Friday, December 12, 2008
Pirates of the Amazon
Illegal actions as I understand them are creating, hosting, or downloading pirated content. What happens when students who did none of those but got a law suit slapped on them. What did they do? They only provided a weblink.
Frightening to Amazon? Yes.
"Parody... is imitation with a critical difference, not always at the expense of the parodied text." - Linda Hutcheon
Earlier this week, two students from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, made headlines by releasing a plug-in for the Firefox Web browser that made it easy for people who were browsing books, music and movies on Amazon.com to download the same products free through the Pirate Bay, the illicit BitTorrent site.
"Pirates of the Amazon" was an artistic parody, part of our media research and education at the Media Design M.A. course at the Piet Zwart Institute of the Willem de Kooning Academy Hogeschool Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It was a practical experiment on interface design, information access and currently debated issues in media culture. We were surprised by the attentions and the strong reactions this project received. Ultimately, the value of the project lies in these reactions. It is a ready-made and social sculpture of contemporary internet user culture.
One day after publishing we received a take down request by the legal department of Amazon.com.
Piracy is NOT stealing, and the US Supreme Court has specifically made that distinction. See Justice Blackmun’s majority decision in Dowling v. United States:
“The infringer of a copyright does not assume physical control over the copyright nor wholly deprive its owner of its use. Infringement implicates a more complex set of property interests than does run-of-the-mill theft, conversion, or fraud.”
Whether or not piracy is wrong, it should be noted that “stealing” removes ownership from the rightful owner, and wrongfully transfers it to the thief. Piracy does not.