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That is the question…

napster file sharing copyright piracyIf you’ve heard the word “Napster” in the past decade, then you know it’s become irrevocably associated with the systematic destruction of the entertainment industry. The claims about torrenting ruining the financial state of the entertainment industry echo the sentiment expressed by Jack Valenti when he said before a court in 1982, “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”

There is no doubt that piracy is perceived as an immoral act, particularly by the people suffering through the financial woes of running a billion dollar industry. As for the question of the morality behind sharing media, your answer would elicit many reactions that can extend from “you’re stealing from the artists” to “want me to burn you a copy of (insert artist’s name here)?”

David Pogue, a well-known technology columnist for Yahoo Tech, commented on this issue in a blog post for the NY Times. He attributed the current spectrum of grey areas surrounding piracy to the younger generation. The more interesting aspect of his article was his experience during one of his talks where he asked the audience a variety of questions to gauge their opinions on sharing or ripping media.

Some of these questions included the following:

  • “I borrow a CD from the library. Who thinks this is wrong?”
  • “I own a certain CD, but it got scratched. So I borrow the same CD form the library and rip it to my computer.”
  • “I record a movie off of HBO using my DVD burner. Who thinks that’s wrong?” (He mentioned about how time-shifting is completely legal, though in the same sentence mentions morality)

This next question was dropped at a different venue for a college, but illustrates a contrast in comparison to the other questions asked:

  • “You want a movie or an album. You don’t want to pay for it. So you download it. Who thinks that might be wrong?”

After this question was asked, only 2 our of the 500 attendees raised their hand in agreement. The conclusion of Pogue’s blog was that there is a definitive generational gap on those who think that piracy is morally wrong and those who don’t.

One thing Pogue fails to realize is that when it comes to media piracy, the morality argument is a shaky ground on which to place your soapbox.

Though what exactly does the morality argument involve?

piracy riaa copyright file sharingThe RIAA and a number of other organizations have made sure to pound it into our heads that the artists must be paid. This is an interesting statement considering that some of these organizations have been known to not pay artists with piracy settlement moneylobby to have royalty rates reduced and underpay on royalties. All-in-all, they have shown themselves to be pillars of morality self-interest when it comes to making sure artists get their due.

William Patry, a copyright lawyer for over 30 years, made an interesting comment in a blog post entitled “Copyright and Morals.”  Alluding to the tactics of self-invested politicians he said, “Morality is used in the Copyright Wars as a way to cover up the inability to justify expansion of rights on economic grounds.”

So where does that leave us in the discussion of piracy as an issue of morality?

If anything it makes the situation more confusing when the people dictating the moral terms are engaging in the same behavior, albeit legal behavior, of the those they decry and working for their own self-interests.

Also, I don’t believe there are many people out there who don’t support paying artists for their work, even if they’re Taylor Swift and completely unaware of how Spotify works.

On the moral flipside, and despite what the RIAA would have you believe, piracy does carry some benefits for artists. For instance, a study done by the Canadian Government found that, “When assessing the P2P downloading population, there was ‘a strong positive relationship between P2P file sharing and CD purchasing. That is, among Canadians actually engaged in it, P2P file sharing increases CD purchases’.”

Another study brings up an interesting point in its introduction noting that, “File sharing lowers the price of music, which draws in low-valuation individuals who would otherwise not have purchased albums.” It also puts a dent in the RIAA narrative stating, “We find that file sharing has only had a limited effect on record sales. After instrumenting for downloads, the estimated effect of file sharing on sales is not statistically distinguishable from zero.”

There’s also the matter of sampling. If someone is unsure of an album, they can download it to check the quality of the music. If the music is terrible, then there’s a good chance they would not have purchased the CD in the first place.

Now, what do you think? Is media piracy a definitive moral issue or is it more complex?

Jon Schear

Staff Writer

Graphic and web designer by day, amateur digital artist/illustrator and writer for Techraptor by night. When I’m not doing any of those things, you can find me getting extremely angry in WoW as I watch my Moonkin get killed multiple times in PVP or drinking scotch.

