Filesharing is the new porn

We all know that the old-meeja go on at length about filesharing, copyright theft, internet piracy, call it what you will.  So it was no surprise to hear it rehashed on the beeb yesterday evening.  Usual format: an interviewer, and two people with opposing views to debate it.

I only caught bits of it: I was cooking my supper and not really listening.  But one thing struck me: one of the debaters said that everyone fileshares.  This was quite an emphatic everyone, and he clearly intended to distinguish the sense from a typical apologist’s appropriation of everyone to a manifest falsehood like “everyone supports the olympics”.  Nor was it an Orwellian with-menaces everyone, as in you’re misogynist racist pedophile terrorist scum and beneath contempt if you dare to question us.

Since it clearly is an apologist’s everyone, that must be a bit of willy-waving (“my everyone is bigger than your everyone”).  But more striking is that neither the interviewer nor the opposing debater made any attempt to challenge it: indeed, they seemed to agree with it.  Perhaps it really is true in meeja-luvvie circles?

Then it struck me: this is exactly like the meeja discussion of online porn was ten years ago.  We’ve got used to the Beeb being our (UK’s) self-proclaimed leading website.  But for a few years after they first noticed the ‘net, you’d never hear it discussed without someone blathering about online porn.  If you didn’t know better, you’d have thought that the ‘net revolved around porn and everyone was into it.

As someone with an altogether different vision of the ‘net, I found the association rather distasteful, and some aspects downright offensive[1].   Like, ratings for websites having an implicit assumption that every site might need them, without even a default category for “no sex or violence not because we’ve toned it down and pitched it at children, but because this website is all about coffee, computers, or astronomy”.  Should I declare my websites as having mild/inoffensive sex and violence (the lowest PICS category) just to avoid the risk of being blocked by family-safe services that block unrated sites to protect children?  Absurd and offensive!

Worse, the association with porn put barriers in the way of those of us who wanted to promote the ‘net for altogether good, constructive purposes.

So if filesharing is the new porn, what lessons can we draw?  The optimistic view is ignore the hot-air and it’ll go away, just as the meeja’s porn-fixation went away when the BBC decided it was going to be top-website itself.

But maybe it’s not the same: the porn message was rooted in the ‘net being a “new frontier” for the meeja and their mass audience, while the filesharing one is driven by powerful commercial interests, some of whom are the world’s biggest unauthorised profiteers from other people’s efforts (“thieves” or “pirates”, in their own language).  And I don’t just mean things like Disney famously copyrighting everything from common cultural heritage (fairytales) to african music in the lion king: people better-informed than I describe altogether more sinister practices like identity theft.

On the other hand, Big Pirates never succeeded in getting the photocopier or the cassette tape banned.  I expect those who persist in fighting technology will continue to fight a losing battle, and the meeja attention will indeed blow over.  Just as it did with porn on the ‘net.

[1] Nothing against pornographers.  Just so long as I’m free to steer clear of their work, it’s live-and-let-live.  Same principle as when I was doing research in a department right in the red light district: we (geeks) didn’t bother the ladies of the night, and they didn’t bother us.  But I’d have been mildly pissed off if the world assumed that the reason I worked there was because of them, and seriously so if my work was belittled or dismissed on that basis.

Posted on November 11, 2009, in bbc, filesharing, intellectual property, internet, porn. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I think the big difference is that there are technically and legally feasible ways of attacking filesharing. Internet porn was never going to come within the control of the UK government; but filesharers can be so reached, or at least that’s the belief of people such as Mandy and M Sarkozy.

    It’s true that there’s a strange perception of “everyone”. It’s a well known psychological and sociological wossname, whose name I forget, that people tend to assume that their own circle of acquiantances is much more representative of the whole world than is, in fact, the case. If all, or nearly all, of their acquaintances fileshare, then they’ll assume quite naturally that everybugger does it all the time. Personally I get quite cross with those people: bloody freeloaders sucking up mybandwidth. I’d be perfectly happy to see them disconnected after a couple of warnings, serves ’em right I’d say…

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