Random Thoughts

Modern Day Pirates

by Mattias Våglin

A long time ago, back when this column had a website all to itself, I mentioned that I was going to write about my thoughts on internet piracy. I even had what I was going to write outlined in my head to a fairly large degree. But in the end, I never did. Until now. I know it’s been done to death and that everyone pretty much already has their opinion on the matter, unlike when I originally was going to write this way back when. Still, this is something I just have to get out of my system.

In the public eye it all started with Napster a few years ago. With an easy to use interface and implemented search engine it quickly became extremely popular for anyone trying to find music on the web. Mp3s had been available before then, but finding them took a lot more work and knowledge. With Napster it all became easy. And this made the record companies scared. They managed to get Napster to close down, but the damage had already been done. File sharing was now known to the masses and it wasn’t going away.

Napster was replaced with a slew of other programs, some successful, some not. Most of the more popular programs had many of the same features that Napster had, which includes the easy interface and integrated search engine. In a way it seems like the file sharing community is like the legendary hydra – cut off one head and two more will grow in its place.

It took them long enough, but in the end the record companies finally gave up. At least in a way. They realized that digital music is the future and not the enemy and thus iTunes was born. The question is if it isn’t too little too late. I’ll get back to this.

During all this there has been another development that greatly affected the face of sharing files online – high speed internet becoming more and more common. All of a sudden a lot of people can download larger files such as movies in less than an hour. This means not only the music industry feels threatened by all this, but the movie and software industries as well.

And this is when history starts to repeat itself. While the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) are suing anyone they can find that’s sharing music, their movie counterpart MPAA (Movie Producers Association of America) has begun a campaign against the currently most popular file sharing program – BitTorrent. While they’ve had some success, such as closing the network’s flagship Suprnova, no real progress has been made. New BitTorrent sites keep popping up faster than MPAA can get them to close down.

It’s just amazing that they haven’t learned from past mistakes. The music industry got scared about a medium they couldn’t control and tried to fight it. With no success. And now the movie industry is doing the same thing. It’s quite simple really, people want to be able to get movies and music (and software) over the internet and if the producers of said material won’t supply it people will go through other channels. And once the producers realize that fighting the new technology is pointless (because it is) it may already be too late. Once people get used to getting things for free it takes a lot to change their mind. Had the music companies started some online distribution scheme back in the day when Napster appeared, things may have been a lot different. And the same is true for the movie industry now. Don’t fight it, use it.

If I was writing for a paper or similar this column would probably have ended with that statement, since it’s better to focus on one thing and do it properly rather than branching out. But screw that. My column, my rules. Besides, I have another angle to explore in regards to all this.

I’ve already established that I think different publishers are handling everything just wrong, but what about us consumers? Are we really entitled to downloading whatever we want whenever we want? And are we entitled to do so for free? That’s actually a trickier question to answer than it may seem.

I’m going to put all the legal issues aside though. Yes, sharing files is illegal in the eyes of the law and downloading is not (at least not in Sweden). That’s not the point though. Instead, I am going to focus a little on whether I think it’s right to do so. To do that I need to think a little about why people download.

As I see it there are a few different reasons. Some download because they simply don’t want to pay for stuff. Some because they can’t afford to buy anything (and yes, the two are different). Some download to get stuff they can’t otherwise get a hold of and some download because they can. And then there are the people who download stuff to try them out and if they like them they go out and buy them.

The last group is the easiest. Trying out a product before you buy it is your right as a consumer and don’t let anyone tell you anything different. At least as long as everything that isn’t bought in the end is deleted. I can’t really blame people who download things they can’t get otherwise either, at least not if they would buy it if they could. So that’s two down.

On the other side I don’t really like people who just don’t want to pay for stuff. After all people make a living out of what they are downloading and as such they deserve to get paid for it. Some may get paid more than they deserve, but that’s beside the point. And if they don’t get paid they can’t produce the stuff that’s being downloaded anyway so it’s a losing situation for everyone.

I’m a bit on the fence on people who download stuff just because they can and they’re in a minority anyway so that leaves us with people that download stuff they can’t afford. Now this is the gray area. Not affording stuff isn’t really a good excuse why you should get things for free, that’s just not the way the world works. But on the other hand if they get something of the internet that they never would have been able to buy anyway, no one has really lost any money. I guess this for me comes down to intent a little. Or to be more specific what they will do once they actually start making enough money to be able to buy things. In the end it doesn’t matter what I think though, people only have to justify their actions to themselves.

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