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Think the Brighter Side to Piracy

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Piracy is stealing and a crime. But where a large corporation loses a little, sometimes we have a little more to gain…

While getting ready for a movie at the cinema recently, I was given a public message of appreciation by a local director thanking me for not pirating his movie. This was followed by an apathetic grin, from my part. Sure, I may not have pirated any of his movies (nor any locally produced movie, for that matter), but I can't say the same for the other things.

I don't deny that there were times I skirted along the Pasar Malam crowd for a "Buy 5 Free 1" deal with the local DVD peddlers. And when I discovered torrents, Josh Whedon's "Firefly" was quickly indicted into my hard drive. I suppose everyone of you out there shouldn't deny that you've at least pirated something once.


Description: THINK The Brighter Side To Piracy


Why did I pirate? I did it not because I couldn't afford it. I did it because my local DVD peddler had a copy of Johnnie To's "Sparrow" while the largest Speedy I could find haven't even heard of it. It was the same thing with "Firefly", which the original box set can never be found here. I pirated because of the unavailability of it all.

It's ironic, in a sense, when piracy was the only way I could access art. "Sparrow" was a Hong Kong art-house piece of magic, and so was my long-sought copy of "The Thief and the Cobbler", a long-forgotten animated feature by the great Richard Williams. So, in a way, piracy was my doorway to art. It is, perhaps, the same for many others.

Sometimes the doorway is opened up for the content creators themselves. There are instances in which piracy was actually beneficial, and I draw this point to a particular incident involving an independently produced movie named "Ink". "Ink" did well in movie festivals but failed to find an audience to recoup its costs, but when the movie hit the torrent sites it picked up such a sizeable amount of fans that they eventually bought the movie directly from the creators. Without piracy working as the medium, "Ink" would've faded into obscurity.

There are artists out there who believe that piracy isn't all that bad, simply that it allows their works to be seen, heard, read or touched. Writer Neil Gaiman had said that piracy is "just a giant form of lending."

Which brings me back to "The Thief and the Cobbler", which was such a mangled mess of a movie upon release that the Internet community came up with a 're-cobbled' version, essentially a Director's Cut. The only way to watch it is to stream it on YouTube, or pay a visit to a torrent site. Both, I doubt, constituted as truly legal means.

Writer and historian Benj Edwards wrote a brilliant and thoughtful piece titled "Why History Needs Software Piracy” (which you can read at www.technologizer. com), which iterated that, without piracy, we may be denying our future generations of art and history. According to Edwards, piracy has saved more software than it has destroyed, sparing tens of thousands of programs from extinction. The pirates might've done it unwittingly, but each individual action has created a vast web of data that ensures the software live on.

Edwards noted that piracy's preserving effect is nothing new, and it was through centuries of copies or widely distributed literature of Homer and Beowulf (pirated in their time) that ensured we actually know about them. Today, piracy ensured that we can still know and access the "Star Wars Christmas Special".

I've stopped pirating now, having discovered the painful but fruitful act of shipping. I do not condone piracy nor encourage it; it can, after all, be a harmful thing. What I'm saying is that instead of coming up needlessly totalitarian means of curbing piracy (here's to SOPA, PIPA and ACTA), perhaps the better way is to learn from it, adapt from it and, ultimately, profit from it; something corporate executives often fail to realise.

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