Class Description

We talk about the modern state of digital piracy, as well as how it evolved into what it is today.  How is piracy influenced by laws, by technological advancements, and by culture, and in effect how are these things influenced by digital piracy?

Thanks to the use of personal computers , copying has become easier than ever before, whether it be maintaing audio or video files, literature, code, or any other digital medium. From a historical perspective, the term piracy is often associated with theft, like in the case of Captain Hook stealing a chest full of gold, though as historian Adrian Johns has shown, it was appropriated to describe the theft of ideas from the 16th century. However with piracy in the digital age, the so called “booty” is digital data, and instead of tangible stolen property, such as a golden ring, we are dealing with intellectual property, which is not always physically tangible per se, and is governed by a number of influences including copyright law, technology, and culture, all of which will be discussed.

In this class, we will delve deeper into exploring the ways in which intellectual piracy has played a prominent role in intellectual culture since the 16th and 17th centuries, and the way it has progressed into the digital age. We will explore anti-pirating sentiments coming from leading organizations such as the MPAA and RIAA, as well as the ways that piracy has been an engine for social, technological, and intellectual innovation.

What is piracy? How does it affect the economy? Is there such a thing as “good” piracy? Over 57 million Americans have shared files on P2P networks—that’s more than the population of California and New York combined. Are all of these people pirates? Is it time to rethink our definition of piracy? How has the political environment in America contributed to stringent intellectual property protections? These are all questions this class will seek to answer, via a series of weekly readings, the following of related current events, films, and guest speakers. Additionally, students will engage in a semester-long project, either engaging with a Wikipedia article(s) based on Wikipedia’s Global Education Program, or participating in the UC Berkeley Re-mix contest (put on by the Students for Free Culture Group), which will require students to make an original creative work based on already existing works in the public domain.


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