Friday, April 17, 2009

Globalization and Piracy: It is not just at sea

The heroes of the most recent piracy drama, the crew and captain of Mersk Alabama begin returning home. While the focus of the renewed debate on piracy is on Gulf of Aden and Horn of Africa nation of Somalia, it is perhaps time to reflect on the ugly scourge of piracy in our lives:
  • Software piracy: Creating a copy and/or selling it. This is the act that some people refer to as "software piracy". This is copyright infringement in most countries and is unlikely to be fair use or fair dealing if the work remains commercially available.
  • Digital piracy: This includes downloads of audio, video and other digital content. Mobility blogs "In what’s being described as a landmark verdict, four men responsible for assisting throngs of dubious internet users to download all sorts of copyrighted material are being ushered off to prison cells for twelve whole months. The Stockholm district court in Sweden found the defendants guilty not of hosting materially illegally, but of "providing a website with sophisticated search functions, simple download and storage capabilities, and a tracker linked to the website [that helped users commit copyright violations]." A portal to promote piracy also called Pirate Bay, how innovative?! Of course this verdict may not sway the masses "Consumers Want to Rip, Burn DVDs" or The Pirate Bay Operators: Heroes or Criminals?
  • Copying books and other printed publications: Copying books is certainly piracy, if it deprives authors of their due share of royalty. This includes photocopying for personal use or copying, reprinting and reselling. (The Birth of Book Pirates?)
  • Piracy of other intellectual property: Trademarks, patent infringements, trade secrets etc. While googling, I came across the following on US Govt. Copyright website: "Mr. Chairman, in the nearly forty years that I have worked in the Copyright Office, piracy, and especially global piracy, is probably the most enduring problem I have encountered. As with some other illegal activities, there will always be at least a small segment of any population who cannot be deterred from this theft of others' creativity. Thus, I fear that it is simply not realistic to speak of eliminating all piracy around the world, or even within the United States." .. It`s not possible to police the world, or eve the US. In that case we will just go after Somalis?
  • Plagiarism as piracy? Just yesterday there was an interesting article in WSJ (It's Not Theft, It's Pastiche) that talks about how college students plagiarize routinely, especially from the Internet.

Pervasiveness of wi-fi and broadband has made piracy a cottage industry. Many of us support or actively participate in piracy without even blinking. Here is a dipstick: Do you feel guilty about making copies of the latest music hit that your friend bought? (or the other way around) while doing so, you may not feel as sinister as a gang of Somalis taking the captain of Mersk Alabama hostage, it is still about the owner of the “rights” not getting their due share.

Which makes one wonder if there such a thing as Harmless piracy? Perhaps the reason why some writers and bloggers are asking if “it time to stop using the word 'piracy'?” or Rename “Digital Piracy”?

Ps: I am not sure if watching the drama unfold on Cable and cyberspace is going to wean kids away from old folklore glorying the heroics of the Pirates of Caribbean, but I sure wish the Crew of Tintin, Captain Haddock and good old Snowy were around to come to our rescue.