The topic of internet piracy is complex, and is guided to a large degree by economic and technical factors. Internet piracy and new media are very much interwoven, however, as the internet and digitization of content is what has enabled this content to separate from its more material form making it less easy to secure. This is the case with broadcast as well, however with digital media the non analogue form also makes it easy to reproduce this content an relive it whenever you chose. In 1994, Steve Jones accurately predicted that the internet will “ensnarl difficult legal matters concerning piracy, copyright and ethics.” Everything about the internet leads to distributing content, however how far can it go? Now that content know no bounds, should they be allowed to roam free or is it possible to keep them boxed in? This article attempts to dissect some of these issues, on a theoretical, historical, and practical level.

What’s New About Internet Piracy?

A good way to think about the history of illegal replication of content is terms of the distribution or exhibition medium and technology and the reproduction medium and technology. All of these factors have come together currently with the internet like never before to create the perfect environment for freely replicating content. However, content always been able to be unsecured and reproduced. Essentially, the difference in ease of replication lies in how complex the construction of the content, how easy it is to access a copy of the content to be reproduced, and how malleable and accurate the reproduction medium and technology are.

Prior to the age of mechanical reproduction it was possible to knock-off works of art, although with much more difficulty. At this time very few copies were ever made so coming across one to replicate was very difficult, and each replication took an immense amount of time and skill. One can imagine, however, that this would have still always disturbed those who are responsible for the original works.

Since the age of mechanical reproduction, this has only grown easier and easier. In the example of the printing press, the reproduction technology was very expensive and complex and thus centralized. At the same time, however, content could be accessed by most people. The same is true with broadcast up until the invention of tape recording.

The tape recorder allowed people to fairly accurately and easily replicate content, however the amount of hassle involved and the loss in quality still made a large market for the original content. In the case of movies and full albums of music, it was still necessary to rent, buy, or borrow a physical copy of the work, meaning that the person had to be closer to the original. This threat was still enough to cause the recording industry to panic, however. Quoted as number 24 on KFUPM Blog’s Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions.. was “Home Taping Is Killing Music,” which was a “1980s campaign by the BPI, claiming that people recording music off the radio onto cassette would destroy the music industry”.

Clearly, illegally replicating content is not a new issue. Today, however, the content is able to be distributed without a noticeable amount of quality loss from one single copy around the world through a peer-to-peer network. Each replication is as easy as a mouse click in many cases, and it is difficult to imagine the quality getting any better. Essentially, with the current technology today it is very difficult to come up with reasons for anyone purchasing music other than the obvious moral ones.

The Economics of Piracy and Open Access

Having this extreme decrease in incentive for purchasing digital content is clearly alarming to the people that are producing the content, but it might not be as bad as they think. There is no question that internet piracy (and the shift to digital content in general) has and will continue to change the industry, however everything pertaining to the way we receive and distribute content has gone through massive changes in the last hundred years and along with it the industries responsible for that content.

There are advantages to internet piracy in terms of promotion, however will these make up for the losses that the industry experiences? In the music industry, there has definitely been a significant decline in music sales (PBI via TIME Labs). Although there are many different factors influencing this decline is it fair to assume that internet piracy has played a part (Jassens et al., p 83). However, according to TIME Labs, there has also been an increase in revenue from concert sales, and a small increase in PRS revenues (from when artists’ music is played in public), which make up for the lost record sales. This extra money primarily goes to promoters and artists, and thus the record companies are making far less.

This leans in the direction that the ultimate fear of the artists getting hurt by piracy will not be realized. The statistics among different types of artists, however, would probably show varying results. These statistics are only in terms of the recording industry as well, and not for other types of digital content which might have to search further for outside opportunities to make up for lost sales.

A few theoretical questions arise from the idea that piracy is not hurting artists. Right now, the lost jobs in the music industry is being emphasized, and if this is the case, is it better to keep people employed or move on to a method that makes the artists more money and makes more people happy? Is it OK to pirate material against the producers or the artists wishes if we are are not actually hurting their profits?

Putting And End To Internet Piracy

Despite the fact that piracy and open access might be good for artists themselves, the entertainment industry and some artists are not happy about people being able to download their music without their permission, and are doing their best to stop it from happening.

The UK Digital Economy Bill, passed March 16, 2010, was a big step in this direction. It is unclear what the eventual impact of the bill will be, but it is already starting to drive file sharing technology further in attempts to get around the law (Brandon, 2010). This is similar to the rise of BitTorrents after the case against Napster discussed by Lister et al. in Ch. 3.12 of New Media: a Critical Introduction.

