Thursday, March 10, 2011


Since I talked a little about Digital Rights Management (DRM) yesterday, I figured I'd talk a little bit about a related issue that is a little more controversial. Pirates.
No, not these guys.
Though most geeks can agree that DRM is a Bad Thing, the ethics of piracy when it comes to movies and software is a little more murky, and there are a lot of differing opinions on the subject.  Sweden has seen the pro-piracy movement turn political, as they have their own "Pirate Party" in government now.  Here in the US, the RIAA, MPAA and several other acronyms have put pressure on our own government to take action against piracy.

These Guys.
Geeks are bitterly divided on the concept of intellectual property from "information activists" who believe that content is information and should be free, to the traditionalist thinking that says that piracy is stealing, same as ripping off a book, DVD or game from a store, and everything in-between.

I mention the in between, because I don't think you have to believe that piracy is properly stealing to have some ethical qualms about piracy.  Stealing takes something, depriving its owner from it and unlawfully transfers exclusive possession to someone else. Unauthorized copying and distribution doesn't deprive the owner of anything. If someone could make a copy of my car and drive off with it, leaving mine intact, would I call the police?  

I know that's a little Reducto ad Absurdum, and it leaves out some of the finer points.  I believe, personally, that while piracy is not theft, content creators deserve to be compensated and credited for their work.  I wouldn't like it very much if someone copied things I'd written for their own profit.  Non-commercial sharing of copyrighted works is unethical, but it isn't really theft. 

An old argument that doesn't work for me has been used by Big Content for years, the idea that if people copy and share, content will stop being profitable to make, and people will stop making it.  Sorry, but cassette recorders didn't kill radio, the VCR didn't kill TV or Movies and The Pirate Bay didn't stop the Movie Industry from posting record revenues these last few years.  People will create because they have to, and those who appreciate their work will show that appreciation by providing them with money. The people who lose out are the middlemen. The studio, producer, promoter, etc... 

The middlemen have seen the writing on the wall after decades of making piles of money on the backs of content creators, and they are prepared to spend some of their vast fortunes ensuring that their way of life doesn't change.  They will fail. You can't put the genie back in the bottle, and the smart middlemen will find a new way to keep themselves relevant instead of leading the doomed charge against progress.  I've heard the current strategy described as "the sinking ship desperately firing their cannons at the ocean." I like that.

Though I believe all this to be true, I still don't pirate a lot of content. I'll go into details on why in a future post, but I believe that though piracy is wrong, treating it like traditional theft is also wrong, and ultimately foolish.  

Watch this space soon for my first guest blogger, Joel from A momentary lapse, who writes about movies so terrible, they are amazing.

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Meghan Moran said...

I totally agree with you. Those anti-piracy psa's they run are so over the top it makes it hard the empathize with them at all.

Chris said...

Hard to disagree with what you said.

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