If file-sharing is piracy, what about aggregators?
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The Internet has created mass confusion about what is fair and what is not fair when it comes to other people's intellectual property. Anders Sandberg, an Oxford University fellow and contributor to the Practical Ethics News blog, sees a "combination of weak intuitions, a bias against commercial interests and powerfully diffused responsibility" working together to make people "quite willing to engage in an activity they would not do if it was tangible and personal."Skip to next paragraph
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In other words, everybody's doing it.
Mr. Sandberg goes on to point out that the Pirate Bay case may have implications for Google, YouTube, and other social media sites.
After all, he notes, if "it is criminal to provide a service that makes it easy to download copyrighted information, then they would likely be criminal. The fact that they are not intended for this purpose and that legitimate use dwarfs the piracy is probably not relevant. The key issue is that they provide indexes and search functions that enable downloading of information with no control over its copyright status...."
Maybe file-sharing isn't so bad
Going back to the days of Napster, the usual defense of file-sharing is that exposure of a creative work -- music, software, etc. -- builds its popularity and allows the originator to capitalize to a greater degree. A recent study looked at whether people who illicitly download songs buy more music than those who plunk down 99 cents at the iTunes store.
The BI Norwegian School of Management study indicates that people who download music illegally also buy 10 times as much much as their more honest peers, according to Oslo newspaper Aftenposten (a clunky but still understandable machine translation of that Norwegian story can be found here).
It is not clear that stealing leads to buying, however. It could be that people who tap file-sharing for free music are so keen on music that they also are also bigger buyers than normal.
Does that make it fair? No. But as Sandberg points out, there's so much information and access out there -- and enough power in the hands of the aggregators -- that it's not surprising people are confused.