Piracy Then and Now

Internet is all about sharing. Found a piece of interesting content?  Fire up your Gmail/Facebook/Twitter, paste the link and share it with your peeps. The process is so smooth, one doesn’t even realize when he/she crosses the line. You get down to sharing out everything that appeals to you, from free to paid content and before you know it, you’re already an outlaw.

Media houses, artists and creative professionals have been trying hard to stop piracy. Especially in the past decade, we’ve seen the piracy issue escalate so much so that even the government got involved; passing laws which would strictly criminalize any copying and distribution of content. But this is not a 21st century problem. As it is with everything else, the roots date way back in the history.

Herm of Dionysos, an excellent Roman copy originally believed to be a Greek original.

In the 4th century, the Roman sculptors were producing duplicate copies of the Greek sculptures. Many of these forged copies were held in high respect until the modern forgery detection methods disclosed the secret. The Roman copy of Herm of Dionysos, for e.g., was removed from British Museum only recently, after the discovery of authentic Greek bronze figure.

However, duplicate copies cannot be considered less than art, for many duplicate copies are believed to be better than their original counterparts. Michelangelo is believed to produce such fine copies that at times, he would keep the original and return the forged piece. Copying works of your favorite artist was seen as a tribute, not forgery, decades before the Renaissance.

Original Saint Anthony by Martin Schongauer (left); Imitation by Michelangelo (right)

Modern tools have made it super easy to put on a Jack Sparrow hat and go about sharing movies/photos etc. with friends/family, or even selling/renting the content as your own. While the laws are stringent, the inherent anonymous nature of the internet makes regulation almost impossible.

Despite that, there’ve been cases where the infringers have been put to task. An ironic case involved the US Government being charged of piracy. The government was reportedly caught pirating $180 million in military software. They ended up paying a settlement of $50 million.

When it comes to photography, the situation is not any different. In fact, photos/images might just be the easiest target. Techniques like watermarking photographs, disabling right click, sharing only low-res images etc. only help so much. Kris J. Boorman, a Kent-based photographer learnt the hard lesson when his photo of Mt. Fuji hit #1 on Reddit. Even though he had shared a low-res, someone hacked into his Flickr account, grabbed the high-res image and posted it on the same thread. The image was later removed but damage was already done.

Mt. Fuji by Kris Boorman

As the industry/professionals fight to protect their work, piracy can be good too. Worrying too much about piracy will only affect your work. We suggest just do the necessary i.e. understand the licenses, produce great work and be aware. Everything else will take care of itself.



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