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Piracy or Recycling of objects?

Can piracy be seen as a social phenomenon of natural recycling of objects and as a global phenomenon of redistribution of wellfare? This brief theoretical analysis focuses on how real situations can help poor people to make a living of their practices. As an utopistic horizon for this speculation we argue that software and hardware should be open. We ask to stop calling "digital piracy" spontaneous development practices.

may 2007 - Denis Jaromil Rojo

The laws of free-trade dictate that when you exchange money for the purchase of any item, that item belongs to you without strings attached.

Although in our contemporary times the business market is betraying Smith's opennes at its roots when confronted with the dynamicity of digital developments. Hardware corporations build restricted objects for which software development and redistribution to the masses is accessible only for business partners.
It is not an open market, it is not even competition: it is a colonizing monopoly of information technology.

the game industry has been the most developed branch of modern electronic industries: in such a context technologies as "trusted computing" have been already implemented (and in fact failed to work reliably) for several years. As a result to the impossibility to enforce control on the employment of devices by their legitimate owners, the game industry ended up calling piracy any activity of re-deploying devices for purposes "they were not originally built for, nor licensed to the users".

As a matter of fact such "piracy" practices are well widespread across the world, especially the south of the world, as underground economies that support the weaker areas of society and their development. On a wider historical perspective it is worth to consider this study by professor Doron Ben-Atar "Trade Secrets: Intellectual Piracy and the Origins of American Industrial Power" (Yale University Press, 2004)

During the first decades of America's existence as a nation, private citizens, voluntary associations, and government officials encouraged the smuggling of European inventions and artisans to the New World. These actions openly violated the intellectual property regimes of European nations. At the same time, the young republic was developing policies that set new standards for protecting industrial innovations. The American patent law of 1790 restricted patents exclusively to original inventors and established the principle that prior use anywhere in the world was grounds to invalidate a patent. But the story behind the story is a little more complicated - and leaders of the developing world would be wise to look more closely at how the American system operated in its first 50 years. In theory the United States pioneered a new standard of intellectual property that set the highest possible requirements for patent protection-worldwide originality and novelty. In practice, the country encouraged widespread intellectual piracy and industrial espionage. Piracy took place with the full knowledge and sometimes even aggressive encouragement of government officials.

Congress never protected the intellectual property of European authors and inventors, and Americans did not pay for the reprinting of literary works and unlicensed use of patented inventions. What fueled 19th century American boom was a dual system of principled commitment to an intellectual property regime combined with absence of commitment to enforce these laws. This ambiguous order generated innovation by promising patent monopolies. At the same time, by declining to crack down on technology pirates, it allowed for rapid dissemination of innovation that made American products better and cheaper.

We are not advocating piracy of content, we ask that ecological re-use of devices in real life situations is not made illegal, as future network developments can take advantage of generic infrastructures available worldwide.

Modifying a playstation to run homebrew software is necessary in order to recycle the device. Several exemplars of game devices are available on the second-hand market as cheap toys obsoleted by more recent versions, so much that it is possible to have an artisanal economy growing around the refurbishing of such technologies.


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