Copyright Owners Continue to Tilt at Windmills

Categories: Media, Tech

​Given the intensity of the debates over digital piracy, you'd almost think that if one side or the other were to "win," the question would be decided: If critics of copyright holders were victorious, piracy would run rampant and the media industry would be brought to its knees; if the copyright owners were victorious, piracy would no longer be a problem.

Actually, though, the question has already been decided. Piracy is here to stay. Current laws can be enforced to reduce the harm and make illegal acts more expensive and therefore more rare, as was done in the Megaupload case. And media companies can reform their business practices to account for the fact that some of their products will be illicitly shared -- for instance, by making more of their products available to more people more conveniently and at lower prices.

Slowly, but surely, that's happening, which is why we have Netflix, iTunes, and the rest. But the media industry isn't anywhere near where it should be on that score, mainly because of its own resistance to change (this Oatmeal cartoon sums up the situation as well as any written treatise could.) Even as media companies continue to make things as difficult as possible for its own customers (when it's not suing them), it is also spending enormous sums of money, time and energy on trying to get new laws passed that won't do any good and could potentially do all kinds of harm.

In the latest such case since the (presumed) downfall of SOPA/PIPA -- the effort by the U.S. media industry and its congressional allies to block access to foreign sites deemed to be offering pirated materials -- the UK appears to be getting ready to block access to The Pirate Bay.

The country's High Court ruled that the site "breaches copyright laws on a large scale," as the Guardian puts it. That's true. But blocking users from accessing it is not only pointless, it's potentially harmful for the same reasons that SOPA and PIPA would have been harmful. Blocking access to parts of the Internet is the worst possible approach to combating piracy, not only because of the technical problems it could cause, but also because it targets users and innocent third parties rather than the people who are profiting from piracy.

If the UK blocks The Pirate Bay, the Pirate Bay will still exist. And it will still be accessible even by people in the UK, as Mike Masnick of TechDirt points out. Such an action "seems totally pointless," he writes, "because the site can (and will) spring up with its entire same contents on another domain (or many, many domains) minutes after such a block is in place. It's not just a game of wack-a-mole, it's encouraging more moles and more holes. It makes you wonder what the point of this really would be."

The point seems to be to tilt at windmills. Even if The Pirate Bay were shut down altogether, something else would quickly replace it, because it's possible and simple. Copyright owners will simply have to get used to this fact, and adjust to it.

Dan Mitchell has written for Fortune, the New York Times, Slate, Wired, National Public Radio, the Chicago Tribune, and many others.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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A big problem is the attitude reflected in this article. A bullying mentality. You are not going to stop stealing so lower your prices. If you don't lower your prices there will be stealing. The artists and companies who get stolen from are the problem.  It's their own fault.  As pointed out in the other comments, this attitude is not only without legal sense, it is why laws are created. The tech industry and internet defenders seem to hold the internet as an exeption to law.  hey have a precious view towards their own industry. Copyright law was hard won over a century before the internet.  The internet is just a different form. Copyright law doesn't change because there's a new way to steal.  Human beings will always steal.  That's why there are laws.

Gordon C Harrison
Gordon C Harrison

Blocking websites causes no technical problems, what nonsense. Blocking has been happening in the UK for years to block child porn sites - and the internet continues to work just fine.

I see no problem with blocking sites that break the law. If a business on the high street were trading in illegal goods or breaking some other law they would be shut down. Websites on the internet are just another 'high street' outlet and are subject to the law like any other business.

As for the argument that as you shut down one illegal site another springs up so copyright owners should just get used to it and give up. We are used to piracy but to suggest we we give up without combatting it is ridiculous. For example, in the real world crime goes on all the time, theft, assault, murder, fraud, etc., and as soon as you lock up one criminal for one of these acts another criminal appears. So is Dan Mitchell suggesting that we should just ignore these criminals, let them go about their dastardly deeds, and that society just needs "to get used to it".

So copyright owners (which by the way is everyone on the planet - we are all granted these moral and economic rights by the law) will continue to combat piracy because a) it is illegal and b) it is immoral in that it pays no respect to the author of a creative works right to decide who can and cannot distribute their work. Copyright is a human right (UN HR Act Art. 27) and I don't hear anyone suggesting that we should subvert the human rights act.


is it tilting at windmills to enforce against shoplifting? no.  same thing with piracy.


Every year is another record profit year for the entertainment industry,If they want to get rid of piracy, and make even more money than ever before, pricing should be appropriate.I'd say $2.00 USD for a new release movie, $1.00 for old movies would be fair..10 cents for old music tracks, and .25 cents for new would be fair.Until then, they can torrent THIS! Even China and Iran can't stop the flow of information!

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