Illegal file sharing has been an issue pretty much since the birth of the Internet. With Napster – originally founded as a pioneering peer-to-peer file sharing Internet service that dealt mainly with audio files – running into legal difficulties over copyright infringement as far back as 2000.
Despite the suggestion that “it is unclear whether Internet music file-swapping is so bad for the music industry after all,” with evidence to suggest that users of Napster software are actually more likely to buy more records than non-Napster users, the site was shut down. Then, a war between the authorities and what it gave birth to, has been ongoing ever since.
UK representatives from firms like Facebook, Yahoo, Google and numerous Internet Service Providers have tended to be fairly lenient in terms of their views on the matter, and in enforcing laws and regulations.
In 2010, for example, they argued that a proposed amendment – one which would essentially tighten controls on file sharing could “threaten freedom of speech and the open Internet, without reducing copyright infringement as intended”.
This is in addition to the fact that the government itself scrapped plans to block illegal filesharing websites, led by business secretary Vince Cable. It said that site blocking is too cumbersome and unworkable.
“We have to tell to the industry that greed leads to nowhere,” said multimillion selling author Paulo Coelho. The novelist is a long time supporter of illegal downloads, ever since a pirated Russian edition of The Alchemist was posted online in 1999 and, rather than damaging sales in the country, actually sent them soaring to a million copies by 2002.
“The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better,” he said, on his new venture – joining a new programme on The Pirate Bay – a website which allows users to share electronic files, including multimedia, computer games and software.
“Ahoy Mr. Coelho, You sir are right, by downloading your books I was determined to buy the hard copy! If I wasn’t a pirate I never would read your books! I consider it a preview, if you like it, buy it!” said one reader.
This is in the face of potential policies in the US, such as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Although scrapped in the face of much opposition – this bill, if passed, would give American law enforcement and copyright holders more power in dealing with copyright infringement. It allows them to seek court orders against any website accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. It would also make the streaming of copyrighted content a crime, with a potential five-year prison spell for frequent offenders.
This Act would affect the likes of Google, Twitter and YouTube – sites that have all become pivotal and an integral part of the way in which we communicate, obtain information and go about our daily lives.
Although scrapped, the fact that this idea was even allowed to percolate shows the direction in which thoughts on this matter are heading. In fact, just two days after anti-piracy law protests, officials in the US shut down mega upload –one of the Internet’s largest file sharing sites. The founders were charged with violating piracy laws, and of costing copyright holders more than £320 million in lost revenue.
The UK followed suit recently, shutting down RnBXclusive – a UK based file-sharing site. The domain name was taken over by the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), which warned users they may have committed a criminal offence, punishable by up to 10 years in jail and an unlimited fine.
A Soca spokesperson said: “Soca targets organised criminal enterprises profiting from the exploitation of the UK public and legitimate businesses.
“Much of the music offered for download by the rnbxclusive.com website was illegally obtained from artists, leading the industry to attribute losses of approximately £15m per year to the site’s activity.”
Coelho disagrees, however, arguing that:
“The good old days, when each idea had an owner, are gone forever. First, because all anyone ever does is recycle the same four themes: a love story between two people, a love triangle, the struggle for power, and the story of a journey. Second, because all writers want what they write to be read, whether in a newspaper, blog, pamphlet, or on a wall,” he said. “The more often we hear a song on the radio, the keener we are to buy the CD. It’s the same with literature. The more people ‘pirate’ a book, the better. If they like the beginning, they’ll buy the whole book the next day, because there’s nothing more tiring than reading long screeds of text on a computer screen.”
Regardless of this, it is evident that governments are tightening up their controls. A fact that will undeniably affect people of all cultures and governments of varying beliefs, due to the fact that the Internet is essentially a world wide web.
As written for WNOL
Photo: Pesky Library