Torrenting might seem like an initially black and white issue to most, but information on pirating still varies heavily and is a complex issue that students need to look at more closely, as it often houses potential positive effects from a global standpoint.
Pirating’s economic impact
Several different estimates for the economic impact of pirating have been made, including a $250 billion estimate made in the new proposal for Stop Online Piracy Act and a $58 billion estimate made by the Institute for Policy Innovation.
However, many economists question the validity of these claims because they fail to take into account whether or not consumers who torrented products would have the money to buy said products.
Instead, the bigger picture should be analyzed. Torrenting shouldn’t become accepted as something that everyone should do, but students should instead take a look at the flow of information that accompanies pirating.
According to the Business Software Alliance, the countries that have the highest rate of software downloaded illegally are countries with lower GDP per capita: Nigeria(83 percent), Libya (90 percent) and Zimbabwe(92 percent), compared to higher GDP per capita countries like United States(19 percent), Canada(27 percent) and Australia (23 percent).
This is saying that people who can afford to not torrent will often take the legal avenue and buy the product.
Affording mainstream media
Following this train of thought Markus Persson, the creator of Minecraft, makes the argument in an interview that those who pirate aren’t people who can buy the product. He explains that piracy isn’t really theft because a copy isn’t being stolen. So the question becomes: should we be stopping that flow of free copies of media products?
If the majority of piracy is coming from areas where the software cannot be afforded—meaning the persons in question wouldn’t buy the software even if it was available to them—then the only thing happening is the spread of free information.
The flow of information
Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media talks about this in a Forbes article.
“In my experience at O’Reilly, the losses due to piracy are far outweighed by the benefits of the free flow of information, which makes the world richer, and develops new markets for legitimate content,” O’Reilly said.
“Most of the people who are downloading unauthorized copies of O’Reilly books would never have paid us for them anyway; meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of others are buying content from us, many of them in countries that we were never able to do business with when our products were not available in digital form.”
What O’Reilly is saying is that not only has piracy given new information to people who wouldn’t have been able to access the information freely, it has also created pockets of areas where the market sector can gain revenue because free media online created fans in areas of the world that otherwise wouldn’t have known that those products existed.
In a video, short story, novel and graphic novel author Neil Gaiman made for Open Rights Group, he explained he felt that torrenting played a huge role in free advertisement. Gaiman makes the comparison that many people borrow, lend and find about his work in ways that don’t give him revenue, but after they are introduced to him and become fans, they buy his work.
“No one who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free. What you’re actually doing is advertising, is reaching more people and is raising awareness,” Gaiman said.
This isn’t to say that students should download BitTorrent and have a crack at pirating for themselves. The idea is to keep an open mind about how torrenting affects us globally, and acknowledge that although torrenting may be a negative from a legal standpoint in the United States, it can have a positive outcome on the market globally.