28 November, 2010
This biting comment from the most amusing Death Star PR is well taken. It still seems you’re more likely to go to jail for messing with powerful people’s money than for something that actually hurts people. Having said that, and acknowledged the Death Star’s point, a reality check:
If you’re not doing and/or facilitating anything illegal, why call yourself the Pirate Bay? It’s a bit of a giveaway. Part of the definition of a pirate is one who acts outside the law. And can we also accept that taking something without paying for it with the intent to permanently deprive is in fact stealing? It doesn’t matter if you feel you have a good reason to, it’s still stealing.
For a decade now, we have heard rationalisation of illegal downloading.
“It’s not stealing, it’s sharing.”
No it isn’t. If I share a bottle of wine with you, every drop that you drink is a drop that I can’t. It’s a zero sum equation. “Sharing” music online is like buying one bottle of wine and stealing a case to “share” with your friends – or any random passer-by for that matter.
“I’m helping the artist by giving them exposure.”
Yeah, right. Exposure doesn’t pay the rent, and most musicians aren’t as rich as you think they are. Fame does not equal fortune and downloading for promotion only increases the gap between recognition and return.
“Hey, record companies have been screwing artists for years anyway. We’re fighting back.”
Oh great! So you’re going to fight back by denying your favourite artists what little reward they would have gotten if you’d paid for it. They must love you for that.
“It’s no different to borrowing books from the library.”
Yes it is. When you borrow a book from the library, you don’t get to keep it. Also, authors are paid royalties for library borrowings. It’s a pittance, but they are paid.
“I download to check it out and if I like it I buy it.”
I pay this one, for those who actually do. But if you think this is how the majority of downloaders operate, then I’ll sell you a bridge to.... well, you get the idea.
“If record companies and film studios made better stuff and charged a reasonable price, then I’d pay for it.”
But as it stands, it’s good enough to steal, just not good enough to pay for. Following this logic, it’s okay to steal from McDonald’s because it’s not very good. If you see a jacket that you’d be prepared to pay $50 for but the store is charging $150, does that give you the right to take it without paying anything?
I’m not suggesting that downloading is bad in and of itself. Many artists make their work available for free, they use BitTorrent for distribution, they put their films on YouTube. That’s fine if it’s at the artist’s discretion. If one store offers free samples, that doesn’t make it okay to take from the store next door.
I’m no angel. I’ve downloaded stuff. For instance, I have no qualms about downloading music that I have already bought on vinyl. According to my personal ethics, I’ve already bought that album, but technically, it’s still illegal and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.
Fining and jailing the founders of the Pirate Bay may seem heavy handed, but they knew (or at least should have known) that they were operating in a grey area of the law. Many similar sites closed down, sensing that they game was up. No, they didn’t give anyone cancer or facilitate murder, and that fact that those who do go free is a fair comment. Stealing from musicians, filmmakers and software developers is not going to make the tobacco companies and arms dealers go away though. It would be cool for people who have benefitted from the Pirate Bay’s services to all chip in and help them pay £4.1million fine – but I expect they’ll just keep taking as much as they can take.