  • Typical

    Everything’s going to a rental model anyway with pandora, netflix, etc. They are going to redefine the distribution, and still not pay artist’s their due.

  • Cytos Lpagtr

    regardless of morality, people will use it.

    imagine being able to teleport everywhere from home, but there are teleportation stations all around you that you have to drive towards, get in, and only then arrive at your destination.
    i know what id do.

    sure you are hijacking the quantum datastream illegally, reversing the destination polarity, and then rereversing it virtually using a hijacked hub in Rusia, bypassing paywalls. but at some point its just the ineptitude of the teleportation providers fault for not offering a legal way to teleport from home sooner, as it was clearly very possible.

    some people, like to feel like they where there when it all started, these people start fads
    other people notice the fad, and then join in to make it more popular
    the last group of people is always behind on the curve

    if you are catering to a consumer base that happens to live in the information age, but only provide services to the last 2 types of people, well..

    lets just say piracy is too easy, even with the crackdown on torrent sites, my 12 years old brother still manages to acquire everything he wants after i thought him years ago

    as for me, i keep a list of games that i play. if i happened to have pirated the game, i put a price on the experience, and then just wait for a steam sale to drop the price to around that level (or in the best case scenario, buy it for full price). i started pirating a lot less once i had a job, though, i still do it occasionally. the main reason i pirate less is that i have so many games in my library that i still need to play 😛 why pirate if i have all these legal games.

    welp, back to titans quest

  • Yep.

    This recent bout of licensing BS is really infuriating. I was reading this article about how an attorney for GM is trying to claim that anyone who buys their cars are merely licensing it from them since the software that runs it and basically makes it work, is copyrighted by GM.

  • Typical

    Well, we’ve allowed this to happen with our crazy copyright laws.

  • Psichaos

    Honestly piracy to me is a political tool to be utilized. I don’t agree with the MPAA and RIAA buying out politicians and pushing for strict anti-consumer laws with my money, so naturally I’ve chosen means to deny them my money, whether it’s by finding and supporting indie or foreign made media or other means. If I could support artists and directors without putting money in scummy execs and corrupt politicians I would do it in a heartbeat. But often times that’s not the case.

  • Cred

    don’t have the sources here but I’ve read there’s a correlation between those that pirate a lot and buy a lot, biggest pirates are also biggest consumers
    and works that get a lot of piracy also end getting more audience and eventually sales as well

    there’s also a huge difference between piracy when it’s file sharing because someone buys it and shares it vs conterfeit sales where someone makes a fake and sells it to people or when someone rips the content that’s not public and shares it such as leaks

  • I completely agree, and try to practice the same strategy. I’ll usually buy from an indie artist if I know they’re getting the full amount of money.

  • Italy GG

    To me piracy is useful because gamedevs stopped providing demos, and replaced them with pre-rendered trailers (sometimes containing false info, looking at you Rome 2), hyped up features that won’t make it to release and general marketing.
    I pirate every single game before buying it (and it’s legal in my country). If it’s actually what was promised I’ll then buy one or several copies depending on how good it is. Even if I didn’t like the game, if it was true to what they claimed it is I will buy it.
    Ironic that they claim piracy is anti-industry, while it’s also the only way to prevent falling for anti-consumer stuff.
    The AAA industry started using gamers as cows to hoard and milk, started cutting off pieces of games to resell them as DLC and all that, made DRM to control your products remotely and now hides behind piracy as an excuse to justify it all?
    Give me a break.


    I err on the side of sharing. I’m ok with purchasing the copyrighted work if it’s in a format I prefer to consume the work in, in a marketplace I am ok with buying it in, and if the creator does NOT have a history of sending legal threats to people making fan works or lewds. In those cases, piracy all the way.

    I have a very sour taste in my mouth from all the communities that have been destroyed by the MAFIAA and all the technological progress that was abandoned as a result.

    Internet culture has been castrated by the MAFIAA and it pisses me off to no end. But I understand and acknowledge a need for copyright.