Piracy Might Actually Help Creators, Judge Rules

By Brent Randall 2011-11-03 22:06:25
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You’re probably someone who has downloaded music and/or movies illegally. That’s a realistic assumption. Whether you have a slew of torrents going right now, or paid the first guy in your neighbourhood to have a CD burner $15 for a mix, it’s likely you’ve pirated something in your experience with the Internet. Maybe you feel guilty about this, or maybe you have ways that you justify downloading. A recent court case in Spain has raised a few eyebrows, as a judge ruled there may actually be justified piracy.

Of course, The Pirate Bay crowd loves this news. In fact, that’s where I read about it: at the TorrentFreak weblog. The common argument against piracy is this: if you download Coldplay’s latest album, you’re depriving them of a sale. But of course, this assumes that had you not had the means to download the album, you would have been motivated to shell out your $10-$15 for the CD instead. This Spanish court has effectively poked holes in this faulty assumption. Not only that, they even went so far as to say that maybe, just maybe, piracy could benefit the rightsholder. In a case where a plaintiff was going after the defendant for compensation for pirating their material, the court said (originally in Spanish):
…it is not possible to determine the damage and corresponding compensation due to loss of benefits to the rightsholder…those customers either buy a pirated copy at a low price or they don't buy an original at a price between 15 and 20 Euros…it is conceivable that a customer, after hearing or viewing the pirated copy, may decide to purchase the original, finding it to their taste, so that the sale of pirated copies, far from harming, benefits the market for original items.


Let’s just clarify one thing: this is a Spanish court, and a small decision. It’s far from a huge breakthrough in American copyright law (or any copyright law for that matter). But it’s interesting to hear about this, because so often copyright cases fall into this trap of assuming that one downloaded album or movie automatically translates into one less CD or ticket purchased. Does this justify downloading? Not necessarily. However, I’ve always thought of this possibility, although it is just too idealistic to work in the real world. If everyone purchased the original copies of work they enjoyed after downloading, went to concerts, bought merchandise, supported future work from the creator now that they know they like it, and so on, then maybe downloading doesn’t become so bad. Like I said, it might be a bit idealistic: but at least a judge, in a court somewhere, seems to be on board.
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