get you into protracted arguments which make our current political climate seem all lovey-dovey.

1) This is just an overview, without any of the fine detail and nuance which will drive you insane if you try to understand it all.

2)Computer and Internet Piracy are not theft. It may seem like it, because they both involve taking other peoples stuff without paying, but they arent.

If you steal a physical object, the owner is deprived of its use and value(not to mention the thing itself). If you steal something off the Internet, you have not deprived the owner of the thing itself, because the owner retains possession of it. Nor have you deprived the owner of the use or value of the downloaded object(depending on the object, you may have lessened its value but you cannot take away all of it).

If you download a picture from Flickr, does the owner of that picture lose it; does it then vanish from the Internet?
Of course not.

That is why “piracy” is copyright infringement, and not theft.

Legally, theft is removal or deprivation of a single physical object from its rightful owner.
“Piracy” is Copyright Infringement; you are depriving the rightful owner of the ability to distribute and make money off of their creation. You are not removing the physical presence of that creation.

See, its sticky. And argument-inducing. Try it on your friends! Hours of fun!