Policing the unstable materialities of digital-media piracy in Brazil

by Alexander Dent

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Around the world, antipiracy NGOs train police to recognize the unauthorized use of music and films and to publicly destroy illicit CDs and DVDs. For those who enforce laws governing intellectual property (IP), music and film piracy underscores how digital reproduction can be conceived of as forgetful, inconstant, and promiscuous. In Brazil, discourses about “cleaning” (limpeza) unite incitements to greater security, more active governance, and stricter IP enforcement. Understanding the global dynamics of IP policing requires analysis of ideologies of material purity and the historicity associated with them. This ethnography of antipiracy NGOs, law enforcement, and informal economies in southern Brazil brings together the anthropologies of mediation and IP, arguing that producers and consumers of digital texts are becoming increasingly anxious about how those texts circulate.

A steamroller crushes thousands of pirated CDs and DVDs in Rio de Janeiro on June 20, 2005. Some 140,000 discs were destroyed in the city government’s antipiracy drive, according to an official.
A steamroller crushes thousands of pirated CDs and DVDs in Rio de Janeiro on June 20, 2005. Some 140,000 discs were destroyed in the city government’s antipiracy drive, according to an official. (Reuters/Bruno Domingos SM/KS)