Piracy: My Thoughts
First be forewarned that what you have before you is a serious wall of text. A discussion on piracy on the OCC forums made me put this together and I am feeling that the shows Blog is a better place for this than taking up a few forum posts. So I have put my thoughts together in this editorial. I truly do want to hear your thoughts or opinions on what I have written. We need a serious discussion on piracy within the computing community. We do not need the media industry or law makes but the community to have this discussion and to deal with this issue before others force a solution upon us that will hurt us all.
There is a common theme throughout humans that we see played out in every aspect of life and that is the desire to believe that they are not a bad person. Often they will go on about the opinion of others not mattering and for many this is true, but the opinion of self is always important. With that position in mind, when a person is engaged in an activity that has negative connotations or is perceived bad by others they are put into a position that forces them to look upon their own bad behavior and try to find a way for it to not be bad.
In modern society one of the most common methods for this self-protection of worth is to change the definition of the action by changing what it is called. An example of this is the term date rape which is most often used by those that actually perform the act. They feel that by adding the term date in front of it their behavior is in some way less of a terrible act that pure rape.
Within this same context we find the word game being used by people when it involves online piracy or as the legal term defines it copyright infringement. The term infringement makes the offense sound like something akin to stepping on toes. When it is pointed out to someone that it is actually a form of theft they quickly begin an argument of how nothing is actually stolen, no one is being deprived of their property.
However theft in its many forms is not limited to physical property. For example one can perform a theft of services which is not depriving anyone of anything but instead incurring an extra cost on them to pay for a service they did not receive.
In the same way piracy is theft, you are taking something that you have no right to and making use of it without the permission of the owner of the property, hence theft is occurring. Piracy however seldom stops at just stealing but also involves in most cases the trafficking of those stole goods. Most methods of piracy involve the sharing of the data to facilitate faster file transfers for all. This means not only are you stealing but you are helping others to steal as well. Also most pirates share the material they steal with friends, again trafficking of stolen goods.
Once you get many people engaging in this activity to see this point they will back down but the more die hard will then begin creating excuses for the behavior. They will claim they are drove to it because the companies make things too expensive, or another common excuse that they are hurting no one because they would not have bought it anyway. Perhaps one of the most pathetic excuses, well the game, in this case, is actually broke so they are not getting my money for it.
Now remember we are not talking about someone that is on the streets begging to exist stealing some bread. We are talking about a movie, piece of music or software, not exactly the needs of living. Yet the person in question feels they are somehow justified in their stealing because the company charges to much. Well if they charge to much then do not partake, it is easy after all and you do not need it to survive. They claim they would not have paid for it, so then why use it? If it is not worth your money then it is surely not worth your time. Of course then we have the fun one of it is owed to me. The game they made is broke I will not pay but they owe me the game? Really, you did not buy the game, they owe you nothing?
None of these excuses are about need, they are about greed. The sense of entitlement that we are somehow owed these things and we can take them as we like, in other words steal.
Finally we come to the last place that the pirates seek refuge in order to make themselves believe they are not bad people, the argument that they are not hurting anyone, that this is a victimless crime.
Using just some very conservative estimates of a specific piece of software lets look at that. The Witcher 2 was one of the best RPG releases last year. According to a few different estimates the game was pirated around 30,000 times based on torrent trackers. Now anyone that knows anything about piracy knows that this number represent a fraction of the actual piracy that took place but for this argument let’s say this was ALL that was done. Now let’s say that 50% of these people would never have bought the game if they had not pirated it. That leaves 15000 copies of a brand new game stolen. Based on the current price of the game from Steam which is $40, we are left with the market losing $600,000.
Now remember that this is a single game and we are not looking at just the loss to the publisher but the entire retail chain of the game coming forward. We add in a few more games like Skyrim which would be safe to say had a piracy level higher than Witcher due to its popularity but let’s leave it the same for argument. How about we throw in BF3 and MW 3 as well and do the same, leave the level the same for this example. So now we have four of the biggest releases from 2011 and using a formula that is conservative to the extreme, likely accounting for less than 10 of the real numbers we see a loss to the market of 2.4 million dollars. That is just 4 games, we are not counting the many movies and music and productivity software and so on.
If we are JUST talking about 15000 people of all the piracy from each item and the thousands and more items we are talking about the numbers are pretty big when we look at the loss to the market, sounds like someone is getting hurt there.
Oh I know the argument on your lips already folks and I agree, the artists in the movies or the music who are overpaid to the nuts level are not being hurt. You are right they are not, they have been paid already. Also the publishing houses that live off the efforts of others are not feeling the pinch, your right they are taking a minor dip I am sure in the end. However what about the minimum wage workers that handle all this material? What about the consumers that buy it?
You see that lose has to come from somewhere, that is simple economics. That means the loss is reflected by lower sales and thus less people working, reduced budgets for the next project or an increase in cost to cover the loss in advance.
The hurt of piracy does not end there however; we feel it in our homes as well. You see hardcore pirates use a lot of bandwidth. They use software designed to max out their download speeds so they can “steal” faster. In small communities it only takes a few such people to max out a node for a cable service and cause a reduced amount of bandwidth availability for others; in other words stealing our ability to enjoy the internet.
Now the argument here is that we are blaming them for crappy internet service and this is NOT true. For years the policy has been for an ISP to carry minimal bandwidth due to cost. What they carry is similar to what was done in the days of the dialup modem, a 7 to 1 ratio. The theory is that never more than 1 in 7 people were using the internet at any one time.
In today’s reality we know that with 24/7 internet that is not true but the premise is that only a few people and only for short periods will actually max out the bandwidth offered. This premise BTW is very true with the exception of pirates. See even streaming HD from Netflix does not max out the bandwidth. The stream process is design to pull in bursts that might be high bandwidth but do not stay there. Even if they did they would stay for about an hour and then drop off completely thanks to buffering.
People that test software often might make use of the same tools as pirates but the nature of the tools means they can do their downloads fast, often in a hour or two and then they are done, they do not occupy that bandwidth for days at a time.
When the sensible solution of having the ISP monitor such behavior and throttle the pirates scream the loudest that they are being screwed over. The truth is they are the ones doing the screwing.
In this age of digital access to our media or software, with low costs and even good free alternatives there is no excuse for piracy that can hold up. Yet people every day try to create excuses for bad behavior. They know they do not need the items and yet they do it, they know it is a crime and yet they do it. They blame the companies and society and everything else but do not just except responsibility and when they do they try to hide the bad behavior behind words that do not sound so bad and make them feel better about themselves.
Laws like SOPA and PIPA will not stop piracy, even a new economic model coming from within the industry will not completely stop piracy. There will always be a group of people out there that steal from others. However in the case of piracy we have as a society condoned it, make it okay because we have allowed people to create this wall of illusion around their behavior and said it was okay.
The first step to stopping piracy is not going to come from our government or the media companies; it must come from us, the computing community. We need to stop allowing this to be an acceptable behavior. You would not hang out with a known thief in the real world, would not trust them in your homes, so why do so on the internet? For that matter why do so in real life? Piracy is a crime, it is a theft that is motivated by a pure self-entitled, selfish greed, until we treat it as such it will not go away.