Streaming is not an Alternative to ‘Piracy’

Streaming services have been gradually increasing in popularity as the cost of data decreases. In Australia, for example, one can obtain a connection providing unlimited data for $60 per month. One of the major arguments regarding ‘piracy’ is its convenience. Offer a way of getting content more conveniently than piracy – make it available in less than five clicks, guaranteed quality, legally and easily accessible on multiple devices at no extra cost – and piracy suddenly dries up. Who wants to spend time fiddling with torrents, hoping that a lone seeder holds on long enough for you to get your copy? As such, it has been posited that the best way to solve the “piracy” issue is to offer a cheap, convenient, guaranteed service.

However, streaming services are not the alternative to sharing.

The true power of P2P file-sharing is in the ability to remix. The media shared can, to an extent, be deconstructed and used to create new content. YouTube puts this capability on display: fan-made video clips that combine original footage with pre-recorded music, or original music that samples cultural snippets (sound-bites for example) with pre-existing footage. The ‘remix culture’ is growing rapidly as more and more people appropriate content outside the notions of copyright. Sharing and remixing is nullifying the perceived notion of content ownership. There is only content, and what you can do with it.

The shift we are seeing, and it is one that has been emerging over the past decade, is from the passive consumer to the active producer. Roland Barthes’ The Death of the Author claims that the author’s role in the meaning of content is being diminished, as meaning, significance and value is increasingly determined by the audience. The new era into which we are moving involves consumers taking the material that exists and making changes to produce new derivative works. Culture is created, duplicated, withdrawn, modified and put back. This process is endless, and it’s how our world changes.

Hollywood knows – and this is something I will cover in a later essay – that they cannot possibly recoup their ‘losses’ from ‘piracy’. There is simply too much content out there for everyone to purchase. With copyright being constantly extended, more and more content is expected to be bought. At $10 a DVD, how many people are going to buy one hundred DVDs per year? One thousand DVDs? The funds simply aren’t available for the majority to consume the vast amount of content in existence, but they consume what they can.

A new report by the Swiss government argues that unauthorized file sharing is not a significant problem, and that existing Swiss law—which allows for downloading copyrighted content for personal use—is sufficient to protect copyright holders. It considers and rejects three proposed changes: a French-style “three strikes” law, Internet filtering, and a mandatory collective licensing regime that would impose a fee on all Internet users that allowed unlimited file-sharing.

Drawing on statistics from the Netherlands, which is similar to Switzerland in terms of demographics, Internet infrastructure, and copyright law, the report estimates that a third of those over the age of 15 in Switzerland share copyrighted works without permission. That may be because, despite the best efforts of copyright holders and government officials, the majority of Swiss Internet users can’t distinguish between legitimate and illegal sources for copyrighted material.

Yet the report argues that the spread of file-sharing is no great cause for concern. It argues that consumers spend a roughly constant share of their disposable income on entertainment expenses. Money saved on buying CDs and DVDs are instead spent on “concerts, movies, and merchandising.”

– Timothy B. Lee, ARS Technica.

The MPAA and RIAA must acknowledge this. Surely they cannot be so ignorant as to rubbish these studies? Assuming that they do accept this, why do they still insist that every copy be strictly accounted for? The answer, I will venture, is “control”. They can control what you watch, how you watch it, and how you interact with it, by enforcing their copyright monopoly strictly.

Streaming is merely a continuation of this. You return to being a mere observer. There is no opportunity for you to remix the content. It is static. Fixed. Controlled. Don’t even think. Just watch it, hear it, shut up. You can’t make it better. You can’t mould it into a different shape.

The fact that the 4 major phonographic companies have taken a participation in Spotify…while allowing it to provide access to their catalog, should act as a warning. This behavior can be seen as an effort to retain, in this new channel, the same strong control over which works reach the attention of the public that they have in classical publishing. Furthermore, if streaming becomes the dominant form of access to works, individuals would be turned into passive receivers.

– Philippe Aigrain, Sharing: Culture and the Economy in the Internet Age, p. 46.

Streaming may improve access, but it is merely a compromise. Free access to culture, with revenue being generated through advertising, is not a substitute for ‘piracy’. The issue is not in how people access information, but in how that access allows them to interact with the content. Interaction is a two-way street. We must never forfeit our ability to interact with media, even if that means rejecting services that allow free or cheap access. Streaming is great for passive consumption, and it should work alongside peer-to-peer sharing, not replace it.

