Digital copyright laws and why we are violating them

This entry is part of my research project for the class of Networked Rhetoric at Stanford University. For more information, click here.

Downloading some latest hit on mp3 from rapidshare, or a great movie that is just about to come out from a torrent site: most people have done at least one of the above 2 recently. Now to mention downloading software, video games, scanned magazines, etc. Why are they doing this? It is safe to assume that in most cases people realize that they violate the law – obviously, if one finds a movie before it’s official premiere, it is probably not uploaded by the copyright holder, and if he is able to find it, he has probably at least heard before that he has to be careful with some of the content that he encounters on the Internet, because it might be illegal.

I remember a several years ago, me and my friends had the average for these days 120GB hard drives, and we had them constantly filled with at least 30GB music, 20GB video clips and 40GB movies. Is this really something one needs? 30GB / 10MB per song (which is even a high bound) * 4 minutes per song = 12000 minutes = 200 hours = 8 days, 8 hours! Obviously: no, it is not. None of us had listened to a significant part of his collection. Looking at stats from a torrent site: one of the most downloaded torrents recently was 9GB and was called “Michael Jackson – FULL Discography”. Not just “Thriller” or “Bad”, but all his songs – that is 2019 files, I doubt that any one of the downloaders would sit at home for a week and listen to that.

Illegal and impractical – still, people are doing it. And it makes them feel good about it: it is not uncommon to hear people proudly telling about how many gigabytes they “pirated” recently. Why – because, even though people know they are doing something wrong, and no matter how many times this has been disproved, they feel anonymous online. While surfing the web you don’t directly see an authority watching your actions, yet you know for yourself when you are doing something inappropriate. The effect is natural: downloading transforms into something that is so easy to do, in the same time you will probably not get caught, and at the end you get the positive feeling of “tricking the system”. Then of course you will download!

Deyan Simeonov, Stanford University

This entry was posted in CCR exchange: Student Research, Stanford Networked Rhetorics class. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Digital copyright laws and why we are violating them

  1. Digital copyright is a whole can of worms, and I think you do a good job giving a good overview. I would like to have a clearer sense of what you’re arguing: Are you saying that copyright violations will occur regardless of the law because people want to feel rebellious and will pirate anyway?

    I think you can also look into responses by major players in the copyright arena. For example, the iTunes Store removed DRM from their music due to user pressure in 2008, and sites like Baidu Music (the largest music pirating portal in China; illegal music searches accounted for a majority of Baidu’s 60% market share of China’s search) have been ordered to shut down. What about ways that companies have taken to address copyright laws (Lala, Google Music)?

    Great topic – keep me updated!


  2. Yiam says:

    I think the part that you show piracy is impractical is good. You illustrate that people pirate so much that they cannot use all the information they get illegally. You have the evidence and analyse it well.
    However, for your conclusion that people do this because they just want the feel that they could trick the system, it is not so convincing. I could argue that people pirate something which they don’t use because they feel like they might use it in the future and they feel secure just to have it. For example, I cannot listen to all 9Bg Michael Jackson at once, but I add it to my music library and listen to random songs and as times goes by, I will listen to all of them anyway. They might not do it because they want to break the law. Your conclusion needs more supportive evidence. (I think your conclusion is true in some degree though. The people who provide pirated software are clearly doing them either for the sake of breaking the law or the free software movement. Both cases try to challenge the system. But most people who download the thing are not the same.)

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