Leitmotif

Reason as the Leading Motive

Piracy Protects Property Rights

Posted by Jerry on September 24, 2007

In India, buying pirated movies is the best way to protect your own property rights.

Pirated movies, videos, music, and software are rampant in the Indian market: they are sold openly, loudly, and prodigiously in the full presence of law enforcement officials, who are often also the patrons of such piracy. Indeed, it goes even further: pirated goods are often sold right on government–public–property!

The Indian constitution recognizes no right to private property, which is actually logically consistent with its constitutionally enshrined Socialist character.

Therefore, there are no economic transactions in India that absolutely exclude the presence of the government at every level.

In the context of pirated movies, when you purchase a legitimate copy of a DVD from a store, you will be wrong to assume that the government has not stepped in somewhere between the creator of the movie and you–the purchaser–of the movie to violate the sanctity of property rights. Further, because of this government interference, you can never be sure that the movie you are going to purchase is the same movie that you wish to purchase.

Recently, I bought the legitimate copies of Babel (on VCD) and 300 (on DVD); naively, I assumed that I had purchased that which I wanted to purchase, i.e., that which I considered was of a value worthy of trading in my money for.

Both movies were so grotesquely mutilated by the government censors that I had no interest left in watching or even owning them and they provided me with no value for the money I had spent. Note that the censorship was actually a government act of fraud and violation of property rights: The movies I ended up inadvertently owning were neither created by the director/producer nor were they the ones I was led into believing as being what I desired to own.

Thus, the knife of government censors slices both ways–they mutilate the property of the creators and fraudulently expropriate the money of the consumers who have no way of ascertaining the integrity of the product they are purchasing. The creator’s property rights are violated and the customer’s right to pursue that which they truly intend to own is also violated.

In this way, the government of India openly commits fraud, invalidates the objective property rights of its citizens, infringes on the property laws of other sovereign nations, and continues to foster piracy on its own turf.

In response to the criminal acts of the government, the Indian people are well justified in resorting to piracy; from what I hear, the pirated versions of the DVDs come directly from the US, bypassing Indian government interference and censorship, and therefore preserves the integrity of the originally intended creations of the movie producers.

Therefore, by having the original creation reach its consumers as properly intended, piracy in fact protects the property of its creators; and by delivering the correct product that the consumers actually wish to purchase, piracy is fostering an honest (non-fraudulent) exchange of value for value.

Of course, that the creators get no gains from the sales of pirated versions of their products is therefore not the fault of the common man in India; for this, they should properly target their blame upon the Indian government as the true originators of piracy and crime.

Notably, the same violation occurs with regard to cable television in India. While the US government treats cable television as a sacrosanct domain because it falls under the private ownership of cable subscribers, in India there is no dearth of government meddling, censorship, and outright blackouts of cable channels on the whims of the Indian Ministry of Communication. This is in obvious disregard for the fact that cable subscription is the private property of individual citizens who spend their hard-earned money to purchase it. 

Here again, the Indian government’s utter ineptitude at providing quality programming on broadcast channels–and its refusal to fully privatize broadcast air frequencies and get out of the business of media completely–has forced a majority of Indians to buy or steal cable service. Thus, while stealing cable is a crime, the blame should properly lie on the government as the true originators of the crime.

EDIT:

I’m reminded of Howard Roark’s actions in the Fountainhead. Roark much rather preferred that Keating took all credit for the design of Cortlandt and Roark received nothing for himself (in a sense, giving up his claim to his property–his designs) than have the integrity of his creation compromised. In a sense, this parallels the situation I am describing in India. A creator would rather have his creation released intactly with integrity and exactly as he intended–but have it be pirated–than have some incompetent secondhander in the government (who’s probably never made a movie in his entire life) mutilate his creation and sell it on the market as pseudo-legitimate property.

Of course, the analogy is weak and serves only an illustrative purpose–not a moral justification. Roark’s actions were deliberate and voluntary. Many of the movie-makers whose works get pirated are not even aware of the unlicensed reproduction of their works.

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5 Responses to “Piracy Protects Property Rights”

  1. mahendrap said

    //Of course, that the creators get no gains from the sales of pirated versions of their products is therefore not the fault of the common man in India; for this, they should properly target their blame upon the Indian government as the true originators of piracy and crime.//
    I wouldn’t go so far to generalize however. There are many people who buy the pirated version purely out of economic reasons (they’re cheaper), rather than out of respect for the integrity of the art work. These cases form the majority, and in such cases, the government is not the originator, the pirates are.

