Dear BBC: It’s not ‘Digital Piracy’, it’s ‘copyright infringement’

It really, really annoyed me this morning, lying in bed, listening to the radio, hearing a journalist parrot the ‘digital piracy’ line.

Piracy evokes images of beards and cutlasses on the high seas, where pirates board ships, steal galleons and generally go about their pirating business.  Updated to modern times, it involves boarding ships with guns and knives, kidnapping crews and demanding vast ransoms for the return of said crew, ship and contents.  Nowhere in these scenarios is piracy the same as copying a digital file.

Piracy != copyright infringement and sticking ‘digital’ in front of it doesn’t either.  Copyright infringement is not the same as ‘stealing’ or ‘theft’.  If I steal something from you, I deprive you of the use of whatever it is I’ve stolen.  If I copy a file, YOU still have the original, and can do everything that you could originally do with it.

So why are they using the word ‘piracy’?  Well it could be so that the media want people to think of copyright infringement as ‘theft’, want us to draw an equivalence with stealing, want us to think it is as bad as real piracy.  But what copyright infringement really is is the civil infringement of a monopoly granted by the government to groups that publish works.  I’ll say it again. It’s a government granted monopoly on creating artificial scarcity in order to extract proportionately higher ‘rents’ or profits than could otherwise be achieved.  It was given to printers in the 18th century to stop cheap knockoffs and encourage them to print books.  It’s got about as much relevance to the 21st century as the law about having a man with a red flag walk in front of a car did in the 20th centuary.

And the Digital Economy Bill?  Don’t get me started. I’ll just end with this:

“a bill proposed by the unelected, debated by the ignorant and voted on by the absent” #debill /via @Glinner & @alnya /via @davidwren