Note: This is a living document.
Stealing is wrong. But downloading isn’t stealing. If I shoplift an album from my local record store, no one else can buy it. But when I download a song, no one loses it and another person gets it. There’s no ethical problem. — Aaron Swartz
Everything we learn, we learn from cobbling together what others have done before us. When ideas become openly available, illicitly or otherwise, they become much larger than the people who made them in the first place. Everyone owns a piece of them, and everyone can build on them. When we start placing draconian limitations on how ideas naturally circulate, however, we damage an entire ecosystem of creativity, education, and conversation all in the name of “protecting” art.
Is piracy theft? The notion of theft was simple when it concerned a one-to-one correlation between people and objects, but files are infinitely reproducible in each iteration. Files, like ideas, are built to propagate. As Aaron Swartz pointed out, when you download our record for free somewhere, you aren’t stealing it; how can it be stealing when an infinite number of copies remain, hanging in the aether? The reality is, the Internet can’t be matched to brick-and-mortar complements. Piracy isn’t shoplifting–it’s a completely new phenomenon that deserves its own category.
As of 2012, 57% of the world admits to using pirated software. The most pirated software in the world belongs to the most successful software company: Microsoft. This is a pattern that can be seen across all media. Shows like Game of Thrones, movies like Silver Linings Playbook, and artists like Bruno Mars top iTunes charts and bittorent trackers simultaneously. It’s difficult to really understand these correlations; the issue is now so endemic that there are no control variables left to examine. But we can see the general trends and relationships and know that this moment is intractable–that for better or worse, the landscape will never return to pre-Napster conditions.
People don’t pirate software, ideas, books, or media for ideological reasons. They do so because it’s convenient, or to live outside of their own financial constraints. Case in point: piracy is most rampant in countries with emerging economies. The path of least resistance for the rest is purchase. We don’t glorify or condemn either strategy. At this point, the freedoms which define the Internet are the same freedoms which allow piracy to happen. They are completely interlinked; we, for one, are not willing to sacrifice the former in order to rein in the latter.
It’s impossible to stop our albums from being pirated via torrents and digital locker sites. We could insist that our label engage in DMCA takedown Whack-a-mole, but we’ve found that piracy actually helps us in some cases. We understand why our music is pirated, and it has led us to far corners of the world where our albums aren’t available for sale. We’d rather you not pirate our records (honestly, we could really use the $7.99) but we’ve never met a computer-savvy person with a completely innocent hard-drive, either.
We believe that information wants to be free, but is art information? Yes, but it’s also something more, something directly linked to the dreams and livelihoods of individuals like us who are trying to make it work in a digital world as liberating as it is hostile.
2005 — Jona makes an experimental album of music using copywritten Nirvana songs as its sole sample source. An edition of 300 vinyl records are produced and sold. The album is made available for free on teamyacht.com.
2008 — We design a laptop sleeve, modeled to look like a manila envelope, for the newly-released MacBook Air. The design is copied later by dozens of vendors.
2009 — Jona admits to downloading pirated audio plugin software in an interview for a project about makers and their hardware and software tools. After the software developer responds, Jona apologizes and asks to be billed for the software. YACHT writes the first draft of this Piracy Policy.
2009 – YACHT participates in “Free Culture: Creating Copyright and Copyright Creation,” a free public event exploring the current state of copyright law and its impact on creative work.
2009 — We make an instrumental version of our album See Mystery Lights available on the Free Music Archive, WFMU’s interactive resource for high quality legal music. In 2011, we add an instrumental version of Shangri-La. Both have been downloaded over 125,000 times and used in countless creative projects.
2013 — Game of Thrones is the most pirated TV show of the year. Its director believes that was instrumental to its success.
2013 — For the first time since 1999, there is a .3% growth in music sales. Studies claim piracy might actually be good for the music industry–one going as far as to say that pirates purchase 30% more than non-filesharers.
2013 — A t-shirt is sold at Kohl’s and Burlington Coat Factory which clearly employs YACHT logotype and lyrics. Is it piracy when a corporation is the offender? We point out the infringement publicly. Outrage on social media and in the press leads to Kohl’s removing the shirt from their online store.
We want this conversation to be longer than a comment thread or a 140-character bump of outrage. We would to hear your thoughts. To discuss, please email us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Updated : 03/10/13
Note — Crossbones graphic taken from pirate wallpaper by Luke Roberts.