- Arts & Literature
- Science & Technology
By Susheel Gokarakonda
Emily Moore asks what can be done with the problem of internet piracy.
Student living asks the vast majority of us to make some money-saving moves: why pay to access new music, TV series and films, when these products of popular culture are readily – and most crucially, freely – available online? Peer-to-peer software and online streaming mean that access is instantaneous and doesn’t cost a penny – and let’s face it, everyone does it, so will it really cost you your integrity?
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the World Wide Web is first and foremost a tool for the free circulation of knowledge, a principle which goes hand and hand with the idea that cultural artefacts are public property, that we should have free access to culture as we have access to air and water. The recent Google Art Project is testimony to this ‘culture for free’ attitude: you can now take a tour of 17 of the world’s finest museums such as the Musée d’Orsay in Paris via high resolution images from the comfort of your own home – but should we consider this as a form of piracy in its own right due to the negative impact that it could eventually produce on the museums themselves and the staff they employ? Granted, exposure to culture paves the way to a thriving society.
But let’s bear in mind the fact that popular culture is a human activity. Its creation demands money to fund those who make their living in the entertainment industry – not just the musicians, directors and authors but also the ‘middle men’ such as the distribution companies that regulate the circulation of the music, film and television. The idea of allowing cultural products to remain free of charge is a naïve ideal: not paying for access to somebody’s hard work is a threat to their future creative efforts, and therefore to culture itself.
Perhaps you can’t afford to spend 0.99p on iTunes each and every time a song takes your fancy. But a worse alternative has been suggested in France, where Socialist candidate François Hollande is advocating a ‘licence globale’ as an alternative to the current HADOPI system (a law which protects creative works on the internet in a bid to stamp out piracy). ‘Licence globale’ is a universal system whereby every internet user is free to download content, but pays a monthly (involuntary) sum which then gets shared out among the artists in proportion to how much their work was downloaded. The sum is estimated at around £5 a month. On a positive note, Hollande’s favoured system would mean that we pay the artist exclusively, and not the distributors such as iTunes and Amazon. However, would the system really be efficient enough to distribute the money fairly among artists? Isn’t it outrageous that every internet user would have to pay this sum, regardless of whether they download anything or not? And surely it should be the artist who has the final say on the pricing of their work rather than the government? Something about this system seems unnervingly undemocratic…
Back in 2007, Radiohead broke headlines by offering their album ‘In Rainbows’ on an online ‘Pay what you want’ system. I can’t help feeling surprised by the result of initial sales: most fans purchased it for the normal retail price with very few opting to buy it for a measly penny. Surely this proves that we do have a conscience, that we do give thought to the impact of our downloading habits on the artist?
Maintaining a ‘cultural conscience’ is vital for future generations of artists and creators. Having unrestricted free access to popular culture is impractical, and current laws are clearly not working, since many still download illegally. I see a potential solution in encouraging people to subscribe to fee-paying websites such as Netflix, whose website states that customers can ‘Enjoy unlimited films & TV episodes online for £5.99 a month’ – a system which still gives the consumer a choice over whether or not they pay. According to their site, over 100,000 people are joining Netflix every week, so they’re clearly on to something promising…