One argument frequently used by the copyright lobby against piracy is the economic one: that piracy leads to losses for the copyright industry which in turn leads to less investments and the loss of jobs. The point of the argument is to show how piracy is hurting national economies by increasing the unemployment rate. If we accept this argument, stronger enforcement of intellectual property rights starts to look like a reasonable economic policy for any nation-state. Put simply, stronger IP rights becomes equal to the common good. This is, of course, the message the copyright industry would like to get through to the decision makers everywhere and it’s often succeeding in this.
There are two obvious flaws to this argument. The first flaw is that it hasn’t been shown decidedly that piracy actually has a negative effect on the sales of copyrighted goods. The second flaw is that this argument looks at the copyright industry as an island wholly separate from the rest of the economy. It’s as if the money that is no longer spent on copyrighted goods just disappears into thin air. This is, of course, bullshit. The money saved on copyrighted goods (the consumer surplus) is simply spent in other sectors of the economy. Thus, the net effect of piracy on the economy as a whole should be more or less zero.
That’s not yet the whole story, though. Joe Karaganis of the Social Science Research Council argues that, in the case of Europe, the net effect of piracy on the economy may well be positive. The reason for this is that Europe is a net importer of copyrighted goods, that is to say the Europeans consume more goods produced in other parts of the world than the rest of the world consumes European productions. A majority of copyrighted goods imported to Europe come from the US which is the largest net exporter of those goods in the world. In practice, what this means is that stronger enforcement of IP rights in Europe leads to more money flowing from the European economies to the US; money that could have otherwise been spent within the European economies, thus helping Europeans to keep their jobs.
From this perspective, the only reasonable economic policy for Europe should be the one with less IP rights. Instead, the European political elite supports the strong IP policies enforced upon them by the US, not realising that the Americans are simply using those policies to benefit their own economy. In a world where the number one objective of any nation-state is to increase its competitiveness, it’s surprising that such an obvious competitive edge is completely ignored by the European leaders. The Chinese are, of course, much wiser in this respect.
In face of the ineptness of the European elite, it is once again up to the pirate movement to rise to the occasion and oppose the hegemony of the American IP industry. Thus, piratism becomes a force against economic and cultural imperialism. Such a force is especially important in the developing countries where intellectual property is being used to repress and enslave people and destroy local cultures (one only needs to mention one name here: Monsanto). Intellectual property rights are one of the major obstacles to the reduction of poverty in the world today, and any movement working for global justice should be taking a critical look into agreements that implement stronger enforcement of those rights, such as TRIPS and ACTA. In this area, the pirates can be considered pioneers.