Steal This Film II, from producer/director J.J. King, is a sober, thought-provoking piece on technology and intellectual property that frames the current debate over copyright in historical and political terms. Not only can you download it for free in HD (over BitTorrent, natch), the League of Noble Peers ask that you screen and share copies early and often.
Steal This Film II argues that the Internet has enabled a vast expansion of the means of media production and distribution and a blurring of the lines between consumer and producer. As its narrator declares: “In fighting file-sharing, the entertainment industry is fighting the fundamental structure of the Internet.”
Drawing a direct analogy between the scarcity of information when books were copied by scribes and the explosion of ideas following the invention of the printing press, the film uses animations to illustrate how centralized “broadcast” mass media is being fundamentally subverted by decentralized networks. And anecdotes like Johannes Gutenberg’s business partner being set upon and accused of black magic after delivering the first batch of machine-printed bibles to Paris certainly puts the Viacom vs. Google case in perspective.
More polished than the first installment, and with broader scope, the film isn’t focused strictly on “piracy,” but rather on the evolution of information exchange and communication networks. Experts weigh in from Bangalore, London, Amsterdam, New York and San Francisco on the past, present and future of media, though other than a cameo from the MPAA’s Dan Glickman, its viewpoint couldn’t exactly be considered balanced.
While no video statements from the producer’s earlier call for submissions made it into this installment (though a planned final feature version may), there are man-on-the-street interviews with young people in London who’ve never paid for an album in their lives. And musicians who are creating music from borrowed elements with the intent that they will be copied and remixed serve to demonstrate that even in the absence of strict adherence to copyright laws, creative innovation continues apace, calling into question the argument that without copyrights, there would be no incentive to create new work.
After all, long before Hammurabi’s Code, there was art and inquiry. And that’s where the piece excels — in making clear that the web is just an extension of our anthropologically deep desire to share culture with each other, a desire that predates modern social, political and economic institutions.