Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Importance of Words....

Part of the game in shaping public opinion hinges on controlling thought. We all think in the language of words, so shaping what words are incorporated into our thought process can go an unbelievably long way in shaping opinion. One case in point is the use of the word "piracy" to describe copyright infringement with regard to movies, music, television, and books.

It goes something like this:

1. Those who represent rights holders spit the word piracy at you over and over and over and over and over again for years.

2. As a result, those on both sides of the debate, whether they intend to or not, begin to use the word "piracy" when describing infringement, either vocally or in thought.

3. Our mind inherently associates piracy with, well, what true piracy is: theft, murder, rape, pillage. Hence, those without the necessary background and forethought tend to allow that association to influence their thought and opinions.

Two things that are instructive in examination:

First, whilst true piracy (as in, on the high seas) has little to nothing to do with monopolies, the very coining of the term for use in this alternative fashion is credited to the Stationer's Company, a British corporation that was granted a monopoly on publication. The use of the term "piracy" to describe those that violated their charter was first used in 1603, when the threat of true piracy was very real indeed. This is a clear attempt to link through words in the minds of the general public two unrelated problems, thereby damning the lesser of the issues by linking it to one that creates true fear and anger.

Second, given that historical context, the ridiculousness continues today. One of the sites I use to look up new stories regarding copyright infringement and media legal stories is If you search that site for the term "music piracy", you get a nice spread of stories covering both true piracy and copyright infringement. For instance, when I ran that term today, the stories that came back were:

1. Police Arrest Several In File-Sharing Swoop (copyright infringement)
2. If you cry, they want to kill you (Somalian Piracy)
3. Grandma Endures Wrongful ISP Piracy Suspension (copyright infringement)
4. EU mission alone cannot solve piracy problem, says admiral (True Piracy)

There is no conceivable reason why stories 1 & 3 should be anywhere near stories 2 & 4, either in our words and thoughts (as designed by those trying to shape public opinion), or in a search return (an unintended consequence of that shaping). To link the two is silly.

But to try and use such psychological trickery to shape the minds of the masses rather than deal with the problem proactively and honestly? That's just downright evil....


Marcus Carab said...

You have an extraordinary talent for sounding crazy and paranoid while making highly salient observations.

Tim Geigner said...

It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you....