Yo ho ho and a Bottle of Rum – On Internet Piracy

Pirate Symbol

Earlier this week, I got into a conversation on Twitter about Internet Piracy. I’ve personally always thought of Piracy as a pretty complicated issue. On the one hand, the types of technology that is developed in the pursuit of piracy are the same technologies that give us wonderful things like mp3s and Netflix. On the other hand, I do believe that when someone creates something, puts a piece of their heart into a work, spends hours and hours of blood sweat and tears into something, then it is inherently wrong to take it from them.

Then I read this.

 Is Stealing Justified?

After reading the Lavie Tidhar article, we got into a pretty heavy conversation on the nature of Piracy as a crime and situation sin which it is justified. Having that kind of conversation on twitter is difficult, what with the limiting nature of 140 character statements. I felt like some really great points were made, but I also felt like there was more that should be put out there. I feel like it is an issue that people really need to spend  some time thinking about, and that’s what I’m doing writing this now. I want you to think about piracy and what it means.

Some Basic Points

Before I really get into the issue presented by Lavie Tidhar, I want to put at least my basic personal beliefs on piracy out there:

1) Piracy is wrong on Principle – It is stealing. I don’t care how you spin it from there, piracy is theft. During the entire conversation yesterday, no one debated that. That’s probably pretty amazing, considering that when I get into an argument with someone like Yeti_Detective, we tend to split the hairs that split hairs that split hairs. We’re thorough is what we’re saying here.

2) Piracy has minimal impact on Income – I have never seen any significant data showing that piracy drops down the bottom line of any industry. It seems to me that digital piracy works a lot like the ebook market. People who wouldn’t ever see, listen or read your product will this way. It doesn’t hurt the bottom line. So, even though I believe that it is a crime, it seems like a fairly minor one.

3) Piracy has a big impact on market creation. – Eventually, markets are built from the technologies that piracy develops. You have iTunes, Netflix, and Kindle because of internet piracy. This says nothing of services like torrent downloading that makes it take 10 minutes to patch World of Warcraft instead of several days. All these great benefits don’t out-weigh one powerful fact, though. US Corporations purposely smash underdeveloped markets, especially true when they are markets where there are few copyright laws. It isn’t right, and it’s powered by pure greed, but it is a consequence of piracy.

4) Piracy kills Open Source and Creative Commons – There are dozens and dozens of brilliant, amazing, wonderful places on the web where you can get some of the worlds best writing, software, music and videos for free. These things aren’t made for profit, they’re made for the love of making, but they do need something from the people that want to use those services. They need support, recognition and feedback. When, for instance you pirate a copy of Adobe Photoshop instead of utilizing a great service like GIMP (especially the far superior GIMP GPS that makes APS look like an etch-a-sketch), what you are telling the developers for GIMP is that you would rather risk 10 years in prison and several thousands of dollars in fines than support Open Source Alternatives.

Inaccessible Markets

The main point of Lavie Tidhar’s article is that piracy is justified in markets where the people doing the piracy are either faced with no possible legal way of accessing the work, or live in a market where the exchange rates make it completely impossible for them to ever afford the work.

I completely agree with the statement that when a writer complains that someone is pirating their book that it is stealing money from their wallet. The entire idea is stupid. Chances are, if someone is pirating your work, they wouldn’t have bought it anyway, so really your not loosing anything.

Still, I stand against piracy on principle.

I can completely agree that artists, writers, musicians and other creative types need to push the development of markets in these countries and locations. I agree that there is little to no damage for me if someone from one of these markets pirates my work. I still just don’t feel that it is an inalienable necessity.

I have a predisposed aversion to anything that even smells like a crime. It makes it hard for me to justify it in any situation.

I wouldn’t tell a man that he had committed a moral sin if he stole bread or medicine to feed his family. He is still committing a crime, but, at least morally, it is a justified crime. No, he’ll still go to prison if he gets caught, but I don’t believe that God would hold it against him.

Piracy, though, is not a crime of necessity.  It’s a crime of desire.

“Man cannot live on bread alone,” was the response to my saying that on twitter. I agree with that, but I still stand in contention that every time someone, regardless of motivation or circumstance, pirates anything, they are hampering Open Source’s development. There are millions of brilliant writers out there putting their work out for free. Of course that doesn’t even consider the wells of classical works that make up the US Public Domain.

Ultimately, Don’t Steal

I know that my opinion on piracy doesn’t mean a mouse turd on a cow-patty (how’s that for a down-home Missouri euphemism for you?). I could sit here and bitch about theft until I’m blue in the face. I could also spend a lot of time justifying it by saying things like, ‘But this book is out of print,” or “it isn’t available on Amazon.” I could go on and on about all kinds of stupid, meaningless things.

But I won’t. I just want to close with one last thought.

There are a lot of people out there that think it is completely okay to pirate anything they want. They are completely wrong in this belief. Unfortunately, there also appears to be a vocal majority of them on the Internet.

Because of how loud and often they make their statements, it can sometimes feel like it is taboo to be against piracy. I just want to let everyone out there know that it’s okay to be against stealing. Work goes into these things.

It might not mean anything in the long run. It’s just a matter of principle.