We’re Always Stealing – An observation on File Sharing, Copyright and the Existence of Content

The system of trade and formal, capitalistic distribution has two simple figures which layout how things are circulated: Buying, providing money up front for something for that unit to come into your possession, and stealing, the bypassing of paying through brute taking of something for it to immediately come into your possession. These two figures are about as simple as it gets in describing how things are circulated through providers to consumers; almost too simple when it comes to examining a separate, unrelated figure that has become more relevant with the rise of the Internet, and has been vilified for decades, if not centuries: Copying. Copying differs from the normal system of identifying purchases and thefts, which is partly the reason for the commercial and legal quarrel around it, eventually leading to one side claiming it is stealing by default, while the other acknowledging its significance from the common trade figures. Copying differs from theft in the regard that stealing removes the original unit from the availability of others by making it the sole possession of the theif, while copying ensures that the one making the copy has his share and allows for others to have their share as well, by not ruining the original unit’s availability for others. Another factor that works with copying is sharing, the distribution of the copied unit, notably these days, through the Internet. Combining copying and sharing forms the basis of the free exchange of information, ideas and culture, a principle highly respected and preserved by digital rights advocates, scholars and Internet users who create and share torrent files — labeled and self-described “pirates”.

Unsurprisingly, this function of distributing content has been met with huge blowback from copyright and patent shareholders and investors, lobbyists, lawmakers and different parties and positions in governments around the world. In average, they are people to benefit to some degrees from cases, settlements and laws against their opposition. A legal commonality has been established within this particular side in the debate: That file sharing negatively effects sales and content creators, and could realistically be defined as theft. The piracy side has little to gain in this fight, other than film and music collections. Sure, they gain some files to enjoy and share with their friends, but in large part, they help a free system of sharing that is built on charity and the democratization of content, one that is more compatible with artists than one that wraps their creations in chains under the guise of “the artists’ protection”.

Returning to the claims by the copyright defenders, the position most taken is that file sharing negatively effects sales of records and films. This argument may sound convincing at first glance. However according to studies [x] [x], there is little to no negative correlation between file sharing and music and film sales. Specifically, they have ventured to conclude that file sharing causes increases in CD purchases, that file sharing tends to lower the price of music, exposure to new material within the file sharing community may promote new sales, and that P2P downloading of music as a means of previewing may lead to more actual purchases of the material.

From this, in my opinion, we can establish that file sharing works as a mechanism for correcting imbalances in profits and the circulation of content, alongside being a means of liberating content. If we seek a fair economic approach to media that benefits both viewers/listeners and artists, and not large copyright shareholders who take up as much as they can and rig a system to benefit themselves, we should defend and protect file sharing as a fair and necessary component of the modern distribution of content.

Its been seen time again that the actions against file sharing by copyright defense has been used to extract money and initiate lawsuits however they can, hiding under the narrative that business is under siege by disorderly anarchists, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. These types of actions are normally called “crimes”, but when someone with money and political power does these things, its seen as an acceptable means of protecting profit by most standards. The complete scope of unethical actions and positions by the copyright industry is unfathomable. Firstly, they allow themselves a costume of moral wholesomeness in claiming that stealing is bad, and if you don’t pay their clients in a manner they find fitting, its a crime. Their hypocrisy bleeds through in looking at their history of not paying artists fairly in settlements and not even paying them at all [x] [x], and lobbying to cut royalties. Branching off from being hypocrites, they are careless of those who enjoy or make content. They have refused the release of expired content into the Public Domain, fought for renewal of copyright on content that is barely making money, discriminated against promotion of content which does not belong to them, and forced revision of content.

The copyright mechanism has set up barriers which enclose free paths of digesting content, and created a framework of what is considered acceptable when it comes to anything that someone bigger than you can profit off of. Greed, corruption, Intellectual Authoritarianism and invasive laws have warped the free, decentralized way of trafficking and immortalizing media. It has stifled creativity and punished enjoying anything that doesn’t throw a dollar in the heaping stacks in the MPAA’s and RIAA’s bank. They’ve gone out of their way for years to scale down others’ opportunity and to scale up their own — redefined terms and conditions which help them along the way. And in these definitions and legal conclusions, they have reached something that resonates with both parties.

We’re always stealing, by the observations and conclusions of shareholders, lobbyists, universal copyright fans and single-minded people. If you’ve ever digested or observed any form of content at all, you’ve “stolen”. Because in the circle of life when it comes to content, you will never be able to go out into the world and civilized society, where people play music at parties and invite their friends over to their houses to watch a movie, without somehow ingesting content without paying. We don’t fine or arrest people in book stores when they skim through a book or write down a passage from it before paying. There is nothing different about hearing or seeing something else for free.

The delusion of people who own “rights” to content is that they deserve an addition to their bank accounts for each time someone listens to a song online or hears a quote from a movie they didn’t pay for coming from someone’s house. Of course, they have a hard time enforcing this idea in reality, but they battle endlessly via countless litigation, trade deals, pushing paywalls and DRM into websites and services, fighting against Ad-blocking, and partnering with surveillance and law enforcement agencies to see that idea made more and more present in reality. Even if it means Authoritarian measures to ensure that nobody can even think about a scene from a movie without paying up. If this doesn’t fit the description of an Ochlocratic siege on content, free exchange and the senses, all for the sake of making just a bit more money, there is nothing to better define it.

The Copyright defense treats what they call “stealing” as if its something to be combatted at every turn, something unnatural and wrong.

Sharing content, and ingesting what is shared, relates more to natural law than to unnatural theft. We digest and build on the world around us by our senses, and from our senses we parse what others built on, in part by theirs. It is human nature to exercise these rights, and to be free from restrictions of these. The effort to suppress these rights all in the name of profit and faux conclusions about sales is incompatible with the Natural State, the reason being that natural rights don’t stop and start at money’s convenience. In the jail cell that a teen will be thrown into for committing the un-godly act of torrenting a film from 1924 that is vaguely “owned” by a major film company, and is making essentially no money, he will feel the walls and see the grime in the corners of that cell, have those sensory impulses ingrained into his memory, for however long, and he will undoubtedly tell others about it; share what his senses have committed to his memory from what he witnessed. If people began making money off the memories of prisoners, we’d begin seeing copyright claims on shit-infested prisons where non-violent offenders are put into, based off people sharing experiences for free. At this point it wouldn’t surprise me, the DMCA is already abused for the stupidest of things.

The process of overcoming the shackles we’ve agreed to for years is a gradual uphill climb, one thats been going on for years thanks to the contributions of the Free culture movement [x] [x], Public Domain advocacy and Creative Commons. In large part, it is composed of challenging and debating the outdated inquisition of sharing ideas and content. The simple truth is that intellectual “property” is an artificial system that controls something natural to unfairly create more artificial money. Nobody can exclusively own what is made available to everyone else and their ability, right and freedom to copy. The natural, orderless exchange of ideas and creations does not pause for the convenience of an unnatural oppressor. Its like trying to hold back the tide to catch more fish. Where we can find an agreement that some things are paid for, some things are paid for and copied, and some things are shared freely, is where we will find true prosperity for all, not a select few.

We’re Always Stealing – An observation on File Sharing, Copyright and the Existence of Content

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