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The Piracy Crusade

How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties

Aram Sinnreich

Publication Year: 2013

In the decade and a half since Napster first emerged, forever changing the face of digital culture, the claim that “internet pirates killed the music industry” has become so ubiquitous that it is treated as common knowledge. Piracy is a scourge on legitimate businesses and hard-working artists, we are told, a “cybercrime” similar to identity fraud or even terrorism. In The Piracy Crusade, Aram Sinnreich critiques the notion of “piracy” as a myth perpetuated by today’s cultural cartels—the handful of companies that dominate the film, software, and especially music industries. As digital networks have permeated our social environment, they have offered vast numbers of people the opportunity to experiment with innovative cultural and entrepreneurial ideas predicated on the belief that information should be shared widely. This has left the media cartels, whose power has historically resided in their ability to restrict the flow of cultural information, with difficult choices: adapt to this new environment, fight the changes tooth and nail, or accept obsolescence. Their decision to fight has resulted in ever stronger copyright laws and the aggressive pursuit of accused infringers. Yet the most dangerous legacy of this “piracy crusade” is not the damage inflicted on promising start-ups or on well-intentioned civilians caught in the crosshairs of file-sharing litigation. Far more troubling, Sinnreich argues, are the broader implications of copyright laws and global treaties that sacrifice free speech and privacy in the name of combating the phantom of piracy—policies that threaten to undermine the foundations of democratic society.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press

Series: Science, Technology, and Culture


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

Like all creative work, this book resulted from the contributions of a great many people and institutions. Although the genesis of my research on digital music and “piracy” dates back to my work at Jupiter Research at the turn of the century, my interest was rekindled when I served as an expert witness for the defense in...

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Introduction: Piracy Crusades Old and New

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pp. 1-14

IN 1390, an army of crusaders set out to wage war on piracy, with disastrous consequences for the soldiers themselves, their nations, and the entire Western world.
The story begins in Genoa, a coastal city located at the western “hip” of Italy’s boot, which was emerging as one of Europe’s wealthiest and most influential seats of power. Like its chief...

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Part I: Lock and Key: Music as a Scarce Resource

As rhetoricians and communication scholars have long known, the way in which a debate is “framed” is at least as important as the manner in which it is argued. To accept a set of terms and definitions at the outset of a conversation is to accept the worldview that gave rise to...

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1. Stacking the Deck: The Monopolization of Music

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pp. 17-36

The early years of the twenty-first century have been a tumultuous time within the music industry and musical culture at large. Many people working throughout the recording, publishing, and broadcasting sectors are legitimately concerned that they may lose their jobs, or even their careers. The new digital communications tools that have changed...

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2. Riding the Tiger: Why the Music Industry Loves (and Hates) Technology

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pp. 37-55

The music industry as we know it today began more or less by accident. When Thomas Edison first developed the technology for sound recording, it was an unintentional by-product of his attempts to improve the telephone. Of course, the canny entrepreneur rapidly moved to publicize the invention. In an 1878 article for the North American Review, he...

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3. “We’ve been Talking about this for Years”: The Music Industry’s Five Stages of Grief

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pp. 56-68

One of the most enduring myths about the “digital music revolution”1 concerns the level of technological cluelessness and absence of foresight within the music industry at the close of the twentieth century. Whether you see them as victims or villains, canaries in the coal mine or endangered dinosaurs, you probably believe that the major record...

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Part II: Who Really Killed the Music Industry?

In Agatha Christie's classic detective novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, the titular character is killed, and nearly everyone he knew immediately becomes a suspect, from the obligatory butler to members of the victim’s own family. At the end of the book, it turns out (spoiler...

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4. Dissecting the Bogeyman: How Bad is P2P, Anyway?

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pp. 71-93

So-called digital music piracy comes in many flavors. The music industry’s earliest online targets for litigation, in the mid to late 1990s, were MP3-sharing websites, simple platforms that enabled user X to upload a song to a web server, and user Y to download it. As Internet technology has exploded over the past decade and a half, fueled by at...

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5. Bubbles and Storms: The Story behind the Numbers

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pp. 94-118

We are all familiar with this story: Everything was going swimmingly for the music industry until Napster hit. Sales were on the rise, and the future looked brighter still. But since that fateful day in the summer of 1999 when P2P file sharing was unleashed on the world, music sales have plummeted and a once-vital industry has been reduced to...

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6. Is the Music Industry its Own Worst Enemy?

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pp. 119-134

In 1896, the British House of Lords adjudicated Trego vs. Hunt, a suit involving two business partners who had parted ways, Hunt selling his share to Trego. After pocketing Trego’s money, Hunt hired a clerk to copy down all the names and addresses of the firm’s clients, so he could start a new business and poach them. Ultimately, Hunt was...

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Part III: Collateral Damage: The Hidden Costs of the Piracy Crusade

In this final section, I address the social and economic costs of the industry’s piracy crusade and consider some of the longer-term dangers we face if the crusade is allowed to continue.
Given the pro-business veneer of the music industry’s rhetoric, it’s ironic that one of the principal victims of...

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7. “This Sounds Way too Good”: No Good Idea Goes Unpunished

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pp. 137-159

In moments of quiet reverie, I often return to a favorite fantasy of mine—one most likely shared by many media and technology enthusiasts of a certain age. I have been transported back in time to visit my teenage self, equipped with the latest twenty-first-century gadgetry. I watch as fifteen-year-old me familiarizes himself with the smooth contours and...

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8. Guilty until Proven Innocent: Anti-Piracy and Civil Liberties

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pp. 160-178

Throughout this book, I have discussed numerous ways in which the music industry’s largely unfounded (and sometimes disingenuous) concerns about “digital piracy,” and its antipathy toward online innovation, have harmed both the business and culture of music, contributing to the major labels’ own strategic and financial difficulties and...

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9. Is Democracy Piracy?

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pp. 179-200

In April 2012, a young couple got married in Belgrade, Serbia. The wedding video1 shows the bride and groom smiling nervously as they stand on a dais in fancy clothes, while the crowd around them titters and cheers and the romantic strains of an aria waft through the air. After the groom lifts the bride’s veil, they exchange heartfelt vows and then...


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pp. 201-234


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pp. 235-245

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9781613762868
E-ISBN-10: 1613762860
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340511
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340516

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Science, Technology, and Culture
Series Editor Byline: Carolyn de la Pena, Siva Vaidhyanathan See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 879306184
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Piracy Crusade

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Copyright -- Music.
  • Piracy (Copyright) -- Prevention.
  • Music trade -- Law and legislation.
  • Music and the Internet.
  • Sound recordings -- Pirated editions.
  • Civil rights.
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