HERE ARE THE headlines:
Man makes pro-SOPA argument.
Global Internet Community Shocked.
Shoot to Kill Order Ratified.
Okay, I’m exaggerating, but only a bit.
Last week, I made a mild comment in passing that it was a shame people working to stop content theft (SOPA stands for Stop Online Piracy Act) were receiving scornful abuse instead of constructive criticism.
In response, angry emails appeared in my inbox explaining that Internet pirates were angels in human form, performing a charitable function by making movies, music, software and books available free.
I felt like the guy in those old HM Bateman cartoons called “The Man Who”, which feature one person making a statement and lots of other people staring in outrage (see below).
I even got queries on the subject from two of the people I love most in the world, my daughter and Grandpa. The former said all her school buddies were opposed to anti-piracy measures, so why should Daddy be against them? Grandpa said he had heard a positive spin about the doings of mega-pirate Kim Schmitz, a Hong Kong tycoon who scares me Schmitz-less.
The opinions of Grandpa and Little Ms Jam are greatly respected so I decided to do some research.
I went to get a professional opinion from a small filmmaker (his movies range from short to long, but he’s only 1.62m tall). He was bitter, claiming his life savings had been stolen by content thieves. I wasn’t particularly sympathetic, since his life savings had been calculated by a top accountant as “a hill of beans” and besides, had all been borrowed from several friends, including me.
But he did come out with this interesting idea: “People will always defend thieves who steal intellectual property. But if you remove the word ‘intellectual’ and visualize these people stealing property, like houses or cars, the whole tone of the debate changes.”
I thought about adding that it would also be factually more correct to remove the word “intellectual” from his movies, but he was holding a vegetable chopping knife at the time so I kept my mouth shut.
The key thing is this: the belief has spread among some parties on the Internet that stealing physical property may be illegal but stealing intellectual property is fine, because all you are doing is “sharing” “ideas” or “knowledge”.
Pirates are fully entitled to have their opinion on this, even though they are plainly wrong—the legal codes in your country and every other make this clear.
After lunch, we tested his idea. On the internet we called up the recent debate about anti-piracy proposals and revised the arguments, replacing terms such as “copied movies” and “pirated music” with “stolen houses”, “stolen cars”, etc. What could sound more innocent than “sharing music”? What could sound less innocent than “fencing stolen property”? . The results really were eye-opening.
Here’s the “piracy is good” argument revised:
“People who steal cars may later legitimately buy one, so car theft benefits everyone.”
Here’s the Wikipedia blackout message revised:
“Imagine a world where you had to pay for houses.”
Here’s the “blame the victim” argument revised:
“People who own houses are greedy corporations, so they deserve to lose them.”
Here’s the “why spend money?” argument revised:
“Don’t blame me for stealing cars; it’s not my fault that a new car costs a significant amount of money.”
Here’s the “impatience” argument revised:
“The car was launched four days ago in the US but is still not legitimately available where I live, so that gives me the moral right to steal one.”
Here’s the revised version of the typical juvenile outraged blogger’s rant:
“Stoping us from stealing houses and cars impinges on our freedom, is blatant Censorship of our Human Rights, and is like Hitler and Nazis and all that stuff, just sayin!!!!.”
Now I realize that this column will be seen by some people as a second pro-SOPA or anti-piracy argument, and juvenile bloggers will issue a fatwa against me as soon as they work out how to spell the word.
But I don’t mind. One can only be shot to death once.
And, as my publisher said (with a tragically unsuccessful attempt to hide a smile): “If you get assassinated, your book sales will go through the roof.”
Pirates: If you hate this article, why not copy it and spread it every so that everyone in the world can see how stupid I am? Muah ha ha ha ha.