Look, down deep, people are either liberal or conservative. You know it. I know it. We feel a certain way about things and then grow our ideas to fit those predelictions. I felt P2P was wrong the day I first checked out Napster. But for years I couldn’t articulate it well. Maybe I still can’t.
I kept hearing supposedly reasonable people talk about the good side of P2P their arguments sounded like Saruman speaking from the tower. I thought back to my youth and the massive collection of cassette tapes I kept from parties, gigs. The library. Why was that OK and not CD copying? Or MP3 sharing? The arguments from the pirates strike me as absolutist; because there is no intrinsic difference between what I was doing in 1975 vs. what kids are doing today, I am a total hypocrite for decrying copying as ‘wrong’. But absolutism is a false logic. And here’s where I’m at now. I think there are four problems with this ‘copying is copying’ mentality’.
1. It’s the Quality. The fact is that we now have a way to make perfect copies. My pathetic little cassette tapes were OK for a party or for learning to play a song on my guitar. But for really ‘listening’? Nahhh. So even if I had a tape, I always had to buy the songs I really wanted in order to get ’em to sound in all their glory.
2. It’s the Quantity. If I wanted to make a copy back in 1975, I could only make one copy at a time. I only made copies for people I really liked. Now? I can effectively make 100,000 copies in the blink of an eye through the magic of Torrents. It’s like Facebook where people have 8,456 ‘really close friends.’
3. Also, I have many, many options for packaging. I can rip you a CD or I can make you an MP3 in any number of flavours. I can re-package them as a zip. I can add it to a still photo of my cat and throw it up on YouTube as a ‘new’ work of art (I am so creative!)
4. In another twist on ‘packaging’ , I think the fact that CD’s are packaged so crappily compared with vinyl has also tangentially contributed to the problem. Back in the day, an LP sleeve was often a true work of art. How many CDs can say the same? Not too many. The market value of CD packaging is so low that people could care less whether they have the jewel case or not. And all those pretentious 16 page ‘booklets’? Who’s kidding who. Sixteen or 32 pages of postage stamp-sized post-modern images just ain’t the same as Led Zeppelin III with it’s built-in game or any of the great Riverside jazz albums of the ’50’s. Face it. When it comes to graphic art? Size matters. The small size of the jewel case basically screams, ‘I don’t matter!’
The people who argue in favour of piracy tend to ignore all these as not being ‘intrinsic’. To them ‘copying is copying’, which sounds good but is like saying that a go-cart and a Lamborghini are both ‘cars’ and should therefore be subject to the same rules of the road. But they ain’t.
When you make a technology that is so easy (or ’empowering’—you choose) you basically are asking for trouble. So I think the legal difference between copying a cassette in 1975 and ripping a CD in 2009 should be treated more like the difference between owning a hunting knife and an AK-47. Both are ‘deadly weapons’. But the gun makes it so easy to harm that it makes it almost inevitable that people will get hurt. At the end of the day we have to recognise that some technologies are just too enticing and should be controlled… for everyone’s good. Is it a curb to ‘freedom’. Sure. But part of being mature is recognising that there are no absolutes.