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The Piracy Crusade

The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties

Aram Sinnreich
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Piracy Crusade
    Book Description:

    In the decade and a half since Napster first emerged, forever changing the face of digital culture, the claim that “internet pirates killed the music industry” has become so ubiquitous that it is treated as common knowledge. Piracy is a scourge on legitimate businesses and hardworking artists, we are told, a “cybercrime” similar to identity fraud or even terrorism. In The Piracy Crusade, Aram Sinnreich critiques the notion of “piracy” as a myth perpetuated by today’s cultural cartels—the handful of companies that dominate the film, software, and especially music industries. As digital networks have permeated our social environment, they have offered vast numbers of people the opportunity to experiment with innovative cultural and entrepreneurial ideas predicated on the belief that information should be shared widely. This has left the media cartels, whose power has historically resided in their ability to restrict the flow of cultural information, with difficult choices: adapt to this new environment, fight the changes tooth and nail, or accept obsolescence. Their decision to fight has resulted in ever stronger copyright laws and the aggressive pursuit of accused infringers. Yet the most dangerous legacy of this “piracy crusade” is not the damage inflicted on promising startups or on wellintentioned civilians caught in the crosshairs of filesharing litigation. Far more troubling, Sinnreich argues, are the broader implications of copyright laws and global treaties that sacrifice free speech and privacy in the name of combating the phantom of piracy—policies that threaten to undermine the foundations of democratic society.

    eISBN: 978-1-61376-286-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction: Piracy Crusades Old and New
    (pp. 1-14)

    In 1390, an army of crusaders set out to wage war on piracy, with disastrous consequences for the soldiers themselves, their nations, and the entire Western world.

    The story begins in Genoa, a coastal city located at the western “hip” of Italy’s boot, which was emerging as one of Europe’s wealthiest and most influential seats of power. Like its chief competitor, Venice (located at the boot’s eastern hip), the city had developed its wealth by dominating the trade of commodities with the Syrian and Egyptian “infidels” across the Mediterranean sea, despite a prohibition against such commerce handed down by the...

  5. Part I: Lock and Key:: Music as a Scarce Resource

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 15-16)

      As rhetoricians and communication scholars have long known, the way in which a debate is “framed” is at least as important as the manner in which it is argued. To accept a set of terms and definitions at the outset of a conversation is to accept the worldview that gave rise to those terms and therefore to preclude alternate interpretations of a given object or situation.

      My aim in the first part of this book is to reframe the debate surrounding music, technology, copyright, and “piracy” by examining the historical circumstances that gave rise to our current understanding of their...

    • CHAPTER 1 Stacking the Deck: The Monopolization of Music
      (pp. 17-36)

      The early years of the twenty-first century have been a tumultuous time within the music industry and musical culture at large. Many people working throughout the recording, publishing, and broadcasting sectors are legitimately concerned that they may lose their jobs, or even their careers. The new digital communications tools that have changed the way we work, play, and express ourselves have also altered our relationship to music. On the one hand, they have whetted our appetite for making, hearing, and sharing it in greater volume and variety than ever before. On the other, they have underscored the limitations of twentieth-century...

    • CHAPTER 2 Riding the Tiger: Why the Music Industry Loves (and Hates) Technology
      (pp. 37-55)

      The music industry as we know it today began more or less by accident. When Thomas Edison first developed the technology for sound recording, it was an unintentional by-product of his attempts to improve the telephone. Of course, the canny entrepreneur rapidly moved to publicize the invention. In an 1878 article for the North American Review, he enumerated ten possible uses for his new discovery, with letter dictation at the top of the list (typical of his business-oriented market strategy). “Reproduction of music” came in only fourth, after “the teaching of elocution.”¹ Today, all ten of his uses, from audiobooks...

    • CHAPTER 3 “We’ve Been Talking about This for Years”: The Music Industry’s Five Stages of Grief
      (pp. 56-68)

      One of the most enduring myths about the “digital music revolution”¹ concerns the level of technological cluelessness and absence of foresight within the music industry at the close of the twentieth century. Whether you see them as victims or villains, canaries in the coal mine or endangered dinosaurs, you probably believe that the major record labels were taken unawares by the new century’s innovations, and that the unforeseeable consequences of digital sharing are at the root of any problems the industry faces today.

      If so, you’re in good company. Most journalists, academics, and other chroniclers of the Internet age have...

