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For and Against – The digital pirates of the Caribbean

Websites based in the Caribbean have requested the right to sell music without paying copyright. Harry Thompson and Beth Gregory question the ethics behind piracy and whether it should move towards legality

For

The United States of America this week warned Antigua and Barbuda not to go ahead with its plans to create a ‘piracy website’, despite a ruling by the World Trade Organisation (WTO) stating that the two-island nation was within its rights to do so. Although strict public rhetoric in favour of free trade, the US created this situation by banning its citizens from using gambling websites based on the islands. This, according to the WTO, gave Antigua the right to suspend US intellectual property rights, something which according to the Americans amounts to ‘government-sanction piracy’.

There is a wider point as to whether the war against piracy can be won, or, indeed, if it even should be. Nick Bilton of The New York Times described any attempts at stopping online piracy as “like playing the world’s largest game of Whac-A-Mole”, a scramble to find illegal material online and remove it piece-by-piece. When you consider the fact that uploading a YouTube video takes minutes, and finding and requesting a YouTube video be removed can take weeks, you begin to realise the almost-painful futility of fighting online piracy. Many students will have first-hand experience about the ease of finding free versions of music or television programmes online, as a survey found that 70% of internet users found nothing wrong with internet piracy.

As well as being unavoidable, internet piracy is also in many ways a good thing. A recent photo making the rounds on Facebook was captioned ‘Respect your parents – they made it through school without Google or Wikipedia’. Although both legal, Google is often the gateway to internet piracy, and Wikipedia espouses the principles of freedom of information that are so often cited by defenders of piracy. Despite being an obvious attempt at humour, the photo unknowingly makes a wider point. The internet has made education easier. Complete freedom of information, and all the benefits it brings, is synonymous with internet piracy. One cannot exist without the other. As soon as governments regulate the internet, they won’t stop at television programmes and music. They’ll ban the free distribution of anything that could otherwise make private companies a profit.

Internet access rates are rising fast in developing nations, opening up endless reams of information to those who would previously have seen a few textbooks with limited information as an absolute luxury. Internet usage in Africa was 4.5 million in 2000, and is 167 million today. Freedom of information is primed to cause an educational revolution in areas that could never have dreamed of such opportunities in the past, and ‘internet piracy’ (‘internet freedom’?) is a large part of that. Lets not stop it just as it picks up speed. HT

Against

Most people will, at some point or another, have downloaded films or songs illegally, and as students, this seems pretty easily justified. Music fans living on a student budget are bound to be tempted by illegal downloading, especially when cd’s or mp3 downloads are often so expensive. However, although it seems like a tempting and not to mention easy way to save money, artists that fans wish to listen to and support will often pay the price.

In order to support musicians, it is important to make the effort to buy their music. While it is true that some bands are filthy rich, many other talented musicians, particularly small, upcoming, hardworking bands, need this financial support in order to get off the ground. Any true music fan will want to support the bands they love listening to. Not only is avoiding piracy good for musicians, but it is also good for the consumer. More often than not, pirate copies aren’t going to be the best quality. Listening to quiet or crackly music because it’s been downloaded from a torrenting website is no where near as enjoyable as listening to a high-quality version, the way it was meant to be heard.

Of course, many musicians understand the appeal of illegal downloads, and will use this to their advantage, often giving out free downloads to fans. Some artists (such as hip-hop collective Odd Future) don’t sell any records at all. Instead, they will make all of their music available for free download via websites such as Tumblr, making their money through selling merchandise in pop-up stores and online to a dedicated fan base, using a clever PR strategy. While not all bands can do this, it’s a unique, legal and free way to obtain music and still support those that can. So when you know you can get decent quality music, support the bands you enjoy, and still often get the music cheap or even free, why download illegally?

Even though it seems like most people download their music illegally, many others will agree that it’s better to invest in music. In fact there has been a rise of music fans investing in more traditional methods of music consumption. It was stated at the beginning of the year that sales of Vinyl LP’s have grown for the fifth successive year, and in 2012 there was an increase in LP sales of 15.3% compared to 2011. It is clear that what music fans really want is solid, physical copies of music. Fans want to purchase music and show support for the bands they love, not download questionable quality music illegally, so that bands continually suffer. BG

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