Audiovisual Piracy, Informal Economy, and Cultural Globalization (2-3)
This article written by Tristan Mattelart of University of Paris for the International Journal of Communication and which puts into perspective the results of a collective research University of Paris project carried out in Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Colombia, Bulgaria, and Russia. It analyzes the nature of the more or less informal networks through which pirated audiovisual products circulate, the modes through which they are appropriated, and the changes occurring with the rise of Internet.
Indeed, despite the adoption of more repressive laws against piracy, the role played by some public administrations in the organization of the informal economy of communication has increased since the 1990s. “Today, the commercial hub for [smuggled] hardware is located at Moncef Bey, the former wholesale market for fruits and vegetables, converted by the Tunis municipality into a parallel market for electrical or electronic goods.
The policy pursued by the Tunisian state is, according to Ferjani, indicative of the changing nature of the informal economy in this country. Constituting “initially an alternative to the failures of state policy, it has gradually become a means of exerting state power and control not only over the have-nots, but also over Tunisian society as a whole.” First, this informal economy offers jobs to “thousands of sellers, or fitters.” But, it also gives easy and cheap access to Western or Middle-Eastern entertainment and images of wealth. As such, it converged with Ben Ali’s project of “promotion of consumption as a way of entering modernity.
Through their public policies, states from the South or from Eastern Europe seek thus to respond to their international obligations in the field of intellectual property rights, while trying also, at the same time, to preserve their national priorities.
The task is easier for some of these countries: Indeed, among them, some major exporters of audiovisual programs take an active part in the fight against piracy. The case of South Korea is illustrative. Considered for a long time as one of the world champions of audiovisual piracy, subjected to the surveillance of both public and private U.S.-based agencies, Seoul has worked since the early 2000s to convert itself into “one of the most repressive countries in the field of intellectual property laws,” in response not only to the repeated pressures from the United States, but also to the need of pursuing its own interests: the necessity of struggling against the piracy of Korean Wave products in Asian markets.
From Material Piracy to Immaterial Piracy
If physical piracy remains a very important phenomenon in a great number of the countries of the South or the East because of the small number of high-speed Internet connections, as these become more widespread, new ways of accessing cultural goods without paying for copyright are becoming increasingly common.
The investigations carried out in the framework of our collective project bear witness to the development, in some countries and for some of their populations, alongside the still important material piracy, of another increasingly important form of piracy: immaterial piracy. Nobody expresses better the changes going on in that field than one of the record dealers interviewed by Labandji in Algiers, who complains about the danger the cybercafés represent for physical record commerce: These give to their young customers the opportunity of downloading around 500 songs for the equivalent of €0.3, a price with which no pirated CD will ever be able to contend.
The example of South Korea is illuminating here. Designated for years “as one of the main world centers of physical piracy of cultural and audiovisual goods,” the country has experienced, since the early 2000s, a rapid rise of “unofficial flows” of sounds and images on the Internet—furthered by the high level of broadband penetration—on a scale “that has rarely been equaled”. It is with great enthusiasm, explains Thévenet, that South Koreans “have taken advantage of the Web to cheerfully exchange recent cultural contents,” and, to begin with, domestic cultural contents, “under the form of audio or video files.” Beyond, in Asia, the products of the Korean Wave circulate widely through peer-to-peer networks and unofficial downloading sites, much to the dismay of Seoul.
The Bulgarian context offers another symptomatic example of this evolution of piracy. Considered in the 1990s as the “main producer of pirated CDs in Europe, and as one of the world leaders of this activity,” the country has seen the emergence of “another kind of piracy, through downloading,” due to the “rapid rise of high-speed Internet connections”.
After having underlined the great heterogeneity of the economy of physical piracy, we can only stress what differentiates this disparate whole from the other economy of piracy that has developed with the Internet.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 11/08/2012