There’s nothing new about Minecraft creator Markus Persson’s Game Developers Conference startling comment that “piracy is not theft.” It’s just a decontextualized version of the decades-old notion that “the advent of digital eliminates the copy.”
Persson argues that “if you steal a car, the original is lost,” but that “if you copy a game, there are simply more of them in the world.”
You know this one, right? It’s the idea that the music or video game or movie disc I buy (or download) is identical to the one you’ve purchased. The idiosyncrasies of conveyance and storage mediums as well as the quantum impossibilities of reductionist proofs aside, it’s a reasonable enough claim. It trumpets the dissolution of “the original,” that the content of every disc or data download maps out the same, bit for bit.
In a digital world, every copy is “the original.”
We had fun with that argument in a graduate class back in the late 1990s, browsing Aristotle and Kenneth Burke and Mikhail Bakhtin, and–as the professor liked to joke–flying around the room on our rhetorical broomsticks. It’s an elegant enough conviction, in principle unassailable…and as usual, academically divorced from the particulars of content generation and consumption.
I endorse information anarchy in principle. Who doesn’t? But content like video games isn’t self-perpetuating, appearing like apples or pears and dropping cyclically from trees. It certainly doesn’t manifest spontaneously, or cost nothing to create, package, distribute, and maintain. There’s no “net zero” about the content generation and acquisition process.
Enter Persson, whose pronouncement (coupled to his popularity–everybody loves Minecraft!) seems bound to be plucked up and waved around like a flag by pirates, as well as anyone who believes that taking whatever you can get (or get away with) in the twenty-first century is (or ought to be) de rigueur.
“There is no such thing as a ‘lost sale’,” concludes Persson, adding with rhetorical flourish: “Is a bad review a lost sale? What about a missed ship date?”
Well of course there’s such a thing as a lost sale. It’s called “an illicit acquisition transacted without money” (or at least money funneled to the content creator).
As for “bad reviews,” I’ve certainly been swayed from (as well as into) purchasing books, music, games, films, clothes, cars, and so forth, largely on the basis of someone else’s educated opinion.
Were the negative reviews of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen film sale-killing? As a video game critic and one-time toy enthusiast, I’d planned to see it. After browsing a few key reviews, I opted not to: A lost sale, by any measure.
It’s very reaching-across-the-aisle of Persson to call pirates “potential customers,” and I see what he’s trying to do (not that it hasn’t been tried before). I’m persuaded by his argument that relentless content updates might force hackers to throw up their hands and pay out. Gaming as a “service” is okay by me, and if the future of content creation involves various non-annoying forms of online authentication–so long as there’s an element of decentralization to the construct–then fine.
But it’s verging on irresponsible to implicitly green-light the “whatever I want is mine” entitlement mentality. Where’s something–anything–in Persson’s comments about encouraging a cultural reevaluation of the entitlement complex itself?
It’s all pretty solipsistic-sounding to me, and however New Geek you want to be about it, just as indefensible.