The Pirate’s Dilemma

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The Pirate’s Dilemma

How Youth Culture Is Reinventing Capitalism

By Matt Mason

I learnt quite a few new things in this book. Sometimes pirating may not be all that bad after all.

I learnt about remixing. In 2005, Wired magazine called remix “the dominant art of the decade.” When it hit the world, it was seen as a radical new sound. But we can also think of it as a radical new language. In essence the remix is a creative mental process.

The iPod has become a modern day cultural icon. Its slick marketing, hi-gloss colors, and impeccable design have made it a huge success. Its “groundbreaking” design has even been attributed to the Regency TR-1 transistor radio, released in 1954. The TR-1 was the world’s first commercially sold battery-powered pocket radio. It was small enough to hold in your hand, had a single circular dial, and come in a variety of cool colorways, delivered with the marketing slogan. “See it !Hear it ! Get it!” Original ideas are often historical concepts mashed up and served as something new. 

Modding started in 1981, as the cut -‘n’ paste worlds of hip-hop and MTV entered the mainstream consciousness. That year Castle Wolfenstein, an action game in which you play a World War II- era Allied spy shooting it out with the Nazis in a German castle, was released for the Apple 2. In 1983, under the alias Dead Smurf Software, the game was remixed (a process now known as modding) into Castle Smurfenstein replacing the Nazis with SMurfs and weaving in an entirely new Smurftastic plot inspired by Monty Python sketches. The remix was created using Apple 2 and an original copy of Castle Wolfenstein.  Mods of games have become huge games in their own right. Kids who make successful bootleg remixes of music often end up doing legitimate production for record company. The game industry now recruits directly from the huge new labor pool of mooders and hard-core gamers it has intentionally created.

Medicine is an industry where the social benefits of piracy are clear, and the social costs of putting profit and intellectual property rights before people are horrifying. Yet the needless death of millions of people every year, in the name of economic growth, is still the status quo. Patents are important, but in cases where they shut out the positive forces of the free market and have a negative effect on society, it’s clear they need to replaced.

If suing customers for consuming pirate copies becomes central to a company or industry’s business model, then the truth is that company or industry no longer has a competitive business model. A company’s or individual’s ability to make money should be based on their ability to innovate and create vlue, not file lawsuits. But for some, frivolous lawsuits are the entire business plan.

These companies sometimes get called patent trolls : they don’t invent or make anything themselves, they just buy patents that already exist – or register patents for good ideas already in the public domain. They then track down businesses and indivduals already using these ideas, and extort money from them either by suing or threatening to sue. These companies create no value for society at all. The only purpose they serve is to make money by suing other people.

From this book, I also learnt about Sealand. Former army man Major Paddy Roy Bates and pirate DJ wanted to operate his pirate station broadcasting rock ‘n’ roll, so he seized control of Fort Roughs, which the United Kingdom has no rules applied farther out to sea. Fort Roughs was based on the wreckage of sunken ship.

He declared the Fort Roughs as an independent sovereign nation in accordance with international law, and the Principality of Sealand was born. He self-appointed himself as Prince Roy; his wife Princess Joan and their son Prince Michael. Prince Roy set about transforming the crumbling fort into the world’s smallest state, hoisting a flag and adding a helipad. The British did nothing to to prevent the population of Sealand from minting their their own coins, and stamps, issuing passports, and handing out regal titles. In fact, you can become a lord or lady of Sealand via eBay for £18.95 plus postage.  

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