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Hacking and Piracy
Posted on Sunday, May 1 2011 @ 16:56:50 Eastern

Unless you’ve been living under that special rock occupied by people who still haven’t seen Toy Story you’ll be aware that Sony, for the last two weeks, has majorly dropped the ball regarding their online service. While Sony’s handling of the situation – and their policies which led to the intrusion – has been laughably abysmal not much focus has been placed on the perpetrator.
 
Hacking has existed for as long as computers and even phones where ‘phreakers’ could obtain bonuses such as free calls through their exploits but, while most hacks are small scale and done simply for the hacker to prove their ability, hacking is generally a harmful practice and when a big hack occurs such as the one Sony has experienced it’s hard to believe that the personal details of potentially millions of people have been copied over to the hard drive of the perpetrator simply for bragging rights. There is a black market worth a lot of money for the personal details of people. These details can be used to apply for credit cards, bank loans and no doubt many, many other things. What they all have in common though is the damage they do to the person whose details that have been stolen.
 
While the hacker stands to get rich by selling the list of personal details he has obtained he is almost certainly causing hundreds, if not thousands, of people a world of hassle, stress and, if they are very unlucky, a financial loss they are unable to recoup. To reap this on people for personal gain is pure selfishness and produces far more problems in the world than solutions. Perhaps one situation is improved but countless others are worsened substantially.
 
Piracy presents a similar situation. ‘Theft’ is defined as the dishonest appropriation of property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it under UK law. This does not apply to piracy. The well-known image from Patri Friedman highlights the rift between theft and piracy in that the former removes the original whereas the latter creates a new copy. That is of course true but ignores the deeper aspects of piracy.
 
If I were to, in some insane parallel dimension, download the new Miley Cyrus album, I would be creating a copy out of, essentially, nothing. My 1’s and 0’s would have been manifested out of the ether but would exactly replicate the 1’s and 0’s of the official album. I am not depriving anyone of Miley’s latest squawking but I am depriving Miley, and anyone else involved in the production of her… music, of payment for their efforts.
 
And therein lays the problem of piracy. There is no physical item being removed from anyone’s possession but effort deserves to be paid for. When 3D printers become sophisticated and commercially viable no doubt people will be pirating the schematics for cameras and TVs and submarines but that doesn’t mean that taking the work of others and using it for free is morally right. Copyright, patent and trademark law has arisen to protect the intellectual property of people and exist for the sole reason that taking the ideas of others without paying any agreed price is wrong.
 
We all want something for nothing but not many of us would want to create something from scratch and not be rewarded for it. Pirates ignore this basic principle and take what they want. The argument has the potential to descend into pure, ugly economics and possess no more than facts on how little the artist earns in comparison to the record label but that is not what this is about. There are a multitude of issues regarding the earnings breakdown where music is concerned but piracy means no one earns anything.
 
So on the one hand we have hackers who will take private details and sell them for personal gain regardless of any suffering caused and on the other we have pirates who will gladly enjoy the intellectual property of someone else without paying that person for the effort put into creating that property. These are two very different offences but neither are morally sound and both are objectively selfish. A world where everything is fair is all but impossible: after all, easy will always be seen as better by many regardless of moral standpoint and so we will always be left with those willing to deprive singers/actors/authors/writers/directors and so on and so forth of income and those willing to ruin the finances of those whose details have been stolen (or pirated?) for their own gain.
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