Bodó Balázs, is an economist and piracy researcher at the Institute for Information Law (IViR) at the University of Amsterdam. His academic interests include copyright and economics, piracy, media regulation, peer-to-peer communities, underground libraries, digital archives, and informal media economies. His recent book is on the role of P2P piracy in the Hungarian cultural ecosystem.

HPL: What is the impact but also the potential of piracy in our society?

Bodó Balázs: While this is the usual way of framing piracy, I have a slightly different approach. I am interested in the role of piracy in the cultural ecosystem. I believe that piracy is an integral part of that ecosystem, and it fulfills very specific roles. It is less about impact, and more about interaction. For me piracy is very much like a fungus which thrives in certain ecosystems and non-existent in others, comes in many forms and shapes, and has a very specific role. This approach allows for a more-or-less value neutral approach. Impact (positive or negative), potential are very loaded terms for me. But to answer the question: I believe that if there is a demand for which there is no legal supply, black markets will emerge. In the cultural domain such a black market is digital piracy. If piracy is thriving this is a strong symptom of something going wrong in the legal domain. So I treat piracy as a canary in the coalmine to understand what went wrong in the legal markets and what steps are necessary to correct the situation that led to the emergence of black markets.

HPL: Do you see a connection between open access and piracy, are the concepts different but the forms related?

Bodó Balázs: Piracy is the radical form of open access at least in the domain of scholarly publishing. Open access is the goal, but until it is reached, it is through piracy open access is achieved. There pirates may have the effect to make more legal open access approaches seem like an acceptable compromise (which they are currently not yet seen to be).

HPL: What is the secret role of pirate libraries?

Bodó Balázs: Pirate libraries enable an unprecedented access to knowledge around the globe. They facilitate a global North to South transfer of knowledge unseen in history: they put within reach the latest advances in science to any- and everyone regardless of income, privilege or institutional affiliation.  In that sense they can do more for easing the global inequalities in the access to knowledge than anything else.

HPL: Which book will you always have as an analogue copy in your bookshelf?

Bodó Balázs: Poetry which I cherish, children books for my son. Otherwise, very few. Physical personal libraries are difficult to move around the globe.

Our upcoming Conference on Publishing between Open Access, Piracy and Public Spheres is up for registration now. You can read all Interviews here.

Julia Rehfeldt


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