Why Internet Piracy May Actually Benefit America

Internet piracy is good for the economy and the preservation of free speech, and should continue unabated by government.

This fact may shock some, but it is nonetheless true. First, consider what exactly is being pirated: digitally formatted and copyrighted “intellectual property.” However, intellectual property does not actually exist, and cannot be owned by anyone.

A movie, for example, is not merely a reel of film or magnetic tape, nor the paper, ink, and staples which compose the director’s script. It is a specific algorithm of light and sound waves which simulate a certain image. The individual waves are perceived once, and are replaced immediately by new ones, never to be seen again, even during multiple viewings of the same movie. The real “movie” is an idea – an intangible product of the mind.

To copyright a movie or piece of literature is to attempt to monopolize a thought, or series of words. A perfect illustration of this laughable concept was Donald Trump’s attempt to trademark the phrase, “you’re fired!” Obviously, one cannot own the English language or its constituent parts, since they are merely generic formulas for communication, different when spoken by any one person. And should any phrase succeed in being trademarked or otherwise “owned,” it would be an abridgement of free speech and thought.

One example of corporations’ attempts to monopolize intellectual property can be seen in the recent adoption of “cloud computing.” To summarize cloud computing, it is an instance where one’s home computer is used as little more than a terminal to access a much larger, corporate computer which holds all of the actual information and content. When one watches a movie on Netflix, it is not actually “on" their computer; it is merely being displayed on the screen. Cloud computing is simply another form of DRM, or digital rights management. It allows corporations to control what information is stored, distributed, who can access it, and when.

But why do organizations like the MPAA, the same organization which lobbied congress to outlaw the VCR, oppose the free distribution of online content? Because it prevents the major studios from reaping the same obscene profits for lackluster films. If enough consumers decide a movie is not worth seeing immediately in theaters, and opt to download movies for free, the movie industry would have to lower ticket prices or make better movies (and perhaps even pay their writers!)

But it is important to remember that the theater experience is something worth paying for, should the movie be enjoyable, and not merely a throwaway piece of expensive Hollywood schlock. For example, when I saw The Dark Knight, I was so pleased with the film that I went to see it in theaters four times! I was glad to reward a studio’s work with my money, helping encourage them to make a sequel. Horror movies are another example of the theater experience. One goes to see a scary movie in theaters for the shared excitement of people screaming when the monster is revealed. So even if a movie is available for free on a home computer, it is not necessarily desirable in that format.

All these points are not limited simply to movies. Television, music, video games, books, and software are also examples of ideas and equations which should continue to be distributed freely, but also bought should they be worth paying for. Computer technologies are the least regulated industry in the United States, and have continued to innovate and generate wealth at a rate unimaginable just a few decades ago. Software and the internet have progressed at such a rate that it has enabled nearly anyone to become a movie maker, or a musician, or an artist, distribute their content to a wide audience, and even make a living through ad revenues and donations. This free market must not be stifled by governments and the corporations which fund them.