5 Insane File Sharing Panics from Before the Internet
Thanks to new technology and the modern lassiez-faire attitude towards intellectual property, people are bootlegging their entertainment at an unprecedented rate.
Or so the record companies would like you to believe.
The truth is that media piracy has been rampant through all of history... probably since the first guy to smear his feces on the wall in the shape of a buffalo turned around and immediately saw 50 more just like it being smeared on the walls behind him.
Here are five other historical piracy scares that make this one seem even less relevant:
VCR's Will Kill Television!
Video sharing sites like YouTube represent a schism of users: To some they're a convenient way to share treasured memories and display and distribute the result of your new sketch comedy troupe featuring your ex-girlfriend, your roommate, your dog and absolutely no script-writing whatsoever. But the biggest controversy, of course, is the opening of the floodgates on bootleg television that may one day spell the ultimate demise of the entire broadcasting industry, if not all of life itself!
And they may well have a point: Theft is theft, and who's going to actually pay for the programming if they can get it for free? For the first time in history, people are capable of recording and sharing video ripped straight from the very bosom of Sweet Lady Television herself, like some sort of Video Recording Device that is hitherto unprecedented in the history of- waaait a second...
Home-use VCRs were available as far back as 1963, but didn't catch on until mass-production dropped the price in the late 1970s. In an almost unrelated note: Shortly afterwards Jack Valenti, head of the MPAA, completely lost his shit.
Appearing before Congress--flecks of spittle presumably slinging from his red, swollen face and melting caustic holes into the floor--he proceeded to proclaim in all seriousness that "...the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone." He then gave this stump speech that is either the most insane or the most awesome that ever happened in Congress:
"This is more than a tidal wave. It is more than an avalanche. It is here. Now, that is where the problem is...We are going to bleed and bleed and hemorrhage, unless this Congress at least protects one industry that is able to retrieve a surplus balance of trade and whose total future depends on its protection from the savagery and the ravages of this machine."
At which point he and his men presumably led a noble but ultimately suicidal charge against the Terminator armies amassed before him. But luckily, just before Valenti set fire to a fax machine and started chanting "ATTICA!" a voice of reason spoke up, to calmly assert that not everyone who chose to own a VCR had the overthrow of America and the death of the entertainment industry in mind. A soft-spoken hero in a sweater who we like to imagine sat down to change from dress shoes to indoor sneakers before opening up a can of whoop ass.
That's right: "Mister" Fred Rogers, a long time advocate for the VCR, gave a testimony to the Supreme Court regarding the perceived dangers of "time-shifting." That sounds much more awesome than it actually was, bringing to mind images of Mr. Rogers displacing himself in time and fighting dinosaurs with a ray gun, but really it was just broadcasting jargon for the ability to record television shows and watch them later. Mr. Rogers's impassioned speech turned out to be so fundamental to the close ruling (5-4 in favor of home recording) that it was quoted word for word in the footnotes. So what brought Mr. Rogers down from the neighborhood of opulence that he ruled with an iron fist? He testified in support of Betamax.
Phonographs and Player Pianos Will Kill Music!
Pirated music is hardly a new development. In fact, there have been Metallicas in every age of man, making loud and opinionated asses out of themselves every time somebody accidentally coughs a note they once thought of using in a song. In this case, we're referring to the "March King" himself, John Philip "Stars And Stripes Forever" Sousa.
"I am absolutely not prepared to take any of your shit."
-John Philip Sousa's Moustache
In this piece first published in Appleton's Magazine in 1906, Sousa argues that, "...I myself and every other popular composer are victims of a serious infringement on our clear moral rights to our own work..."
Ah, now there's some familiar language. "Serious infringement." What's he talking about? The phonograph machine and the player piano, infringing on his moral right to earn money playing music live. If they want to hear me, they should show up to the concert hall, damn it! They shouldn't be able to hear it from some cursed machine.
He wasn't done. He predicted these terrible machines would lead us down a slippery slope where talents like songwriting and even the ability to sing itself could be replaced by inhuman machines. Dang, what a drama queen.
After all the insane speculation about machines achieving sentience and leading some sort of musical apocalypse, he gets to the real meat of the subject: his concerns that these devices could replicate his compositions without compensating him. In the immortal words of Sousa himself:
"There is nary a mechanism built that can replace the heartsick beauty of a- fuck it, Sousa just gots to get paid, son!"
Although to be fair, Sousa really wasn't a fan of any aspect of the recording industry. He often had his bandleader/soloist Arthur Pryor conduct his band for recording sessions. So much so that many so-called "Sousa recordings" didn't actually feature The Sous. Say what you will about our modern blowhards, but hell, at least they actually showed up on their own albums once or twice... well, that is, if there's room in between the guest spots by Akon, the tracks featuring Niki Minaj or re-mixed by Swizz Beatz and whatever other up and coming producer that puts video game soundtracks in the background of rap songs. But at least they show up to the studio.
Pirated BASIC Will Kill Software Development!
Up until the mid-70s, software wasn't really a business. Games and applications were typically coded out by hobbyists for their own entertainment or to be shared at meetings with like-minded individuals and their long, luxurious beards. Back then, the computer everyone had to have was the Altair 8800, which was basically just a big baffling hunk of metal which was operated more by astrology and black ritual than user input. You see, the Altair had no keyboard, no monitor, no disk drive - just four kilobytes of memory, a line of lights and some corresponding switches that turned the lights on and off.
