June 9, 2009

The Pirate Party Is Official ... Sort Of

In Sweden, there's a new gun in town, if the town is the European Union's parliament. A representative of the Pirate Party—it might even be the vice-president of the party—has been elected into as a member of the EU parliament. How about that? A single platform party is making headway. But, how the heck should I feel about it?

Honestly, I'm a little apathetic to the win itself, but it does bring me back to the old argument of file-sharing and copyright infringement. The Pirate Party is a political incarnation of the torrent site, Pirate Bay, and so far as I know that's about their only interest when getting into the political arena.

If I was still a college student living off Kraft Dinner and other dubious, yet cheap, food sources, I'd probably give a little fist pump and say, "Yeah, stick it to the man." But, I'm in my thirties now, and I see that file-sharing isn't just sticking it to the man. It's sticking it to the artist as well.

I used to download music illegally—no sense portraying myself as an angel. I always thought twenty bucks for a music CD was exorbitant. So, when mp3 became the new craze I jumped on board with enthusiasm. I finally had a chance to listen to music I'd otherwise never get a chance to hear at my leisure. At no point, however, did I take into consideration the interests of the artist. I only relished in waving a middle finger at the record labels that insisted on overcharging for their products.

I haven't leeched a song off the Internet for quite some time now, and even then I was on the hunt for the more obscure artists you just don't find on television or radio. And, now that illegal downloading has branched off into movies and literature, thanks to the proliferation of high-speed Internet, the world has become a huge bargain bin it seems. Like I said, if I was still in college and didn't give a flying fig, I'd probably be downloading as much content as I could get my paws on. I know better now, though.

Pirate Bay takes the stance that file-sharing is helpful to artists and companies because the content reaches a wider audience across the globe. That's certainly true, but while an artist loves to have a great audience, they also enjoy getting paid for the work they put in to create that product. Pirate Bay takes the stance that file-sharing actually increases sales for artists. I feel inclined to call bullshit there, as every industry from music to publishing in going in the toilet, and illegal downloading plays a huge role in why that is.

I don't even think "file-sharing" is a proper term. During an interview today on CBC Radio's Q, the Pirate Bay representative implied that file-sharing is no different than lending a book to a friend. That would be true if not for the glaring fact that illegal downloading doesn't employ the act of sharing as much as it does the act of mass reproduction. Now, if she had compared file-sharing to using a home-made printing press to create an exact copy of the book, at no cost to herself, and then gave that copy to a friend, then she'd be using a better analogy.

Illegal downloading isn't sharing files, it's creating infinite copies of a product and giving it away to anyone who wants it. Why buy an album, a DVD, or an e-book when you can download the same product from someone else who already did buy it—or from someone who illegally downloaded it from someone else. Sure, plenty of artists out there embrace file-sharing as an effective way to get their product out to the masses. Those same artists are also often not making much coin through traditional means, anyway. And, hey, maybe it does increase their overall sales. If they want to give it away, I say let them.

Illegal downloading will exist until the day it is no longer illegal. But, if an artist is not going to be properly compensated for their hard work, there's one less incentive to even try. Everyone wants everything for free nowadays, and I can't help but think that the quality of what we have available is going to suffer as a result. If a mediocre artist is content to give away his creations for free, is a consumer going to bother paying their hard-earned money to a more notable artist who wants payment for their own creations? You tell me.

Supply and demand is one way of conducting business, but what happens when supply is immeasurable and the demand comes with the proviso of "I don't want to pay for it"?

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