The freebooting debate: Keeping obscure legacies alive

Aaliyah One In A Million
Album cover of Aaliyah’s One In A Million (Photo from Wikipedia)

I recently read a Complex article explaining why Aaliyah’s music cannot be legally downloaded on the Internet. Often times for artists who do not make their music available online, typical reasons include issues with royalties, ethics, or quality. What makes the late R&B singer’s case so unique is how there appears to be a lack of motive behind it. The article goes on to question if as a result, illegally sharing her music on the Internet is one of the main things keeping Aaliyah’s legacy alive.

While Aaliyah is by no means an obscure musician, her situation falls similar to actual obscure artists. This raises a question of if illegal access online for not only obscure music, but any obscure media is a positive thing.

This brings upon the term “freebooting”. Freebooting can be defined as uploading digital media that doesn’t belong to you, without the creator’s permission. Essentially a form of Internet piracy, but not quite the same as offering media to download. It has its legal and ethical ups and downs. Some agree with it, others don’t.

My own take? As a musician, someone who spends time creating something, I understand the frustrations that come with illegal hosting and not receiving proper dues and so forth. With that said, my craft is also not a main source of income, so I’m not able to fully relate to such frustrations, nor give a more in depth opinion from that standpoint.

From a fan perspective, many works that I very much enjoy (and have eventually paid money for) were a discovery made thanks to freebooters, which I am grateful for in the sense that through them I discovered something I enjoyed, and was able to pay for (to the artist, not the uploader) at some point after.

One thing I do feel is important to stress in my own personal opinion is that I believe freebooting is okay in a situation where there are no other ways that someone could access the media in question. What I don’t agree with is hosting files that can already be obtained from the original source. I am also very against any new host making a profit off of the shared files.

The good and the bad

Cassette cover artwork of Illiteracy Will Prevail, Kurt Cobain’s pre-Nirvana project “Fecal Matter” from 1985-1986. This tape was highly-sought after by Nirvana fans for years until it was illegally leaked online in 2015. (Photo from Wikipedia)

The Internet is an amazing place to discover obscure media, whether music, TV, or anything else. A once forgotten singer can be re-introduced to a generation born 40 years after their biggest hit. Unreleased deleted scenes from a popular movie can finally be viewed by fans. Often illegally, these discoveries have given audiences something to enjoy. The Internet brought piracy to a whole new level that previous bootlegging scenes were unable to reach. It has done its fair share of both damage and good.

Though pay is deserved for any and all works, is there a middle ground for taking in these freebees? After all, some albums have been taken entirely out of print and are only found as illegal downloads. Some videos can only be found as an incomplete, 140p clip on YouTube uploaded in 2007. What may appear as a free-ride at first could evolve into a campaign to bring content back to the masses in a way where they can show their support financially.

Physical vs. digital

Due to the convenience of legal digital downloading, disc sales have taken a hit. As of the past few years, laptops are no longer including optical disk drives. This eliminates the need to buy DVDs and CDs, but also poses a problem for someone who would like to listen to a CD or watch a DVD without anything else to play it on.

Realistically speaking, unless if someone is keeping an older stereo around, or perhaps has a CD player in their car, there aren’t as many people who care enough to keep one around. Those like myself who still collect CDs would beg to differ that statement with “we still exist”, but we are also not the majority. For those stuck wanting to listen or watch something without a proper player, it becomes that much more necessary for works to be re-released digitally.

The opening shot of “Cracks”, a 1975 animated Sesame Street short. A search effort was made through Lost Media Wiki to find the short, which was eventually tracked down and uploaded in 2013. (Photo from Lost Media Wiki)

In general freebooting, websites such as The Lost Media Wiki are dedicated to this sort of thing. It offers links to obscure media, and a community for those on the hunt for works that are still lost. This could be considered a more neutral area unlike a torrenting site, for example. The goal in sites like this is to discover something that enough people are curious enough to view. They can be thought of as a starting point in a process of “Discover media on point A, find out more at point B, enjoy it enough to pay money for it at point C.”

Will it change?

Online piracy has been a controversial subject matter for years, and for a good reason, but in cases such as this, it shows its positive uses. The topic in itself is its own can of worms that can be taken on in a number of ways, but in my opinion, freebooting specifically falls in a grey area. There are both good and bad things about it. Would the problem be solved if more things were legally available to download digitally? It’s a complicated process for a basic-sounding question, but it could potentially be the next step in ceasing the need for illegal uploading.

What are your thoughts on how freebooting caters to users? Are there exceptions? Is it completely unacceptable? Share your story in the comments.

Author: The Netstorian

Internet culture enthusiast and creator of The Netstorian.

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