🇬🇧 The justifications of piracy: Differences in conceptualization and argumentation between active uploaders and other file-sharers

In April 2011 the Cybernorms research group (Lund University, Sweden) conducted a global file sharing survey known as the Research Bay study, which was arranged as a temporary online survey (it was only public for a mere 72 hours) on the front page of the Pirate Bay website. This survey generated more than 75,000 replies from across the world.

In this chapter, me and co-author Stefan Larsson draw on both of our respective theoretical approaches, and through that theoretical frame we analyse a set of aggregated open answers from this survey. We focused on the longish, free-flowing replies in the open text box that followed this survey question:

Please give us your own comments on the topic of file-sharing, especially how the situation in your home country looks like and what you think will be the next big thing when it comes to the Internet and/or file-sharing.

Out of the 75,901 respondents, 67,838 did indeed answer this question.

The purpose of our subsequent analysis was to understand various modes of justification that different conceptions of file sharing reinforce. By doing so, we have presented a model for approaching ‘piracy’ more systematically than in much of the contemporary literature to date.

‘Piracy’ as a general reference to unauthorized copying of files is, essentially, a metaphor. Cognitive linguists not only teach us that metaphors are of fundamental importance for abstract thought – metaphors also come in clusters, jointly giving meaning to each other. As Stefan Larsson has pointed out, many metaphors rely on, or are constructed from conceptions of society. It has been argued that much of the conflict connected to the regulation of copyright today can be described in terms of a battle of such conceptions.

These conceptions are very dependent on what different kinds of framing of social reality they are based upon. Different regimes of justification stipulate different ways of assessing piracy and its alleged good or bad repercussions. For example, within a ‘civic’ order of assessment where concerns are raised for ‘the whole of society,’ piracy and/or file sharing might be seen to hit some sectors rather badly, while others would benefit from it: on the whole, however, society would be seen to benefit from it. An ‘industrial’ order of assessment, on the other hand, would focus on business value, marketability, profit and so on.

By assessing examples of file-sharer discourse gathered from the abovementioned survey, we explored the conceptions that much of this discourse hinged upon.

While three general frames were apparent among all respondents (optimism regarding the future of file-sharing; pragmatic aspects like convenience and availability; personal resilience towards regulation), the group of respondents who defined themselves as active uploaders tended to more clearly imagine a tug-of-war between the vernacular file-sharing masses on the one hand, and the entertainment industry and its cultural producers on the other one. Compared to the non-uploaders, this smaller group of hard-core file sharers took a much more negative stance towards this industry. The dichotomous template of an ongoing ‘copyfight’ wasn’t as apparent among the much larger group of non-uploaders, and they were much more positive towards the entertainment industry than the group of frequent uploaders.

Andersson Schwarz, J. & S. Larsson (2014). The justifications of piracy: Differences in conceptualization and argumentation between active uploaders and other file-sharers. In: M. Fredriksson & J. Arvanitakis (Eds.) Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. Los Angeles, CA: Litwin Books. 217–239.

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