The Truth About Piracy

June 6th, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

After posting the recent article on Copyright and Intellectual Property, I expected someone would question whether the whole notion of copyrights is fear-based.  Sure enough someone did.  It’s a very good question — is the whole notion of intellectual property inherently rooted in fear and scarcity thinking?  Should we feel free to pirate whatever we desire?  Or is there more to this than meets the eye?

First off, what determines whether or not something is fear-based?  I think your intentions are the primary deciding factor.  What do you think about intellectual property, and how do you use it?  Is it a tool for scarcity thinking, or is it a tool for contribution?

Copyrights vs. Creative Commons

I wouldn’t say any intellectual property licensing options are inherently fear-based.  It depends on the person who wields them.  To some people intellectual property is used to create an artificial sense of security.  The more you own, the safer you feel.  This creates a sense of attachment, and anything that threatens that ownership becomes a security threat.  You’ll see many corporations adopt this stance.

On the other hand, you can use the most liberal Creative Commons license and still be mired in fear-based thinking.  Again, it depends on your underlying intentions.  Are you sharing your work in this manner because you genuinely believe it’s the best way to contribute?  Or are you worried about what people will think about you if you copyright your work?  Do you fear being called a sell-out?  Are you concerned you’d feel incongruent about your behavior towards other people’s intellectual property if you were to become an owner as well?

There’s nothing inherently love- or fear-based about any particular licensing scheme.  It’s all about the intentions and attitude you bring to it.  What’s your why for doing what you do?

Ideas vs. expression

Keep in mind that copyrights do not protect ideas.  They only cover the specific, tangible expression of those ideas.  So even though my articles are copyrighted, anyone is free to write their own articles based on the same topics I cover.  You can pick any article from this site and explore the same ideas in your own unique way on your own blog.  That’s perfectly legal.  I think this aligns well with our common sense too.  It’s great that when one of us comes up with an idea, we’re all free to use it.  Any good idea you find on this site is yours to do with as you please.

Who knows where ideas come from?  Do we invent ideas from somewhere within our brains?  Do we tap into the collective consciousness?  Are ideas divinely inspired?  I think you’d agree it seems a bit unfair for someone to claim ownership of an idea.  Fortunately, the law says we don’t own ideas.  Ideas aren’t anyone’s property.

What is considered property is the unique expression of an idea.  By default the creator of that expression owns it, and copyright law gives that creator certain rights that aren’t automatically shared.

Creator’s choice

My stance on intellectual property licensing is that it should be the creator’s choice.  So you could say I’m pro-choice in this area.  Overall I think this is the most practical option.  Any creator can choose to exercise their rights as a copyright holder, or they can choose to give away those rights to the public.  The law allows them to do whatever they want.  I think this freedom of choice is key, and I wouldn’t want to see any government entity usurp this responsibility.  So I very much agree with the current copyright law in this area.

I think it would be totally unfair for creators to have no rights to the work they create, and I cannot agree with those who’d argue that copyrights should not exist.  To me this means forcibly stripping creators of the right to control their own work.  Even if we don’t always agree with how someone exercises their rights, I think creators should have the freedom to decide that for themselves.

Two of my favorite books are Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  Both are thick tomes that you should definitely consider reading at some point in your life.  The first book tells the story of what happens in the USA when creators are legally obligated to serve those who mooch off their work without fair compensation — all the creators eventually leave to form their own community based on fair exchange of value, and the rest of the world crumbles around them.  The second book is about an architect who’s very particular about his creations, inspired to make majestic works of art and unwilling to sacrifice his principles.  He wants his work to make a statement, and he won’t allow others to corrupt it.  While these books were written before the arrival of digital technology — Atlas Shrugged regards railroads as modern transportation — I think many of Rand’s ideas can be applied to intellectual property.

Unlike physical creations, however, intellectual property in the digital age allows the original version to remain intact.  This permits free sharing of any digital content.  If you share someone’s food or house, you may inconvenience them, but no apparent inconvenience occurs with the sharing of digital content.  So the big question then is whether we should be able to share digital content freely, even if it’s copyrighted.

Pirate’s choice

My stance on this topic may initially seem odd in light of my previous statements, but in this area I’m also pro-choice.  With respect to sharing copyrighted files, I think we also have to look within and question our intentions.  Are we downloading movies with scarcity-based thinking like, “Cool, this will save me money” or “Why should I pay for it when I can get something for nothing?”  Are we resonating with greed or selfishness?  Or is there truly a more noble purpose at work?  When you look within, quiet down for 30 seconds, and just listen for a while, what do you hear?  How do you feel about yourself?

It’s been my personal experience that if I start to resonate with piracy, it’s a pointer that something else is amiss.  Maybe I’m procrastinating on something more important.  Maybe I’m falling into scarcity thinking.  This helps me refocus on the ideals I want to resonate with.

