File-sharing or peer-to-peer (P2P) networks function to allow content sharing between users, often outside of the economic model of traditional multimedia distribution practices. The circumvention of traditional content distributors transfers power from copyright holders to those select individuals who post content online, a characteristic of pirate culture. This new “pirate culture” is described as “social contexts online where information is remixed, re-appropriated, shared and re-circulated…” suggesting a greater efficacy for content distribution. Users providing information online through these networks suggest a form of freedom and democracy, however this is not the case. Users can just about find anyone online nowadays to download, thus masking the elitism that runs on these sites.
P2P networks encourage users to participate but this is not required and therefore“…those who ‘produce’ may actually be relatively few,” (Anderson 82). This reality suggests that the culture of file sharing is both created and maintained by an elite. First it can be argued that online content distributed has less to do with owning material media but the means to digitize that data, calling into question the participation gap. Therefore online content is subject to the tastes and interests of those who contribute. In his research regarding anonymous posters on 4chan, Phillips found that “…the overwhelming percentage of anons identify as middle class sub/urban Americans,” (Phillips 497). 4chan at its core is a bulletin board website that resist on the participation of posters, an example of the participation gap. If the majority of producers are male, then the content will reify masculine ideals.
Andersson’s remark that file-sharing”… contradicts the carefully mapped-out plans drawn by some large corporate and government players,” may overestimate the democracy of this practice (Andersson 70). Though his own confession that few have relatively produced content for distribution, Andersson has suggested that power has not been dispersed amongst consumers but rather a select group that become the new producers. The old model isn’t dismantled but rather recreated through this new form of economic exchange, but what is exchanged here is not money but rather cultural power. In looking towards the relationship between audiences and media companies, it becomes apparent that audiences are provided content created by media companies. Consumption practices are free, you can watch as much or as little as you want, but what you consume isn’t free, the media creates the content. File sharing reproduces this system, in that what you consume is contingent upon what is provided. It should be noted that change could happen; users can provide more content that they believe will suit marginalized individuals or even themselves. What we mustn’t lose sight of is that file sharing is a network, a social network, one that can never ignore the creation of hierarchies.
Andersson, Jonas. “For the good of the net: The Pirate Bay as a strategic sovereign.” Culture Machine 10 (2009).
Lindgren, Simon, and Ragnar Lundström. “Pirate culture and hacktivist mobilization: The cultural and social protocols of# WikiLeaks on Twitter.” new media & society 13.6 (2011): 999-1018.
Phillips, Whitney. “The House That Fox Built: Anonymous, Spectacle, and Cycles of Amplification.” Television & New Media (2012).