P2P – Pirate to Pirate

On: March 18, 2013
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About Maaike Hansen


You know that feeling when you’re in a candy store? Surrounded by mountains of chocolate, clouds of cotton candy and fountains of chocolate, the temptation becomes too much to bear. So what do you do? That’s right, when no one’s looking you grab a handful of sweets. Everyone would, right?
The Internet has provided us with a candy store right in our living rooms. Why would you spend money on DVDs or CDs when you can download them for free? Instead of buying movies, music or software we step onto the slate of thin ice that is called illegal media distribution; we become ‘seeders’ and ‘leechers’. Manuel Castells discusses this in his thesis: he focuses on how a new space of flows draws producers of information goods everywhere into powerful communication networks (Sundaram, 2004). Once the Internet came, it became much easier to share your information with everyone all over the world. People search for certain files, and distribute them once they have gotten a hold of them. We help each other along.
Since a couple of years there is another category among the illegal downloads: ebooks. Free ePubs are not hard to find at all; in fact, the search term ‘download ebooks for free’ results in 92.400.000 hits in Google. Reason enough to avoid the book store and look for some new reading material online.

First and foremost companies regard their customers as consumers, not as people. Because of this, most people feel the urge to own a lot, they feel like they ‘need’ this or that, without really considering whether they really like it. The net is encouraging a much wider kind of sampling of materials, with not necessarily so much depth. (Johns, 2009) People download files randomnly, not because they need them but simply because they can. Lily Allen made a pretty good point in one of her most famous songs, Fear: “I’m a weapon of massive consumption, but it’s not my fault, it’s how I’m programmed to function.”Moreover, we must realise that we live in a knowledge based society. Not only do people feel the need to own things, we also have this urge to know ‘everything’. Do we feel like we have the right to read, watch and listen to these art forms? Are we entitled to them, and is it therefore okay to take something without paying?

When searching for illegal files, there are a few places you can look. One of those is peer-to-peer networks that dodge enforcement and provide a platform for users to share media files (Johns, 2009). Peer to peer (P2P) networks like eBooksVortex are small communities where files can be shared. The first P2P network, called Napster, was founded as early as 1999. Even though this one was shut down in 2001 and other networks are constantly exposed to the police as well, new P2P networks seem to pop up everywhere. To secure their future, these networks mostly operate out of daylight and you have to ask permission to be allowed into such a network, unlike ‘open’ websites like kat.ph or former Pirate Bay (may they rest in peace).
eBooksVortex is created to distribute audiobooks and ebooks; it has a massive user base, but most of them probably don’t realise that their filesharing is illegal. Seeing as others can profit from your files too, you’re only helping others, right?

the naming of the deed as an illegal act indeed prevents us from reflecting on the nature of the act. When we look for instance at the act of sharing, it is an act immediately invested with a sense of virtue. But the same act when rendered through the prism of private property becomes an act of infringement and a crime. The debate between morality and ethics is now a familiar one, and indeed, it might even be argued that the law’s monopoly over official definitions of morality does not render obsolete the question of whether an act can still be considered in terms of ethics. (Johns, 2009)

So even though piracy is in fact illegal, people can still justify the sharing of files for some reasons. By spreading music files, people can discover an artist they otherwise never would have known. There is no proof that peer-to-peer file sharing of music recordings decreases or increases sales of CDs (Litman, 2004), but it is more likely that this new fan will purchase a concert ticket, music DVD or biographies. This way, the artist profits from the file sharing as well: “evidence indicates that at least for some material, untamed digital sharing turns out to be a more efficient method of distribution than either paid subscription or the sale of conventional copies.” (Litman, 2004)
Besides, when we share information on the Internet, it is not only allowed, but even encouraged. However, when downloading music, movies or ebooks, you are commiting a crime.

The tension between the two views on piracy is enormous, and will probably not be resolved soon. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep my hands of the liquorice jar in the candy store. But I can’t promise anything.



Ravi Sundaram, ‘Revisiting the Pirate Kingdom’, Third Text 23.3 (2009): 335-345. 

Adrian Johns, Piracy: The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 1-56.

Jessica Litman “Sharing and Stealing” in Hastings Communications and Entertainment Law Journal, Vol. 27, University of Michigan Law School, 2004

Raymon Shih & Ray Ku, “The Creative Destruction of Copyright: Napster and the New Economics of Digital Technology” in The University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 69, No. 1 (Winter, 2002), pp. 263-324



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