Feb 06 2014

Piracy and Me: Is Paying for Stuff for Suckers?

Published by at 11:00 am under Editorials

piracy

It happens more and more often. Ask somebody what the last CD they bought is and their response is laughter followed with “you still buy CD’s?”  Go to a message board and see somebody complain about having wasted sixty dollars on a half-assed game and behold the mockery at somebody who actually purchased a copy of what could be downloaded from the internet for free.

Right now you are either saying “f*** yeah, loser!” or “Nick, why didn’t you call the police and turn these miscreants in to the proper authorities?!” Any way you look at it, piracy is part of our world now. Welcome to the digital age. The only question is what the hell can we do about it?

Well for starters, let us all collectively point and laugh at the tools who suggest that multi-billion dollar corporations track down and sue the families of every child who downloads a song or watches a Youtube clip that they don’t own the rights to for millions of dollars that they’ll never get just to ruin as many lives as possible. That’s not an option.

And let’s go ahead and mock those ridiculous anti-piracy ads that corporations have possibly been wasting more money making and distributing than they were ever losing from piracy while we’re at it.

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Ummmmmm….they may be going about this wrong.

That last ad does have a point seeing that corporate capitalism resembles pimping more than anything else. The people at the top have other people do all the work, take all of the profits, and then dole out as little scratch as they can get away with to the people whose labors earn them their fortunes.

With the internet making information so easily transferable and most media being easily reduced to information, it’s natural that people would begin file sharing. The concept is a natural progression from handing a CD or book to an acquaintance. But now, the entire world is digitally acquainted.

So we’re back to the question of what to do about it. I’ve struggled with this issue for a long time. There are so many ways to obtain media in the digital age, but the people selling it seem stuck in a business model that no longer works. Their reaction to theoretical lost profits from piracy seems to have been to raise prices, which in turn has led more and more people to turn to piracy for relief.

Income and employment are down, the cost of living is up, and corporate profits are still rising. It makes you wonder who is the real bad guy here. You know what? I NEED a downloadable car.

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Go, internet, go!

Do I care if the pimps at Disney or Microsoft or Warner Brothers lose money? Not even a little. But here’s where it becomes an issue for those of us whose interests extend beyond the mainstream. Capitalism is the closest thing we have to true democracy. We vote with our money. If a little video game or indie flick made by an innovative artist comes out and can’t get any financial traction, they go away, possibly never to resurface.

This is why I still buy DVD’s, video games, CD’s, and books. I think of it as donating to the cause. Whenever I can, I try to support the cause. But is particularly taxing for a comic book reader and anime fanatic like myself. Comics are a few bucks an issue and anime series are typically released in pricy box sets. And here I am turning my pockets inside out to find only lint.

Comics in particular have been an issue for me. There are a ton of them out there and it’s nigh impossible to keep up, much less acquaint oneself the classics without devoting yourself entirely to it. This is the medium where I lean on file sharing the most, and feel the worst for doing it. It’s an industry I support as much as I can, but to read an entire run of a comic series is a triple digit investment at least.

How do I live with myself having availed myself of a creator’s blood sweat and tears without paying? Well, if I love it, I will buy it when I can. In the meantime, I have often taken to the net to review and otherwise hype my favorite titles as a way to give back. It may not be legal tender, but I like to think in some way I do my part to pay the artists back by bringing in new fans. Hopefully ones with fatter wallets. Isn’t rationalization fun?

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Then there’s anime. It’s a niche industry in America that always manages to find a major distributor like the now-defunct ADV or Funimation, but it is always struggling. Companies go out of business and operate on small budgets with many of the voice actors also taking on production duties in the localizations. It’s a small circle. But more and more often fans are taking to streaming on the internet rather than waiting for DVD releases.  This doesn’t bode well.

Hits like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill are viewed, raved over, disseminated, memed, and moved on from long before they even make it stateside now. I prefer to wait given the choice, but that brings me back to money. The prices went down for a while, but they seem to be back on the rise now.  Netflix has a massive anime selection, but they are far from reliable when it comes to getting the latest and greatest, either to stream or on disc.

