Why the Frame of “Piracy” Matters
“Since the U.S. Navy rescued Capt. Richard Phillips in April, many news outlets have been writing about piracy. Interestingly, some news outlets have raised an important question about “piracy” as a term: In light of the ongoing (and newly newsworthy) threat of violence on the high seas, should “piracy” continue to be used to mean theft of works that are protected by copyright or other forms of intellectual property (IP)?
“Stephen J. Dubner, a co-author of The New York Times’ Freakonomics blog, was one of the first to pose the question openly. In his April 13 post, Dubner even asked his audience to suggest substitute names. When he followed up with another post on April 17, he elected the term “downlifting” as the linguistic successor to “piracy.” Dubner’s article followed a pithy analysis by blogger Jenny Kakasuleff of the Indianapolis Liberal Examiner. Kakasuleff’s post was the first I saw this year that questioned the wisdom of using “piracy” within the context of IP, and the timeline on her post suggests she addressed this issue 10 hours before Dubner. Better yet, her lede was flat-out entertaining:
When I heard that “piracy” was the latest buzz word to light up the world wide web, I thought for sure Lars Ulrich had summoned Congress to bellyache about how fans like Metallica’s music so much that they—gasp—download it for their listening pleasure. But alas, all the hype was nothing more than a U.S. Navy showdown with three rogue pirates on a lifeboat, armed with AK-47’s and a hostage. Limewire [sic] lives to see another day.
“Then what does piracy really mean? The term’s definition and history are important along with the reasons why its continued misrepresentation matters to the country’s copyright policy.”
K. Matthew Dames. Why the Frame of “Piracy” Matters. Information Today. June 2009.
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