Medosch argues that: “piracy, despite being an entirely commercially motivated activity carried out in black or grey markets, fulfills culturally important functions” (Reader, page 318).
Discuss this argument whilst giving an example online.
In his paper, Paid in Full, Medosch (2008: 73-97) argues for a more nuanced standpoint that combines the seemingly extreme perspectives of both the copyleft and copyright movements. The above quote is interesting in that it acknowledges the inevitability of piracy and the sureness of its effects. The full cultural consequences of piracy are beyond the scope of this discussion to cover, but Medosch offers that piracy allows “access to cultural goods which otherwise would be completely unavailable to the vast majority of the people” (2008: 81). This wider reaching access means that previous limitations such as financial status and geographical location are no longer as relevant. However, Medosch assumes that piracy is “an entirely commercially motivated activity” (2008: 81), whereas in most online cases such as peer-to-peer file sharing and bit torrent, acts of piracy are actually committed without gain or profit. The dependence offline piracy has on commercial gain means that whilst it does offer a wider access to previously limited or inaccessible goods, it is subject to more restrictions than the relative freedom of online piracy.
Torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay offer a large variety of texts to be downloaded free of charge, provided that there are other users willing to ‘seed’ the file. The sheer abundance of information means that users now engage with cultural texts more freely. The financially disadvantaged are offered the same access as the privileged, and national borders no longer pose as a restriction. Someone who would have been previously hesitant to buy an album would have no problem downloading it for nothing and trying it out.
This accessibility undermines the previously established economic structures surrounding cultural goods. Medosch points out the Marxist distinction between use value and monetary value, and that “the link between cultural production and money is fractious” (2008: 86, 92). By taking money out of the equation, audiences, artists and producers are forced to reconsider the actual worth of cultural goods, and the framework of relationships that connect each party. Various artists react to the impact of piracy in their own ways, demonstrating the manner in which they have evaluated the meaning of their work and its connection with its audience.
Exemplary of this is how Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series, decided to abandon the book Midnight Sun when its unfinished manuscript was leaked online. The statement Meyer released on her website states how her decision was made based on how this breach of copyright affected her position as an artist, and how betrayed she felt by her fans. In stark contrast, when the debut solo album of singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer was leaked, she decided to use the early disclosure of the album to the purposes of publicity. Now that the songs were available already, she took the opportunity to create a music video for each track to promote the album, relying on fan loyalty for revenue. This shows how piracy and leaks are becoming inevitable, and that it is becoming an important part of cultural production.
(Word Count: 473)
Armin Medosch, ‘Paid in Full: Copyright, Piracy and the Real Currency of Cultural Production’, in Deptforth. TV Diaries II: Pirate Strategies. London: Deptforth TV, 2008, pp. 73-97.