I was always a little bit on the fence on the issue of piracy. I do not want to openly endorse it here on a public blog. I agree that conceptually it is a wrong thing to do, and that theoretically it does impact the content creators. However for me to openly condemn it would be just hypocritical. I just accept it as a fact of life, and approach it pragmatically. It is a bit like littering. Is it ok, to toss a candy wrapper or a cigarette but out of the window of your car while driving on an empty road cutting through the forest? Nope, it’s not ok. Most people will agree that it is bad for the environment, inconsiderate and anyone who does it is an ass. But, then everyone has probably done it at least once in their life. Most people don’t even think about it – they just toss something out the window and drive away. I noticed that most people have almost identical attitude about piracy.
Let me give you couple of examples. The other day I was at work and overheard the following conversation:
This was conversation between grown, educated women in their late 20′s and 30′s with white collar jobs and plenty of disposable income they could spend on music. They barely know how to turn on a computer in the morning, but they are into file sharing anyway. They are aware that the practice was illegal, but they are willing to take that risk – just like they take the risk speeding on a highway, or running the stop sign on their way to work.
I once asked my students to raise their hand if they ever illegally downloaded a movie, song or a piece of software from the internet. Almost everyone raised their hands. One girl sitting in the middle looked around, and exclaimed “Where do you people download this stuff?”. Needless to say, that day she went home with bunch of “useful” links carefully written in her notebook. Most people don’t really care, unless they get caught.
And even if they get slapped on the wrist, they don’t really stop pirating. I once had the following conversation with a coworker:
Yep, don’t use torrent – use Usenet instead. File sharing is perfectly ok, as long as you don’t get caught! Can you see pattern emerging here? Anyone trying to combat piracy by appealing to morality, ethics and etc is facing an uphill battle. While it might be wrong, it is socially acceptable… No, socially permissible to break copyright law. There is no social stigma around it. In our society smoking and drinking is less accepted than blatant copyright infringement – and these two things are perfectly legal.
Here is another conversation I have overheard – this time at the video game isle at Wallmart:
You could argue this is bad parenting, and/or irresponsible behavior. Perhaps it is. But I have yet to see a parent who gets upset that their kid is “saving them money” by downloading movies and video games from the internet. Most parents are actually pleased – they think it’s somewhat frugal. Some worry about the potential legal issues in an event their children will get caught. But then again, how many people who got sued by RIAA or MPAA you know personally? You know, like a friend of your second cousins former roommate fathers sister in law kind of thing.
No? Me neither. Very few people actually ever saw a victim of the *AA legal machine. Statistically, chances of you getting caught are somewhat akin to chances of you winning a lottery. Most people are ok taking this risk – especially if they mostly leach, and do it very casually. Downloading 5-6 mp3′s and perhaps one movie every month makes you a relatively small target – especially if you close the torrent connection or remove the files from your shared folder as soon as they are downloaded as many people do.
To tell you the truth, I have yet to hear someone IRL preaching about the evils of piracy, and condemning file sharing. I swear, I have never in my life met a person who did not indulge in a little bit of piracy now an then or at least benefit from it. Even the conservative, religious and law abiding little old ladies I met while I was working at a doctors office back in the day openly admitted they watched a movie or listened to a CD burned for them by their grandchildren and thought nothing of it.
I’m not saying there are no people like that out there – idealists, who refuse to download movies and music from the internet. I’m just saying they are a dime a dozen and I have yet to meet one in person. And even then, I wonder if they sometimes borrow movies or music from friends. Cause if they do, they are no different from the rest of us. In my mind there is no difference between downloading a DVD rip, watching it once and deleting it, and borrowing a DVD from a friend or a relative. Or rather the only difference is the legal scope. Former is legally shady, while the later I believe is perfectly ok. But logically, morally and ethically – I can’t tell a fucking difference between the two.
And that is the problem. We can either completely lock down our media and make it virtually impossible to socially share, re-sell, and exchange them or just accept piracy as a social phenomenon of digital age and concentrate on adding value to your products to make them better than free. The entertainment industry decided to take the first route trying to lock down our media. But as we have seen it over and over again, this just doesn’t work. Almost every form of DRM can and will be broken. And if it is too difficult to break, it can be defeated using the analog hole. And of course the scene folks have inside suppliers who can leak out pre-release material before it even gets wrapped in DRM to begin with. In other words, investing in DRM is like tilting at windmills. Wasteful, futile, silly and deeply tragic.
[tags]piracy, drm, file sharing, sharing, copyright[/tags]