2024-07-24 19:28:00
Bodó, B. (2011):A szerzői jog kalózai [Copyright Pirates]. Budapest: Typotex. books/legislation/market data/publications/theory

In this book my aim was to look beyond the legal and economic readings of contemporary western copyright piracy and understand it as a unique social practice that merits attention not only because of its dubious legality, ubiquity, or the havoc it has played with copyright-based business models, but first and foremost because it shapes the ideas and attitudes of millions of netizens about what intellectual property is and could be; what sharing and online cooperation means in a p2p setting; what privacy is and how it can be protected; how to form and negotiate online identities in an anonymous environment, just to name a few issues. Piracy is not just a drain on the cultural economy, but a powerful productive force whose legacy in social relations will stay with us long after the economic conditions that called it into being –and the power vacuum that enabled it – have passed.

The notion that piracy is more than just a legally contested shadow economy is further supported by the body of research that documents historical examples of copyright piracy either from a social/media history, literary studies perspective (Bender & Sampliner, 1996-1997; Darnton, 2003; Feather, 1987; Heylin, 1995; Judge, 1934; Kaser, 1969; Pollard, 1916, 1920; Rose, 1993; Wittmann, 2004, Johns 2010) or from a legal history standpoint (Khan, 2002; Khan & Sokoloff, 2001; May & Sell, 2006; Redmond, 1990; Scott, 1998). These historical accounts of copyright piracy describe the internal norms of information markets both before and after the establishment of national and international layers of regulation. The faces, motivations, and fates of the copyright pirates are many, but there is  one thing that is common to all of them: they all exist in the extra-legal domain at the edges of state authority. In this semi-autonomous space,  “Honor Amongst Thieves,”  “synthetic copyright”,  entries in the Registry of the Stationer’s Company,  server-enforced share ratios, and other non-legal structures organize pirate activity. In each and every case we find norms that — while competing with the legal —  act to encourage the production of a common pool resource, offer methods to settle disputes and limit free-riding. In other words these bottom up norms sometimes substitute, sometimes replicate  state sanctioned layers of regulation that are missing or being denied.

Why is the study of piracy especially interesting today? For several reasons. First, even though on paper we have seen a steady strengthening of the protection of Intellectual Property, the inability to enforce them resulted in a significantly weaker copyright protection than any time during the last hundred years. That vacuum is partly caused, partly filled by the competing, bottom up norms of  file-sharing communities. The weakened property rights, along with the emergence of file­sharing networks created a de facto common pool of resources from the musical, audiovisual, textual works circulating in the digital underground. This commons has proved to be quite resilient to attacks from the outside as well as to those internal issues that can lead to a tragedy of commons. Many file-sharing communities seem to have successfully solved the problems of managing a common pool resource as well as protecting it from – in this case (re) – enclosure. There is, however, little to no research on the actual mechanisms of how these commons are maintained, protected and replenished. Only a few unconfirmed accounts describe the internal workings of online cultural black markets (b-bstf, Summer 2004; Howe, January 2005).

Second, even from these shallow accounts it is evident that non-monetary incentives and complex social motivations play a crucial role in the existence and successful survival of file-sharing communities and of those resource pools around which these communities gather. To illustrate this point it is worth examining the ways community norms manifest themselves in the technological restraints and defaults (Strahilevitz, 2003). Employed at the level of both software clients (like the design principle of bittorrent) and servers (minimum shared library size or upload/download ratio) technology is fine-tuned to reflect the characteristics of content flows, the relative popularity of different titles, the aesthetic judgments, and the thematic preferences of file-sharers. Global, open, mainstream bittorrent trackers for example set no minimum level of contribution – they rely on the sheer number of users and the loyalty of some to provide the necessary level of resources for all. On the other hand, while many national level trackers prohibit the exchange of current local goods, they highly reward the making available of local back catalogs and out of print works. Some allow only a trusted circle of releasers to provide them with digital copies of new titles. Others allow, even encourage each and every user to upload and seed whatever they see fit. From this latter group some set and enforce highly detailed technical specifications regarding video encoding, sound quality, etc. Others provide the community collaborative filtering tools to assess the quality of contributions. Beyond the technologically enforced compulsory rules, informal community norms encourage voluntary cooperation. The exclusivity, notoriety of some communities guarantees a loyal and enthusiastic user base. Their fame inspires others into competition, trying to replicate their success. Many fail, a few prefer to stay small and secluded, but some develop into big, extraordinarily powerful underground marketplaces.

Third, none of these subtle differences between different pirate communities is described with the current economic and legal language used to discuss copyright piracy, despite the fact that they have profound economic and legal consequences on legal markets and on general copynorms (Schultz, 2006) alike. Current discourse on copyright piracy tends to homogenize a wide variety of fundamentally different practices with reductionist legal /economic arguments.

Following the footsteps of Lessig (2004) I hope that the time is now ripe to step beyond the monolithic understanding of  p2p file-sharing by enriching the currently fragmented research landscape with a social-sciences based piracy research that
– describes the role copyright pirates played throughout the history of printing,
– describes the international flow of intellectual property to explain piratical states such as China,
– based on these findings situates current file-sharing and assesses its impact on legal markets.

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