I thought I’d address a particularly thorny issue today, as this column is meant to spark debate among you guys. Piracy is seen as either the scourge of the entertainment world, hacking through balance sheets like a copyright murdering serial killer, or it’s the saving grace of the industry, blowing the doors wide open off traditional distribution models, making content more accessible to all and making the higher-ups rethink their distribution and pricing models.
So my question is this, is it justifiable? I won’t comment on my own history with piracy, lest the FBI and the MPAA be watching, but I will at least present some arguments. I think it’s different across music, games, movies and TV shows, as each are accessible in different ways legally and illegally.
1. Gaming is the most straightforward one in my eyes. I think piracy of PC or console games is generally just flat out wrong. Games are too easy to get now via portals like Steam for you to rant about Gamestop ripping you off. Console hacking forces you to actually have to illegally mod your system, and the risk of getting thrown off Xbox Live or PSN is huge. Some may rally against restrictive DLC policies as a way to combat piracy, but I think companies have a right to try to protect their product, even if they do fail miserably and often alienate their paying customers. They need to change their tactics, but I don’t agree that piracy here is justified.
2. Music is the industry that started it all, and the entire industry has shifted because of the Napster revolution. The shutting down of Limewire has been a hit for pirates, but there are many, many other ways to find free music online. But one of the most reliable? YouTube. Almost every song you want to hear is available on the site, so how is it different to download that song rather than just play it through YouTube? Both methods are free, both have you listening to the same song, one is just less work for you. I believe you should buy albums of bands you like on places like iTunes to at least support them to make more music, but at that point, music becomes more of a charity than a business. I think we’ll see a shift away from labels and many more bands offering their music straight up online for free or cheap bypassing the label system entirely.
3. Movie piracy I don’t really think can by justified in this day and age of Netflix streaming. It’s just too easy to find movies either with Video on Demand or on Netflix, and they’re never more than a few bucks. Yes, it’s easy to find any movie you want online and download it and stream it through your Xbox, but I wouldn’t say that’s morally correct in this case. However, movies you already own? I think if you want to make yourself a digital copy, that’s fine, as you’ve already paid once for it, and you’re not STEALING another copy, just duplicating the one you bought for personal use.
4. Television is a bit trickier. While it’s probably not right to download 10 seasons of Smallville which normally cost $30-60 a pop, I don’t think it’s wrong to download last night’s episode of 30 Rock you missed because you forgot to set your DVR. In fact, any show currently airing on cable you have already paid for via Comcast or Uverse or whoever. Downloading these shows is the same as setting your DVR to pick them up. In both cases you watch commercials, and unless you’re a Nielsen household, you’re not even hurting their ratings. Therefore, I think it’s justifiable to download the last entire season of Burn Notice, because theoretically you could have done the same with your DVR had you the hard drive space.
I feel like I’m debating whether or not it’s right to kill someone in war or self-defense, but you get the idea. The entertainment world is changing, and the line between legal and illegal are sometimes pretty blurry, at least from a moral perspective. I’ll leave it to you guys to dissect what I’ve presented here.