Free content is great – modifiable cultural building blocks are better.

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Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

Pirate Party Australia Deputy Secretary and Press Officer. Former member of the Pirate Parties International Court of Arbitration.

12 thoughts on “Streaming is not an Alternative to ‘Piracy’”

  1. Essentially you are arguing that mashups are better, more creative and more important than the works from which they’ve been derived from.

    The general difference between a carefully crafted song and its trivial mashup is that the former usually needs countless of hours of hard work, invenstment and talent in order to be created, the latter does not.

    Surely the epitome of quality and relevance nowadays is the all-encompassing internet meme-dom, where the 99% bring in 1% of the effort and insist: we made this!

    1. It is possible they could well be more important. I’m not sure I’d say “more creative” or even “better” but the idea is not just mashups. It applies to all remixes – a mashup sure, but also sampling (like in hip-hop), different arrangements and cover versions.

      By pulling apart a car and putting it back together again, you might learn how a car works. You might decide not to put it back in the same order. You’ve “remixed” the car. Sometimes it might produce good results (improved mileage, for example) and sometimes it might not work out. Should we prevent people who have the time and inclination from pulling apart songs, films and stories and putting them back together? You learn by emulation, just like Walt Disney took the stories of the Grimm Brothers and told them in a different way (musical animation).

      At any rate, the idea is to prevent a culture whereby people just passively consume (aka ‘read-only’ culture). ‘Read-write’ culture could be said to include “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party) by Beastie Boys (sampling), as well as Pseudoecho’s cover of “Funkytown,” or Hendrix’s cover of “Johnny B. Goode”. I think that personally it would be better to pay for things you could interact than succumb to free streaming. For years people have not had any control over the images and sounds that surround us but now the technology exists for them to modify that stimulus. Nearly everyone can get access to music or film editing software. We shouldn’t take that away, otherwise we will lose the next generation of creators who can’t build their own layer on top of existing works.

      1. “It is possible they could well be more important. I’m not sure I’d say “more creative” or even “better” but the idea is not just mashups. It applies to all remixes – a mashup sure, but also sampling (like in hip-hop), different arrangements and cover versions. ”

        In most cases, sampling in hip-hop is simply an attempt to use an instantly recognizable hook or melody from an established hit to grab a ready-made audience for a rap that would otherwise have little to distinguish it from the vast numbers of other rap creations flooding the market. Let’s face it, since rap by definition has no melody of harmony, and most of the rhythmic elements of various raps within the same sub-genre are extremely similar, there is very little to distinguish one from another – so many rap artists cannibalize the popularity of a per-existing hit song. This is essentially plagiarism, not creativity.

        “By pulling apart a car and putting it back together again, you might learn how a car works. You might decide not to put it back in the same order. You’ve “remixed” the car. Sometimes it might produce good results (improved mileage, for example) and sometimes it might not work out. Should we prevent people who have the time and inclination from pulling apart songs, films and stories and putting them back together? You learn by emulation, just like Walt Disney took the stories of the Grimm Brothers and told them in a different way (musical animation).”

        First, music is not mechanics.

        Second, most legitimate remixes are licensed and legal. Many artists are happy to license their music to be remixed for different markets. That’s an artistic collaboration, and the original artist can control who is involved – speaking as an artist I would not want my music butchered by zillions of untalented mediocrities – it’s a desecration.

        Third, a cover version is very different from a remix. Cover versions are licensed under the compulsory licensing provision of the copyright act. It’s not the same as plagiarizing a work – the creator is acknowledged and paid.

        Fourth, the example of Disney and the Grimm brothers is specious. (1) the Grimm versions themselves were already in public domain. (2) the Grimm stories were themselves retellings of old folk tales that were never covered under copyright.

        And yes, we should “prevent people who have the time and inclination from pulling apart songs, films and stories and putting them back together”. Let those people write their own works. That’s not to say their works can’t be derivative – all art is somewhat derivative. But there is a definite difference between derivation and stealing. And it’s not so say an artist can’t include an hommage to an earlier work or artist – but hommage is retelling or allusion, not outright theft.

