Tuesday, April 09, 2013

(On the) Download

The guys at TorrentFreak did a little checking and discovered what kind of pornography gets downloaded at the  Vatican. (Gawker has, of course, more data on specific titles.  Also links to Fleshbot's NSFW details.)

This sort of story, prurient and tacky, only exists because it sounds so naughty -- Celibate priests watch porn!  Ooooh!  It's really just a modern, and tamer, version of the hundreds of old books dedicated to "revelations" concerning the sex lives of people who aren't supposed to have sex.  (Compare it to Charles Chiniquy's Fifty Years in the Church of Rome and The Priest, the Woman and the Confessional, or to Maria Monk's fraudulent Awful Disclosures.)

What is more interesting to us than the sexy bits, though, is that these are illegal downloads.

In fact, TorrentFreak makes the same point.  Their lede is about a parish priest in Ireland who drops by his local video store to rent old movies, and mentions having seen a number of pictures that he has seen a number of new ones lately -- nothing racy, just new.  He mention several films that haven't been released locally, or on DVD -- Les Miserables, Django Unchained, and Lincoln -- and reveals that he's seen them as part of a "film club" at the local monastery.

In other words, the priest and the monks are stealing intellectual property.

We claim no moral high ground here, mind you.  After three years in Romania, which must be the torrent capital of the planet, our already-blase attitude toward illegal downloads has grown even blase-ier.  We don't do it ourselves, because of a few vestigial moral qualms but principally because we are bad at the technical stuff, but we have no doubt watched hours and hours of TV and movies downloaded illegally by other people.  So we are guilty.

But how guilty?  The laws governing intellectual property are a mess.  They disagree from one nation to the next, and from one form of property to another.  America, in particular, has jiggered them to give creators ever-longer and ever-broader rights.

This lead to every sort of anomaly:  sixty-three years after the death of its author, Tarzan of the Apes is a novel in the public domain; "Tarzan," however, is a protected trademark, so good luck writing your own sequel.  The story of Winnie-the-Pooh has become the permanent property of Walt Disney, which has turned Pooh and Tigger into superhero detectives, and replaced Christopher Robin with a little American girl.

In Eastern Europe, piracy is rife.  On the other hand, legally downloading an episode of Mad Men is quite a challenge for those of us unfamiliar with the world of proxies and anonymizers -- it can be done, but even so you have to lie about who and where you are.  Once you lie, you may as well steal.  As The Economist argued years ago, studios are so frightened of losing money from piracy that they have simply abandoned markets like Romania -- in which piracy then becomes the norm.

So, yeah, the priest in Ireland shouldn't have pirated Django.  And somebody at the Vatican should get his wrists slapped, except that he'd probably like that.  But, for us, the real question is how conscience and law will interact in the coming age of freely available "paid" media.

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