I Am Not A Thief – guest article by castrovalva

The below is taken from the comments on a link to Pirate Party Australia’s online signup form that I posted to Reddit. It is written by a non-member, and I have published with permission the two comments in full, as they sum up the views of the Pirate Movement very succinctly. We are all appreciative of the author’s time and input. It was written in response to this comment.

Be careful with your distinctions here – there is a world of difference between a cultural object and a technological object.

The reality is that the idea that cultural objects can be privately owned is a relatively recent one, which runs contrary to the evolutionary forces that have driven human communication for thousands of years. The notion that we no longer own our culture, and that we must navigate multiple layers of privatization in order to ‘legally’ and, by extension, morally engage with culture is utterly preposterous.

Simultaneously, the notion that culture production should and must lead to fabulous riches for all concerned is a ludicrous conceit. So many anti-piracy arguments are hinged on the premise that by copying an album that someone else has bought, you are ‘robbing the artists’. This, of course, assumes that the only remuneration that matters in a cultural transaction is a financial one – which, again, is a relatively recent phenomenon. For thousands of years, humans created culture to communicate, to educate, to inspire, and to critique. Now, it is an accepted fact that culture may be designed to achieve these goals but must always be designed for the purpose of profit generation. Ridiculous, and presumptuous.

Combine this with the fact that all of the distribution channels have now been colonised by vampiric, parasitic corporations, and we find ourselves at something of a legal crossroads. We, as cultural creatures, are largely victim to forces which attempt to funnel us through corporate channels of distribution, each of which is intended to draw money from us since, as you said, ‘theft is just wrong’.

It isn’t theft, and it isn’t wrong. We are cultural creatures, and our culture has been so utterly, criminally, and inhumanly privatised, that piracy is a reasonable and logical response. Do I give money to artists who’s work I enjoy? Absolutely. The artists. Not the repellent parasites who stand between me and their work, not the faceless, global corporations who want to offer me less choice for more money, and certainly not the forces which have all but robbed of us our ability to create folk music, folk art, to engage in the oral tradition, to share, collaborate, and co-create. I choose to reject contemporary notions of cultural ownership, and nobody – nobody – will succeed in making me feel guilty for availing myself of the privileges afforded to civilised people for the majority of human history that have been taken away from us against our wishes and without our consent.

How did art and culture exist before the era of privatization of art and culture? Were we imagining all of those stories, songs, and paintings? Did we simply snap our fingers and will them into being once the era of mass copyright began?

No. For centuries, art was as art did – and culture existed for myriad reasons. Sometimes to further various religious and political agendas, and other times, to entertain. Or frighten. Or warn. Or disturb. And, yes, sometimes – for the purposes of profiteering.

That’s not 2012 though, is it? Now, culture is an instrument for profiteering primarily – and if one rejects that definition and attempts to return to a cultural milieu that existed prior to the wholly ridiculous notion that ideas and images can be privately owned by companies instead of people, one is a ‘pirate’ and a ‘thief’.

Utter nonsense. Was Woody Guthrie a ‘thief’ for re-recording folk music that had been passed down through generations? What about Warhol or Duchamp? All the permutations of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ were created, distributed, and enjoyed by thieves too?

The concept of private ownership of our culture – not theirs, ours – is an absolutely abhorrent one.

As for technology – technological development existed long before the notion of mass privatization. No high tech sound studios? What on earth makes you think that? Do you seriously believe that absolutely everyone who has ever created anything useful has only done it for the purpose of acquiring fame and wealth? That is absurd. As humans, we have always created and innovated to meet the needs of the moment, to challenge ourselves, and to contribute to our communities and the lives of those we love. The big lie is that you must value yourself and your work in terms of dollar amounts – which, naturally, you must share with corporations and the government – and if you don’t do that, you have somehow failed in your responsibilities.

It’s insular foolishness, propagated by a cadre of private ownership addicts who know just how fast you’ll run if they dangle the right carrot at the right distance from your eyes. The whole system is corrupt, rigged, and if I choose to remove myself from it, and not participate in it, I am not a ‘thief’. In actuality, I am far more human than anyone who is complicit in their own economic enslavement.

– castrovalva


Author: Mozart Olbrycht-Palmer

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