Culture and Society

Curse of the Downloaded Pearl

He was an eccentric pirate known for his trademark drunken swagger and slurred speech. Awkwardly moving his hands and making weird gestures was his favourite sport. On this particular day he stood on the deck of his lovely ship and remarked to his first mate, Mr. Ribbs.

“Aah, what a fine morning this! Let us loot the nearest town, Mr. Ribbs.” said Captain Swallow.

And loot they did. It was a fine piece of pirate business.

Later that day, even as the pirate crew and their merry Captain Swallow were celebrating, cops arrived.

Captain Swallow was arrested and sent to jail.

For piracy. But of the internet kind.

The cops found all kinds of downloaded movies and tv shows and an episode of Jersey Shore added to his torrent queue.

[I would sympathize if he hadn’t been such an avid fan of Jersey Shore.]

I bet a lot of us have seen at least one video on  Youtube where the uploader has added a disclaimer stating that he/she has no right to the content of the video.

“No Copyright Intended” as waxy says it.

And yet, I and You are faced with numerous irritating instances of ‘this content is not available in your region’ and ‘the content was blocked on copyright grounds’ etc.

The internet, I used to think, was a living, breathing organism of incredible dexterity and flexibility. It is not.

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), also known as H.R.3261, is a bill that was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on October 26, 2011. The bill expands the ability of U.S. law enforcement and copyright holders to fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property and copyrighted goods. Proponents of the bill say it protects the intellectual property market and corresponding industry, jobs and revenue, and is necessary to bolster enforcement of copyright laws especially against foreign websites. Opponents say it infringes on First Amendment rights, is Internet censorship, that it will cripple the Internet, and will threaten whistle-blowing and other free speech. I am no expert on policy and neither do I have the inclination to analyze this. All I know is that ‘downloading’ is now something most of us do on a daily basis. We all are riding the high seas of internet piracy.

An aide to bill sponsor Lamar Smith has said, “This bill does not make it a felony for a person to post a video on YouTube of their children singing to a copyrighted song. The bill specifically targets websites dedicated to illegal or infringing activity. Sites that host user content—like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter—have nothing to be concerned about under this legislation”.

When I was a kid, technology was not a family member. It was that distant cousin who was mentioned only in hushed whispers. Now, technology is something you grow up with.

I bet a lot of the younger kids, the 12-13 year old ones, already consider Youtube as a given. They use videos on Youtube as walkthroughs when they are stuck at some particularly difficult level in some game that they downloaded from some shady forum. They need lyrics to their favourite songs so they could paste these on their chats with their loved ones. They need to watch the latest mindblowing experience films are offering. They need to learn to play the guitar. And then there is porn, of course.

This, I wager, is not illegal in their eyes.

I have been writing all this while listening to a particularly sweet live rendition from 1999 of the song Perpetual Change by Yes. I will never get to see them live. I know that. I enjoy this brief blast from the past thanks to the efforts of some poor sod called GeorgeLupine3. Thanks man for not including that ‘no copyright infringement intended’ in the video description. Because including it would not help anyway given that complex algorithms are used to block videos. Under current law, Google must rely on copyright holders to bring offending material to its attention.

Some day these kids will grow up. Some day they will be decision makers. The download generation will be copyright holders. What then?

Policy makers who have grown up streaming movies illegally, downloading ebooks for free and loading the newest tunes onto their music machines.

I would like to see how that turns out.

Internet PirateSea

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