No discussion of regulatory struggles, transnational mobilization, or institutional entrepreneurship lacks references to the importance of actors’ framing strategies (for an overview see Benford and Snow 2000). More often than not oppositional attempts for establishing discursive hegemony lead to changes in wording and/or a constant drift in meaning and connotation of important terms. One of the most interesting questions in the context of such framing battles is whether actors try to establish their own, new wording or rather attempt to change the meaning/connotation of existing frames.
Discussing the election success of European pirate parties (see “Pirate Parties: Transnational Mobilization and German Elections“), Sigrid Quack and I had already emphasized their success in redefining a derogatory designation and compared it to other examples of successful re-framing such as in the case of the term “queer” (see Jagose).
In the meantime, major representatives of the copyright industries seem to have recognized that the continued fight against “pirates” could be a strategic mistake – at least when it comes to wording. As Nate Anderson at ars technica reports, the head of the International Actors’ Federation, Agnete Haaland, said “We should change the word piracy.” at a press conference:
“To me, piracy is something adventurous, it makes you think about Johnny Depp. We all want to be a bit like Johnny Depp. But we’re talking about a criminal act. We’re talking about making it impossible to make a living from what you do.”
On the one hand, this statement declares defeat in the battle on framing “piracy” as something evil. Or in the words of Nate Anderson: they “should have chosen a less-sexy term“. On the other hand, it is the kick-off for the next round, in which proponents of the copyright industry follow a change-the-wording-strategy. Ars technica points to Rupert Murdoch’s son James for illustrating this tactics, referring to a quote in a guardian article:
“We need enforcement mechanisms and we need governments to play ball … There is no difference with going into a store and stealing Pringles or a handbag and taking this stuff. It’s a basic condition for investment and economic growth and there should be the same level of property rights whether it’s a house or a movie.”
From a research perspective it would be interesting to reconstruct when and how the connotation of “piracy” switched. Was it really Johnny Depp’s performance in “Pirates of the Caribbean“? Was it the success of “The Pirate Bay“? Or was it a mistake to use the word “pirate” to designate file-sharers from the very beginning? And if so, why did the industry and their multi-million-dollar anti-piracy campaigns follow this path for such a long period of time?
On a more general level, it would also be interesting to look at the reasons why actors choose to adopt and change the meaning of a term instead of trying to change the wording. As a first guess, I would say that the former strategy is possible also without marketing budgets – especially when there is a mismatch between the hegemonial discourse and the actual practices of large groups of people. Such a discrepancy between discourse and practice could be seen as an introduction for subversive re-framing.