The following is a school paper i wrote in 2005 on internet file-sharing;
presented here for your reading pleasure, and edited for the web.
All rights reserved © 2006, Rusty Kroon

Pirates in International Waters
Music, often called the universal language, has a beauty and meaning that everyone can understand. Every known culture has had music, and for ages music was something that was accessible to and shared by everyone. No one could take a claim to music in the Dark Ages because musicians “were told it would make God unhappy if they took credit for what they created,” (Bower). But in modern times, sharing music has come under attack in a war of politics; pirates versus anti-pirates. ‘Pirating’ is somewhat of a misnomer, intended for people who illegally reproduce copyrighted music or software for profit, but often used in reference to those who share it with others on peer-to-peer (P2P) networks. Many people and media companies accuse file-sharing of violating all kinds of moral and legal boundaries. But these peer-to-peer networks cannot possibly be dubbed illegal; firstly, because they are absolutely harmless to everyone; and secondly, because information cannot be legal property.

Peer-to-peer networks are just areas on the internet where any number of people can share information: programs, documents, images, video, and music. Media industries world-wide have been lobbying to make file-sharing illegal. One often sees ads sponsored by media companies in the cinema equating file-sharing with theft. This, however is not realistic in the least. Stealing is a completely different thing from file-sharing and should not be so related. As a matter of fact, in “Dowling v. the United States (1985), the US Supreme court held that copyright infringement does not ‘easily equate’ to theft and unauthorized copies are not stolen property,” ( File-sharers often defend this fact by pointing out that file-sharing doesn’t hurt anyone. They aren’t selling the files, be they music or other files, and so no one can be losing money. Media industries, however, claim that these people who are sharing music would have paid them money for that music were it otherwise not available. This is, however debatable. “Interestingly, the research that attempts to measure actual monetary loss has been somewhat equivocal. Whilst on paper the existence of these networks results in massive losses, the actual income doesn’t seem to have changed much since these networks started up,” (

My own digital music collection consists of thousands of songs, some of which I downloaded just to hear if they were any good. I could not even afford to buy half that amount of music in cd's, esp. not at 15 dollars a pop. Now, it must be granted that even though my music collection wouldn't be of equal girth, I probably would have bought some cds. Once I discovered file-sharing, it's true, I stopped wasting my money. But even so, new technologies always cause ripples in socio-economics. Manual loom-weavers gave way to industrial weaving machines, computing machines made switch-operators obsolete, this is the way of progress (research the Luddites). The Industrial Revolution was cursed at its onset for stealing away jobs to machines (among other things). But out of the Industrial Revolution came many new advances in technology, and medicine that have vastly improved man’s quality of life. Society eventually gave way to these new ideas, and it benefited them. In this same way, media companies must understand that they might face losses due to a new technology, but that they must accept progress as it comes along.
This is the way of things, progress equals change; we have to deal with that fact.

Some anti-pirates even go so far as to say that peer-to-peer encourages the spread of pornography. While this disparaging fact cannot be denied in the least, pornography is bought and sold on all kinds of legal e-commerce sites. So unless e-commerce itself is shutdown, neither should peer-to-peer file-sharing. This is not likely to happen as many companies enjoy large revenue from e-commerce, including media companies against peer-to-peer. And yet, they contend once more that it gives minors easy access to pornography. However, anyone who has been on the internet for a good amount of time knows that even if you don’t want to access pornography that you will be e-mailed and advertised all over for easy access to porn sites anyway. As such, this argument fails. If you're worried about keeping your kids away from porn on the internet, keep them off the internet. That's the parent's job, not the internet's.

The final and most largely debated point against file-sharing’s legality is that it infringes on copyright laws already setup by the government to protect against pirating. Many people are ignorant or confused about that fact that file-sharing is not necessarily pirating, that is, it is not copying information for profit. File-sharing is when one person has a file (acquired legally or otherwise) and decides to make it available to other users of a file-sharing network. This act of sharing, in itself, is technically not legal either, but unjustifiably so, in that it is improperly applied.

The Information Age in which we live has made information universally accessible. With enough know-how, anyone could find information on just about anything he/she wanted to know. This was why the internet was created, to share information. The original internet was actually a few colleges connected to each other to share research information. It was employed by the military to communicate nationwide in the case of an emergency, and it is now used worldwide to project information on nearly everything to almost everywhere. The spread of information is unstoppable as it is so flexible. Anyone who really wants information on the net can get it. Hackers have already proved this, and the hydra's-head of file-sharing networks has proved this. Laws cannot be made about the exchange of information until society has caught up to the level of the technology it has created. Laws regarding the transfer of information are vague and project incorrect ideas about what information is. Information cannot be property as it is completely repeatable. You cannot stop the spread of information, once communicated. It is the duty of the user to protect his private information on the internet, once again, not the internet’s.

