The Seven Types of Pirate – Which Are You?

Start 'em young

The following article was originally published in October 2010.
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The ability of the human mind to rationalize is extraordinary. Take piracy. Among the many comments we have received in response to our postings on the subject, we have heard every rationalization under the sun, ranging from “I didn’t know it was copyrighted” to “I don’t know what copyright is” to “DRM sucks” to “The e-book wasn’t available on legitimate retail sites” to “Information wants to be free” to “I’m not reselling, just sharing with friends” to “The percentage of pirated books is an insignificant fraction of sales through legitimate channels” etc. etc.

Piracy is something that other people do. When we do it there’s always a good excuse. When other people do it, it’s as heinous as grand theft auto.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between the phenomenon of rampant piracy and the scarcity of perpetrators, and the reason seems to be semantic. If we can develop better definitions we may be able to develop better solutions.

Towards that end we offer the following categories of pirate:

1. The Innocent

Young children, technologically inexperienced individuals and others who know nothing about copyright law or Internet etiquette and don’t realize they may be stealing when they download music or e-books. People who simply don’t know better.

2.The Ignorant

These are downloaders who know enough about copyright law to understand the difference between right and wrong, but choose to ignore or flout it.

Though many who fall into this category are young, the classification includes adults, some of whom are highly educated – business people, computer engineers and other professionals who should know better.

We’re giving Innocents/Ignorants the benefit of the doubt by describing their acts of downloading as “inadvertent” or “improper” rather than “illegal.” But if nothing else they must be aware of the legal principle that ignorance of the law is no excuse. If an aggrieved publisher decides to sue you for illegally downloading e-books – as has been done in the music and movie fields – your case will not be automatically dismissed because you didn’t know it was against the law.

3. The Customer

These are people who paid for one version of a book and feel entitled to acquire other versions without paying for them. A good example is the case of a consumer who buys a hardcover edition of a bestselling novel and feels justified in downloading a pirated e-book because the publisher’s legitimate e-book version has not yet been released. No less a personage than the New York Times‘s own ethical arbiter felt that a customer has the right to do this. (See NY Times Ethicist Condones Ripping Off E-Books). In other cases, consumers impatient with DRM restrictions will download a ripped off version of a file instead of paying for it and dealing with customer support.

4. The Philosopher

The Internet era has spawned a generation possessing a strong sense of entitlement, including entitlement to online content whether is is copyright-protected or not. Some members of this generation have rationalized their sense of entitlement and promote it not merely as an abstract concept but as a template for action. (See When Did “Free” Become a Four Letter Word?)

These philosophers collectively march under the banner “Information Wants To Be Free.” Others, taking Robin Hood as their role model, deliberately and defiantly hack protected files or download pirated content to get around the law, asserting their right to liberate it from capitalist exploiters.

What these philosopher-pirates don’t seem to understand is that, in capitalism as in Newtonian physics, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you’re getting something free, someone else is paying for it.

5. The Recreational Thief

For some people acquiring and sharing files is more of a sport than a business or criminal activity. Since filesharing is technically not illegal, it’s a way of belonging to a community. Recreational pirates gain acceptance from peers and notoriety from sharing files. Some forums even have a “thank you” module where other members encourage sharing,. Thank-You’s are displayed like battle ribbons by prolific uploaders.

Another form of recreational pirating is file-hoarding. Like hoarders of material things, digital hoarders collect and save terabytes of pirated files. Their motivation? “Hey, you never know when you’ll need 10,000 fonts.”

6. The Facilitator

This type is analogous to the owner of a head shop that sells bongs, cigarette papers and drug paraphernalia – everything but the drugs themselves – and thus skirt the law. Similarly, many IT professionals knowingly link to pirated material for a variety of reasons that fall short of hardcore criminality.

A common example are webmasters seeking to boost traffic for their websites. They attract traffic from customers looking for stolen files or seeking links to hot pirate sites. Savvy webmasters load up on as many ads as possible to cash in on that traffic. They are well versed in the ways of piracy but aren’t active in file sharing.

7. The Professional

Professional pirates don’t merely steal and sell software. They use pirated files as bait to smuggle phishing software into the computers of their victims. These programs then steal personal information like credit card numbers and bank account logins. Some of these pirates have been linked to organized crime groups. They employ software hackers to crack DRM, program key generators and penetrate security systems.

You can always tell who the professional pirates are: they’re the only ones who don’t mind being called pirates.

Like any community, the ecology of piracy is complex and interwoven, but it’s clear from a glance that the activities of innocents and amateurs enable the sharks to feast on stolen material and prey on the public. By defining each type we can immediately see what sanctions are in order – who needs a tap on the wrists, who needs to be educated and who needs to be tried in civil or criminal court.

For more postings about piracy visit E-Reads’ Pirate Central.

Richard Curtis and Anthony Damasco

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4 Responses to The Seven Types of Pirate – Which Are You?

  1. How would you classify someone who legally aquired an ebook, but is unsatisfied with its layout. For example I recently bought an ebook which had certain passages with a way too small font. Enlarging the font size on my ereader just made the normal passages uncomfortably big. So I edited the book to make the fonts more comfortable. The book didn’t have DRM so this was easy, and otherwise I could have removed the DRM. Now suppose the forementioned person has bought an ebook with this problem but has a DRM that cannot be removed. So the person downloads a pirate copy and edits that to make it readable. Do you consider this pirating (supposed the downloading is illegal in the country where this person lives)?

  2. David Chiles says:

    Many people do not know the law when it comes to copyrights or copyrighted material. It is bad netiquette to infringe on someone else’s work, but what is infringement? I know that there are people like Ariana Huffington who are being sued for stealing. However, I want to make it clear that there is a duty to protect your rights. What Ms. Huffington and her post are accused of should put them out of business.

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