Jolly Roger's New Target

March 11, 2011
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I am a pirate. A villain in some people's eyes. A regular teenager to others. However, I am not very unique in my actions. I am a member of the massive, growing file sharing community of the internet. Whether it be a latest song from a popular artist, an Oscar winning movie, or an outstanding new PC application, it is all available, for free, at my convenience. I have never stolen anything. To steal, my victim would have to lose what I gain. Instead, my peer and I make copy of the original, allowing both parties to enjoy the object in question. Intellectual property is a completely different commodity than physical property, so completely different treatment is necessary.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), a music-industry lobbying group, finds it appropriate to sue any illegal file sharers they can. In 2003, the RIAA began targeting any possible illegal file sharers they could resulting in more that 14,000 lawsuits with more than 3,300 parties settling (Gain 1-2). This kind of random shotgun approach is completely out of line. The fans are what drive the industry. Making an example of individuals in an attempt to deter others from pirating is just an immoral, misuse of the justice system because the time and money spent persecuting the defendant could actually be applied to finding new, more effective mean to solving the problem. Random lawsuits only cause anger and turn people further away from the industry. It is clear in figure 1 that file sharing has actually only risen since the RIAA's campaign against piracy began.
Fig.1 Rise of peer to peer file sharing from 2003 to 2005.

The RIAA has even gone so far as to file a lawsuit against a 12-year-old girl, Brianna LaHara, who thought downloading songs was fun” (" 1). Brianna Lahara is not a criminal. She was not trying to steal or swindle or do anything malicious at all, yet she sits on the chopping block. The RIAA sees her downloads as lost sales that must be recuperated by any means possible, but that is not the reality of the matter. Lahara was just listening to songs like she would the radio. Because the music is openly available with seemingly no strings attached, it is reasonable to download music just to see if it is something likeable. For many, music file sharing provides a way to try new types of music that they would otherwise not listen to. In fact, one study concludes that “file sharing actually increases CD sales for hot albums that sell more than 600,000 copies” (McGuire 1).

Artists loss of creativity due to lack of incentives from decreased profit margins is the most deterring force from illegal music file sharing, but if in reality file sharing actually has a chance of helping to promote artists then it should be embraced.

The desire for the recording industry for consumers to only listen to their music if they pay first is just absurd and unfair. The radio does offer some remedy to the situation, but it is not nearly on the scale of peer-to-peer networks. File sharing give potential consumers the ability try on new music and expand their tastes which actually seems like it would be something encouraged. Jeff Tweedy of the band Wilco explains, “if people are downloading our music, they're listening to it. The internet is like radio for us” (Jardin 1). Though some artists do hold different opinions, something seems amiss if the some the actual, original creators of the exchanged products are on board with file sharing.

Illegal file sharing will never be able to replace nor destroy the legal route because of quality, convenience, and other factors sacrificed by the peer-to-peer file sharing medium, but file sharing itself will never be replaced nor destroyed either. Shared music and movies often times have poor quality and shared applications always require a certain amount of knowledge and tools to actually operate properly. Also, the lurking danger of contracting computer viruses, Trojans, spyware, and other potentially harmful malware always exists. The primary reason people tolerate such dangers is the price, or rather they tolerate it because of the lack of the price. If illegal files sharers are willing to bear such perils to acquire free file, there is a slim chance that they will ever come to paying for such things. If the practice of illegal file sharing ends, then many of its users users would not turn to the legal route like some believe. These people will just find new, more creative ways to circumvent the law. Their opinions of intellectual property is very different than conventional positions.

Intellectual property such as music or software must be treated differently than physical property. Strong property rights are extremely important for innovation to occur because they provide the incentive of guaranteed protection. Common sense would hold that ideas, just like physical things, should be protected and available for sale in the same way. However, intellectual property has come to include the regulation of how the consumer may use the product whereas physical property can be used in any manner deemed fit by the owner. When one buys something like notebook paper, the owner may write on it, shoot hoops with it, or give it to a friend. Furthermore, the owner may may take that notebook paper's essential idea and create something new like construction paper or maybe even a book. The RIAA and many other defenders of intellectual property rights would like to take all of those privileges away from the consumer only allowing the prescribed usage.

One of the RIAA's primary goals is to “protect the intellectual property” ("RIAA") . They do so by basically monopolizing ideas in the world, limiting the creativity they also claim to protect.

Currently the United States is on road to more and more suffocating intellectual property rights. Organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America, Motion Pictures Association of America, and the US Copyright Group are dominating consumers, filing lawsuits at record levels as seen in figure 2 on page 5. If these organizations and other like them are not checked, laws protecting intellectual property will undoubtedly grow beyond reasonable levels.
Fig.2 Sharp rise in recent federal copyright lawsuits.

As I said, I am a pirate. My actions make me an outlaw, but that does not make me immoral. Peer-to-peer file sharing is a mainstay of the internet. Illegal sharing will always exist as long as it is considered illegal. Intellectual property protection, in it's current state, is an expanded version of physical property protection. Current intellectual property rights and their enforcement are unjust. I am a pirate because I am for the free exchange of ideas over the internet.

"12-Year-Old Sued for Music Downloading." 09 Spe. 2003: 1. Web. 21 Feb 2011.

Anderson, Nate. "The RIAA? Amateurs. Here's how you sue 14,000+ P2P users." ars technica
Jun 2009: 1. Web. 20 Feb 2011. <

Gain, Bruce. "RIAA Takes Shotgun to Traders." Wired 10 Apr. 2005: 1-2. Web. 25 Feb 2011.

Jardin, Xeni. "'Music Is Not a Loaf of Bread'." Wired 15 Nov. 2004: 1. Web. 22 Feb 2011.

McGuire, David. "Study: File-Sharing No Threat to Music Sales." Washinton Post 29 Mar 2004:
1. Web. 21 Feb 2011. <

Mennecke, Thomas. "Interest in File-Sharing at All Time High." Slyck News 27 Apr. 2005: 1.
Web. 21 Feb 2011. <>.

"What We Do." RIAA. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb 2011. <>.

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