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Piracy is Wrong

WE ARE STRONGLY OPPOSED TO PIRACY. It’s true. Downhill Battle is very concerned about the potentially disastrous effects of piracy on our global economy. We’re also extremely concerned about links between piracy and international terrorism. What’s prompted this sudden and surprising change of focus? An op-ed about piracy (the real kind) in today’s New York Times: read it.

Let’s talk about “piracy”: Propaganda campaigns are often undergirded by a dishonest use of language, and the RIAA’s PR campaign is no exception. The connection between actual piracy (as in, groups armed with machetes and submachine guns hijaking a boat, subdoing or killing crewmembers) and commercial copyright infringement was always tenuous and highly metaphorical. Music piracy resembles real piracy about as much as, say, character assasination resembles an actual assasination. But if you play along, the metaphor to commercial copyright infringement does sort of work out: pirates divert the profits of somebody else’s work, to themselves.

But when lobbyists and pundits make the leap to calling noncommercial infringement “piracy”, the metaphor– stretched too far–simply snaps. Imagine this headline: “Pirates board frieghter carrying CDs, lounge around on deck chairs for a few days listening to music, then leave. When ship reaches shore weeks later, some buy CDs. But fewer and different CDs than they would have bought.”

Those pirates would strike fear in the hearts of commercial navigators everywhere, wouldn’t they?

Words matter, and the next time you hear someone refer to “music piracy,” remind them what piracy actually is. Finally, in the hierarchy of loaded and misleading terms, “music piracy” is a lightweight. “Intellectual property,” on the other hand, is one of the giants of the genre. How can we have a productive debate about whether art and ideas should be treated like physical property when the word we’re using for art and ideas (“intellectual property”) already implies one answer to that question? “Exactly,” say record company lobbyists.

More on that later, but for a quick intro, check out RMS.

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