Andersson Schwarz, J. & Larsson, S. (2013) ‘The justifications of piracy: Differences in conceptualization and argumentation between active uploaders and other file-sharers’. In: Martin Fredriksson & James Arvanitakis (eds.) Piracy: Leakages from Modernity. Los Angeles, CA: Litwin Books.

  • The goal of this article is to demonstrate how piracy and p2p file-sharing create innovation and describe “the ways the future is envisaged within a vast, global userbase of file sharers” (2). Relying on the Research Bay study of more than 75,000 respondents, this chapter tries to uncover and understand “modes of justification that different conceptions of file sharing reinforce and present a model of approaching ‘piracy’ more systematically than in much of the contemporary literature” (ibid.).
  • The authors note that the data gathered from the Research Bay study allows them to “compare conceptions of reality, and more specifically the regimes of justification contained therein. Here the purpose is to trace potential differences in norms and viewpoints between people who simply download the things they want and those who actively upload new material” (3). IOW, the authors do their best to understand what sorts of justifications are used by those that participate as uploaders/downloaders and those that are perceived as simple leeches. To get at this understanding, the authors proceed with three questions:

o   Given the assumed illegality of their actions, how do these uploaders and non-uploaders justify their own behavior?

o   What different modes of justification can empirically be seen, and how are these distributed?

o   How is the future development of ‘piracy’ and file sharing approached and conceptualized by these respondents? (3)

  • The authors point out that there is a serious discrepancy between legal norms and social norms . . . and that this discrepancy frames the copyright debate. This is of particular importance to my own work that recognizes the disjunct between sociogenesis and technogenesis . . . wherein sociogenesis is more akin to the legal norms while technogenesis is more akin to the social norms + technological advance.
  • The authors rely on Andersson Schwarz to argue that justifications of piracy function ex post facto; IOW, justifications for piracy typically occur after the fact, allowing users to deploy metaphors to understand their piratical activity.
  • By relying on Boltanski and Thevenot (2006), the authors note that the metaphors/motives they explore in this piece are non-exclusive . . . in other words, each form of reasoning might be interpreted in different regimes (for example, the notion of technological unstoppability could be framed in “projective, flexible” rationality or it could be framed in an “engineer, or industrial style of reasoning.” Because they don’t develop exclusive categories for coding user responses, their data remains a qualitative study with some initial steps toward quantitative results (7).
  • The categories used in this study include:

o   It’s unstoppable – This category sees piracy as the result of two related modes of reasoning: 1) utilitarian/pragmatic recognition that piracy is an unstoppable phenomenon; and 2) civil rights recognition that totalitarian measures would be needed to stem the flow of cultural artifacts across digital networks.

o   The artists/producers don’t suffer / Culture in general doesn’t suffer – This category recognizes that there’s a disjunct between artistic output and economic success. In other words, the first part of this dyad argues that potential economic harm to cultural producers is the metric by which reasoning proceeds. When not deployed to sympathize with the artists/producers, this argument is “indifferent to the fate of the artists but nevertheless dedicated to the quality of output” (8).

o   Its democratic – This is a collectivist approach that argues that culture should be accessible to everyone in every form. Relying on reasoning that values the “commons” over “content,” the “Its democratic” perspective taps the civil rights appropriation from category 1 without bringing with it the emphasis on individual rights . . . like privacy.

  • The researchers used data collected over a 72 hour period in 2011. Specifically, they looked at one question from the survey:

o   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.

o   The selection criteria for which of the 67k responses to pay attention to included: 1) a first selection based on community participation; 2) two randomly selected 200,000 2ord excerpts of the entire corpus; 3) the two corpi were processed using a word frequency program to determine which segments contained the words “will” and “would.” There is no mention of segment size inside the 200,000 word corpus or the development of categories that are exclusive of one another to prevent double-counts.

  • The authors note that they were interested in highlighting the “specimens of reasoning” rather than ethnographic or biographic information as the goal was not to give information about all file sharers on the Internet but to discover what forms of reasoning were more common in this particular data set (10).
    Justification for concentration on the words “will” and “would” inside the 2X200,000 word corpi: frequency and likelihood of actually answering the question by referring to future development (because of their modal quality).
    Overall findings: Most frequent resoning/justification — unstoppability/resilience (9.5%/11.8% ULers), opposition to government regulation (10%/11.2%ULers), market will absorb file sharing (11.5%/7%ULers). Corporate greed (3.2/5.5ULers). Full results:
    An important facet relating technology and sociality: “Notions like ‘sharing important information on the Internet’ are so commonplace today that they are almost truisms. In this sense, any such statement is intertextual in nature: It invokes the larger discourse that stipulates that interpersonal communication is to be seen as technologically mediated transmission, a discourse that relies on the ontological understanding of hat communication and culture is, when enacted through digital mediation” (16).
    Important point: The authors note a marked absence of “mass influence, civil rights, and shared community” . . . stating that “As researchers, we tend to overestimate those tropes that are of great significance to us – a miscalculation that is further worsened by the more common these tropes are in the literature” (17).
    Takeaway: this work is “highly relevant for the broader understanding of law and legal development, as a process, in an increasingly digitized society” (18).
    Important point: “Online piracy displays both the state of ‘the lion’ as well as that of ‘the child’, in that the range of discourses is far from homogenous – a fact that a few recent studies have indicated. Yet, consistencies can also be found, as our analysis has shown” (19).

Leave a Reply