What Is Piracy, Anyway?

Lost amid all the bluster over intellectual property and illegal file-swapping is the undeniable fact that a large part of America’s cultural history wouldn’t exist without some form of piracy. The film and recording industries got their start through the work of individuals skirting the edges of copyright and patent law, and radio still operates under a bizarre set of rules in which authors and composers are paid for the right to broadcast their work, but performers aren’t. Is online file-swapping really any worse than any of these practices?