Basically, if you want to have any hope of keeping up, your options are either stream for free, import on the cheap, or wait a year or two and pay a ton for it. I tend to trend towards the middle option, but that opens up the even worse issue of of bootlegging.

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Moving on to video games, PC gamers are legendary for their pirating prowess. In fact, they kind of invented modern piracy as we know it. As I said, it’s commonplace to go to a message board and see a poster declare that a game wasn’t worth the money they paid for it followed by a number of posts cackling at the very concept of paying money for a game.

Personally, I have almost never pirated games; they are too readily available and the prices on games go down pretty steadily after release. Console gaming is a primary hobby for me and I support it with gusto so my conscience is clean here, but the community on the whole is dirtier than bad hentai.

Game developers have probably the best reactions to piracy too. Sometimes they release augmented copies onto the web that are deliberately broken at key points so that after a gamer has spent ours investing themselves, they get reamed by being unable to progress further. I can’t say I disapprove of this method.

Others take a kinder gentler approach. Hotline Miami creator Jonatan Söderström went so far as to offer technical assistance for pirated copies of his 8-bit 80’s ultraviolence wonderland after it was torrented far and wide. When questioned about it, his statement was “I’m not going to criticize this, it’s a fact of life. It would be nice if guys could find it within themselves to pay for it, but that’s the world I’m in, so you know, you just have to take it for what it is.” My reaction to this dead-on assessment was to go buy the game.

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Last on the chopping block: music. This has been ground zero for the fight against piracy, and it will possibly be the industry that finds a solution. Apple’s one-dollar-a-song approach paid huge dividends for everyone, but that price point has since gone up substantially to the point where it’s still often a much better deal to just buy the physical disc.

While other companies are finding some success with a subscription model, the constant raising of prices for downloads and the decline of physical media has led to pirating becoming the standard way to own music. I’ve had many a head shaken in my direction while trying to extoll the virtues of buying stuff instead of torrenting it to music “fans”.

And maybe they’re right. After all, most artists make precious little from album sales with the record label taking the lion’s share. Whenever I buy a new album, they release a better version with bonus tracks or a live disc a few months later, which makes me feel like a sucker for being in such a hurry to tell them to shut up and take my money. After they take it, they demand I shut up and buy it again for the bonus tracks.

And with corporations taking things to insane extremes to go after consumers and extort money or ruin their lives while lobbying for draconian new laws that practically make the internet itself illegal, I’m not sure I see a downside to watching them crash and burn. There are plenty of ways for artists to get their work out to the general public in the digital age. Corporate sponsorship is not the only way to gain distribution anymore and without payola and massive advertising campaigns determining what we see and hear in the media, quality and word of mouth could actually determine what succeeds for a change.

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I’m still on the fence, personally. While I can acknowledge the ethical issues with torrenting when you should be buying, I’ve never been a proponent of eliminating file sharing or hunting and legally savaging those who engage in it. It’s just too valuable a tool and I’m not at all sold on the concept that it’s destroying our way of life; maybe the way of life of someone with a much higher standard of living than mine, but that sounds like somebody with comparatively little to bitch about if you ask me. And is it as bad as knocking an old lady down and stealing her purse or even shoplifting? Psh. Distributing a digital copy is not the same as taking somebody else’s property. Until you understand the difference, you not able to partake in this discussion seriously.

But this has all been discussed to death. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep with my happy medium in the meantime. My meager monthly comic bill nets me a few hours of reading, and a pricey anime box set I might not even enjoy that much will keep me busy for a few more, but to even imagine an attempt to give love everywhere it’s due in geek culture, torrents and streaming are a necessity. Otherwise I simply would never read or watch a lot of great titles and that would be a shame for artist and thief alike.

