Piracy (pt I): The Cup and the Cube - MusicNSW

The Cup and the Cube: a new perspective on the debate over Internet Music Piracy

…And the debate keeps raging on. Should music sharing over the internet be a criminal offence, or do we live in a new digital world that is not bound by the same restrictions and limitations of the old physical one?

This question has recently been debated over in the Minnesota District Court where the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America – similar in scope to our ARIA group) has successfully sued college student, Joel Tennenbaum, for sharing 30 songs with other file sharers around the world. Most people have very strong opinions on who is right and who is wrong in digital music piracy without fully understanding the arguments raised by both sides.


This series of blogs aim to shed light on the arguments through the use of two vital concepts in digital music piracy – the Styrofoam Cup and the Necker Cube [pictured above].


In his opening statement Prof Charles Nesson, lawyer for the college kid, tried to give the jury a bit of an understanding of what file sharing is and how it affects the physical world. He did this by scrunching up and breaking a Styrofoam cup in his hand, letting all the little white bits fall to the floor…in the middle of a full Court room. His logic worked along these lines: the Styrofoam cup should be seen as a normal CD, containing a number of songs. What the internet and p2p technologies have done is to scrunch up the CD and break it into individual songs. Broken away from the once existing CD, each song takes on a life of its own – free to fall into any computer that wants to catch it. In other words, technology allows songs to be separated from CDs and be distributed freely across the world. What’s wrong with freedom? This is best explained by looking at a cube.


In a captivated Court room, Nesson went on to describe the Necker Cube – A cube that can be viewed from two different perspectives. One camp sees the cube (file sharing) as bad, whilst another camp sees it from a different perspective and thinks its good. Neither camp is necessarily wrong, its just that they are two very different perspectives of the same Necker Cube. This concept is what has driven this debate over piracy for over a decade and will continue to drive it for a long time further. After all is said and done, is it possible for the Necker Cube to morph into a Square? That is, can file sharing enthusiasts and the music industry solve their issues with each other to make a digital environment that is beneficial for all?

More about the square in later blogs…