Other measures have been taken to protect content through other forms of DRM, or digital rights management. While some content has managed to stay relatively protected (such as Kindle books), there are ways of getting around DRMs for DVD’s and CD’s. It only takes one person with the knowledge in how to remove this protection to publish a torrent and distribute it to the online masses. DRM also places restrictions on where and how people can use this inherently less limited content, which people are highly critical of.

Limitations on content are not new, however. Kristin R. Escheufelder points out that are “non-technological use restrictions” as well, such as restricting access to archival information (Kasprowski, 50). In terms of commercial content, I would add to that all the past material restrictions the content was bound by until the time of file sharing and CD burning at home. The internet age does seem to have made us feel a bit entitled.

DRM, however, is probably so frustrating to most in that it is an example of “impeding the very gains that new technology was assumed to provide,” as Lister, et al. discuss in ch. 3.12. People are very resistant to most DRM measures, and only in cases such as the Kindle ebooks have they remained able to protect content. In general, it seems like securing digital content tends
to alienate users and has largely been ineffective in the past. This can always change, however, and if Kindle is able to be successful in keeping the content secure and in providing satisfactory accessibility for its customers this might shift the direction that the industry goes.

Adapting to Open Access

Another approach is being taken that goes with, as opposed to against the current of open access. Many companies have been trying to offer free, legal alternatives to internet piracy. For music and television shows, this model normally looks similar to that which has been used in the past for free broadcasting. Normally, accessing these shows or music through a legal site is much easier than downloading it illegally, and people seem more than willing to watch commercials in exchange (Newman, np). Promoters get the benefits of additional statistics and easier access for consumers to their products through linking. There are many question, however, that arise from this model as it becomes pushed on content which was not traditionally supported this way. It makes sense to think that DVDs, upon release, might go straight to streaming online with advertising revenue as opposed to having them downloaded for free without any revenue at all. How will this content adapt to being based on advertising revenue? Will it be able to support it? How much can advertising be a part of people’s lives before they grow tired of it?

Additional Ideas on Open Access, Piracy, and Digital Content

Another interesting topic is where the limits on digital content will end. If we were to develop a completely open access model, the internet would be funded by things that can still be limited by materials, ie are not reproducible easily, and advertising revenues. What if one day we have the easy ability to reproduce more material goods at home? In a way this is already happening with the online DIY communities, however is still very inaccessible to many. If we look to science fiction we can see food and objects materializing themselves. If this were to happen, with the technology available to many, that would essentially make everything digital, and thus free. If this happens, will everything be supported by advertising? How exactly would it work?

Also, as things become digital, what happens with the “aura” of the content? The idea of people wanting to be close to the artistic original is discussed by Dowdell in “How to Protect Digital Content,” as well as Walter Benjamin in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (p. 4). Currently, this (in the form of concert revenues) is what is supporting the music industry. I would also wonder about this in terms of the future of collecting, and if it will grow more popular or if we will let the aura that used to surround going to the record store and buying albums or movies fade away.


There are many different paths the distribution of digital content can take. The final one is going to be based on the technology at hand as well as social and economic factors. Only the future will tell exactly how we will receive content in ten years.


Boyce, Brandon. “Anonymizer services grow with UK piracy bill.” 21 April 2010. Accessed from Web. 25 Apr. 2010

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 1935.

Dowdell, John. “How to Protect Digital Content.” (no date). Accessed from on April 21, 2010.

Janssens, Jelle, Stijn Vandaele, and Tom Vander Beken. “The Music Industry on (the) Line? Surviving Music Piracy in a Digital Era.” European Journal of Crime, Criminal Law & Criminal Justice 17.2 (2009): 77-96. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 18 Apr. 2010.

Kasprowski, Rafal. “Perspectives on DRM: Between Digital Rights Management and Digital Restrictions Management.” Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science & Technology 36.3 (2010): 49-54. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Apr. 2010.

Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.

NEWMAN, ANDREW ADAM. “With Ads, Music Downloads Will Be Singing a New Tune.” New York Times 30 Dec. 2009: 3. Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 25 Apr. 2010.

Unknown. “Radiohead genertaion believes music is free.” 07 Oct. 2007. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.

Uknown. “Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions.” KFUPM Blog. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.

Unknown. “Do music artists fare better in a world with illegal file-sharing?” Times Labs Blog. 12 Nov. 2009. Accessed from on April 28, 2010.’