My office window is literally an opening to the little universe around me. At times of little or no work, I find myself staring aimlessly at the outside world. So it came as a shock to me when I counted over twenty satellite dishes in a range of a stone throw from my desk. Three decades ago, these dishes could only be seen in space observatories or science fiction movies. Now they are so commonplace that the apathetic eye could see hundreds of them without registering any impression.
Thousands of viewing choices are accessible to any one individual in the world today. Sadly, many of the more useful channels are encrypted so that a certain amount of hard-earned cash needs to be spent for the privilege of viewing. In days gone by, the high seas were the theater of battles between “legitimate” carriers and pirates. Technology revived these terms, although the nomenclature is dictated by the “haves” as opposed to the “have-nots”. Real pirates, in my opinion, are in it solely for the money. The Internet, however, has diminished their profit. The argument about pirating, especially when it comes to “software and digital media” has always been one-sided. Remember, money talks, and very loudly. Yet, pirates, or mavericks if we want to use a less biased term, persist. There is a simple reason behind this fact and that is they are performing a needed function.
Presently, many of these rebels are driven not by monetary benefit but rather by the challenge of breaking the code, so to speak. Millions of PC users around the world could’ve never entered the digital revolution were it not for pirated software. Lawyers and copyright zealots could argue all they want about loss of revenue and eventually higher costs, but the simple and plain truth is that piracy has broadened the base and allowed disadvantaged groups to get on the bandwagon. Let’s face it, software is ridiculously expensive and beyond the reach of the majority of humanity. In Damascus, a small underground store (it is literally underground and located in a tunnel) is frequented by Westerners from different diplomatic missions. They buy tons of software for virtually a fraction of the original cost. It’s not only the poor who endorse free software but the rich as well, as long as they don’t get caught that is. In the satellite TV business, the operators give a choice. The viewer could either watch stupid shit and get bombarded with advertisement for free, or pay a premium fee for a good movie, a top level football game or a worthwhile documentary. These channels use the latest in encryption technology to insure that nobody gets a free ride. The laws devised by highly paid solicitors are in favor of the broadcasters. Like it or not, rich or poor, everyone has to abide.
Thus came about a new breed of pirates, or mavericks, on the world scene. They might be nerds, but they were able to break the damn code and bring about almost free unrestricted digital viewing to the masses. The smart cards have been cracked and counterfeit circuitry is sold for less than 10% of the retail value, which just about covers the cost of the hardware plus a small profit. To my delight, I found user groups on the Internet where free exchange of codes is rampant. Is it wrong if Paramount or Disney makes less money? Is it immoral if a bunch of out-of-work manual laborers could sit in a humble café by the sea and watch Jean Claude Van Dam beating the shit out of a dozen bad guys for free? Despite all the precautions, despite the threats of legal action, despite and despite, we were able to watch the Germany 2006 World Football Cup without paying a dime. As far as I’m concerned, information should always remain free. Equal access should be the law. The world wouldn’t stop if some lobbyists should find themselves unemployed. They can, as a matter of fact, join the out-of-work laborers in the little café and watch a good martial art movie. Julia Roberts shouldn’t be terribly upset if her fee goes down from 20 million dollars to say one million per movie. May be she’ll work harder and longer to maintain her present lifestyle, and figure. A stupid idiot with a microphone makes more money than a brain surgeon. A Ragheb Alama or a Haifa Wehbe earns more per year than Nizar Kabbani or Nazek Al-Malaika had probably made in an entire lifetime, simply because their kind of “art” is more suitable for digital media. The argument that the quality of the arts would plummet if high monetary compensation is not insured is baseless. Van Gogh died poor and had no idea that years after his death art collectors would make millions upon millions from his paintings.
ADSL is making headway in the third world and is becoming the preferred method to access the Internet. This will insure inexpensive and extremely fast communication. Multimedia, music, movies and international phone calls with video-conferencing at dirt cheap prices are the new wave in the digital revolution. Why, one wonders, would the giant companies hang their own gallows and undermine their huge profits of today. Wonder no more. If they don’t do it, somebody else with motives beyond financial gains would. So they figure they can get away with a few sacks of money in the first couple of years before, again, the code is broken. This would continue for some time until total and uniform saturation is achieved. Meanwhile, we could feel guilty and pay whatever we’re asked to, or seek other alternatives and join the rebels on the fringe of the established norms.
Viva La Revolución!