Moral Behaviour on the High Seas

A stereotypical caricature of a pirate.

Why are pirates so bad?  Because they arrrr...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)



So technology. It’s a very large topic, really. If one takes a very broad definition, every time mankind does something for the first time, that’s new technology. Although, honestly, every time mankind does something for the first time is still only about once every decade or so, so we’re probably in the clear.

Anyway, technology is great. Without technology, we would have no computers, no television, no washing machines. Just think, a world without Facebook, Jeremy Kyle, or that bloke who comes around every so often to ‘change a washer’. Although the positive side of that would be that we wouldn’t have Facebook, Jeremy Kyle or that bloke who comes around every so often to ‘change a washer’. Technology is a good example of a very fine balancing act.

But it’s our responses to technology that I’m going to talk about in this article. Or rather our responses to one particular bit of technology which is the internet. You know, that vast filing cabinet of curiosities that upholds itself as a paragon of righteousness, freedom, and free and futile debate between ourselves (sensible people) and those idiots who keep on posting completely fallacious arguments that you of course have to destroy despite the fact that everyone knows that no-one has every changed their mind on the internet.

Indeed, the size of even this narrow topic is so large that we’re going to have to go deeper, if you’ll forgive me a reference to a film I’ve never seen. How do you deal with internet piracy? Are you an internet pirate yourself? And do you believe that internet piracy is even a crime?

The issues are of course complex. If the pirate were to be stealing a car, one could easily see the crime being committed. Someone is losing access to the car, while someone else is gaining it. Internet piracy is somewhat difference. It’s a bit like stealing a duplicate copy of the car, so that both the pirate and the victim now have the car. But then even that’s a bit misleading. A better metaphor might be for the pirate to have stolen a duplicate car from the production line. While the company responsible for the car hasn’t lost anything physical, they have lost one of their potential customers: the pirate.

Of course, the analogies start getting ridiculous after a while, but there is a point between the mundane and the mad where they do throw up some questions. For example, would the pirate have even bought the car anyway? If the pirate drove the stolen car around, would this be free advertising, as the pirate has taken something he wouldn’t paid for, and maybe even convinced more legitimate customers to pay for it?

The problem now is the ease of piracy, because if our pirate can steal the car, so can all of his friends, and now no-one is buying cars at all. If we compare this with music, we would note that were free downloads made legal, sales via ‘legitimate’ sites would collapse. The only sources of music sales, say, would come from live events and CD sales, the latter of which would of course be naturally reduced.

It should be noticed that there is another community that relies almost entirely on free downloads, and that is the open source community. A friend of a friend of mine manages to earn a surprisingly sizeable amount on the side of his normal job from donations for a very small-interest piece of model train software. Is this the way forwards for music publishing?

Then there is the issue of who would suffer. In the music industry, the balance of income from sales and performing is a precarious one. Some artists would undoubtedly remain fairly unaffected. Other artists might find the need to play live more often. Retired musicians are probably the biggest losers from internet piracy, as they are no longer performing at all. Alternatively, in the world of ebooks, one could see many of the new writers suffering. A friend of mine is making his debut into the literary world with a self-published ebook. If people merely downloaded for free instead of buying, he would be unable to even make the start-up costs for getting it into print.

So it’s certainly a fine balancing act. On one hand, there is the idea that no-one suffers, that the creator receives free advertising, and that if the download is any good people will gladly donate to the creator. On the other, the issues of how much money the creators will actually be able to make if they aren’t paid conventionally. The solution? Perhaps another referendum will help us find out.