Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Henry Jenkins: Pirate?

So, if you've read my profile you know I'm a trans-media world developer; and if you know what that means, you probably already know who Henry Jenkins is. For those of you who don't he's a guy at MIT who studies media, and new media and its impact on the world.

He recently posted to his blog about intellectual property piracy

He briefly discusses the roots of what has caused intellectual property "piracy" in Asia to be so far reaching, and on to talk about the different uses of the word as it pertains to intellectual property in the Western Sphere. But the question that I've grappled with in talking about intellectual property piracy on this blog is addressed best here:
Does it make sense to refer to such practices as "piracy"? It's a debatable proposition but for the moment, many in the media industries are inclined to think of such consumer practices through a language of copyright theft and piracy. If we adopt that framework, then yes, I think there's a solid case to be made that "pirates" actually expand markets, over time, even if they cause short term "losses" for the initial rights holders. That said: I recognize that not all "piracy" follows such a pattern. There are a significant number of people out there who are exploiting the intellectual properties of others for their own financial gain and there are some who buy these materials because they don't want to pay the price being asked for this content. Nothing we say is going to change this basic dynamic, but the media industries could reduce some forms of "piracy" by better understanding what motivates it and reading it as symptomatic of the marketplace reasserting demand in the face of failures in supply.
In the same way, pirates in the Age of Exploration of the seas led to the expansion of commerce and global settlement. How do we look at this now? Are intellectual property pirates pirates? Pirates are outlaws. Pirates break the law. Is the guy in his room downloading a new release as liable as the merchant who sold pirated sugar in the New Amsterdam? What are your thoughts?

Can you really put intellectual property piracy in the same category in the same category as piracy on the high seas?

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