John Logie, Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion

Review by Don Merritt

John Logie. Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates. Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2006.

[1] Do we see the [I]nternet as a tool or a service? Is it a platform for creativity or the pipes that take us to places of commerce and consumption? While these are dialectical questions, what they try to do is emphasize our evolving relationship to and understanding of the ever-expanding network of computers that comprise the World Wide Web. Indeed, one could argue that the capitalization of "I" in "Internet" misdirects the reader to assume a single system rather than a web of interconnected networks and suggests that there is a single force behind it, an all-seeing or all-knowing guiding hand from which we should seek guidance on how to approach this network. In this contested space we find technologies and methodologies being challenged as right and wrong, imbued with meaning for better or worse, and then propagating those meanings with little solidity among the general population as to the real meanings of the terms being used.

[2] Currently US colleges and universities are under pressure to curtail peer-to-peer (P2P) sharing on their networks by their students. Indeed, under a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last fall,[1] a failure to do so could result in the loss of federal aid for all of their students. The bill was blasted by education groups for being heavy-handed but nevertheless, many educational institutions report imposing sanctions on students using P2P technologies after the first offence.[2] Even in the private sector, internet service providers, in discussions with major copyright holders, are seriously considering filtering content for all internet users.[3] While these efforts are fought by consumer and privacy rights groups, copyright holders argue just as heatedly that these are the only methods that will curtail illegal file sharing.

[3] It is in this atmosphere that John Logie situates Peers, Pirates, & Persuasion: Rhetoric in the Peer-to-Peer Debates. Logie addresses the arguments and counter-arguments, the contested space, of both the content industries and P2P enthusiasts (6). The book is an attempt to analyze the successes and failures of both sides and in doing so, illuminate how "citizens persuade one another on matters of public policy, and the consequences of these persuasive efforts" (7). The book is best approached as an explanation of how these frequently heated debates have been framed and perhaps as a guide for reframing those same arguments. It is also useful for understanding much of this anger, because the rhetorical tactics used by both sides perhaps inevitably demand an impassioned response.

[4] Logie begins by exploring the history of the meaning of the word "hacker." From its early use describing computer science students at MIT who were largely encouraged to pursue their "curiosity" despite the hazy legality of their actions (23-24), Logie argues that the term "hacker" is a contested one. This contested space is exacerbated by the actions of Napster and its relationship to its young founder, Shawn Fanning. Logie notes that Fanning's image as a "hacker" is embellished by the company's management, the corresponding human face of the company's black cat logo. Logie analyzes this relationship in the context of rhetoric, the "appeals to its audience ... grounded in an 'outlaw' ethos" as opposed to the "Aristotelian triad of good sense (phronesis), virtue (arête) and good will (eunoia)" (38-39).

[5] Logie continues his analysis beyond the examination of the hacker and also looks at the rhetorical framing of the act of peer-to-peer transfers. We are led from Patterson's three principles of copyright (45), which predate the internet revolution, to Napster's "failure to successfully articulate the degree to which it enabled non-infringing, de minimis, and fair uses of music files" (60). Apple's iMac and iTunes stores are shown as examples of how, late in the game, forces were at work to re-contextualize digital music and mp3s not as items of theft but as innocuous products to be consumed with "good karma" (65). This was possible because the content industry (specifically the RIAA) had so successfully criminalized the idea of downloading music from the internet with the strategies it used in pursuing Napster in the judicial courts and in court of public opinion.

[6] Logie argues that this conceptual criminalization strategy was facilitated by the use of and commitment to the term "pirate" for anyone who engaged in exchanging digitized music by any means other than purchase from the distributor, especially in the early years of the debate. Logie traces this evolution from Richard Stallings' 21 Words to Avoid through the rulings of Judge Marilyn Hall Patel's writings in the Napster case to Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture: The Nature and Future of Creativity, where Lessig describes the content industry's work to redefine piracy. Logie again, as he does with the word "hacker," rhetorically analyzes the evolution of the use of the term "pirate" and the impact that it has on the greater debate about copyright.

[7] In the conclusion, Logie notes that "[t]he relative wildness of Napster's offspring" – those peer-to-peer technologies and methodologies developed since the company was defeated in the courts – "has driven the increasingly pitched debates over the ethics and legality of peer-to-peer downloads to the point where the continuing availability and utility of the technology itself is by no means assured." (127) More significantly, Logie examines how the current debate has been structured by the pedagogy of the composition classroom and notes the effects this has had on those participating in the debate: "composition classes are never merely about the production of written work. They are the spaces in which colleges and universities most directly address and model the creative process" (131). Logie argues that this model of the creator (writer) as sole owner of a work, often without acknowledgement of the social structure within which the writing takes place, has created a social environment that has privileged the creator in the copyright debates with predictable and arguably unavoidable results for the process of creation and digital works.

[8] It is Logie's opinion "that the U.S. is currently in the process of fumbling an opportunity to productively engage with the intellectual property questions prompted by the rise of the internet" (141). The strength of Logie's approach is that by looking at the methods within which the debates have been framed, we can then more analytically approach the content of those debates. Additionally, by using the tools of rhetoric and then combining them with a contemporary topic, Logie is able to introduce readers to the concepts of rhetoric within a familiar setting. The book also serves as a warning that without some sort of concerted effort the full potential of the internet will be squandered. As a teaching tool, then, Peers, Pirates, and Persuasion allows us to contextualize a contemporary topic using the tools of the classroom and stands as an example of how this method could be employed toward similar topics.


[1] Eric Bangeman, "New Bill Would Punish Colleges, Students Who Don't Become Copyright Cops." Ars Technica: The Art of Technology 11 November 2007. «».

[2] Eric Bangeman, "Colleges Serious About Dealing with Copyright, P2P Issues." Ars Technica: The Art of Technology 5 December 2007. «».

[3] Brad Stone, "AT&T and Other I.S.P's May Be Getting Ready to Filter." New York Times 8 January 2008. «».