This makes piracy a compelling subject as well as an attractive one. Its consequences extend beyond particular cases, and beyond even the law itself, to impinge on the basic ways in which ideas and technologies are created, distributed, and used. Conflicts over piracy involve strongly held ideals of authorship, creativity, and reception. Society can therefore find itself forced to articulate and defend those ideals, and sometimes to adjust or abandon them. That is the common thread that ties together all our most important piracy debates, whether the specific allegations relate to gene patents, software, proprietary drugs, books, ballet steps, or digital downloading. What is at stake, in the end, is the nature of the relationship we want to uphold between creativity, communication, and commerce. And the history of piracy constitutes a centuries-long series of conflicts—extending back by some criteria to the origins of recorded civilization itself—that have shaped this relationship. Those conflicts challenged assumptions of authenticity and required active measures to secure it. They provoked reappraisals of creative authorship and its prerogatives. They demanded that customs of reception be stipulated and enforced. Above all, they forced contemporaries to articulate the properties and powers of communications technologies themselves—the printing press, the steam press, radio, television, and, now, the Internet.


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