Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Pirate's Dilemma

I finally got around to reading the book 'The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism' this week - you can find the book here. It is available for free as well as on Amazon and is well worth the read even if it has dated a little now.

An interesting link is made between piracy and Punk Capitalism:

'D.I.Y encourages us to reject authority and hierarchy, advocating that we can and should produce as much as we consume. Since punk, this idea has been quietly changing the very fabric of our economic system, replacing outdated ideas with the twenty-first-century upgrades of Punk Capitalism' [pg 12]

The Do It Yourself mentality has become a way of life for many in the digital age:

'Our world today is starting to look a lot more like a punk gig (okay, maybe with slightly less spitting). The barriers to entry are being kicked down, and this new breed of fans-turned-performers, including you, is rushing the world stage. Technology is cheap; information is everywhere; and the roadies are gone (who takes advice from roadies anyway?). The only thing left to do is to stop defining ourselves by the old hierarchy and run up on stage.' [pg 18]

Indeed there is no longer such a thing as 'owning the means of production':

'It seems that ownership of the means of production - the backbone of capitalism - is falling into the hands of the masses. But soon the notion of "owning" the means of production may itself be redundant.' [pg 28]

Piracy is seen largely as a good thing:

'Pirates create positive social and economic changes, and understanding piracy today is more important than ever, because now that we all can copy and broadcast whatever we want; we can all become pirates' [pg 35] '...Piracy transforms the markets it operates in, changing the way distribution works and forcing companies to be more competitive and innovative. Pirates don't just defend the public domain from corporate control; they also force big business and government to deliver what we want, when we want it. [pg 38]

File sharing is just one example of piracy in the digital age:

'The Internet community that believes file-sharing networks are vitally important to culture and innovation have never stopped opening new p2p networks as fast as the authorities try to close them down. A good idea is powerful only if people are willing to get behind it. By giving a community a new space that was not previously available to them, you can empower them, and they in turn will propel your idea forward.
In the case of piracy we have looked at so far, there are two ways in which they win. Either the laws prohibiting them change, or the pirates become so popular the laws are effectively ignored. But the pirate mentality has now been taken on by many who weren't breaking the law in the first place.' [pg 48]

There is an excellent discussion of remix culture and the history of hip hop among other issues such as patents, medicine, youth culture, graffiti culture, pirate radio, the open source software movement, Wikipedia, the history of dance parties, and the future of 3D printing.

In relation to music in particular, Mason states:

'Music, one of our most previous forms of information, has always wanted to be free, spreading across the globe and mutating into new forms' [pg 146]

Napster and the history and motivation behind file sharing is discussed in detail from pages 154 to 161. Reference is made to the exploitation of musicians by record labels, with particular reference to a study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

'A study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project asked three thousand musicians and songwriters their views on file-sharing in April 2004. A total of 35 percent of those polled said that file sharing was not necessarily bad, because it helped market and distribute their work; 35 percent said file sharing had actually boosted their reputations. Only 23 percent of those asked agreed that file sharing was harmful; 83 percent said they had deliberately put free samples of their music online.' [pg 156]

The slow and painful death of the record industry was caused in part by their response to file sharing with Mason concluding:

'The death of the record industry was the best thing that could have happened to the business of making music.' [pg 158]

Blanket licensing is discussed with reference to Peter Jenner, the former manager of the Clash and Pink Floyd. [pg 160]

The changes in the music industry have been monumental over the past decade:

'The music industry is being replaced by a new middle class, but this isn't just a class of musicians, it's also a new democracy that offers businesses and citizens more opportunities, which is redefining our economic system.' [pg 166]

The Pirate's Dilemma is, ultimately, whether to compete with piracy or to try to stop it:

'The new democracy in the music industry gave us more choice, but for the old industry machine it means less dominance for marketing-led manufactured music and more opportunity for organically grown niche acts. We find ourselves with a unique opportunity to share anything that can be transmitted electronically the same way we share music, and all industries could face the same changes. The future depends on whether we fight these changes, or see them for the opportunities they are.' [pg 170]

Mason discusses game theory based on what is known as 'The Prisoner's Dilemma' and sketches out the consequences for society and businesses if they elect to compete or to quash piracy. Society gains maximum value when businesses compete with piracy. [pg 239] He states:

'Piracy isn't just another business model, it's one of the greatest business models we have.
Acting like a pirate-taking value from the market, or creating new spaces outside the market and giving it back to the community, whether it's with free open-source software or selling cheap Starbury sneakers-is a great way to serve public interests and a great way to make an authentic connection to a new audience.' [pg 240]

This is a great book, albeit a little short on referencing, but worth taking a look at. It is well written and easy to read and covers a whole range of subjects that are very interesting.

Further Reading
Matt Mason, 'The Pirate's Dilemma: How Youth Culture is Reinventing Capitalism' (2008) < > at 1 September 2011

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