Piracy as Saving History?

I haven’t seen this argument before. It’s clever: stripping DRM (and/or transforming files to be cross-compatible with a variety of software readers) means that (in theory) those files will be accessible for longer periods of time, thus letting us preserve our (digital) history. From the article:

Piracy’s preserving effect, while little known, is actually nothing new. Through the centuries, the tablets, scrolls, and books that people copied most often and distributed most widely survived to the present. Libraries everywhere would be devoid of Homer, Beowulf, and even The Bible without unauthorized duplication.

The main difference between then and now is that software decays in a matter of years rather than a matter of centuries, turning preservation through duplication into an illegal act. And that’s a serious problem: thousands of pieces of culturally important digital works are vanishing into thin air as we speak.

At issue: I’m really not sure that a total archive of everything digital is actually something that we want, or necessarily need. A LOT of books, games, poems, and so forth were lost to the mists of time, and it’s not entirely clear to me that our world has fallen apart because of such losses.

History is a patchwork that is contingent on us perceiving certain items as more or less important from a partial and retrospective position. Moreover, it should be noted that truly significant texts/poems/artifacts have historically been replicated and distributed because of their value/importance at the time. Do we necessarily need a campaign of mass piracy – under the auspice of ‘preserving history’ – to ensure that similar efforts are made to secure the most critical elements of our past? I’m not so sure.

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