Humans, I spend my time thinking about some odd things, sometimes. One of the things I hold some pretty strong opinions on is software piracy and intellectual property. Actually, it’s kept fairly present in my mind because most of the times I load up a DVD, I get a condescending message from the manufacturers, telling me not to pirate stuff.

I don’t know about you, but I find that a tad offensive. This is the one that most Australians are familiar with, rather dramatic and pointed in its equation of piracy to any other act of theft. Sure, I get it. Manufacturers don’t want me to pirate, because it loses them money. Yeah, I totally get it.  I get it.

But aside from making me dislike Happy Feet, another thing these piracy messages make me do is frown. Actually think about them: when do we, as viewers, see these messages? When we are watching a DVD. In other words, something we have already paid to watch. Want to know who gets to skip these messages entirely and move on straight to the movie? People who have pirated it.

I for one don’t appreciate being moralized to while I am in the process of doing what the moralizer wants me to. Especially not while the people who actually need to see the moralizing get to skip it entirely. One wonders whether the manufacturers actually understand what they’re doing, here; the message simply isn’t getting to the people that need to see it, while the people who don’t are forced to sit through a lecture every time they want to watch something. That they paid for.

Another thing I’m not entirely wild about is this whole idea of including a digital copy of the feature on the disc. Usually there’ll be a little boastful thing somewhere on the DVD about how you can “watch it anywhere.” Okay, thanks for your fucking imprimatur, DVD. I actually didn’t know I needed it. See, I already bought you, I own all the content you have. I can do with it what I want, assuming I’m doing it for private use. I’m damn sure I could just, y’know, download a digital copy onto my computer anyway. Because I bought it. Specifically so I could watch it. At home. Whenever and wherever I want.

Let me clarify my position on piracy itself, before I go much further: it’s wrong. You shouldn’t do it. I don’t. Insofar as I do pirate, it’s under a contract with myself that when I am in a position to buy a DVD of the feature, I do so. And I’ve never broken that contract. I use piracy- torrents and the like- to level the playing field of release dates; Australia has some pretty woeful delays most of the time, so I pirate stuff to be able to watch it at the same time as the online communities I frequent. This year, I pirated the entire sixth season of Doctor Who as it aired in the UK. And even though the complete series DVD collection cost ninety-six freaking dollars for thirteen episodes, I did buy it. Because content producers rely on the money brought in from sales of their merchandise in order to fund more content; it’s simple commerce. If I don’t support the things I enjoy, I lose all rights to comment about the content, or to bitch when it goes off the air. Because I’m no longer a consumer, and the producers no longer have any need to please my sensibilities. This is a very simple concept; I don’t understand why it escapes so many people. You pay for stuff, people. Anything else is theft.

I once had a conversation about this with a friend of mine who is an unashamed pirate. He pirates everything, he says. He countered my above argument by saying that “there are plenty of other ways for producers to make money.” I didn’t understand. I sat, grave and silent, trying to parse his argument for a moment, but came up empty.

“That’s very true, there are plenty of other ways to make money,” I replied, finally. “But this is the way that content producers have chosen to make their money.”

It’s the basis of a capitalist economy; you produce something of value, a product, which is then sold on to the people that desire it- consumers- so that you make a profit whereby you can produce more products. Filmmakers, television producers, videogame studios and musicians have opted to use these specific things as their products. The fact that they could make other products- or work for other companies making products- is not a terribly compelling assuagement of guilt and responsibility for stealing their chosen product. And it is stealing; there seems to be this idea that a lot of people share that data- software- is free, or should be. It’s almost like what you’re paying for, when you buy a DVD, is only the case and the disc itself; that the content on the disc isn’t what you’ve paid for. This is simply untrue: when you buy a DVD, what you’re really buying is a license to watch the feature on it as much as you want. You’re buying the feature, not just the delivery mechanism.

It’s the internet that does it. The web is a great global platform, a wonderful mechanism for the free exchange of ideas and knowledge. I love the internet, but there seems to be this prevailing mentality that movies, music and the like are on the same level as ideas and opinions. At least, that’s the high-minded justification that’s often trotted out when one dares make the argument that piracy is theft. Pirates like to play the role of the revolutionary, of modern day Robin Hoods shirking the Hollywood, consumerist system and redistributing product to those who deserve it (and when they say that, they always mean themselves.) I once heard the argument that piracy is a form of idealism; once again, this is merely a veneer of justification.

That friend of mine that I talked about earlier? I kept arguing with him, persisting in my view that piracy is morally wrong, and it became very clear, as we continued, that all his arguments were walls erected around a very simple basic stance: I don’t care, I just don’t want to pay for things.

