About The Piracy Paradigm

Few terms have been used more frequently in copyright discourse than “piracy.” It is so pervasive within American copyright discourse that few bother to explain what it means. It is presumed we all understand copyright “piracy” so thoroughly that the word does not require definition, clarification or investigation. A primary reason why “piracy” is so accessible is because it conjures images of theft, immorality and illegality, while simultaneously evoking the celebrated American concepts of exclusivity and propriety.

But “piracy” is not simply a metaphor or rhetoric. Instead, “piracy” is a paradigm: a normative model of copyright that reinforces convictions related to property, control, theft, commoditization, and the presumption that each use of, or access to, a protected work will result in compensation or economic return. While copyright and communications scholars have studied “piracy” as rhetoric or metaphor, this dissertation is the first to theorize instead that “piracy” is a paradigmatic way of viewing what copyright law has been, what it is, and what it should be in the future.

The Piracy Paradigm project is K. Matthew Dames‘ historical critique of U.S. copyright law and policy. Using framing and copyright theory, methodologies such as policy analysis, historical analysis, and narrative; and the foundation of Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Dr. Dames argues that “piracy” has been the dominant paradigm governing American copyright law and policy throughout its 300 year history. Dr. Dames defines the “piracy paradigm,” and shows how its elements consistently have recurred over time to bound and control copyright discourse.

Finally, Dr. Dames advances the notion that contemporary copyright conflicts result from the emergence of a competing paradigm — the “open paradigm” — that has been developed by non-traditional stakeholders and which adopts non-traditional views about the copyright regime. The author indicates the conflict between the “piracy” and “open” paradigms likely will influence copyright law, policy, and norms for the foreseeable future.

Written: March 15, 2012
Updated: July 1, 2013