Piracy, Privacy and Surveillance

Piracy and Privacy

As digital citizens, it is our responsibility to be fully aware of our technological surroundings. This involves understanding the ethics and implications of our online behaviour and use of technology. In this lesson, we unpack some of the key debates relating to digital ethics and rights in relation to piracy, privacy and surveillance.


As we can see on the 9 elements diagram below, being a digital citizen involves understanding the responsibilities and implications of our online behaviour and use of technology. In this lesson, we examine the affordances and the limitations of being a digital citizen in the 21st century and unpack some of the key debates relating to digital ethics and rights in relation to piracy, privacy and surveillance.

No Title

No Description

This lesson is not exclusively about the ethics of P2P file sharing. It touches on this topic but it does so in the larger context of digital privacy and surveillance discourses. The reason I’m making this explicit is that sometimes we are all guilty of only engaging in half a debate. Often, we may have an opinion on the legal and ethical boundaries are when it comes to ‘fair’ downloading but what are our thoughts on freedom of information? If we are willing to breach intellectual property legislation for personal gain, must we then be prepared to sacrifice some of our personal privacy and turn over our own data to marketers, governments and corporations for whatever means they deem ‘fair’?

Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right, but this is also a very grey area. As both digital citizens and creative media-makers, it is our responsibility to engage in the discourse so that we can make informed choices.


Piracy involves the reproduction and distribution of copies of copyright-protected material, or the communication to the public and making available of such material using on-line communication networks, without the authorisation of the right owner(s) where such authorisation is required by law.

Piracy is a popular term used to describe the phenomenon of ‘sharing’ different types of works including music, literature, films, software, video games, television programs and signals. However, national copyright legislation generally does not include a legal definition for piracy.

Today, the only international legal instrument in the copyright arena which provides a definition of “piracy” is the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement): “Pirated copyright goods shall mean any goods which are copies made without the consent of the rightholder or person duly authorised by the rightholder in the country of production and which are made directly or indirectly from an article where the making of that copy would have constituted an infringement of a copyright or a related right under the law of the country of importation“. (Art.51, n.14)

Traditionally, piracy concerned the unauthorised reproduction and distribution of physical copies of protected works, on a commercial scale or with a commercial purpose. However, the rapid development of the Internet and the massive unauthorised on-line use of protected content, where the ‘commercial’ element is often missing, have given rise to a lively debate. The question of whether such use constitutes ‘piracy’ and should be treated in the same way as traditional piracy is at the heart of the current copyright debate. Different, and often diverging, points of view are being put forward and the answer to the question differs from one country to another.

According to UNESCO’s World Anti-piracy Observatory, while trafficking copyrighted works through increasingly sophisticated electronic means, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing networks, Internet chat rooms, and newsgroups, has a negative impact on cultural industries, it is also argued that curtailing this phenomenon limits the right of access to information, knowledge and culture.


Read the three short articles that follow and watch this short intro to The Pirate’s Dilemma. Each offer a slightly different take on the ethics and effects of internet piracy. Once you’ve engaged with all 3 opinions, take the Guardian’s Web Wars Quiz which you will find a link to at the end of this section.

Please complete this task before your next tutorial so that we can engage in some debate on the topic. Further instructions can be found below.





The Pirate's Dilemma

Quizzes | The Guardian

Five multiple-choice questions – set by children – to test your knowledge, and a chance to submit your own junior brain-teasers for future quizzes

Why are we all becoming pirates?

Last trimester, we surveyed CIU210 students and asked them to provide us with a Pros and Cons list on the topic of internet piracy. Here are the results of the survey.

PROS: Reasons why I’m an internet pirate

• You haven’t established if the cost exceeds its use/value
• Laziness
• The medium eludes us
• Can’t get caught
• To avoid tv commercials
• Time efficiency / binge watching tv series
• Prohibitive cost of cinema and/or legal materials
• To avoid DRM
• Because the legal version is not yet available in your country

CONS: Reasons why I’m not an internet pirate

• Pirated software can cause viruses
• Economy of scale i.e. indie producers vs. media monopolies
• Cultural capital / status
• It is criminal
• Depriving the artist of income
• Extended capacity for gameplay lacking
• Authorised updates can cause system failure

Do you have any other reasons, or perhaps you wish to contest some of the reasons given above? Spend some time thinking about these reasons and your own in preparation for an ethical debate on the topic in your tutorial.