Is not paying and not reading/watching in any way better than not paying, reading/watching, and spreading the love? I don’t believe it is. And this is why piracy and I will maintain a casual acquaintance. I’ll never suggest that we should not pay into the things we enjoy, but at the same time I think we have to respect that the sellers have so much more than the buyers at this point and there is so much out there that cheating a little is kind of the way it’s going to be for a lot of us. Just don’t forget that some things are well worth supporting and I won’t tell if you won’t.





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19 responses so far

  • Adam R. Charpentier

    I’m shocked by this article and share almost every sentiment you describe, but I’m very curious to see how the Internet will respond. Good luck!

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      Unreality readers are pretty laid back and I’m not a pro journalist so I think I’m safe. I appreciate the concern, though.

      • Adam R. Charpentier

        Laid back or not, it’s rare to see someone publish a cavalier opinion. It’s commendable.

  • Reverend Spith

    I always like to pay for my media when I can, but I also don’t want to experience too many $60+ outlays for things that turn out to be less than satisfactory. I also believe that “piracy of convenience” leads often to sales; if you have a hacked copy of MS Office, and get used to it, eventually when the version rolls, there’s a possibility that you might buy it instead of waiting for a new hacked version to be made available. I like what Louis CK’s solution to piracy is; he makes his audio and video shows available for download on his website for $5. The idea is that getting a legitimate copy for $5 is FAR less hassle than finding someplace to “steal” it.

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      Exactly. The way things are going, everything costs more, but we have less to pay with. Digital distribution was supposed to lower costs, but it has been just the opposite. Companies like Netflix are clearly where it’s at.

  • Brendan McAlinden

    Comics. I download a weekly DC new 52 torrent. If I was to try and keep up with DC comics, it would cost me, literally, $50+ bucks a month. JL, JLA, JLD, Nightwing, Aquaman, Flash, Batman, Detective Comics, Batman and Robin, Dark Knight, Teen Titans, Constantine…that’s $48 before taxes. With the Forever Evil storyline? That’s an extra 4 comics each month now. at 3.99 a pop? Not to mention i read Walking Dead, Invincible, All-New X-Men, Amazing X-Men, X-Force….It’d be close to $100 in comics every month

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      I have subscribed to several titles that I was initially exposed to via piracy and
      bootlegs. I’ve ended up buying entire runs of comics after originally
      torrenting them, but keeping up with 52 DC titles of varying quality? No flippin’ way.

  • Lucas Tetrault

    Odd – my comment is still not showing up…?

    (well regardless – my original comment was this:)

    Brilliantly written!
    I’d like to make mention of getting episodes of television via torrents. Mainly because I think that with the amount of TV that my wife and I watch – we wouldn’t be able to keep up with a lot of the shows we like. Our DVR is filled with episodes and thanks to torrents we’re able to watch full seasons/series of shows all at once and do the whole binge thing. Afterwards we’re able to sell other friends and family on watching said series which in part does well for the production companies and channels that the shows air on. (mainly due to the fact that most of our friends and family have no idea how to torrent etc.)

    Not only that – but there was little mention that if you like the media you’re torrenting then that might lead you to buy other things such as memorabilia and other misc. retail/consumer based items. Which in turn just lines the pockets of the people who might be complaining in the first place.

    Awesome post.

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      Wow, thanks. Nobody accusing me of being a master criminal inciting mass economic anarchy yet… this is good. The merchandise thing is particularly true of music.To get a major record deal you need to pretty much sign away any ownership of your art, so merchandise and touring are the primary sources of income for most bands. So being exposed to the music is what really matters and if your label doesn’t spring to get on the radio freebies on the internet is your best bet for more fans.

      • Lucas Tetrault

        Indeed … hence why an album costs $12 or so and a t-shirt at a concert will cost you anywhere from $30 to $60 depending on the band and venue. (not to mention the outrageous ticket price for admission)

        • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

          Well, those are the really big corporate bands with all kinds of radio play. Smaller bands tend to keep the ticket prices at $20 or below and T-shirts closer to $15. Those are the only ones I buy. Mainstream bands have pretty much priced me out of buying anything but the music at this point.