  6. Part II: Who Really Killed the Music Industry?

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 69-70)

      In Agatha Christie’s classic detective novelThe Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the titular character is killed, and nearly everyone he knew immediately becomes a suspect, from the obligatory butler to members of the victim’s own family. At the end of the book, it turns out (spoiler alert) that the narrator himself, who is assisting detective Hercule Poirot in his investigations, is to blame for the heinous deed. In his “Apologia,” the murderer even confesses to being “rather pleased with myself as a writer,” for having told the story in a way that obscured his own guilt, thereby shifting the readers’...

    • CHAPTER 4 Dissecting the Bogeyman: How Bad Is P2P, Anyway?
      (pp. 71-93)

      So-called digital music piracy comes in many flavors. The music industry’s earliest online targets for litigation, in the mid to late 1990s, were MP3-sharing websites, simple platforms that enabled user X to upload a song to a web server, and user Y to download it. As Internet technology has exploded over the past decade and a half, fueled by at least three waves of investment frenzy, surging global demand, and the unrelenting pace of Moore’s law,¹ enterprising developers have conceived of countless new variations on this theme.

      Why is music sharing such a popular application for computer programmers to develop?...

    • CHAPTER 5 Bubbles and Storms: The Story behind the Numbers
      (pp. 94-118)

      We are all familiar with this story: Everything was going swimmingly for the music industry until Napster hit. Sales were on the rise, and the future looked brighter still. But since that fateful day in the summer of 1999 when P2P file sharing was unleashed on the world, music sales have plummeted and a once-vital industry has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. As Cary Sherman, RIAA chief executive, lamented in theNew York Timesin 2012, “music sales in the United States are less than half of what they were in 1999, when the file-sharing site...

    • CHAPTER 6 Is the Music Industry Its Own Worst Enemy?
      (pp. 119-134)

      In 1896, the British House of Lords adjudicated Trego vs. Hunt, a suit involving two business partners who had parted ways, Hunt selling his share to Trego. After pocketing Trego’s money, Hunt hired a clerk to copy down all the names and addresses of the firm’s clients, so he could start a new business and poach them. Ultimately, Hunt was found to be in the wrong, the reason being that when he sold his share of the company, he had also given up his rights to the “goodwill”—the business reputation and customer relations—that went along with it. As...

  7. Part III: Collateral Damage:: The Hidden Costs of the Piracy Crusade

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 135-136)

      In this final section, I address the social and economic costs of the industry’s piracy crusade and consider some of the longer-term dangers we face if the crusade is allowed to continue.

      Given the pro-business veneer of the music industry’s rhetoric, it’s ironic that one of the principal victims of the piracy crusade is the music business itself. The major labels’ unwillingness to license their music to innovators on viable terms, combined with their inability to innovate on their own, paralyzed the industry at exactly the moment when new technologies offered the greatest amount of promise and when consumers expressed...

    • CHAPTER 7 “This Sounds Way Too Good”: No Good Idea Goes Unpunished
      (pp. 137-159)

      In moments of quiet reverie, I often return to a favorite fantasy of mine—one most likely shared by many media and technology enthusiasts of a certain age. I have been transported back in time to visit my teenage self, equipped with the latest twenty-first-century gadgetry. I watch as fifteen-year-old me familiarizes himself with the smooth contours and intuitive interface of my MacBook, tests his mettle in the multiplayer mode of the latest Halo installment on a sixty-inch HDTV, and reminisce with him about our childhood as we retrace the geography of our shared past via Google Earth. All of...

    • CHAPTER 8 Guilty until Proven Innocent: Anti-piracy and Civil Liberties
      (pp. 160-178)

      Throughout this book, I have discussed numerous ways in which the music industry’s largely unfounded (and sometimes disingenuous) concerns about “digital piracy,” and its antipathy toward online innovation, have harmed both the business and culture of music, contributing to the major labels’ own strategic and financial difficulties and to the impoverishment of the musical public sphere. In this chapter, I aim to demonstrate that the piracy crusade’s harmful effects have extended beyond even these arenas, with negative repercussions for civil liberties, free speech, privacy, and international relations.

      What we might call the “civil effects” of the music industry’s antipiracy efforts...

    • CHAPTER 9 Is Democracy Piracy?
      (pp. 179-200)

      In April 2012, a young couple got married in Belgrade, Serbia. The wedding video¹ shows the bride and groom smiling nervously as they stand on a dais in fancy clothes, while the crowd around them titters and cheers and the romantic strains of an aria waft through the air. After the groom lifts the bride’s veil, they exchange heartfelt vows and then kiss. The room erupts with applause.

      Despite these traditional elements, this was no ordinary wedding. For one thing, the young couple were dressed in a postmodern mélange of styles: the groom offset his brocaded coat, leggings, and neck...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 201-234)
  9. INDEX
    (pp. 235-245)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 246-246)