Piracy and Terrorism

The Federation Against Copyright Theft (informally FACT) is the UK’s leading trade organisation established to protect and represent the interests of its members’ Intellectual Property (IP). In 2004, this organisation ran the following set of advertisements highlighting the links between media piracy and terrorist organisations.

No Title

No Description

The two billboards below formed part of a London police anti-terrorism campaign. Among the range of signs, Londoners were advised to go through each others’ trash-bins looking for “suspicious” chemical bottles and to report your suspicious neighbours to the police.

No Title

No Description

And like the FACT ads above, this billboard promotes increased surveillance of online activity in order to stop terrorism. It reads: “A bomb won’t go off here because weeks before the criminal pirating films was caught by monitoring his internet history.”

No Title

No Description

These billboards actively promote invading the privacy of your neighbours and justify monitoring online piracy as part of a defence against terrorism. The logic is a bit difficult to follow, but the message seems to suggest that monitoring online piracy saved the women and children pictured above from being killed or wounded, thus if you are against the government monitoring your internet use, then you are willing to see these people die.


Do you think that this is a justified strategy?
Post your reasons and/or comments in the dialogue box on the right-hand side of the Campus Online page.


Privacy is the ability of an individual or group to seclude themselves, or information about themselves, and thereby express themselves selectively. The boundaries and content of what is considered private differ among cultures and individuals, but share common themes. When something is private to a person, it usually means that something is inherently special or sensitive to them. Of course in today’s networked societies, so much of what is inherently special or sensitive to us is online. Watch this first video about the extent of the control we as private citizens have over our public data. And if you have time and the inclination you may want to explore how we’ve ended up embroiled in such a complex debate in the first place.

Do You Have the Right to Be Forgotten? | Idea Channel | PBS Digital Studios
Online Privacy: How Did We Get Here? | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios

The way that our personal information is handled by organisations and governments is usually regulated by an information commission. In Australia, what can and can’t be done with our personal information is determined by the Privacy Act which is an Australia law that regulates the collection, use, storage and disclosure of personal information, and access to and correction of that information. While you may or may not care about how your personal information is used, it is important to be aware that the Privacy Act is a set of legally binding guidelines and rules. As future creative media specialists can you think of any instances where you may have to be familiar with the Privacy Act? Take the developers of Hello Barbie. Does this feature make for good or bad design and marketability?

YouTube player

Metadata and data retention laws in Australia

Local Governments across Australia can access up to two years-worth of personal information including social media, location data and mobile phone records. The first video was aired in October 2014, prior to the laws passing. Watch it to help you understand the implications of metadata retention legislation.

ABC 730 on data retention featuring Senator Scott Ludlam

Now take a look at the social conditions under which it passed by reading the short article below. What do you think this says about the digital literacy of the average computer-using Australian citizen?

Comment: While you were staring at a dress all day on Friday, this happened

Unless you haven’t heard of the internet you probably spent at least a few moments on Friday trying to determine , which caused a lot of online debate as to whether it was black and blue or gold and white.

Of course, some might say that you’ve got nothing to fear if you’ve got nothing to hide. So basically don’t do anything illegal and there’s nothing to worry about.

Do you agree with this statement?

Before you answer, watch the video below and make sure you form a response to the statement ‘you’ve got nothing to fear if you’ve got nothing to hide’. We will discuss this in your tutorial groups.


The line between public and private has blurred in the past decade, both online and in real life, and Alessandro Acquisti is here to explain what this means and why it matters. In this thought-provoking, slightly chilling talk, he shares details of recent and ongoing research including a project that shows how easy it is to match a photograph of a stranger with their sensitive personal information.

While you’re watching this video, keep in mind how these technological capabilities could potentially be used in harmful or damaging ways.

What will a future without secrets look like? | Alessandro Acquisti

Some practical tips for protecting your privacy online

● Do not provide email addresses to mailing lists unless you need to do so.
● Unsubscribe from listserves or websites that you do not regularly use.
● Limit the number of times you click on ads, no matter what they are for.
● Avoid “too good to be true” products, deals, and opportunities. Once you have confirmed your email address, they are likely to sell your email address to other companies.
● Make sure you have antivirus software, and that it also protects against spyware, programs that secretly collect your data.
● Disable Internet cookies, so that companies cannot put tracking devices on your computer. (Sites will not be able to remember your preferences as well this way, which is something to consider.)
● Investigate computer applications that block pop-up ads.
● Examine sites’ privacy policies before you reveal any information on the site; avoid using sites that will share your data with others.
● Get a VPN


Surveillance is the monitoring of the actions, behaviours, activities, communications or other changing information, for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, controlling or protecting the people being surveyed. We are surveyed in public places every day, whether it’s building security cameras, CCTV cameras or airport body scanners, we seemingly have come to expect that we are being watched as we go about our daily lives.

