The U.S. government wants you to know, when you buy pirated goods, the terrorists win.
A new series of advertisements produced with U.S. taxpayer money is ruffling some feathers among opponents of anti-piracy legislation being considered by Congress. The short films take a highly dramaticized approach to showing the largely made-up world of piracy being run by gangs, thugs and child slavers, all of whom are allegedly supported through illegal downloads and bootleg products.
Nevermind that the facts do not bear these allegations out: the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) is making the case anyway.
One of the ads that’s particularly egregious shows a musician playing for passers-by in a subway, her guitar case open and full of single dollars and loose change. As people walk by, seemingly appreciating her song, they stoop down one by one and grab handfulls of her cash.
In another, a woman is tempted to purchase a bootleg DVD, with a street merchant suggesting it is “only a few dollars.” As she passes him the money, she has a premonition of drug dealers, Hollywood workers being put out, a child laboring away on clothing and a man who seemingly gets shot — all of them repeating, “Only a few dollars.”
While pirated goods actually do, in some cases, fund organized crime, the reality is much less threatening than the ads make it out to be. Not only has the entertainment industry not suffered significant job losses due to illegal downloading, studies indicate that people who participate in the majority of media piracy are also the biggest media buyers — I.E., the studios’ best customers.
As technology publication Ars Technica noted last month, U.S. industries supported by copyright laws are remarkably strong, according to the International Intellectual Property Alliance. They’ve been setting sales records in recent years, and easily outperforming the overall U.S. economy in terms of unemployment, median wages and overall profitability, despite the drag of recession. Far from taking away jobs, they instead claim that media piracy “inhibits growth,” but even that claim is based on theories that a single download translates into a real lost purchase.
That’s not the case, according to Columbia University’s Social Science Research Council, which compiled a 426-page report on piracy around the world. “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” argues that piracy is no longer a “high-margin business,” and they found “no evidence of systematic links between media piracy and more serious forms of organized crime.”
Indeed, many artists seeking to grow their audience have turned to peer-to-peer networks like Bittorrent to distribute their materials, asking for donations if their music is appreciated. This business model, if one can even call it that, has proved to be quite successful for some bands: Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails, in particular, chalked up millions in donations by releasing recent work for free online, all without a record label taking a cut of their profits.
In actuality, the NCPC’s new ads seem more a reaction to the push-back against the Protect IP Act, and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) — currently hot topics in Congress — than any actual piracy. Backed by the entertainment industries and the Chamber of Commerce, both bills seek to effectively alter the structure of the Internet and mandate by law a banking blockade of any website accused of infringing activities. Even linking to a website accused of infringement could trigger penalties, and all it would take to banish a domain from search engines is an allegation: no court hearings necessary.
The legislation is so broad it could be used to target online anonymity tools used by human rights activists, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The software Tor, for instance, which has been used to protect activists in Tunisia and Egypt, could be targeted because it can be used to hide one’s IP address when illegally downloading copyrighted content.
Corporations could also use the proposed laws to force companies to stop processing donations to whistleblower sites like WikiLeaks that post documents protected by copyright or containing trade secrets. The bill would additionally require Internet service providers to “take technically feasible and reasonable measures” to block “rogue” sites from their customers.
Remarkably, both bills have a fair shot at passing their respective congressional chambers, but they face strong opposition from companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, eBay, Twitter and even the Business Software Alliance, all of which realize the detrimental effect the legislation would have on small businesses, independent media companies and social sharing networks.
But try explaining that to an aging lawmaker who doesn’t really understand how the Internet works — whereas a sad-looking guitar player being victimized by random strangers might just prove to be much more compelling.
These videos are from the National Crime Prevention Council.
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