Technologies of Piracy? Exploring the Interplay between Commercialism and Idealism in the Development of MP3 and DivX

Hendrik Storstein Spilker, Svein Hoier


This article compares the development of the two central “piracy standards”—MP3 (sound) and DivX (audiovisual content)—analyzing the actors, strategies, and motivations involved in their inception and diffusion. Until recently, the main focus in the research literature investigating the relationships between commercialism and idealism in the development of the Internet has been on the clashes and confrontations between two supposedly incompatible worldviews. In accordance with newer approaches such as Castells and Cardoso’s (2012) and Lobato and Thomas’ (2012), we challenge this dichotomous and irreconcilable picture by investigating the borderlands and crossings between the two sides. As we argue, the cases of MP3 and DivX are strategic for beginning the exploration of these overlooked dynamics. The actor-network theory concepts of “displacement,” “translation,” and “immutable mobiles” are employed to trace the various phases in the propagation of the two standards. By following MP3 and DivX through their displacements and translations, we argue that they have come to form two different types of moveable objects, displaying and exemplifying some of the breadth of border-crossing dynamics.

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