It wasn't until some scrawny nobody named Bill Gates and his friend Paul developed a language program for it that its potential began to truly shine. And moments after they did so, suddenly every arrow-collared, bell-bottomed neckbeard seemed to have a copy. But virtually none of them paid for it.
The thieves argued that the program was written on a government-funded computer, so why should they pay for software that's basically just subsidized by their tax dollars?
Bill Gates voiced his dissatisfaction with this argument in his now legendary bitchfest "The Open Letter To Hobbyists." The pre-billionaire Gates pointed out that for some reason, everybody knew not to steal a computer, but considered software free for the taking (he complained that they earned less than $2 an hour for their work on the software, because so few people paid for it). If this continues, Gates argued, why will anybody write software?
Pirates were undeterred. It didn't take long for hackers to work out ways to trade warez electronically: Early transactions were made through bulletin board systems. These worked similar to the way the modern Internet works... if you had to directly call up each website with your modem and politely request every byte with a cordial handwritten note.
So, decades later, in an industry where piracy is still rampant and yet a fair amount of software still seems to get written, what became of the major anti-piracy advocates? Well, let's refer back to that earliest and most vocal detractor: Bill Gates.
He now admits that piracy of its biggest product has actually expanded its market in countries like China, going so far as to say: "As long as they are going to steal it, we want them to steal ours."
And, come on, look at the damage software piracy has done. If only everybody had paid for their copies, poor Bill Gates might still have a job today... instead of retiring to literally ski everywhere he goes on gigantic drifts of dollars.
The Cassette Will Kill Music! Again!
The RIAA absolutely hates your iPod. They hate it like it personally came into their homes and urinated on their sick grandmothers. They want that thing dead, and it's easy to see why: Digital music is a new development that enables stealing on a mass scale with little to no consequences. It must be stopped at all costs! Of course, we've been fed this same bucket of stupid before; the bucket was just a different color last time. Also a little clunkier, and it made clicking noises when it got old:
The Walkman. Don't ask, "What's that?" Get off our lawn, you punk kids!
The Sony Walkman was invented in 1978, jump-starting the 80s, which some of us remember as the greatest decade in the history of music. Some of us were also on a lot of cocaine for pretty much the whole thing. There might be a relationship between the two clauses.
But it didn't take long before the music industry started claiming the loss of a (completely unverifiable) billion dollars a year from people taping their favorite tracks off the radio for free.
At this very moment, there is a shaggy hipster screen-printing this exact image.
This created the massive ball of wadded up panties that was the Home Taping Is Killing The Music Industry movement. The counterpoint to this alarmism, that sharing music on cassettes was a good way to gain exposure for up-and-coming acts and would increase sales (sound familiar?) was dismissed as the mere attempt by criminals to justify their crimes. The record industry's single biggest money-makers of the last several decades were spawned exactly by the tape-exchange culture, and you can hear its influence in modern music every minute of every day: The sample.
Without home taping, we might not have the rap industry we do today. And without the rap industry we have today, the RIAA would certainly not have that diamond-encrusted turbo-jet they fly to their court-hearings in, and we're almost positive they couldn't afford the law services of Satan himself to win them.
The Printing Press Will Kill Literature!
It has been suggested that the printing press owes its existence to both the rise of trade with the East (which brought paper-making technology that cheaply replaced parchment) and, believe it or not, The Black Plague.
Read ye a book, serf; not a shipping manifest, not a king's decree - a book, serf. A fucking book, serf.
Specifically, it was the combination of an increase in the price of copying books (because all the monks who used to do that died from plague) and the increase in raw materials for paper (from the surplus of rags accumulated from the many dead) coupled with the surplus of source material brought by refugees from plague-torn Byzantium. So there you go, kids. Literacy: Born of pain and suffering, and forged from mountains of the dead.
At first, printers in England attempted to self-police this chaos by forming the Stationers' Company in 1403, essentially a printers' guild. Eventually, however, Parliament stepped in and passed the Licensing Order of 1643, which turned the Stationers' Company into a veritable police force for censorship. They gained unprecedented authority to arrest authors, printers and publishers and destroy offensive manuscripts in exchange for a monopoly of the printing trade, basically making them the Microsoft of the Renaissance.
In response to the Licensing Order of 1643, a writer and poet named John Milton published the Areopagitica, an influential treatise on the philosophical defense of free speech and press against pre-publication censorship--which back then didn't just mean editing choice phrases out of your novel; they could actually haul your ass to jail for writing offensive crap.
Just something to keep in mind, commenters.
So why risk incarceration to speak out? Was Milton just a hardass, lookin' for literary punch-ups like a bookworm samurai? Well, Milton actually believed that the freedom to publish was God's Will. And far be it from man to deny the will of The Almighty.
That's right: This article was ordained by God himself. Especially that part about Mr. Rogers and the dinosaurs. We're practically saints up in this bitch.
You can read more of Ralf's stuff at (Maybe) The Dorkiest Thing You've Seen All Day
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Pirating technology isn't the only concept that is older than hell; check out 8 Online Fads You Didn't Know Were Invented Decades Ago and 11 Modern Technologies That Are Way Older Than You Think .
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