Before the Internet came along, people had some behaviors strangely similar to digital pirates. And they didn't have the slightest notion that what they were doing was wrong.
Have you ever loaned a book to a friend? Used a cassette tape to record a song from the radio? Made a mix tape for a crush? Borrowed a movie? Borrowed a CD? Copied a CD? Read a book from the library? Read a book or a magazine in a bookstore without buying anything?
You might think these activities aren't like piracy at all. It's true they're not exactly the same, but they share something in common; piracy and all the activities I mentioned above are ways that people enjoy entertainment or read information for free that would normally be sold as a paid product. What big industries seem to be complaining about is losing sales because people gained access to products without paying.
So I fail to see why it’s okay to get book XYZ from a library, but not from The Pirate Bay. The end result—reading the book—is exactly the same.
If you want to call one immoral and not the others, that's really an arbitrary distinction.
The financial divide
I've seen a few people indignantly say that Digital Pirates should have to pay for things just like the rest of us.
What about the people who couldn't buy a thing if it weren't free? You know, poor people. That's at least 15% of the US population by conservative use of the term poverty. It's easy to be high and mighty and say that those people who enjoy what they don't pay for have an inflated sense of entitlement. If you say they should just learn to live without access to all the written information that money can buy, I'd argue that you're promoting information distribution based upon class.
The legal bastion for the poor is the library. But while there's been an explosion of e-books, most of them aren't and won’t be available in the library any time in the near future. Even though some libraries are now lending digital copies, it's highly restricted by arbitrary lending limitations that are a whole other topic. It's becoming extremely difficult to find specific, newly published books available in a library.
When you've already paid
What if you already own a physical copy of a book? You've already paid for it once, but if you want to read it on a screen or be able to search your books using ctrl+f, you're legally supposed to pay more money to access information you've already paid for. And don't forget, in the places most people get their e-books, what you're purchasing is a non-transferable license to read the information in specific formats or locations. DRM is used to prevent you from reading content you've paid for on a rival e-reading devices. Somehow, in moving to a platform that enables more freedom, policies manage to further minimize the buyer's abilities.
Why is a physical book not a license to read the information in any format?
Why is format important at all?
Format is nothing more than the way information is represented in the ones and zeros on my hard drive or on the physical pages of my book. DRM freaks me out. The idea that rearranging the ones and zeros on my hard drive in the privacy of my own home could possibly be illegal blows my mind. I'm not talking about distribution here. I’m talking about the fact that if my computer is completely disconnected from every other device in the world and I happen to rearrange some 1s and 0s in a way that circumvents DRM, I've just committed a crime. No one knows it happened unless they’re invading my privacy.
People don't care if you're a pirate
Almost everyone I meet is fine with acts of piracy. While I feel judged to admit to my coworkers that I don't eat meat, and I have other topics I don't feel comfortable bringing up with casual acquaintances, freely talking about pirating activities is completely accepted and doesn't raise a single eyebrow. These are decent people, corporate workers with families.
But they don't care if I'm a pirate because they are too. What other crime can you admit to so freely in social situations with so little fear of offending anyone at all? I've mentioned it in job interviews (yes, plural) and still been offered the jobs.
The worst that might happen is your non tech savvy family members and friends will ask if you can get Breaking Bad on DVD for them. Or all of the Harry Potter books in a Kindle friendly format.
Only the profit driven industries are angry
To be honest, the illegality of digital piracy makes perfect sense with our strange ideas about ever-expanding, capitalist consumerism. But I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as infinite economic growth.
“Anyone who believes in indefinite growth on a physically finite planet is either mad or an economist.”
The GDP grows every year, but that won’t always be the case. And maybe it shouldn't be the case. And maybe the knowledge in our world shouldn't be locked up behind paywalls.
Is someone who reads thousands of dollars of textbooks without paying for the right to do so doing something harmful...or becoming a more knowledgeable and useful member of society? I say read on.
Photo credit: Pirate Flag by fdecomite