In the end, that’s what it really comes down to: pirates do not want to pay for the things they consume. And that’s fine, because I don’t really want to pay for them either. I also don’t want to be paying for my groceries. But we live in a capitalist society, and in one of those you pay for the things you want to own. Money is a thing. I’m sorry that you don’t want it to be, but fuck you. You don’t get to steal things just because you don’t agree with the way society is set out. I want to kill people sometimes, but I don’t, because it’s a moral evil according to our society (and many societies, but I’m not getting into an argument about moral relativism here.)

Let’s be clear: there are plenty of instances in which these high-minded, radical ideals that the pirates espouse fall away, and the simple greed underneath is exposed: occasionally downloadable services like Steam will offer game packages where the profits go to charity, and that often you’re allowed to pay whatever price you like. You could pay literally the lowest monetary denomination that exists, but you can bet your fucking ass that people still pirated these things. In one instance, the Humble Indie Bundle, a full quarter of all the people who played it pirated it. So aside from avoiding a very simple moral good, these people opt to commit a moral evil in its place. Stealing from a charity, that’s just good, isn’t it? This is the point where any ideas of defying the money grubbing corporate system disintegrates.

But I’m also not really here to be shrill or accusatory. I’m here to ask a simple question: where does this conflict between producers and pirates leave legitimate consumers like myself? I buy DVDs, games, music… A lot of that stuff, deliberately giving up the monetary advantages of piracy in order to support my favorite production studios. Then, my reward for this is becoming the victim of strictures put in place by the manufacturers to stop the pirates: I’m not just talking about irritating anti-piracy PSAs, folks. I’m talking about region codes, and Digital Rights Management crap. About authentification systems for new games, and whatever else will be employed in future.

Here’s the thing: I bought this stuff. I’m doing exactly what should be done, I’ve fulfilled my side of the bargain. By and large, pirates don’t give a fuck about this stuff. Pirates gonna pirate, it’s sort of in the job description. If they can, they’ll get around whatever copy protection or DRM stuff is put in their way, and if they can’t… well, some might buy the product through legitimate means, but an equal number will surely move onto something a little less challenging to steal. Meanwhile, both sides continue to moralize to me about piracy.

I love getting moralized to by fucking thieves on one side, and by the people I’m allied to on the other. That’s just awesome. Ordinary consumers don’t really seem to factor into this conflict at all; producers seem to think of us as safe, like our business is assured. And pirates don’t really give a fuck about us either, because they aren’t actually striking out at the corporate system; they’re just having a great time stealing stuff. We become caught in the crossfire, like commodities. I hate the idea that some of the money I pay for my games or DVDs goes toward developing new DRM programs or PSAs to lecture me, but what else am I going to do?

It’s a vicious cycle: pirates steal stuff, leading to producers wanting to safeguard their investment via DRM, leading to more consumers becoming dissatisfied and turning to piracy… Welcome to the wheel of idiocy, folks.

But listen. It’s more than that, humans. This is what you are in the dark. I get the feeling that pirates are engaged in an effective little act of doublethink whenever they torrent, download or burn something; telling themselves that they aren’t stealing anything, even as they steal. But it’s maybe time to actually think about this shit. By “what you are in the dark,” I mean, “what you are when you’re all alone.” See, it’s pretty easy to think of piracy as something victimless; whenever you steal something physical, you’re having to take it from somewhere. You have to at least think about the people who actually own it, since you’re on their turf. But piracy is the one kind of theft where you don’t even have to be in physical contact with what you’re stealing. You don’t get to see anyone lose money, and because it’s hard to police, hard to catch the offenders, it’s probably very easy to think of as being above board. Thieves get arrested, I have not been arrested, therefore I am not a thief. But if you pirate, you are.

Far be it from me to be an idealist, but… is that really want you want to be? Buying things actually isn’t hard. I manage it fine, over and over again, and I’m a very lazy human being. Also, I have a wife and two infant children, so I end up having to buy a lot of things. Seriously. That’s not even the point. But this is: I get the feeling that none of you out there wants to be labeled as a thief. Even by yourself. Nobody thinks of themselves as a bad person or a criminal, but that’s kind of what pirating is. A crime. And…

And I could go on about this forever and it wouldn’t do a damn thing. Pirates will defend their right to pirate just as vociferously as copyright holders will defend their right not to be taken advantage of. This isn’t something people can win. Either side, and certainly not consumers. I just wonder where it’s going to end, y’know? Which side will see sense first and understand that nothing the other side can do will change anything?

In the end it just makes me a little tired. I’m tired of having to deal with shit from manufacturers just to get to the product I paid for. The fact that it’s everybody’s fault but mine only makes it worse. Like I said earlier, I think about some odd things, and maybe this seems silly to everyone else, but fuck. It’s my blog, I’ll write about what’s important to me.

I just get the feeling that everybody involved in this thing could lift their game a little, you know?

Actually, anyone reading this, why not post a comment? I’d love to hear from content producers or pirates or whatever: clarify your stance, people!  If you’ve got a view, tell me about it!

 

Kurokami, signing off!