Morality, Illegality and Crime in Download Culture.


This is the third and final research note from Shiva Thorat, one of the researchers who received the Social Media Research grant for 2016.

A Khandeshi album producer, who is also a politician, complained against me to the police. They gave me strict warnings on why I should not do download work. One of the policemen told me,

“People involved in the production of the song cannot get any money when the transfer process is free. The product should be making profit to pay everyone who is involved in the production. They have copyright over the song and it is illegal. If someone is not paying for their produced song it is the case of copyright infringement and transferring them is a crime, we might arrest you”.

‘Download culture’ has different insights for Akshay, Ganesh, Sushil, Anil, Naresh and me. We belong to different identities but download culture makes us similar.   Download culture is ubiquitous and has become representative of a kind of small-scale digital industry.

Intellectual property has been extended to artistic forms of expression to broadly constitute ideas as well. Logically thus, songs, videos and images become part of the paradigm of intellectual property.  The police twice told me that downloading a song and transferring it is illegal. Songs and movies come into the ‘intellectual property’ and they are copyrighted.

The illegal act of transferring songs, images and videos to memory cards is given a status of piracy. Songs, which I transferred, are available easily. Download work is a macro process of an economy where download laborer living as parasite. Akshay and Sushil also faced the same warning by the local police for transferring songs.

Ganesh, Naresh and Anil were not asked by the police but they are scared to open up their businesses in front of police. The customers around us did not know the paradigm of legality/illegality and did not have the privilege that they could buy the songs legally. ‘Illegality’ with the culture of downloads culture has a connection with information, education, affordability of the legal knowledge and the availability of the song, images and videos. I only got to know legal-illegal clause of copyright after I was interrogated. The demand for songs, images and videos were thus markers for a kind of socio economic location in matters of both caste and religion.

In this sense conceptualization of the text of ‘download culture’ has been looked at where legal, illegal  paradigms affect the ‘download worker’. According to the other legal parameters of downloading and copyright matters, an action of transferring comes under intellectual property act. Profit making is the policy and the widespread politics of domination is the dominant feature where transaction labour is negligible. It is  a crime according to an authority in theory but in reality no one stops the work that Akshay and I were engaged in.

Sharing/transferring porn has issues of legality but for the society at large, it is more a matter of morality. Transferring ‘porn’ becomes an identity that often marks livelihoods. The second time I was verbally tortured by the police owing to pornographic  videos. Akshay and Anil directly talked to me on the issue but Sushil, Ganesh and Naresh were scared as if they have committed a sin in their life.

It is fascinating to note here how the law comes around within download work, which interferes or is detrimental to the whole act. Morality also constrains women from listening to the songs. This is more noticeable in particular when women are questioned by family members for using a mobile phone. On the other hand selling the images, videos and songs becomes a crime as we saw.

I have seen the download workers in a market area of my town who are interrogated and arrested for transferring porn. Selling porn is not just a crime but is labeled as immorality in conjunction with other small scale businesses. With the breaking down of barriers, we were scared but did not stop our ‘copy paste businesses’. Akshay told me that, “What happens when such a kind of consumption is produced, we are transferring it not creating it as such. Are authorities stopping any winemakers, any sellers for the same? Why did police interrogate us, I don’t understand”. Akshay’s anger is associated with the social and economic morality rather than court legality. Akshay and my other interviewees were bound up with the rationality of earning through the technology where affordability and availability are major issues.

At best we see that there is a kind of difference between the interfaces of crime, legality and morality.

In addition to addressing different identities, the songs, videos and images have new political connections. These political connections are forged between the culture of small-scale businesses, an industry that seeks attention and the labourer whose identities substitutes special interests become part of a similar dynamic. Apart from that this is where the constant resistance of the download worker against the obstacles like morality, crime and legality around it continues.

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Published on: August 6, 2016


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