To name a thief: constructing the deviant pirate

Crisp, Virginia (2014) To name a thief: constructing the deviant pirate. In: Piracy: leakages from modernity. Fredriksson, Martin and Arvanitakis, James, eds. Litwin Books, pp. 39-53. ISBN 9781936117598. [Book Section]


This chapter examinse how the figure of the (digital) pirate has been constructed within both popular and academic discourse and how these constructions have been internalized and interpreted, rationalized and rebelled against within particular filesharing communities. In many respects filesharers have hitherto been constructed as subversive radicals, explorative (potential) consumers or deviant thieves. On the one hand the industry rhetoric suggests that the digital pirate is young, unconcerned about the rights of creators, lacking in self-control and unaccustomed to paying for digital content. While this construction of the deviant pirate is pervasive, competing constructions suggest that digital pirates do not do as much damage as the creative industries as is often claimed, have opposing views about current IP and copyright regimes, and are destabilizing the pre-existing monopolistic models for the distribution of music, films, software and games. This has lead to a split between arguments where filesharers are constructed as either pirates (deviants who only wish to obtain something for nothing and threaten the very existence of the cultural industries) or explorers (voracious consumers who use filesharing as a form of sampling so they might investigate products before they buy) (Bounie et al., 2005).

While critics such as Klinger (2010) have questioned the propensity to construct digital pirates in such broad terms, the filesharers themselves have nonetheless engaged with the rhetoric in some interesting ways. This chapter draws on ethnographic research conducted within a number of filesharing communities and considers how rhetoric from both sides of the debate can be seen to permeate the discussions of filesharers themselves and furthermore informs their own understanding and construction of the moral, ethical and legal implications of their actions. In doing so it is argued that there is an attempt on the part of the filesharers to distance themselves from the notion of ‘piracy’ and to define and label others as the ‘real’ pirates. Thus, ‘piracy’ is not appropriated as a badge of honour but retains its pejorative connotations and is used by the filesharers to label their offline counterparts as deviant; thereby reinforcing their own moral credentials by juxtaposing their own not-for-profit ‘sharing’ activities against the circulation of tangible goods in exchange for monetary reward. Thus, the filesharers can be seen to align themselves with a moral code that constructs their activities as a form of ‘sharing’ that facilitates the ‘sampling’ of film texts. By imagining their own activities as ultimately promotional, they distinguish themselves from what they see as the immoral, illegal and indefensible actions of the for-profit ‘pirates’. By constructing others as encompassing all the negative traits of piracy they leave themselves free to align their own activities with notions of sharing, sampling and reciprocity.

What this chapter demonstrates is that the figure of the digital pirate is repeatedly stereotyped as either deviant or liberator. However, it also goes beyond pre-existing work that makes similar claims by examining how these constructions have been internalized by the filesharers themselves and are used to negotiate their own understandings of the moral and ethical ramifications of their actions. In addition, the chapter examines how the act of distancing themselves from the revenue-stealing pirates is not a simple attempt at justification or rationalization on the part of the filesharers. Indeed, it is a complex process that helps to inform and develop a sense of shared goals and moral codes within these particular communities. Codes and goals that deeply influence and inform how the filesharers themselves understand and negotiate their own position within the ongoing digital piracy debates.

Item Type: Book Section
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts
Item ID: 9964
Depositing User: Virginia Crisp
Date Deposited: 05 Mar 2013 11:07
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2018 12:11

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