Ethics and Copyright, Part 1.5: Piratical Archetypes

Lyn Hawthorn:

As I embark upon this series of posts examining the ethics of copyright and the infringement thereof, it occurs to me that one more bit of preparation would be useful. For various thought experiments, and to look at infringement through the lens of different theories of morality, these are a few scenarios we can refer back to over the course of these posts. Keep these portraits of different sorts of unauthorized downloading in mind as we go on!

The Casual Infringer: This is the sort of person we’ve all likely met, and if we’re not talking about any other template, we can assume we’re on about this person. The causal infringer sometimes buys copyrighted materials according to the law, and sometimes gets them by unauthorized means, according to their needs and feelings of the moment. They might watch a pirate stream of a sporting event one week, then buy a deluxe Blu-Ray film the next. They don’t give the ethical considerations much thought.

The Devil-May-Care Infringer: Our extreme example of piratical attitudes, this is the “wants everything for free” media consumer that copyright proponents love to hate. He doesn’t pay for any entertainment if he can get away with it! Nor does he buy merch or do anything else that could be construed as generating revenue for the artists and authors whose work he soaks up. In fact, he’s selfish even by pirate standards, not even sharing out what he downloads–always a leecher, never a seeder, on the torrents. We can suppose he spends the money saved on entertainment to buy black hats and moustache wax. Surely if we can succeed in nailing anybody with moral blame for copyright infringement, this guy would be one!

The Compulsive Infringer: This odd duck doesn’t even use the stuff she downloads. She simply amasses as much of it as she can and shares it back out to whoever is in search of it. The ultimate torrent seeder, building as vast a catalog of copyrighted stuff as she can find, without much attention to what it is she’s getting or distributing. A variation where she downloads anything and everything but doesn’t share it back out might be called a Hoarder.

The Huge Fan: This person is a devoted follower of one or more media creators. They download and share things because it’s the fastest and most effective way to get ahold of new content, and they want others to have the chance to see, hear, or read their favorites too! They might not always buy copyrighted material according to their object of adoration’s wishes, but they’re conscientious about making up for it in concert tickets, T-shirts, direct donations, etc.

The Underserved Customer: A Casual Infringer with a coherent pattern to what they infringe on and what they don’t. This person has particular standards on price, convenience, format, quality, or the like. If some content hits what they feel is reasonable on those criteria, they buy; if it doesn’t, they pirate. People who live outside of regions where content is legally available, but acquire it anyway, fall into this category.

The Broke Infringer: Somebody who simply doesn’t have disposable income to pay for copyrighted material. For our purposes, we can say they have exactly enough money for basic needs and an Internet connection, but not a penny more. If they’re to partake of copyrighted media at all, they have to get it for free somehow–which they regularly do, typically by pirate download.

That should cover most of our bases! What reactions do you have to these portraits? Are there any other motivations for or patterns of infringing behavior that might be relevant to these discussions?

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2 thoughts on “Ethics and Copyright, Part 1.5: Piratical Archetypes

  1. Justin says:

    An archetype I’m not sure is expressed above is the Sampler, who’s perfectly happy to give money for media that doesn’t suck, and refuses to fund any that does, so uses free access to prejudge which things to purchase.

    A particular exemplar I’m thinking of also branched into the Underserved, when media he’d be happy to pay for was simply not made available to him. Which suggests that the archetypes, while valid, aren’t categories of people, but facets of behavior that an individual may or may not express based on circumstance, category of media, etc. Not sure if that would affect any existing or future analysis.

    • SabreCat says:

      Ooh, good call. I knew I was probably forgetting a common scenario, and the try-before-you-buy scheme is a good one. I may see about updating the post with an entry for that.

      Re how the archetypes hold in reality: I agree, thinking of them as categories of people is a bit of an oversimplification. I set things up that way for ease of use in later thought-exercises, when we start getting into the inevitable counterfactuals and analysis of intent.

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