    Excepting the above, your post is a refreshingly new way to look at this!

    BTW, how did you know the Babel DVD was censored and mutilated to that extent? I also bought one, but there was no way to discern the censorship…

  2. Ergo said

    Yes, you’re correct. Most people buy pirated stuff cuz they’re cheap. But you cannot prosecute violation of property rights if your own law does not recognize property as a right–that would be more than hypocritical; it would have to necessarily be arbitrary, with the government being the arbiter, not objective property laws.

    The patrons of piracy here are merely people engaging in an economic transaction within the framework set by the government (although, I would also argue that they are not wholly innocent by themselves in the privacy of their own mind); in a country that officially does not recognize property rights, the violation has already occurred at the port of entry where the original goods enter the market on the terms of the government’s fiat–not at the point of purchase where the consumers buy cheap goods made possible by the kind of environment and context fostered by their government.

    I must admit to an error in my post: I bought a *VCD* version of Babel and a DVD version of 300; both originals, ofcourse. I had already seen both movies in the theaters, which is how I was able to discern the differences in content.

  3. mahendrap said

    //you cannot prosecute violation of property rights if your own law does not recognize property as a right//
    Agreed, of course.

    //The patrons of piracy here are merely people engaging in an economic transaction within the framework set by the government…in a country that officially does not recognize property rights//
    Agreed. In my opinion, the framework is more influential in the taxes and resulting prices of authentic art works, rather than the censorship and resulting mutilation of art works.

    //the violation has already occurred at the port of entry where the original goods enter the market on the terms of the government’s fiat–not at the point of purchase where the consumers buy cheap goods made possible by the kind of environment and context fostered by their government.//
    I do not disagree with you regarding where the violation has occured – whether it is at the port of entry or at the point of purchase. I think you digress, that is not my point.

    Why are these goods being shipped to this country in the first place? Because there is a market for it. Where the violation of property rights occurs – whether at the port of entry or the retail purchase – is a question I’m not concerned about and will leave it to you.

    Unless there is a demand, there cannot be a supply. My point is, the demand is not from viewers who would like to see uncensored art works with full integrity. The demand is from masses (count in millions) who wish to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but can’t afford the ticket to a multiplex. This volume of masses is what is creating the demand, not government censorship.

    Let me quote you again and reiterate after my first comment: //that the creators get no gains from the sales of pirated versions of their products is therefore not the fault of the common man in India//
    I still disagree, because the common man in India, the large volume market from which creators stand to gain the most, is not at all bothered about artistic integrity or property rights. All he’s concerned with is whether he can watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster for Rs. 300 or Rs. 50. And there are millions of such common men, which form a large market, which is why piracy exists in the first place, not because of government censorship.

    Note that I’m still not disagreeing with the title and substance of your post – yes, piracy may indeed help protect property rights. Because it bypasses governmental interference and censorship, property rights can be upheld. But the creators of these art works have every right to blame the common Indian man, apart from the Indian government, for the lack of revenues resulting from piracy.

  4. Ergo said

    You’re completely right that the demand for cheap movies fuels the influx of pirated copies of originals works. I don’t think I let the private individual off the hook. I disagree with you that the demand for cheap goods is the *cause* of piracy.

    Everyone has the right to the cheapest product they can find available. The demand for cheap goods in and of itself cannot cause piracy; people in western countries love cheap goods as much as we do.

    Where piracy goes wrong is by offering that cheap product fraudulently by denying the creator their proper due. However, all these facts are connected: why piracy is so rampant in countries like China and India is connected with the kind of economic policies and laws we have. The fundamental focus must be to set your own house in order, build a rights-protecting framework, institute objective laws that prosecute violations of property rights at all levels regardless of whether it is violation by government fiat or by private individuals.

    It is the political and economic context of a nation that gives rise to rights-violation, be it of the piracy sort or of any other sort of violation. To that extent, the government’s intituted anti-property stance is the cause; not the demand for cheap goods.

    Oh, and I think I may have given the impression that *censorship* is the cause of piracy. If that is the impression I gave, then it is a false one.

  5. […] I came across an interesting article recently on a blog called Leitmotif titled Piracy Protects Property Rights.  It talks about government censorship and fraud in India and pirated movies, and how one leads to […]

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