Multi-platform pirating in the record and cassette distribution industry has been rampant in Romania since the 1950s. While in the 1980s books “banned” by the Communist regime were photocopied and passed around, vast collections of pirated cassettes and CDs sprang up in the ’90s. For these collectors, the transition to mp3s was a cinch. So it is easy to talk about pirating from a Romanian perspective because history has taught us that a copy can be worth more than the original. Romanians are born pirates. We readily adapt new technologies to our needs and regard the multimedia platforms at our disposal as free tools.

But reality is more complicated. The cause célèbre of Pirate Bay [Swedish startup, one of the world’s largest file-sharing sites, recently convicted for allowing illegal downloads], which – like Napster – was eventually bought up by a multinational bent on putting an end to their kopimi [i.e. copy me] system and charging fees for p2p (peer to peer) file-sharing is a good example of how things go. We are all in the dock in the Pirate Bay trial, and that awareness ought to transform file-sharing into a mass phenomenon. When we come to realise that sharing means not only downloading, but also uploading files, we will then be mature enough to participate in the multimedia ecosystem – whether that involves citizen journalism or social networks that apply the open-source principle to every domain.

In the throes of the current economic crisis, the copyright watchdogs and governments that are hell-bent on defending their country against impecunious teens who want to read and listen to music for free, are devising a panoply of legal deterrents. The founders of Pirate Bay are the heroes of this phenomenon: Peter Sunde [Pirate Bay founder and spokesman] also happened to be the first defendant to share his thoughts and feelings via Twitter live from the courtroom during his trial. The multimedia “Spectrial” – i.e. half spectacle, half trial – that followed actually served as an electioneering platform for the Pirate Party, which went on to win a seat in the European Parliament this year. [Before and during the trail, the defendants launched a barrage of happenings and posted communiqués on the Spectrial site to popularise their cause.]

A few weeks ago, a single mother in the United States was fined $1.9 million for downloading 24 songs off Kazaa. On one of the spots in the German anti-pirating campaign, a mom and her four-year-old son sing "Happy Birthday" in front of the jail in which the father has been locked up for downloading a cartoon for his kid. The French are planning not only to cut Internet access for illegal downloaders (after three warnings), but to make them keep paying for the subscription. The diabolisation of those who share files without paying tribute to the big companies that produce them is fuelled by bogeys randomly brandished by the system. Trying to wage war on everyone is not only ineffective, but literally irrational. The most compelling argument against pirating – which can be refuted by figures showing no drop, but on the contrary an increase, in sales of digital cultural products – is based on protecting artists who need consumers’ money to subsist and create. But to regulate this relationship, it would suffice to revamp the legal framework for intellectual property rights. Musicians could sustain themselves through concerts and alternative marketing, which would be a lot more lucrative than the 5–7% in royalties they get from their record companies. As to the film industry, it has already grasped that it stands to profit by the technological advances that pave the way for novelties like 3D, 6D cinema etc., which will entertain us better in public than at home.

The war that has been started on users, many of whom can’t afford legal purchases (a Chinese blue collar, for instance, would have to work a hundred hours to buy a licence for Windows, though 40 minutes’ pay would suffice for his Japanese counterpart), is based on strategies unadapted to the new information paradigm. Some day we will be mature enough to begin treating the virtual as a new element of the natural realm. In the meantime, imposing a lump-sum “global licence”, a monthly charge to download digitised cultural products, with a clear-cut royalties regime, in lieu of the idiotic “three-strikes-and-you’re-out” rule, might prove a more intelligent and effective approach than castigating and penalising millions of users.