Finding an apt analogy for piracy

I quote an analogy which exemplifies just why piracy is disruptive to obsolete business models, but not harmful.


So my article on the ethics of piracy was posted in the /r/games subreddit and the thread pretty much exploded in arguments. I only saw it half an hour before I had to go to a Faun concert (and then straight to bed because I was working early next day), so I could only properly respond 16 hours after the fact, at which point everyone had already moved on. Still I did leave some answers in that first half-hour but I quickly found out I could barely get a word in sidewise, before being downvoted below the viewing threshold. Oh well, not unexpected I guess (albeit mildly ironic, given how anti-pirates are under the delusion that their opinions are unpopular). And it wasn’t just me, anyone who wasn’t explicitly negative toward piracy, was downvoted, even for simply stating facts.

Anyway, one of the classic problems when discussing piracy is finding an analogy that approximates the same dynamics. Anti-pirates will insist on using analogies relating to physical theft, such as shoplifting, car theft and so on, while pro-piracy people try to use analogies that simulate the zero harm caused to the current owner. It almost impossible to see eye to  eye on this between these two camps, but on the aforementioned thread, someone did make an analogy that I think is compelling in pointing out how piracy disrupts business models.

Quoth mrbobgray

Essentially, the current business model of video games is like this:

I paint a picture. It is a wonderful picture, and everyone loves it. I realize that people will pay me to see it, so I put it in a closed off room and charge people to come in and see it. This works fine for awhile, and I make a lot of money; then one day, everyone on earth develops x-ray vision. This sucks for me, because suddenly I realize that people no longer need to pay me to see my painting; they can stop by any time they like and see it.

What’s an artist to do? How can I possibly make money from my work?

What the video game industry currently does is simple; they ask the government to make it illegal to use x-ray vision on the walls to my house. Ta-da! Everyone has to pay me to see my painting again.

There is a problem though; it is essentially impossible for the government to tell who is using x-ray vision to look through my walls, and who is merely looking at my house. Thus, some people choose to simply ignore the government, and view my painting using their x-ray vision. There is nothing to physically stop them, and it doesn’t prevent others from listening to the government and paying to see it. I can say that I have lost money from those illegal peeping toms, but have I? How much? Neither I or the government know, because we have no way to tell who of the people using x-ray vision would be willing to pay to see my painting.

The problem with this system is obvious: it is reliant on an old, out-dated set of assumptions; namely, that people don’t have x-ray vision. Instead of adapting to new developments, a law was passed to simply pretend those developments don’t exist. This is where we are with digital goods and copyright laws.

Computers and the internet are truly incredible, amazing things. The ability to store and transfer incredible amounts of data near instantaneously has changed humanity as we know it. So why are we fighting it? Why do we pretend that it doesn’t exist?

The idea is not to prevent people from using the new, amazing developments we have as a society; the old model is fundamentally broken. What has to happen now is finding ways of utilizing these new developments to create even more value. Don’t ask me what that is, because if I knew, I’d be busy counting my millions.


8 thoughts on “Finding an apt analogy for piracy”

  1. About reddit and downvoting pro-piracy threads:

    I am on the fence. Generally, pro-piracy and anti-piracy, are opinions. Why downvote them?

    I was thinking about this [haven't read your article yet] while I was driving to work. I also thought of an analogy.

    Here goes. Everyone on reddit downvotes people that pirate. I bet that most of those downvoters DO pirate. But they hate to admit it. Something like 'pirate remorse'?

    The analogy. My wife just bought a 50 euro imitation bag from the internet. She was ecstatic because the original costs 1.000 euro, and the imitation is actually a pretty decent bag. She would have bought the imitation even if it was a no-name bag. When she told her girlfriends about it, she got the icy stare. ALL her girlfriends disapproved of her buying the imitation bag. What the hell. I bet most of them own IMITATION BAGS!

    1. That IS weird. I have no idea why it happens. Perhaps her friends think that imitation items cheapen the pride of having an original, but are OK with pretending they all have originals?

      I am on the fence. Generally, pro-piracy and anti-piracy, are opinions. Why downvote them?

      Personally I think it's because the overwhelmingly middle-class american people who inhabit the gaming communities of reddit feel that piracy is "killing PC gaming" or consolizing it.

      1. [quote]That IS weird. I have no idea why it happens. Perhaps her friends think that imitation items cheapen the pride of having an original, but are OK with pretending they all have originals? [/quote]

        I thought that THEY thought 'if you want a cheap bag, then buy a no-name one. Don't buy a cheap one and try to fool us into thinking it's an expensive one, you stupid show-off bitch!!!!11'

        This is an argument I can get behind, by the way.

        PS. I wish I knew how you can /quote in IntenseDebate.

    1. Reading your comment policy? What are you talking about?
      I never even read this original post to the end, man.

  2. By the way, economists actually describe copyright and patent as government-granted monopolies. The government grants monopolies on the usage of some practice or copying of some media, and that monopoly is used to extract economic rents (i.e. collect revenue above and beyond what it would take to bring these products to market). Now, the economists then talk about how these government-granted monopolies might be important to incentivize the production of certain things, but it is important simply to note that they do describe copyrights and patents that way. Nobody seriously thinks these things are physical objects. They are a regulatory structure put in place to generate rents for things the government thinks it is important to allow people to generate rents for.

    There is no stealing, just a violation of the monopoly.

    1. I know. If you see my other posts on the matter, you'll see that I commonly refer to copyrights as "state-granted monopolies". It's important I think to put things in context.

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