Sharing music files: Tactics of a challenge to the industry

Fascinating exploration of the relationship between official responses to torture and official responses to file-sharing, and possibly a useful way to introduce a big-picture concept (the issue of justice and its relationship to power) to students who have a strong opinions about the importance of their own file-sharing activities.

[P]owerful perpetrators commonly
use many or all of the following methods to inhibit outrage:

  • cover up the action;
  • devalue the target;
  • reinterpret what happened by lying, minimising, blaming and framing;
  • use official channels to give an appearance of justice; and,
  • intimidate or bribe the people involved.

Consider the example of torture. Governments that sanction torture
hide its practice (cover up the action). They label the victims as
criminals, traitors or terrorists (devalue the target). If challenged
over their treatment of prisoners, governments may reinterpret what
happened by claiming that torture techniques were not used (lying),
minimising the effects, blaming rogue operators, or saying the
interrogation methods were legitimate (framing). Occasionally they hold
formal inquiries into allegations of torture, which may whitewash the
actions or apply penalties to low-level perpetrators but almost never to
policy-makers (official channels). Finally, they may threaten
whistleblowers and offer rewards to those who co-operate (intimidation
and bribery). All these methods were used in relation to the torture of
prisoners at Abu Ghraib by U.S. guards, revealed in 2004 (Gray and
Martin, 2007). –Brian Martin, Chris Moore, and Colin Salter, First Monday

Is it a bit sanctimonious to equate peer-to-peer users to torture
victims? Perhaps that’s not the right word, but it’s certainly true that youth culture
that has normalized the copying of files in order to avoid paying for
them.

Peer-to-peer users use anonymous services and hide their activities (cover-up); they say the files they’re copying aren’t worth the price the publishers are charging (devaluing the target), they call what they’re doing “sharing” and equate it with checking a book out of the library, or they say record companies and musical stars are greedy (reinterpretation and framing); the record companies and the stars have the access to official channels, of course, the populace can discredit “the man” or rise up against the machine, as when Ubisoft’s digital-rights-management servers were taken down by a denial-of-service attack in March (presumably to protest the fan-unfriendly copy-protection schemes). Jason’s Scott’s hilarious dressing-down of a poorly-compiled torrent of Get Lamp is a perfect example of an enlightened response to file-sharing (from which he earned accolades from torrentfreak.com, reminding me somewhat of Starfleet praising Captain Kirk for cheating on its Kobayashi Maru exam), but those of us who have been following his Twitter stream know Jason gave up risked quite a lot–notably healthcare–when he struck out on his own. 

In response to these five types of methods of inhibiting outrage, targets can use five corresponding types of counter-methods:

  • expose the action;
  • validate the target;
  • interpret what happened as an injustice;
  • uavoid or discredit official channels; instead, mobilise support; and,
  • resist intimidation and bribery.

This model looks at perceived injustices as struggles over adverse
reactions, which can be called outrage, concern, anger or disgust. If
the perpetrator’s tactics are insufficient to minimise outrage, the
original actions can be said to backfire: the perpetrator is worse off
than if no action had been taken. The injustices involved in
file-sharing are neither so dramatic nor so widely abhorred as in the
case of torture, but the same sorts of methods can be observed.

Incidentally, by conjuring up a counter-argument that presents
file-sharers using the technique that justify torture, I’m not trying to
compare file-sharing to government-sanctioned torture. I’m just
exploring how an essay that describes the methods of response might be useful in the classroom, since “adverse reactions”
need to go through some kind of filter before it’s useful above a
certain level as a vehicle for intellectual inquiry, and that filtering
process is a big part of a freshman writing course.