Who, What and Where of Crime: Piracy

Who What and Where of Crime: Piracy

UPDATE: This is a paper I wrote for an writing class, so try not to freak out.

At its most rudimentary level, crime is defined as "An action or omission that constitutes an offense that may be prosecuted by the state and is punishable by law, illegal activity" (dictionary.com). This concept of crime seems is straight forward if there is a predefined set of laws that explicitly lay out weather an action is right or wrong; but there are, in certain cases, crimes that don't have a very mature legal history. One of those crimes is Digital Media Piracy. There are many interpretations of what entails piracy, but for the purposes of this analysis we will say Digital Media Piracy is the distribution or acquisition of digital goods without offering the copyright owner proper compensation. Because of the nature of this crime, nothing goes physically missing, and damages are nearly impossible to calculate. With this ambiguity comes a gray area between legal and illegal when it comes to media sharing. As of now, piracy is only a crime when the content owner decides the sharing goes beyond friends and family, there is no clear cut line between sharing and piracy. The moral issue at stake with this crime is the fact that a content creator who has a product is being deprived of sales that he/she might have gotten if people didn't "share" the file online. Although there have been many attempts at curbing this crime, pieces of legislation such as Protect IP, ACTA, and SOPA have all but failed and the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) seem to only send gentle reminders to offending subscribers with legal action only being taken on a very small percentage of them. The legal energy being focused at this crime has begun a shift from individual people, to the sites that are enabling digital media piracy. Executives at large copyright infringing sites such as megaupload.com are facing large amounts of jail time and extensive fines for all of the media they facilitated the piracy of (wsj.com). While most major crimes in America have stereotypical offenders and trends, there are pirates all around.

A digital media Pirate doesn't need a gun, they don't need a mask, they don't even need a car; a digital media pirate needs an internet connection and a computer and they can begin breaking the law just like his fellow criminal that is robbing a convenience store. Race and gender don't really play a role in the identity of an internet pirate, but what really determines who will and will not be an internet pirate is the person's personal moral code. So many people didn't consider the sharing of digital media wrong that large media and communication companies associated the word piracy with it, "The word ‘piracy' is most used and publicized by corporate and government sponsored public relations strategies determined to criminalize all forms of infringement through the use of metaphors of war and negative word associations"(Mirghani 117). Most people who the law, and other anti-piracy organizations, would call a pirate simply think of themselves as people who are sharing their media with friends. People develop a strong idea that what they are doing is completely legal as long as they call it sharing, but once the term is converted to piracy, they are committing a horrendous offence.

More than any other crime today, technology plays a tremendous role in the perpetuation and growth of online piracy, as well as in the way in which online media piracy is fought. As we skyrocketed into the age of technology more and more digital media is created, and in turn, more and more digital media is pirated. One of the most commonly pirated pieced of digital media is software. As devices like the iPhone and iPad are releases each year, there is an increasing level of incredible software that is written to run on these devices. There are also an increasing number of people who decides to pirate the software instead of paying for the genuine software, and there excuse doesn't seem to measure up, "Students rationalize the continuous use of pirated software, claiming that they cannot ‘bear' the cost of genuine software" (Konstantakis 280). But as technology improves and these devices get put in the hands of more people, the prices of the software goes down. While this decrease in price initially deters piracy, it eventually leads to an explosion of illegal activity simply because technology is also making stealing that software much easier. Simply put, if the technology exists to easily pirate software, people will do it. While the economics of an exploding technological era should cause all digital media to decrease in price, the prices are stagnating or rising to compensate for the people who use these technological advancements to distribute copyrighted media. It's true that technology has made the piracy of digital media much easier, but it has also made the detection of the piracy of digital media much easier as well. Technology has progresses to the point where ISPs like ATT and Comcast can have logs of all their subscribers who have visited known media piracy websites, right now the ISPs aren't doing much with those lists but for the time being piracy detection is getting much better. In the coming weeks, a coalition of Internet Service Providers and Content Owners alike will launch a new technologically advanced program Copyright Alert System, which will automatically alert people if piracy is detected on their internet connection. Right now, it only sends the person a message about the copyrighted material that was pirated and may punish them by throttling their connection, but in the future, as more laws are made, this information could be sent straight to law enforcement organizations. This is just one example of the strides technology has taken towards fighting the crime of piracy.

As a society, one of the most important things we can do is respect each other, and respect each others creations. The current trend of piracy is leading to a society where no high quality digital media is even created because it can't be profitable. It is unfortunate, but society doesn't really see piracy as a serious crime. It seems the majority of people are quick to jump up and make excuses for someone who is accused of being a pirate, and everyone is ready to point fingers at the big bad content companies for "outrageous prices". And yet there are very few people who will stand up and acknowledge that digital media piracy is theft, and there is never a valid excuse for doing it. Our society successfully recognizes that if a person can't afford a Cadillac, they should buy a Chevy but as a society, we can't seem to wrap our heads around the idea of not being able to buy digital media. As a society, we believe that if you can't afford a digital good, you just find it somewhere for free. What our society fails to realize is that every time we find it somewhere for free, we are essentially taking money out of the pocket of the rightful content owner and creator, and that, at its most basic level, is theft.