  • David R

    This is a very “I am the center of the universe” attitude to take.

    Sure, if you don’t pirate stuff, you won’t be able to watch/read/listen to as much as if you did pirate stuff. But that’s not a pro-piracy argument, it’s just kind of something that’s true. Using that (occasionally frustrating) reality as an argument assumes that having access to anything you want is some sort of inalienable human right. What’s happening here is justifying after the fact. Which I think you realize. “I want to read this comic, and I may pay them down the line, and if I like it I might hype it on a blog” isn’t a reason that makes it alright to enact outright theft.

    There are certainly gray areas in the piracy debate. Stealing something simply because you can’t afford it or don’t want to drop the coin on it, or don’t know if you’re going to like it, is not one of those areas.

    We don’t deserve a free copy of Game of Thrones just because we self-identify as geeks, any more than we deserve a free meal at a restaurant because we self-identify as foodies. In both cases, you consume what you can afford or you wait until you can afford it.

    • mark miller

      It’s not really the same because you haven’t made any difference to the world, you haven’t taken anything physical. Nothing changes for HBO between me not watching GoT and me pirating it, where as it does for the restaurant if I skip out on the bill instead of not eating at all.

      • David R

        Firstly, you’re not really addressing my argument.

        Secondly, in the day and age of digital media, just because something isn’t physical doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

        Thirdly, providing narrative content to paying consumers is the business HBO is in. If the consumers become unpaying, but HBO still produces the content for them, they absolutely lose something because of that.

        • mark miller

          I definitely agree with this being a selfish justification rather than a good reason but it’s a justification for selfish behaviour that really isn’t doing any harm, it’s actually been shown to have positive effects for providers. So really I wasn’t addressing your argument directly because over all I agree with you. It’s just that digital media doesn’t exist in the same way, when you eat the meal at the restaurant you are consuming their resources directly, whereas when you pirate something you are only consuming a copy. Most the people who pirate things are people who would never have brought the thing anyway, so the providers and creators aren’t actually losing any resources and they are, if they’re good gaining fans which are valuable monetarily. I’m no capitalist, I pirate because mostly I don’t care (I’ve stolen things in the real world for the same reason), but I do find the debate interesting.

  • Nick Ramsay

    I started out as a pirate of convenience. Having anything I wanted quickly, high-quality and not years after it was released in the states became the norm. Money was rarely a factor. But even now, as some legitimate forms of content-access become available to me, I’m having trouble letting go of the habit. I’ve been a pirate for pushing a decade – and it’s (to me) a huge effort to jump to the legal alternatives.

    My issue with the crackdown on piracy is the overreaction by content owners. Yes of course I have no right to get your content for free, but it’s hardly a heinous crime. Sometimes I feel like the RIAA and MPAA are confusing piracy with, you know, actual piracy.

  • mark miller

    I’d never have paid for as much media as I have it wasn’t for piracy. I’d never have even read a comic. I’m not a capitalist, it it seems to me that capitalism and piracy go hand and hand, with these studies showing piracy to be good for profits. However with netflix, steam and spotify, I don’t pirate nearly as much as I used to though, with more open distribution options I’m sure file sharing will shrink down a whole lot

    • http://nickverboon.wordpress.com/ Nick Verboon

      Exactly. Gabe Newell of Valve laid it out there perfectly when he said that piracy is a service issue. Quality keeps going down or staying the same, pricing keeps going up. Personal income keeps going down (in terms of cost of living), but corporate profits keep rising. As profits keep rising, they increase saturation. It’s not rocket science. Something had to give.

  • Shawn Adams

    Steam and it’s sales means I never have to pirate another game ever again.

    Music downloading always scared me (my friend had a 15,000 euro fine and that cured me of even thinking of doing it).

    And as far as TV goes, I watch it maybe 2 to 3 hours a week so its not really my thing.

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