Opinion: Is piracy the Internet agent of social change?


Albert Fisler is a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].

Albert Fisler

The demand for Internet has become a technological need in the past decade, and ultimately, Internet speed has become an insatiable want as well. From loading YouTube and Netflix videos to online gaming, a strong Internet connection and high speed are becoming a standard commodity in the same way as a water or electric bill.  

Recently, Internet service providers have been doing their best to spread the cost of upgraded service to content providers like Netflix, according to BBC News. They also report the FCC will allow a fast lane for data-heavy services when new rules are published in May.

However, this has caused controversy with critics who say this violates the “net-neutrality” principle in which all Internet traffic should be treated equally.  

Allen Hammond, director of the Broadband Institute of California, says, “There is a real possibility that you will price some people out of the market for legitimate programming and into a market for ill-gotten programming because it will just cost too much, or it will become clear they can pay a lot less for it.”  

This is foreshadowing a predicted increase of Internet piracy if connections to other legitimate sources will have an increased price.  

According to a report by NBC Universal reported by BBC News, more than 11 percent of all Internet traffic is believed to be illegally shared, copyrighted content, such as films and television episodes. However, Internet service providers have noticed video streaming demand has grown exponentially in the recent years, using up to half of the bandwidth, and upgrades to already established networks can be quite costly.  

Ethicist Irina Raicu says turning to piracy might not be so terrible.

“If you are actually paying and using [piracy sites] in desperation, I don’t think it’s unethical,” she said. “I think it just speaks to the way consumers are just pushed to the limit here. In a world where people feel like the big companies are allowed to act unethically and without any kind of regulations, I think it’s more likely to prompt people to respond the same way.”  

The question posed then is whether the Internet is a human right or a business.  The idea of net-neutrality favors the Internet as a universal right everyone should have access to, but the way Internet service providers control the market and access to the Internet begs to differ.  

Hammond says, “Businesses are providing service based on a contract that is written from their point of view.” There seems to be no room to negotiate. So is piracy the way to help fix the problem, or at least send a message to these big businesses?

Nevertheless, Stuart Green, a professor at Rutgers School of Law, leaves us with some serious words to think about: “I think people feel like at a certain point, they have to correct what the government or market won’t correct.  When a government or oligopoly controls all the wealth, then sometimes people have to break the law in order to change the status quo as an agent of social change.”