On Piracy

I haven’t studied – or even read – the current laws regarding copyright, intellectual property, or theft thereof. I don’t pretend to be an expert.

Smarter people than I have written thousands of words on this subject, perhaps most notably Cory Doctorow who is a brilliant and talented man, and an anti-copyright activist.

Illegally downloading movies and TV shows from the internet used to be the domain of nerdy teenage boys ‘sticking it to the man’. In fact, back when I was a schoolboy in Surrey, it was mostly Amiga games. I remember getting handed 3 1/2 inch floppy discs featuring cracked versions of the latest Bitmap Brothers game (or whatever). Thrilling! Illicit! Today, almost everyone I know does it – although it’s Game of Thrones rather than Magic Pockets.

I don’t like it. It feels like theft to me. Even after hearing/reading all these sophisticated and eloquent arguments against our hopelessly antiquated copyright laws, it still feels like stealing. Even knowing that many fine, upstanding people I respect and admire have absolutely no problem with it – I can’t get away from that sense of unease.

When I was working at the SCI FI channel (now SyFy, for some reason), I ran the website and the forums. One particular member was vociferously pro-piracy, and I had to tell him to chill out numerous times. Sure, nick stuff in your own time, but try not to bang on about it on the official forum of a TV channel. I mean, come on.

His arguments were fierce and lengthy. I’m going to summarise from (faulty) memory.

It was incredibly unfair, according to him, that TV shows aired much later in the UK than the States. It’s ridiculous. Pointless. I need to watch them, so I’m going to get hold of them any way I can. If they were on TV I’d watch them but they aren’t, so I can’t. Everyone’s talking about them online – I need to be part of the conversation.

No, you don’t. You want to be part of the conversation, you don’t need to be part of it. Search your feelings. You know it to be true.

It’s all so expensive! Why so expensive? Much more so here in the UK than in America, which is unfair. I’m not paying that. I shouldn’t be expected to.

Why not? It costs a lot of money to make a film or a TV show. There are hundreds of people on the cast and crew. Production expenses are crazy, and they are spending all that money to make you happy.

Oh, and by the way, you can totally afford it. I know you can.

Now, if you believe that you somehow need unfettered access to literally every piece of media ever created, then yes. You can’t afford all of it. No-one can. Perhaps you should adjust your expectations. And you know full well that if you have everything for free, it just sits in an enormous folder on your hard drive, unopened. Forever. What’s the value of it? Nothing. It was free.

These people are all millionaires anyway! I’m hardly taking food from the mouths of the starving.

Some of them definitely are, and you’re right – Robert Downey Jr. won’t notice that missing tenner But this isn’t just about him, or you, it’s about all the other people doing the same thing as you. It’s about the engineers and production staff and costumers and all the thousand of other people trying to make a living. The cliche of the starving musician exists for a reason. 

Oh yeah, and even if I pirate it, I will still probably buy it anyway later. This is me just trying it out, seeing if I like it.

Sure.

It’s not stealing, by the way. Stealing is when you take something from someone without their permission, and now they don’t have it any more. This is all digital. They still have it. You just have a copy too.

Technically you are correct – but it’s a sale that ‘should’ have happened, and didn’t. It’s money that the creator deserves, and isn’t getting. And you’re okay with that? You love Game of Thrones so much that you’re willing to write fanfic and tweet it at the stars, but you’re not willing to contribute to the costs of making it? Fuck’s sake.

To me, every word he uttered was entitled bullshit. It all boiled down to this egomaniacal, selfish, oblivious piece of petulance – “I deserve it.”

Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. You deserve nothing. You have earned nothing. You are owed nothing.

A thing was made, a price was set. You have a binary choice as consumer – pay the price, get the thing. Do not pay the price, do not get the thing. You don’t get to set the price (unless it’s one of those Radiohead album tricks).

I get that copyright laws are stupid. I honestly do. I have seen the “Content not available in your territory” message way too many times already. It’s absurd.

I get that it needs to change. I even get that this huge upsurge in piracy – in theft – is driving an inevitable global reform in the way businesses have to think about their pricing and distribution models. That’s a good thing. I’m happy to benefit from these modernising efforts. The tide is rising, and I float with it.

I just don’t want to be a thief.

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