The Making of MPEE

For the MPEE completists out there, the long-awaited “The Making of MPEE” (aka,  “Transnational Piracy Research in Practice: A Roundtable Interview with Joe Karaganis, John Cross, Olga Sezneva and Ravi Sundaram” [Lobato and Thomas]) is now available for download.  Here’s a sample:

JK: I’d argue that there’s a loose disciplinary story to map onto the last decade of work in this area. The late 1990s and early 2000s were a period of rapid discovery and exploration of the wider significance of IP issues within the legal field, epitomized by the work of Lawrence Lessig, Yochai Benkler, Pamela Samuelson, James Boyle, Peter Jaszi and many others. The lawyers were the first to appreciate the regulatory challenges of digitization and the Internet. This engagement was primarily US-centered, synthetic or case-study driven with regard to methods, and—I would argue—grounded in a positivist legal project that prioritized the task of refining law and legal categories. Creative Commons is the best example of this perspective or disciplinary project.

 

The practices that made up ‘piracy,’ when they were explored at all, tended to be treated as a negative byproduct of bad copyright law rather than as something productive or deserving of treatment in its own right. There was no discussion of piracy as, say, the dominant form of access to recorded media and software in most parts of the world. No discussion of pirate networks as arguably the most massive and successful examples of user-centered culture.  Appropriation for making something new, in this context, was good and valorized. Appropriation for just watching a movie was bad. This was understandable, but it relied on a (legal) reification of the difference between creation and consumption, didn’t map well to conditions of economic (and technological) inequality, and meant that there was no clear engagement with the other big shift of the past decade: the rise of enforcement.

At roughly the same time, though, anthropologists and sociologists were beginning to observe what people were actually doing with the new technologies, and what they were
doing involved a lot of informal appropriation of copyrighted media—some of it filtered back into artistic production, some of it just about participating in wider national or global
cultural phenomena. So a lot of the early engagement with piracy comes out of anthropology, sociology, ethnomusicology, and related fields where scholars were engaged in local fieldwork. What those fields have difficulty doing, in turn, is scaling up, aggregating, and exporting their findings into wider conversations. I think part of the motivation for our project was to do exactly that: to leverage this accumulating body of evidence and insight about informal media networks and practices. Tying those types of research back into accounts of regulation and policymaking and changing accounts of industry structure seemed like the right way to approach this. And in some respects, this is what the industry was already doing, year after year, in documents like the IIPA Special 301 recommendations: aggregating local stories into a larger story about the need for stronger global enforcement.

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