Pirate Media

Curator's Note

Rent a movie lately and get stuck watching the MPAA’s anti-piracy video? You know, the one with the jazzy editing that begins "You wouldn’t steal a car?" and goes on to remind you that buying or downloading 'pirated' media is illegal? It's pretty hard to miss: it's been plastered on to the front of hundreds of thousands of DVDs and you can't skip through it. But perhaps you're one of the lucky few who have popped in a DVD and come across the pitch-perfect parody by the folks at youwouldnt.net? In this spot-on send up, images culled from the nightly news reframe the debate, asking who the real pirates are. Rip-and-burn guerilla activists have cleverly substituted this homegrown version on select rentals, returning them to stores around the country. The affiliated website breaks down the issues at hand, insisting that grassroots, bottom-up media can make a difference in the world by protecting the commons and creating a space for alternative voices. It also provides a toolkit for creating and distributing new parodies that seems perfect for classroom use. Happy remixing! (Here's the clip in .mov form)


I generally approve of and enjoy these kinds of guerilla efforts (I'm partner in a guerilla marketing firm as well as a media scholar) and the MPAA is certainly an easy target. Their paranoia and prosecutorial overkill has left them with few friends and little credibility outside of monopoly media. But, by ripping this to commercial videos, and distributing the kit, guerillas risk reinforcing the MPAA stance in the very act of undercutting it. After all, if it's this easy, and there are groups out there getting publicity for the attack, how long can any copyright survive? As for the "commons," I'm not sure what's being referred to here. The copyright commons? The cultural commons? Are these inextricable? Will I show it? Yes. Would I encourage students to use it? That's a tougher call.

I've always been fond of the MPAA's anti-piracy adverts. They're so melodramatic and so obviously miss their target audience. The jumpy camerawork, fast cutting and loud music are trying to speak to 'The kids'. But 'the kids' are going to be amazed that anybody could think that something that patronising could speak to them. Personally, it always make me want to go out and steal a car whenever I see them. And that's why I like them. Get funky!

I picked up one of these t-shirts (although mine substitutes media for hollywood) at a boutique about a month ago and thought of this as I read this piece. Worries about pirating and stealing intellectual property have a long history and what is interesting for me is the longevity of the discussion that allows a general public to understand that "media" can be "stolen" is "common sense." And, by the way, many of us use to simply think we were sharing when we made those tapes & cds for friends. As anyone will tell you, see a great TV show or hear a great song the first thing you want to do is share that experience and that includes the media itself. Speaking of media sharing and thievery... am I the only one who things that Night Ripper is the best thing released since sliced bread?

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