I’ll admit it – I am a former pirate.
Back in high school and college, I traded MP3’s with friends. We burned each other copies of games. I was not a stranger to the occasional DVD copy. And I ran an illegal OS with illegal software for years.
Much has changed since those days, however. When I fire up my computer today, I’m pleased to see a completely legal copy of Windows XP appear on the screen. Every piece of software and every game I run on my machine has been paid for. And even though a few remnants of my freebooter past resurface now and then in my MP3 collection, the vast majority of the music I listen to was purchased from iTunes, Amazon, or ripped from a CD I bought.
It makes me feel good. But now, I seem to find myself on the opposite side of the fence from many of my fellow internet users.
Recently, the crew behind The Pirate Bay website was put on trial and subsequently convicted of “assisting in making copyright content available,” with a total of $3,620,000 in fines, and each member of the team facing a one year prison sentence. It’s hard to say whether or not the verdict was just. On the one hand, The Pirate Bay is brazenly obvious about the purpose of its site. The pirate theme has been taken on in name and symbol, it organizes torrent files by media type (music, movies, programs, etc.), and a cursory search of the site will reveal that the vast majority of the content being traded among users is not legal. But on the other hand, The Pirate Bay doesn’t explicitly host any of the files in question; they merely house the torrent files users download to find peers in their BitTorrent client. So it could be argued that it is the site’s users who are in performing the illegal activity, and not the site itself (dubbed the “King Kong defense“).
I happened to read this news on Digg, and many people there disagreed with the verdict. What disturbed me though, was that the majority of these people didn’t care about the legal intricacies or implications of the matter. They seemed only to think that piracy should be legal, and that it was in the best interest of everyone to continue pirating movies and music in protest.
Here’s a few excerpts from the comments section of the submission I read:
Let’s all stop going to the cinema for one year!
Truly a sad day…I’m gonna watch a torrented movie now :'(
95% of teenagers generation uses file sharing; they will be the ones in a few years who can vote and be in power.
The majority of people in power at the moment have more than likely never truely used the Internet; for them it’s just about profits.
If you release an album of music, have all the songs good. There is no point in having an album with one good song and the other 50 tracks full of useless songs for padding.
Same with copy-paste Hollywood blockbusters and Video Games.
A real torrent user with pay for anything that is worth of value. Half-Life 2, Super Mario Galaxy, The Dark Knight, these were barely affected by piracy because they were…you know…actually GOOD so people bought them.
So basically, the MPAA and the RIAA are pissed because they will have to get the Entertainment Industry to work harder and actually make a majority good content, which is the exact opposite of their business plan of “take a dump in a bag and net one billion dollars.”
And that is exactly the problem with the RIAA MPAA and this witch hunt. All they are trying to do is protect their ability to get money for producing steaming piles of bullshit! Period.
Surely I couldn’t be the only person who reads comments like this and just shakes his head in disgust.
First of all, just because something isn’t good by your count, doesn’t mean that you are entitled to take it for free. In fact, I personally don’t understand why you would go to the trouble of taking it for free if it’s not good to begin with. But one of the best things about MP3 stores like Amazon is that you can almost always buy individual songs and leave the rest of the album behind, if you so choose. Under most circumstances, that’ll only set you back a buck, too.
And if that’s not good enough for you, then look at piracy figures for games like World of Goo or Demigod. Both games have gotten good reviews, and both were released without anti-piracy measures in place. At last count, World of Goo had an estimated piracy rate of 90%, while Demigod, after only being out for a week, had hit about 85%. I’m no fan of heavy-handed copy protection measures, but if you think that good content doesn’t get pirated, you might just be an idiot.
Secondly, I find it absurd that some people think that music, movies, and art in general should be a free service provided to everyone else. Yes, many artists (myself included) produce work purely for others to see and share with each other. But we also ought to be able to make money from our work, and if the legal system doesn’t help protect us, then what incentive do we have to do work? If your passion is carpentry, should I expect you to build me a house pro bono just because you like doing it?
But let’s take this idea to the extreme for a moment – imagine that the judicial system has decided that music, movies, and other artistic works should be free for the public to copy and share. Essentially intellectual property, patents, copyrights, etc. would be no more.
Creative work would be pointless, because anyone would be able to take anything you made and reproduce it without consequence. By an ironic twist of fate, large companies, being in the best position to market and sell media, would benefit the most from this arrangement; they would be able to take any idea they spotted among independents and replicate, package, and sell it without giving a cent to the original creator. Where is the logic in that?
Don’t get me wrong here; I’m not siding with big business on this issue. I’m no proponent of the DRM schemes they’ve tried to use to protect their content, typically to the detriment of paying customers. But when I see the ridiculous sense of entitlement people have towards media, coupled with the outrageous piracy rates of games like World of Goo, I can’t help but think that there must be some kind of “happy medium” between producers and consumers. And there is, by means of systems like Steam, which seem to be getting things mostly right so far. But we’ve got a long way to go. It’s important to me that we arrive at that destination though, because I am an artist and a creative person, and I want my work to be protected, like everyone else.
For now, I’m just happy to report that despite my years aboard the massive vessel of media piracy, I’m no longer part of the problem.
And it feels good to be a landlubber.
Image courtesy of Pirates of the Caribbean