Media Piracy Report and SSRC Theater

The SSRC just released a report on media piracy in emerging economies. I haven’t read it yet, so I can’t comment on the findings, but if you click the link, you’ll find an interesting discussion of the pricing structure as itself a demonstration of the arguments in the book. As an added part of that theater, I will simply add that I first heard of the report via the daily e-mail digest of a certain unnamed organization dedicated to the piracy of academic texts. I got the official email announcement through several more “legit” email channels today.

Also, ironically, it’s available for free in Canada because of granting agency rules about supporting this kind of work, but in the US it’s $8 through official channels (though free through unofficial channels). I paid the $8 off a grant, mostly because I want to support the project and I feel like that’s what grant money is for.

I’ve been thinking a lot about various forms of unauthorized copying and redistribution lately. They were part of the subject of my talk at EMP, and also are discussed at length in the last full chapter of the mp3 book, which I just finished revising (the chapter — there’s 10 more days on the book and I’m on pause right now to read up on geophysics and signal processing for an interview Thursday). At the EMP talk, Nancy Baym criticized my use of the term “piracy” as effectively reflecting the recording industry’s definition of legitimate copying. And she was right that despite thinking a lot about intellectual property, I hadn’t really though through my terminology. So I got home and did some reading, both of critiques of the word and going back through some histories. In the end, I kept the word as an analytic for the range of unauthorized practices, but for the most part restricted the use of pirate to abstractions or where it’s actually used by the people (as in “pirate bay” or “pirate radio”). If I’m talking about specific practices file-sharing or CD-burning, I use those words. Of course, the problem with revising a long book is that I may not catch every instance — even with find-replace. We shall see. This is how clever readers in seminars get to accuse authors of being inconsistent with themselves later on. But if that happens, I’ll just be happy that someone is reading me that closely.

As Nancy pointed out to me, it is ridiculous that we use the same word to describe people who make mix CDs and people who kidnap people off the coast of the former Somalia.