I can always find a way to justify piracy, but then I’m just lying to myself.  For example, I might tell myself it’s noble to share a piece of software with someone who can’t afford it, but I can just as easily buy them a copy instead of duplicating the one I bought.  When I’m honest with myself, I can see that the real issue is that I’m unwilling to spend money to help out a friend, and piracy is how I avoid facing that unpleasant part of myself.  It’s easier to transfer a file than it is to resolve those feelings.

I tend to be more liberal in my feelings towards sharing copyrighted material that’s no longer in the hands of the original creator and is controlled by a non-conscious legal entity like a corporation, especially when the original creators are no longer living.  I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Even though it may be illegal, I still think piracy should be something we regard as pro-choice, the reason being that making such choices helps raise our awareness and elevate our consciousness.  When we’re forced to do something, we react unconsciously.  But when we’re allowed to explore our options freely, even those that may not align with the values of society and government, we open ourselves to conscious personal growth.

I’m not in favor of more rules and enforcement when it comes to protecting copyrighted material.  I am in favor of more conscious examining of why people feel the need to exhibit such behavior.  I know that if I resort to piracy, it has nothing to do with noble motives.  Sure I can try to justify it, but I’m better off facing the truth that piracy is an avoidance behavior and that I need to work on the real issues.

Even if I sell my own copyrighted products down the road, I understand that some people will choose to pirate them… for whatever reason.  But I think it’s important to allow people to have that experience if they find it necessary.

How does piracy make you feel?

When you have an abundance mindset, there’s no resistance to the idea of paying for intellectual property.  It feels good to do so, and piracy just doesn’t feel right.  I wouldn’t go so far as to label piracy evil, but it feels very empty and hollow.  In contrast paying for value with value feels good.  And buying a gift for someone feels even better.

As I resolved these feelings in myself, a strange thing happened.  As I became willing to shell out money for intellectual property and to feel good about it, even if I could easily download a pirated version, I started to push beyond the scarcity mindset.  And lo and behold, as the Law of Attraction would predict, my external world began to synchronistically reflect my internal shift.  As my blog grew in popularity, people started legally sending me more and more intellectual property for free — books, CDs, DVDs, music, software, etc.  Many were hoping to get reviews or mentions on this site, but some just wanted to share their creations with me.  For example, I’ve received autographed books direct from authors with notes that my work inspired them in whole or in part to write their books.  As you can probably imagine, such feedback is very rewarding.  Now I find myself in a situation where I enjoy legal intellectual property abundance, yet ironically I’ve never been more willing to pay for it.  I’m frequently amazed at how elegantly the LoA operates once we get all our internal ducks in a row.

Tools for conscious growth

Piracy and intellectual property are simply tools for our conscious growth.  How we react to them is a reflection of the internal issues we’re still sorting out.  Once we sort through our internal baggage and reach the point of feeling good about our actions, behavior, and attitudes, we cease to take issue with the tools.  Resistance and attachment are supplanted by acceptance and love.  Instead of pirating other people’s work, we get busy contributing our own.  And instead of feeling the need to secure our intellectual property out of fear, we consciously decide which licensing schemes will allow us to best serve the greater good, whether that involves guiding our creations personally or giving away those rights to the general public.

Based on my own experiences, I will tell you that the fleeting boost of the something-for-nothing value grab absolutely pales in comparison to the joys of creative contribution.  Yet that something-for-nothing period is an important step in our conscious growth, so if this is the phase you’re currently experiencing, don’t resist it.  Accept where you are, and allow yourself to explore and experience it.  But don’t allow yourself to justify your actions or lie to yourself.  Be totally honest about what you’re doing, thinking, and feeling.  Stay conscious and don’t go dark, even if you dislike what you’re seeing.

It’s perfectly OK to say to yourself, “I’m downloading a movie I could easily afford to buy.  I like that I can get it for free, but I have mixed feelings about this.  I feel cheap.  I feel like I’m doing something sneaky.  Everyone else does it, but it doesn’t seem quite right.”  It’s perfectly OK to acknowledge those feelings even as you go ahead with the action.  But if the situation doesn’t feel quite right, allow your reaction to those feelings to become the impetus for clarifying your true desires:  “I know piracy doesn’t resonate with the person I’d really like to be.  I download movies, but I don’t enjoy them as much as I think I will, and afterwards a gnawing feeling of emptiness overtakes me.  I’m using movies as an escape.  I always notice the flaws and how much better those movies could have been.  I’m feeling a stronger urge to create something myself.  I’d rather be making movies than downloading them.  Wouldn’t it be cool if I wrote a screenplay?  Maybe there’s a way I could do that….”

I think that as a society, we need to be tolerant and accepting of people going through these growth experiences, but I also think we should encourage such people to shift towards becoming contributors themselves instead of remaining stuck in the mindset of unearned entitlement.  In the long run, our continued conscious growth is far more important than the fate of any particular piece of intellectual property.



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