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Pirates of the Internet.

Words change their meaning constantly. They evolve along with our society and the issues it faces. One example is "pirate". Contrary to what Disney would have us believe, most pirates don't drink rum on a daily basis, some don't even know how to sail and many are unable to grow a reasonable beard. Pirate du jour Kim "Dotcom" Shmitz seems to favour souped-up German cars to tall ships in his quest to plunder the world for all its worth. While the German-born millionaire sits in prison awaiting an extradition hearing to The United States it seems like an ideal time to explore his crimes in more detail. Mr Dotcom is the most recent target of numerous governmental bodies over Megaupload, formerly one of the largest hosts of pirated music, video games and films on the internet. According to a MarkMonitor report published last year, Megaupload boasted an average of 4.3 billion visits a year, making it the internet's third biggest online file sharing domain. Following an indictment by the US Justice Department, Megaupload has now been shut down and its assets - some $300 million - have been seized or frozen. Now that this giant of the online world finds himself behind bars, has the world become a safer place? Mr Kim Dotcom, the high profile, albeit clean-shaven, master pirate will probably suffer much at the hands of whichever government gets its hands on him first, but in whose name will this presumed justice be? Will it be in the name of the consumer, the music industry or even the internet itself? In general, people don't have any qualms about illegally downloading media online. In fact, many people don't get films or music from anywhere else. While this does not make it "right", it certainly means that this is a crime which most of us are guilty of to a certain degree. While Mr Dotcom is responsible for providing a platform for these pirated goods, he is unlikely to be the person who initially stole the records and films which were stored on the 180 million registered user accounts on Megaupload. It is also unfair to claim that Dotcom was alone in his enterprise, as a simple search will reveal countless websites doing exactly the same thing. Whatever happens to Kim Dotcom, it will not stop piracy. People will still rip and crack media, and download it without sparing a thought. Perhaps justice will not be for the consumer after all. As for the record labels and production companies he allegedly plundered... If we accept that one successful case will not reign in the global phenomenon of online piracy, surely we should look at the reason why people are loath to purchase these wares, rather than targetting individuals who only represent the phenomenon? Attempts to give authorities the power to shut down all websites suspected of illegal activity, such as the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA, currently suspended), seem to offer little more than a temporary and rather Orwellian way of stemming the flow of illegal material over the internet. In reality, these measures will be about as effective as waterproof teabags because people will continue to find ways of distributing pirated goods. The internet has reduced the size of the world quite considerably. What it offers that is beyond the grasp of music executives is a conclusive catalogue of media at our fingertips. You no longer need to have money to become involved in music from all strands and genres. This simple fact means that piracy will always be an issue unless we work out how to make media industries compatible with the internet and the free exchange of media. I believe that the success of Spotify and Grooveshark, which legally offer free music, shows that there is an alternative to traditional mediums of media vending. Maybe if these were developed further, there would be no need to become a pirate at all and we could actually begin to appreciate the ramifications of having so much creative material to enjoy. While I'm not saying that piracy is inherently right, I would like to see a world where we learn to adapt to people's desires rather than to try and correct them. Prohibition has never worked with any drug or political opinion, so why should it work with illegal downloading? Perhaps Mr Dotcoms's fate has very little to do with justice at all and more to do with making an example. The only question that remains is whether this example will actually deter people from committing acts of online piracy. I fear not and I hope that eventually, the governments and media industries of the world will be able to accept this and start coming up with genuine solutions to the problem. )

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