Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On Morality, Piracy and Sticking it to the Man

DISCLAIMER - This isn't a legal debate but a moral one. The laws are defined by people more powerful than me. When I'm in a position to do something about the laws I'll start making those debates.

Admittedly I have been known to pirate certain things, some of them I feel a small twinge of guilt in doing so, some I feel no guilt whatsoever, and in a few cases I feel my actions are not only warranted but I feel an obligation to encourage others to do the same. I wanted to touch on a bit of this to help work out my feelings on supply, demand and creation.

Music - Since the advent of itunes I have almost stopped pirating music altogether. I can buy songs I like on an individual basis, it's quick and easy for me to support artists I like, and I can download a song at work to listen to on my ipod on my way home. I've heard (but not verified) that artists get a bit better percentage for their works from apple which makes me more inclined to want to use that as well.

I generally hate the RIAA and how it was exploiting recording artists and generally diminishing music as an art form by favoring engineered beats that are designed to get stuck in your head. This arguement has it's flaws I realize but it's an opinion, not a fact. I also didn't care to pay $20.00 for a CD which I only liked 2 songs on. itunes has fixed that, so I no longer have the inclination or feel morally obligated to pirate music.

PDFs - The only PDF's I actively use are RPG PDF's, and admittedly when I pirate these I do feel a bit guilty for doing so. I do a few things to assuage this guilt though. Games that I actually want to play or end up playing will enevitably be bought in dead-tree form by me, and games that I'm enthusiastically involved in I'll usually buy the PDF on the day it's released and then order the dead tree from the bookstore when it becomes available. I don't complain about this, however companies that offer some way for me to get a PDF as a bonus for purchasing a book have my gratitude.
Most PDF's I do actually pirate are games that I just want to peruse, like leafing through one on a bookshelf. Not justification I know, but I feel that perhaps it's a bit better that the book got out there a bit because otherwise I'd have never taken that look.

Warhammer - This is a subset of RPG's that deserves special mention because I feel morally obligated to pirate the shit out of their miniatures. I have a friend who casts silicone molds and though some of the finer warhammer miniatures aren't castable, there's a lot of stuff that is. If he actually had the capability to mold an entire army-line of miniatures I would probably start playing Warhammer again just for the satisfaction of knowing that I was screwing them in my own small way. They over-priced their product long ago, and frankly I find their business model offensive. Given the lack of a viable way to pirate their stuff, I'm more than happy to boycott them, even while living within a block of probably one of the best venues for playing Warhammer in the northern hemisphere.

Movies - I go to the theatre, I buy movies on Blu Ray when they're available, and DVD if they're truly exceptional, and would support them more if more blu ray titles were available where I live, regrettably they're not. TV shows I feel should be legitimized on the torrents complete with advertising. They're easily trackable so ad revenue is simple to get. It's not my fault that the studios aren't capitalizing on this opportunity.

Programs - I don't pirate computer games anymore. Steam makes them quite accessible. Certain microsoft products like older versions of Office seem justified for piracy (older versions of lots of things really). There is still a small black pit of hatred in my heart for antivirus software that I would pirate if I could... but that's an excercise in futility. If you own a PC you have to pay for antivirus, anything less and you're asking to be screwed.
Adobe is another one of those special exceptions. While their creative suite software is extremely expensive, I can't say if it's overpriced or not, I know that I can't afford it, but I like to use it. A slight moral justification is that the pirated versions are teaching me how to use their products which may eventually lead to me buying a legitimate copy. Acrobat however I feel very strongly that EVERYONE should pirate! I really like interactive PDF's for character sheets, but without Acrobat Pro, interactive sheets can't be saved with their changes which is a deliberate withold of functionality that I just cannot forgive. If Adobe included the ability to save interactive PDFs in their reader, my stance would change.

Most of my opinions are independent of quality of product or my opinion of the business ethics of the company. They're strictly based on if I think the product is available easily and for a fair price. Apple I know has some very harsh mandates on it's employees and it's ipod app approval process is bordering on despicable but I will continue to give them my money because they offer a product that meets my expectations for a reasonable price and make it accessible easily.

Lastly, from a moral standpoint copyright infringement is not theft. Theft is taking something from someone so that they don't have it anymore. Copyright infringement takes nothing from anyone and in 90% of the scenarios where the product was pirated, I would have never have payed for that product anyways and of that remaining 10% probably 5% was simply me demoing the product before buying, so it is a very rare case where I've actually deprived any creator of cash they would have otherwise gotten.

I'm interested in hearing what other people's personal stances are on the whole issue. Some of my friends are content creators out there and are trying to make a living doing so, they're people I wouldn't want to hurt by depriving them of cash or creating holes in their business model. There are also questions of availability. If pirated content is easier to obtain than legitimate, isn't that a case of poor market availability?


  1. I think the piracy issue is fading somewhat by virtue of cheaper "legit" versions of what is sort after.

    I was introduced to "The Wire" from a torrent from a 3rd party. Loved the series and found K-Mart had 4 seasons on the shelf at a reasonable price.

    In a couple of minutes I had all 4 seasons without having to trawl for any torrents or manage my net usage. Seems to me the advent of torrents has had a positive impact on the price.

    Here in Oz we also suffered with movie releases well beyond their release dates in the US. In some cases over a year later. It doesn't happen these days because the torrents would pull the numbers down at the box office.

    Being out in the Bush we don't get every movie release so I have often used the service to catch a new flick. If it's a goodun like the latest Star Trek on Dragonballz, then I hit the cinema when it finally gets here to enjoy it as it should be seen.

    I currently have a legit copy of the latest Windows due to having bought a new tower. I have been know to use other means before now due to unhappiness with how Microsoft have behaved over the years. Considering I've been propping up the Gates product all these years I feel well justified.

  2. I've never tried to pirate windows, my impression is that they make it pretty tough to do so. I'm also of the opinion that it would be better to just use ubuntu or kubuntu instead of going through the hassle of pirating windows. The interconnectivity of microsoft products these days means that it's just too likely a pirated copy of that OS will bite you in the butt somehow.

  3. True enough these days. I have had to mend my ways simply to avoid any extra stresses.

    In the early days I had no hope of affording the genuine article but had to be able to support their suite of products. In more recent times my employers provided the software which made things much easier.

    Played around with a few versions of Red Hat but didn't really have a User group to fall back on. Once the current jobs finish I may have another play.

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