By Olivia Azevedo
A lot has been said about anti-piracy legislation, but amid heated discussions (about SOPA, PIPA and many other acronyms thrown our way) we forgot one important question: Is piracy needed? Not just as a short term gain for the ‘pirate’, but also as a way for society in general to benefit from?
Would the Bible have survived if no one had attempted to copy it unbeknown to the Church? Probably, all that would be left would’ve been a crumbly scroll in the vault of a museum. You can argue that “that’s different” or “aren’t you being disingenuous?” That can be the case on both counts. Although, we have to consider that through illegal copies many books and manuscripts survived to present times, the Bible being just one of the examples. Maybe we should bring the premise of this debate more closely to home…
Floppy disks. Remember them? If you have some hidden in the garage and never got round to selecting what you want to keep, you are probably too late. Its life expectancy is up to 30 years by optimistic predictions. So if you have anything of value in them, you might have lost it forever… Unless, of course, someone copied and stored your data in a more modern format. With CD’s experts think that their life span can be anything between 25 to 100 years, but it’s probably less. The thing is nobody knows for sure.
Software that is no longer commercially sold or supported would be wiped from our legacy if it wasn’t for the work of modern day pirates. Games published on ROM cartridges are still being played through illegal software emulation on modern consoles and PCs. For those less versed on geeky things, emulation is the ability of a computer program in an electronic device to emulate (or imitate) another program or device. Emulation is a fundamental strategy in digital preservation to combat obsolescence (something that occurs when a new product or technology supersedes the old).
Why preserve something obsolete? So that you can play those old games all over again could be a valid argument. Or so that historians could study them. If video games sound too inconsequential you can replace them with any other subject that can be stored on an electronic device. Could be something related to science or the arts. These would disappear forever in a matter of decades if it wasn’t for piracy. You see, people that digitalize and emulate old software and hardware are saving part of our history.
The big paradox in all of this is the fact that the crusade against illegal downloading has its epicenter in the USA. Historically speaking the American publishing industry was created on the back of copyright infringement by pirating the work of many established British authors with the connivance of U.S. government. The country eventually put copyright laws in place for books in 1787, but only American ones. The rest of the world was overflowing with works that could be freely copied by publishing companies that later became publishing empires like HarperCollins.
In the same year that we are celebrating the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens let’s not forget that the British author was a big advocate of copyright protection, since he was one of the prime targets of the American publishers.
Please post your comments!