In Bill Watterson’s comic strip series ‘Calvin and Hobbes’, the main character, Calvin, creates (or rather imagines) a machine he calls the Duplicator. This machine, as its name implies, instantly duplicates exactly what you put into it. Calvin makes duplicates of himself, and tries to make them do his chores, but imagine if such technology actually existed. What if you could create an exact replica, to the molecule, of anything you wanted? Why, you could duplicate your gold ring by the thousands. You could duplicate all the food you ever needed, or all the cash you ever wanted. Obviously, such technology would destroy global commerce. Anyone who wanted something could just duplicate it. The economy would fail, but who would care? Every person in the world could have food, shelter, and anything else they wanted. No one could steal from you unless they took all the copies and the original (or the duplicator itself). If this technology existed, it would cause a great equality between classes and stop all kinds of wars because no one would have needs. Well this technology does exist, at least partially. Anything you say, type, write, communicate, or do can be copied and mass distributed via computers, digital cameras, voice recorders, you name it. We have reached an Age of Equality, not of monetary equality, but of informational equality. Information is there for anybody willing to reach it. This is why saying that you have copyrighted certain information is ridiculous. Copyright laws in the US state that the copyright owner has exclusive rights to reproduction “in a fixed form,” ( Information is not in a fixed form, and this term is vague in reference to multimedia.

When you say copyright music off a CD, or video off a DVD, it’s like saying you copyright not just a book, but the ideas in a book. It is like saying you could not even think those ideas without having bought the book previously. For example, say there is a person with photographic memory and he/she decides to memorize word for word Johan Wolfgang von Goethe’s book, ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’. And say this man goes around telling this story, verbatim, to anyone who wants to listen. Even if he does not charge his listeners, according to many people’s interpretation of the laws, he is technically infringing on Catherine Hunters’ copyright (the copyright owner on my copy of the book) by the Public Display Right given to her via the copyright. Now I don't think anyone would tell you that they actually thought that speech was information in "fixed form", but thats just it. It's the same idea with modern multimedia. Your computer can interpret information from "fixed form" and relate it to you over and over again. Just like you can sing a song you heard before off a CD, you computer can rip the song and play it to you over again. The only difference is that now it's easy to copy the information. Modern technology makes it easy, so media companies are trying to change the rules to fit their game.

Not convinced about the inaccuracy of the US copyright laws yet? There is a common information sharing center that is funded by your local government. It is called the library. The library pays for books like everyone else does (except they do it with your tax money). The library then lends out these books to anyone who wants to borrow them so they can absorb the information in tehm. Anyone can have the information in those books, but they cannot keep the physical book; that’s legal property. They can, however, keep the ideas and the information that they give. No one needs to buy books anymore; they can just go to the library and borrow it. And yet many bookstores still exist and thrive. The library is very similar to a peer-to-peer file-sharing network. A group of people individually pay for certain music CDs, software, or what have you. Then, they put all of that information in an area where it is accessible to everyone. Now if you took these people’s CDs that would be stealing. CDs are physical property, but the information on them is not. That is why current laws regarding the transfer of information are not justifiable.
You can just hear media moguls yelling, “Well, sharing music is different than sharing books!” But obviously, they haven’t been to the library very recently. Libraries lend out CDs, videos, and DVDs as well. They don’t rail on the immorality of libraries. That’s almost blasphemy in the US.

Anyone can see that not only should information be free to anyone, it already is and there is no way to stop it. This fact is not immoral or illegal as copyright laws do not apply in this area and all information is equal on the internet. However, to stifle the music, the knowledge, and the thought communicated on the internet is immoral, and should be illegal. But until society, as a whole, catches up to the technology it has created, we will have to settle for the middle ground; a physical world with boundaries, and an informational world without.

"Can't stop the signal,"
-Mr. Universe, Serenity

Micheal Bower. Medieval Period 2005 Capistrano School. 12 Nov 2005
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Mark Radcliffe. Copyright Laws 2005 Ladera Press. 12 Nov 2005
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Bill Waterson. Scientific Progress Goes "Boink", 1991, Andrews and McMeel