        “At any rate, the idea is to prevent a culture whereby people just passively consume (aka ‘read-only’ culture). ‘Read-write’ culture could be said to include “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (to Party) by Beastie Boys (sampling), as well as Pseudoecho’s cover of “Funkytown,” or Hendrix’s cover of “Johnny B. Goode”. ”

        Legal (licensed and paid) sampling is one thing – ripping off another artist just to cop on his popularity is quite another. There’s some hip-hop thing that uses Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” to suck people in – when I hear it I immediately get that endorphin blast of recognition of a well loved song – and then the rap starts. I my case the initial pleasure is replaced by immediate rage at being conned. (This isn’t the only rap song that does this, it’s a common technique) However the typical audience member isn’t as sensitive to the issues as I am and takes the bait, hook, line, and sinker. It’s simply a way that not very creative people cash in by exploiting existing great art. It’s despicable.

        As to Hendrix’s cover of Johnny B Goode”, it’s a COVER – Hendrix never claimed it was his song. It’s like Virgil Fox playing Bach. There is a HUGE DIFFERENCE between performing another writer’s work and stealing it.

        “I think that personally it would be better to pay for things you could interact than succumb to free streaming.”

        But the point is that people don’t want to pay the license fee required to “interact with” the work in that way. If they did they usually are able to. And some artists simply don’t want their work messed with.

        ” For years people have not had any control over the images and sounds that surround us but now the technology exists for them to modify that stimulus.”

        Wrong. People have always had the option of learning an instrument and interacting with the sounds in their environment to their heart’s content. But now some people feel somehow “entitled” to chop other the work of others simply because they feel like it, like a vandal painting a moustache on The Mona Lisa.

        You have control over the images and sounds around you IF YOU PUT IN THE WORK REQUIRED TO CREATE YOUR OWN. If you’re a lazy sod who simply wants to play with the product of other people’s hard work, I’m sorry, you don’t have that right.

        “Nearly everyone can get access to music or film editing software.”

        Unfortunate truth, that – especially since most people steal it. However having access to it and being able to use it in a competent (let alone inspired) manner are two entirely different things.

        Let me clue you in to a secret – It’s not a question of access to tools. It’s a question of knowing how to use them. Owning a hammer doesn’t make you a carpenter. Owning a frying pan doesn’t make you a chef. Owning a Porsche 911 might even get you killed if you’re under the delusion you’re a racing driver.

        ” We shouldn’t take that away, otherwise we will lose the next generation of creators who can’t build their own layer on top of existing works.”

        Wrong again. All that unrestricted access to these tools has accomplished is releasing a flood of dross onto the market.

        Furthermore it has actually reduced the chances of truly talented, motivated people by eliminating many of the studios which were previously the places where novices received training and mentoring from the masters.

        Three months as a junior assistant coffee boy at The Record Plant will teach you more about the process of recording that a 4 year program at Full Sail – or any other “recording school”. And won’t leave you tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Sadly, most of those opportunities for real training are gone.

        1. Perhaps I should have specified – I am referring to non-commercial remixes (used in the broadest possible sense). Ergo, no money is made, and people are just putting out their interpretations or visions of a piece. I hold Run-D.M.C. and Beastie Boys in high regard, so please refrain from dismissing them. I don’t know (and don’t care) what your musical tastes are, so it’s not your place to tell me what “good music” is.

          First, please look up “analogy” in the dictionary.

          Second, understand I was talking about non-commercial use.

          Third, understand I was talking about non-commercial use, and that “remix” was used in a broad sense. I agree with preserving the moral right of the author to be attributed to derivative works.

          Fourth, the public domain is shrinking. Prior to 1800, the US had 28 years maximum copyright. Over the next two decades it was extended to life plus seventy years. By extending copyright terms, the public domain will eventually disappear. I am saddened that I will be dead before I can legally release a (free downloadable) cover of a Beatles’ record, despite wearing out two tapes of Sgt. Pepper’s by the time I was 12.

          Again, non-commercial use, not plagiarism.

          Also, look up “copyright infringement”. Infringement is not theft, it’s infringement.

          If you don’t like what’s on the radio, don’t listen to it, as I generally don’t. Instead, explore the vast wealth of Creative Commons music that is infinitely more appealing (to my ears anyway).

          Why shouldn’t you be able to paint a moustache on a copy of the Mona Lisa?

          Perhaps people will learn how to use the tools by practising with them?

          And again, you’re talking about the market. I am not. I am talking externally of the market, where there is no commercial incentive. Nice strawman argument, but sadly misses the mark.

  2. You must be joking – you say endlessly regurgitated stolen content in any way compares to original, new content by dedicated, talented artists and professional production teams?

    Pull the other one, it has got bells on!

    What you are saying is tantamount to claiming that a 3rd grader’s paste-up collage is of equal merit to a Picasso, Monet, or Miro.

