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Beyond Anonymous: Shit people say on Internet piracy

Posted by Nishant Shah at Jun 13, 2012 02:01 PM |
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This post is a series of provocations around piracy, censorship and the state of Internet in India. Like all good tasting things, these observations need to be taken with a pinch of salt. But it is the hope of the author that this serves as a response to otherwise very persistent voices that have been demonizing file-sharing online.
Beyond Anonymous: Shit people say on Internet piracy

Anonymous has been fighting Internet censorship in India: Reuters

Firstpost published Nishant Shah's column along with the video that CIS and ALF had made on 'shit people say about piracy' as a lead story on June 7, 2012

9 June is going to be a big day in India, for all concerned with internet regulation, censorship and the current attacks on file-sharing.

The International Hacker group Anonymous – a group that has become iconic with its members wearing Guy Fawkes mask as they mobilise protest and hacker attacks on what they see as tyrannical regimes – has called for marched protests in 16 Indian cities, to demand a free and open Internet.

They have already started launching Denial of Service attacks and taking down websites owned by the Indian government to express their displeasure about the recent regulation of the internet. Whether or not their guerrilla tactics are efficient and effective, in the right or not, is something that has been discussed quite popularly.

There are hordes of people who think of them as the NewAge Mutant Ninja Hackers, who are protecting our digital worlds from being clamped down. There are others who paint them as the Big Bad Wolf who huffed and puffed and will blow our houses away.

You might be sympathetic, suspicious or scared of the emergence of such a ‘crowd vigilante’, sporting the slogan that has spawned Internet memes galore – Y U No Wake up? – But there is no doubt that the rise of such a collective signals how discourse around piracy, rights, and openness is no longer in the domain of the uber-geek and the academic researcher.

These are concepts with very material realities that affect our everyday functioning and require not only better policies but also a more nuanced public discourse. Today, I look at some of the most ludicrous things that have been said about file-sharing, around the world, wondering why this idea of sharing has evoked such startling responses from different quarters.

File sharing and depression: There has always been a concern about the physical well-being of internet users. From Internet addiction rehabilitation clinics in China to online support groups for internet addicts (I swear I am not making this up!), from doctors worried about posture and eye-sight to mothers concerned about violent video games, we thought we had heard it all.

And then came the extraordinary study that suggested that file sharing might lead to depression. Or rather, if you are an avid file-sharer on the internet, you are prone to attacks of depression. This had the twitter world abuzz, where people were trying to make sense of this ‘scientific’ study that connected spending long hours on the interwebz with mental illness. A trending tweet just about summed up the situation, when it said, “File sharers are depressed only because of what is done to them when they share”.

File sharing and jobs: There was a time when the Music and Film Industry Associations (MAFIA) around the world used to protest file sharing by painting a romanticised picture of the independent starving artists, from whose mouths, we stole morsels, as we shared their work without paying for it. But that argument collapsed in the days of Napster (remember that?) and it has been proven over and over again, that the artist almost always benefits from their work being shared.

However, lately, research from respectable universities (expensively funded by respectable interested parties) have started hitting the real you, rather than the imagined artist. Every torrent being downloaded on the web is correlated with a lost job, because these companies can no longer afford to hire as many people as they used to, because of the growing losses. And then it goes into complicated mumbo-jumbo about how that one torrent that sits merrily on your computer, actually affects all the jobs to kingdom come and will be responsible for your children’s unemployment.

They remain silent about the jobs lost because of the funding that went into buying supporting this research.

I am not a Pirate: And lest you go away with the idea that the rest of the junta does not gaff, here are some of the gems that have come our way while working with people in the field. It is common, for instance, for people to take a moral stance on piracy, radiating a holier-than-thou ethical persona, without realising that recording that last IPL match to watch later on your tablet is also an act of piracy.

Then there are those who only consume material pirated by others, happily ignoring the fact that the ring-tone that they copied from their friend is also an act of piracy. Ditto, people who claim “I am not a pirate”, meaning that they haven’t yet figured out the bittorrent system and hence go to the local corner shop to buy pirated DVDs of the latest releases. In their heads, they have paid somebody for the material and hence it must be alright.

Piracy is not a one-point source process. It is a networked ecosystem, and I am still to find that one person who has never shared anything and make a video of them saying “I am not a pirate”. But that is probably just wishful thinking.

There are many more such instances which make your mind boggle and your eyes goggle and you wonder if you heard it right for the first time. Do share your favourite ones if you can. In the meantime you might also want to look at the new meme video ‘Sh!t People say about Piracy’ that captures some of these responses in their absurdity.


(Video by The Centre for Internet and Society , and the Alternative Law Forum)

Follow the video on YouTube

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