Surveillance is frequently a theme in popular culture. Perhaps the most common image of surveillance comes from George Orwell’s 1984. In Orwell’s novel, the upper- and middle-class citizens of Oceania have every aspect of their life observed and monitored by the shadowy figure of Big Brother. After a global atomic war, an omnipresent government, headed by the party leader Big Brother, persecutes individualism and uses public mind control to sustain their totalitarian rule. Today, we often use the phrase Big Brother to denote intensive or mass surveillance practices that are considered excessively intrusive.

Want to watch some surveillance themed feature films then check out the extensive list of titles compiled by the Surveillance Studies ResearchNetwork.

No Title

No Description

The Panopticon: Ever get the feeling that you’re being watched?

The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. Michel Foucault explains that the panopticon was designed to arrange “spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and recognise immediately” thus the panopticon creates a consciousness of permanent visibility as a form of power.

No Title

No Description


Panopticism is a disciplinary society following the idea of the Panopticon as a metaphor for surveillance. In the book Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault builds on Bentham’s conceptualization of the panopticon as he elaborates upon the function of the disciplinary mechanisms in such a prison and illustrates the function of discipline as an apparatus of power. The ever-visible inmate, Foucault suggests, is always “the object of information, never a subject in communication”. He adds that,

He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection (202-203).

Foucault offers still another explanation for the type of “anonymous power” held by the operator of the central tower, suggesting that, “We have seen that anyone may come and exercise in the central tower the functions of surveillance, and that this being the case, he can gain a clear idea of the way the surveillance is practiced”. By including the anonymous “public servant,” as part of the built-in “architecture” of surveillance, the disciplinary mechanism of observation is decentered and its efficacy improved.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punishment. Vintage Books, New York: 1995.

Are we all ‘objects of digital information’ in the Internet age?

In the video below, appearing by telepresence robot, Edward Snowden speaks at TED2014 about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. “Your rights matter,” he say, “because you never know when you’re going to need them.”

How we take back the internet | Edward Snowden

The video above makes a lot of valid points and raises some alarming concerns. But the fact is that this information was brought to our attention quite some time ago, and many people still don’t seem too concerned.

In the Edward Snowden interview with John Oliver below, Oliver simplifies the debate by proposing the simple question: ‘can they see my dick?’. Watch this video and respond the the questions below.

Government Surveillance: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)


Oliver is a comedian so it’s not out of character that he would approach the topic of government surveillance with humour. However, his question, while funny, highlights something very important about the rhetoric of this debate and others like it. What do you think? Share your responses to the questions below by posting them in the discussion forum.

Question 1: Why was Oliver’s ‘dick pic’ metaphor so powerful in communicating the main message to the general public?

A media clip featured in the above video showed a congress woman discussing Section 215 on the news. The presenter cut her off due to a supposed ‘breaking news report’. This report was about the arrest of Justin Bieber.

Question 2: What does this say about the value and importance of news, both in terms of reporting and audience expectation? Is this a symptom of a celebrity obsessed society? Is this information simply more interesting because it’s easier to digest? Or is Justin Bieber actually more relevant to the everyday lives of the general public?

In the interview with Snowden, we see Oliver work through the capabilities of government surveillance and once he has understood that the government can effectively see ‘pictures of your dick’, he asks Snowden if this means we should stop sending ‘dick pics’ until we know it’s safe again. While this might seem like a logical question, Snowden replies, “no, you should not change your behaviour.”

Question 3: Why would Snowden advocate for continuing to use digital communications the same way even when we know it’s being captured by the government?
Here’s a hint: If you’re not sure how to answer the question, Foucault might be able to help you.


If you’ve delivering your dialogue on this topic and need a little inspiration, be sure to make use of the resources on the relevant SAE Media and Cultural Studies Pinterest boards. Here you will find links to texts, images, audio, video and other media that help you make more sense of the subject.