    It’s patently absurd.

    The paste-up/mashup culture is the culture of childish mediocrity. The definition of “mediocre” is “average” or “common” – what any average yobbo can do.

    The definition of “great” is “extraordinary”, “unusual in degree, power, or intensity”, or “being such in an extreme or notable degree”.

    The dross excreted by the masses stealing, re-purposing, and regurgitating the work of others is by definition not great, it is not art, and should not be promoted over the work of truly creative individuals.

    The work of creative individuals (artists) must be protected from exploitation by such parasites.

    1. I refer you to my other comment on this article (“It is possible…”), with the addition that the third grader has to learn from somewhere. What’s the difference between allowing people to make and share audio/video collages (now that the technology exists) and allowing people to paste together bits of magazines and share that too? We shouldn’t sacrifice that degree of interactivity, even if it means paying for stuff. We should not accept free options where the free options limit our capacity to take something apart and put it back together again.

      1. But the third grader is NOT LEARNING TO CREATE! If the third grader had a teacher teaching the rudiments of drawing and painting it would be different.

        Cutting and pasting pictures from magazines is just playing – it might give the parents something to hang on the refrigerator but it isn’t helping the child learn to create art. It’s encouraging laziness and lack of creativity, and it’s teach the child that they’re “entitled” to take other people’s property and appropriate it as their own.

        The fact is that you CAN make video/audio collages for you own amusement – that’s permitted under copyright law. What you CAN’T do is publish them, use them commercially or publicly, or claim the images as your own work.

        Part of the problem is the corruption of the concept of “sharing”. Sharing on a one-to-one basis, in person, between close person friends or family members, FOR PRIVATE USE is one thing. So-called “sharing” over the internet with hundreds or thousands of strangers is an entirely different matter – that’s illegal distribution. And in most cases is poses unfair competition to artists who in most cases (a handful of stars to the contrary) are struggling to make a living. Over the last decade there has been a 45.3% decrease in people making a living as musicians.

        1. “But the third grader is NOT LEARNING TO CREATE! If the third grader had a teacher teaching the rudiments of drawing and painting it would be different.”

          May I see your evidence that they aren’t learning?

          “Cutting and pasting pictures from magazines is just playing – it might give the parents something to hang on the refrigerator but it isn’t helping the child learn to create art. It’s encouraging laziness and lack of creativity, and it’s teach the child that they’re “entitled” to take other people’s property and appropriate it as their own.”

          Copyright does not establish property, copyright establishes a limited right to a work.

          “The fact is that you CAN make video/audio collages for you own amusement – that’s permitted under copyright law. What you CAN’T do is publish them, use them commercially or publicly, or claim the images as your own work.”

          Why can’t you publish them free so that others can see your interpretation?

          “Part of the problem is the corruption of the concept of “sharing”. Sharing on a one-to-one basis, in person, between close person friends or family members, FOR PRIVATE USE is one thing. So-called “sharing” over the internet with hundreds or thousands of strangers is an entirely different matter – that’s illegal distribution. And in most cases is poses unfair competition to artists who in most cases (a handful of stars to the contrary) are struggling to make a living. Over the last decade there has been a 45.3% decrease in people making a living as musicians.”

          I refer you to Chapter Five of the book “The Case for Copyright Reform” by Christian Engström, MEP, and Rick Falkvinge.

  3. All culture is built on previous examples.

    Nearly all modern music is played on the evenly tempered scale developed in the Middle Ages, popularised by J.S. Bach, which in turn is based on work by Pythagoras and Aristoxenus. Everyone using modern instruments have been relying on the genius of Bach and even Pythagoras for centuries. The relations between different tones and chords has been thouroughly explored by a multitude of composers and everything since is a reference to their work.
    Remixing has been a part of visual art for a century. The Dadaists used collages, mash-ups and ‘ready-mades’ as a critique of modernity. Picasso was inspired by tribal art from Africa.
    Music has even deeper traditions of copying and improving on previous works. Jazz was ‘invented’ by poorer black musicians who could afford only one score of popular tracks, so they learned the basic melodies then “Jazzed” it up, improvising around the original melody. The basis of hip-hop is playing the dancebreaks from popular songs on 2 turntables back and forth to extend the length of the break.
    At what point does a creative work become something new? At what point do you declare something copied?
    Finally how many actual composers could put together something as awesome as this? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JBAxkZun3s&feature=related

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