same way light confuses scientists by existing as particles and
waves at the same time, information increasingly seems to confuse
us. Information is getting cheaper and more expensive at the same
time, and it appears that many of us, especially those of us who
own or control a great deal of it, no longer understand how to
observe or use it.
live in a world where it is legal for a company to patent pigs,
or any other living thing except for a full birth human being,
but copying a CD you bought onto your hard drive is considered
an infringement of someone else's rights. A place where an average
law abiding citizen could owe more than US$12 million dollars
in fines if they were sued every time they accidentally violated
copyright law in a single day.
A society where it's OK for each of us to be hit with 5,000 advertising
messages every 24 hours, usually without our permission, but creating
a piece of art and placing it in public yourself without permission
can land you in prison. This isn't just about the pros and cons
of file sharing - this is about an entire species losing its sense
of perspective, failing to understand the potential of one of
its most precious (and yet most abundant) resources.
of us are confused about whether our ideas should count as information,
or property. When we have a new idea, there are two opposing forces
at work. At the same time as we are thinking "how can I get this
out there?" we're also asking ourselves "how can I benefit from/monetize
this idea?" We want to spread ideas as information, but capitalize
on them as intellectual property. This problem with information
is something I call The Pirate's Dilemma.
of America's greatest innovators were thought of as pirates.
When Thomas Edison invented the phonographic record player,
musicians branded him a pirate out to steal their work
and destroy the live music business.
first thing we need to understand is that the decision as to how
we share "our" information isn't always "ours" to make alone.
If a drug company decides it won't share malaria and anti-retroviral
AIDS drugs with a developing nation for a price the suffering
citizens of that country can afford, that country may decide to
ignore patent protections and manufacture pirate copies of the
drugs anyway in order to save lives.
If an industry dependent on physical information, distribution
bottlenecks and artificial scarcity decides to ignore more efficient
ways of distributing the information it considers its property,
pirates will step into the breach and highlight the fact that
there is a better way for us to do things.
of America's greatest innovators were thought of as pirates. When
Thomas Edison invented the phonographic record player, musicians
branded him a pirate out to steal their work and destroy the live
music business, until a system was established so everyone could
be paid royalties, which we today call the record industry. Edison,
in turn, went on to invent filmmaking, and demanded a licensing
fee from those making movies with his technology. This caused
a band of filmmaking pirates, including a man named William, to
flee New York for the then still wild West, where they thrived,
unlicensed, until Edison's patents expired. These pirates continue
to operate there, albeit legally now, in the town they founded:
Hollywood. William's last name? Fox.
is the sharp end of innovation, innovation by any means necessary.
Large oligopolies control most of our industries and governments.
Six companies control most of what we see and hear. According
to The World Bank's 2007 figures, roughly two-thirds the world's
150 largest economies aren't nations, but corporations. We all
know the system doesn't work quite the way it's supposed to, yet
continue to think of this inefficient system we have as "the free
pirates are actually doing is highlighting a better way
for us to do things; they find gaps outside the market
- and better ways for society to operate. In these situations
the only way to fight piracy is legitimize and legalize
new innovations by competing with pirates in the marketplace.
Pirates upend inefficient systems - they take order and create
short-term chaos, but often the long-term result of piracy on
a large scale is a better system - a more efficient way of doing
things. Pirates created many of our established orders out of
chaos, and now that these industries are becoming inefficient
in the face of new technologies, chaos is being created once again.
to struggling artists, in everything from health care to entertainment
to education, many of us are being challenged by the problem of
others sharing and using our intellectual property without permission.
This challenge requires a change of attitude, because sometimes
piracy isn't the problem, it's the solution. You see, piracy is
really a market signal - an early warning system, a warning that
all too often goes ignored by established industries. Whether
we consider ourselves pirates or professionals, we're all competing
in the same space.
enter our market spaces, we have two choices: We can throw lawsuits
at them and hope they go away. Sometimes this is the best thing
to do. But what if those pirates are adding value to society in
some way? If these pirates are really doing something useful,
people support them, and the strong arm of the law won't work.
The pirates will keep coming back and multiplying no matter how
many people are sued. And the truth is, if lawsuits become a core
component of your business model, then you no longer have a business
model (unless you're a lawyer).
these cases, what pirates are actually doing is highlighting a
better way for us to do things; they find gaps outside the market
- and better ways for society to operate. In these situations
the only way to fight piracy is legitimize and legalize new innovations
by competing with pirates in the marketplace. Once the new market
space is legitimized, more opportunities are created for everyone.
This is how cable TV started, it's why many drugs are now sold
at prices people in the third world can afford, it's how many
other new opportunities are being created today. Pirates present
us with a choice. We can either fight them
in the courts, or match them play for play in the marketplace.
To compete or not to compete, that is the question; that is The
Matt's book, The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Reinventing
Capitalism, is out now through Free Press, and probably soon on
a BitTorrent tracker near you ;).
Visit Matt's website at http://www.thepiratesdilemma.com/
and order a copy of his book.
Matt began his career as a pirate radio and club DJ in London,
going on to become founding Editor-in-Chief of the seminal magazine
RWD. In 2004, he was selected as one of the faces of Gordon Brown's
Start Talking Ideas campaign, and was presented the Prince's Trust
London Business of the Year Award by HRH Prince Charles. He has
written and produced TV series, comic strips, viral videos and
records, and his journalism has appeared in The Observer Music
Monthly, VICE, Complex and other publications in more than 12
countries around the world. He recently founded the non-profit
media company Wedia with his wife Emily. He lives in New York
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