The Pirate Academic in the Digital Age

Or maybe it should be the Digital Academic in the Pirate Age?

Anyway, I’m backing up my data including stuff I have on dvds since I’ve heard burned dvds might not last very long. I see that I have around 500 gigs of stuff including various videogame documentaries, news coverage, websites, interviews, youtube videos, and newspaper and magazine articles. Some of the stuff is pretty rare so I would hate to lose any of it. I bought two extra drives and my plan is to back up everything on both of them and take one to my parent’s house so I have off site backup (I’d love to set up something like a pogo plug at my parent’s house but I’m still a poor grad student.). I have the idea that this stuff will be useful as research one day but the truth is that I’m something of a low level hoarder (I don’t have a pet so there’s no danger of finding its dessicated remains under a pile of junk and there’s not much chance I’ll be burried alive by bits and bytes).

The problem with all of this is that, as you may have guessed from the title, is that while a large amount of that data has been obtained by using my dvd recorder to record stuff off of television probably just as much if not more of it has been downloaded from bittorent sites. So I’m a pirate. MPAA you can come and get me. There might be some illegally downloaded music on my computer so RIAA you can come and get me too.

I don’t deny the legality of it. What I do question is the morality. Let’s face it, the odds of my getting sued are pretty slim. Moreover, academia has a pretty long record of infringing on copyright anyway by making copies of articles for students without paying for them. Heck, I’ve even done it with a book that one of my advisers edited.

On the other hand, most people in the media are helpful to academics and I’ve actually gotten a free copy of an episode of a show from a cable network when I emailed them about it and I have had a couple indie documentary makers send me stuff when I inquired about it. So maybe I could get copies of some of this stuff through legal means. Does getting it through piracy make it less moral? I think so since I don’t have permission even though I doubt they would care since nearly all the stuff I’ve downloaded hasn’t been available for purchase (which is kind of weird since there is a demand for this stuff since I still get hits on the post I made about the video game documentary Tony Hawk hosted so there must be some people out there who want to see that stuff (although I guess in that instance they did make that available for purchase since it is listed on Amazon). Moreover, I haven’t uploaded the stuff that I was given by the cable channel or the documentary maker so I must feel like it is somehow a bad thing and a breach of trust (the cable company did make me sign a form promising I wouldn’t share the tape).

I do feel like being an academic does make a difference. I’m not downloading this stuff just because I want it. I like videogames and all but I’m not that fanatical that I would download every video I find related to computers or videogames. But is “it’s for research!” a valid reason? I’m sure that the judge wouldn’t think so but I’m not so sure what an ethicist would think.

So until I hear from an ethicist or the MPAA or RIAA brake down my door I’ll just wear my pirate hat with shame.

…And no I won’t send you a copy of my stuff.

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