Thursday, September 09, 2004

Pirates of Carriedo

The inimitable Conrado de Quiros wrote a brilliant two-part piece on the "piracy problem" in light of the recent incident at Virra Mall, where a raid by government operatives turned violent.

"What happened apparently was that he stormed into Virra Mall in the company of cops and confiscated the DVDs sundry vendors were selling there. I know the place; I've been there. Though not as a customer of DVD, the reason for that being financial judgment rather than moral scruple: the Muslims in Quiapo sell the stuff much cheaper.


"Anyway, Manzano stormed into Virra Mall and began carting off the DVDs for sale on the stalls there and earned for his pains a lot of boos and hisses and catcalls. He apparently took them all in stride, figuring sticks and stones might break his bones but not boos and hisses and catcalls. But the latter took the equivalent of sticks and stones at one point in the form of crumpled pieces of paper and fruits which flew his way while he and company were climbing down the stairs.

"That brought out the action star in him. He swiftly ran up the stairs, drew out a gun, and pointed it at his tormentors, while passersby screamed and scampered for safety."

De Quiros weighs in on his solution:

"...the only rational policy was to stop the pirating of local movies and CDs. You cannot stop piracy completely, that is a hopeless cause. The technology is there. You can no more bind the explosion in productive capabilities to old property rights than you can cage King Kong in the zoo. But you can at least curb, if not stop, the pirating of local movies and CDs.

"You can do that by running only after those who sell pirated local movies and CDs. I'm sure you can appeal to the public's patriotic sentiments to not buy the pirated local stuff. I'm just as sure you won't find resistance, or cynical reaction, to cops swooping down on the pirates' lair and carting off bundles of pirated local movies and CDs. The public might even applaud them.


"Sotto's office did call me a couple of years ago to say a bill incorporating my suggestions (making the pirating of local movies and CDs, on ground of national interest, illegal and punishable by law) was being prepared. I don't know if it was ever finished, if it got to the floor of the Senate, or if it met with furious opposition from various lobbies. But clearly it hasn't been enacted, freeing Manzano to mount his movie antics in real life.

"It is the only reasonable policy toward 'piracy'--which I put in quotation marks because the GATT-WTO concept of intellectual property rights is itself piratical; at least the pirates of Tortuga stole from the rich, this one steals from the poor. More so now than ever. There are two new and compelling reasons why this is so.

"The first is that the selling of pirated DVDs gives livelihood to the ragged urban denizens who might otherwise take to crime--this is not so, to anticipate the snide remarks of Bill Gates' representatives on earth--to bring food to the table. That is no mean feat particularly in these days of great want, and coming days of even greater want. The last thing we need is to add more unemployment to the country, particularly among the ranks of the Muslim poor in Metro Manila, who for some reason seem to have monopolized the retail trade in pirated DVDs. It's not a matter of preference, it's a matter of survival.

"In fact, the last thing we need is government using our taxes to keep an office that exists to protect foreign interests. I don't mind that the portion of my pay I am forced to part with goes to supporting local artists, I do mind that it goes to protecting Paramount and 20th Century Fox.

"The second is that, well, do you want to keep this country ignorant? Education is its own justification. The United States itself did not mind pirating British books to enlighten its nationals before 1776. If it hadn't done so, it might still be a British colony. I personally do not mind being reproduced all over the place (which I am), if that will improve people's minds. I'm shareware entirely, the spirit that happily still rules the Internet."

De Quiros' ideas really aren't as radical as the movie studios or the large software companies would have us believe. Acclaimed film directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Michael Moore have taken a position encouraging people from countries who couldn't legally acquire their films to obtain them from other sources.

Richard M. Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, even recommends avoiding the use of the word "piracy".

"Publishers often refer to prohibited copying as 'piracy'. In this way, they imply that illegal copying is ethically equivalent to attacking ships on the high seas, kidnaping and murdering the people on them.

If you don't believe that illegal copying is just like kidnaping and murder, you might prefer not to use the word 'piracy' to describe it. Neutral terms such as 'prohibited copying' or 'unauthorized copying' are available for use instead. Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term such as 'sharing information with your neighbor.'

The prominent copyright activist-lawyer Lawrence Lessig founded the organization Creative Commons to enable artists, writers, musicians, and scholars to share their creative work so that others in their field might be able to access these works and even build upon them, while allowing the original author to maintain copyright to their work. Thus, the group's motto, "Some rights reserved."

And at the end of the day, it's all about sharing information and making them available to everyone. The last three CDs I acquired (legally) are Derby Light (Cambio), Dramachine (Sugarfree), and Love from Lust (Bridge). At one time or another, I've given away mp3s from these albums to my friends, most of whom have never even heard about these bands before. It's technically illegal, but could you really say that it was immoral? They never would have bought the CD anyway, so what would be the difference between my giving them an mp3 and bringing my CDs over to their place to make them listen to it?

In fact, having them listen to the aforementioned bands made my friends fans of the music. With mainstream radio hijacked mostly by foreign pop hits and local novelty songs, there was little chance they would have heard some of these songs. Now, we're talking about catching the bands at a gig somewhere.

Because I shared information, the artists I care about got a couple of new fans. Maybe it won't be enough to get them a house worthy of MTV's Cribs, but hey, maybe that's not such a bad thing.


too bad i park my brain at home. i would have better understood this article. haba!

copying things and selling them is bad. copying things and giving them out to your buddies for personal consumption is ok, and should not be subject to government intervention.


ows? eh kung bigyan kita ng CD, pero binigyan mo ko ng pera kapalit ng cost ng CD, masama rin yun? O kung bayaran mo yung pamasahe ko?


just more than a year ago ko ata unang narinig ang pangalang Lawrence lesssig, featured sya sa isang TechTV show (Big Thinkers ata). The topic he discussed was copyright . After the show Disney (NYT, free subscription required) was never the same to me... When i google'd his name it was no surprise that i came across Creative Commons.

I'm sure that as soon as my content becomes important to the public, i'll slap a CC license on them...


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