People pirate shit. A lot. The coming of the Information Age has brought with it a bevy of riches, but also a cornucopia of horseshit. I can google what time it is in New Zealand, tweet at Jason O’Mara, and watch a Youtube video of how to tie a Full Windsor all in a matter of seconds. On the other hand, there’s cyberbullying, trolls, the constant threat of becoming an internet pariah, and, of course, piracy.
I should probably take a hard and fast stand against piracy. Probably should parrot the party line about it. You remember those old commercials (I say “old,” but, of course, we’re talking about like 2007, not, like, 1952) where they used to say, “You wouldn’t steal a car, would you? You wouldn’t rape a grandmother, would you? Then why would you download a movie?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
I mean, I exaggerate here (slightly) but the point of those commercials was clear: stealing is stealing is stealing, and trying to differentiate between stealing a physical DVD and downloading a pirated movie is just splitting hairs. Except…that’s horseshit. I mean, you can intellectualize it to yourself that way. “By not paying for the goods or services that I generated, that person is in effect taking money from my pocket. Therefore: he stole from me.”
The problem with that is the idea of money you would certainly have spent versus money you might have simply saved. In other words, since it's easy for me to download, say, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," perhaps I do. But if it hadn't been available, would I have immediately gone to the store and purchased it on DVD? No, probably not.
Of course, there are some instances where piracy does equate to stealing. If my desire to see "Fifty Shades of Grey" is so strong that I would have paid for it even if it wasn't available to pirate, then I did indeed withhold money that theoretical would have gone to all the people who worked so hard to bring us that fine piece of cinema.
And then there are questions of residual payment. Suppose I pirated the first "Harry Potter" book, then after that I buy every "Harry Potter" book, stand in line for every movie, and visit the theme park multiple times, because pirating it made me a fan for life. In a way, I ended up giving a lot more money to J.K. Rowling over the course of my life than if I hadn't pirated it, right? I'm not saying it's all shades of grey (ha!), but it's certainly not as black and white as those old "Reefer Madness" style commercials would've had us believe.
And, I admit, the average Pirate Bay user is not thinking about these things in an ethical/moral/philosophical sense. It’s like pure id: see, want, take. “I wanna see this week’s 'Game of Thrones,' it’s free online, let me DL it.” There’s a component whereby this is a terrible thing, because taken en masse it effectively devalues art to the point where people treat all art as though it were free.
However, is internet piracy what’s really devaluing content? Admittedly, that’s a component of it. But I would argue that what’s really devaluing content is that everyone is pretty much giving it away for free. There was a time when if you wanted to watch a video you had to either pay up through the basically direct pay system of paying for a movie ticket, which feeds the studios, which feeds the actors, writers, directors, and crew, or you had to watch advertiser-supported television, which was a more indirect method, but everyone still got paid by their advertisers. Now, though, I can get a half hour of entertainment on YouTube for free from a bunch of jackasses who think falling over is funny. Or popping zits. Or whatever.
That’s free content. Genuinely free. And blogs are free and websites are free, and there are free novels out there, and the equivalent of free novels in terms of length, if that’s the kind of thing I’m into. And free games and, well, free everything really. The internet itself devalues content because there’s so goddamn much of it. In this new paradigm I don’t really blame people for not wanting to pay for content just because the intellectual property owner wants to charge.
And, like I said, as an intellectual property owner I should probably be solidly on one line in this debate. I should probably shout, “Pay me what I’m worth!” from the rooftops. But I'm a pragmatist. And I can also look to the past for exemplars. Metallica did not come out of pounding and pounding against music downloading looking good. They looked like entitled assholes, which, whatever the merits of their arguments, did not help their argument. Nobody likes to listen to an entitled asshole, no matter how morally upright their argument is.
So here's a proposal I came up with. It would be cool if it took off, and I think it splits the difference between Lars Ulrich raging against everyone who's ever pirated an episode of "Doctor Who" they missed and pretending like piracy won't ultimately ruin it for everybody. One of the things that's most important to content creators is reviews. So what if it became common courtesy that when you pirate a book or a movie or a CD, since you didn't pay for it you go to Amazon and review it? It probably would take you exactly as long as DLing it did to leave a twenty word review, even if it's a bad one. (Actually, I think Amazon may have rescinded the twenty word minimum.)
What do you think? Best compromise ever or total cop-out? Let me know in the comments.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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