Piracy at Lambert and at large


A crafty student torrents music files from the internet.

Seven out of ten internet users find nothing wrong with online piracy. When those people say that, what do they mean? Most likely it would be that they find nothing ethically wrong with the practice of stealing media and products over the Internet. Some may argue that online piracy is different from stealing. Stealing hurts people and results in physical items being taken from people who will cease to own the items that are taken from them; whereas, piracy typically involves the copying of a file. The owner suffers no loss of property. The pirate merely gains content at the expense of no one. Its file sharing – not file stealing. In other words, pirating is a victimless crime.

This is not the reality that we live. Many content creators are able to create the content that they create solely because of the financial benefits they receive for their labor. The revenue from sales factors into their ability to continue their work. If an individual wishes for follow-ups (e.g. a sophomore album, a video game sequel, another season of the television show), then providing incentives for labor becomes essential, especially for indie artists. One Lambert junior said that he “avoids stealing indie stuff because they should get support, but honestly it doesn’t weigh on [his] conscience.” This quote would suggest that some students find stealing from large corporations (and those that they feel do not need their support) as different than stealing from those who may support themselves independently, and thus are entirely dependent on their own efforts and the funds of their fans.  A Lambert freshman echoed this, saying, “I don’t believe in giving money to a triple-A studio for a game that’s not that good and will only occupy my attention for a few weeks.” A Lambert senior shared that he “didn’t really care considering everyone I listened to was really rich.” These testimonies suggest that many people ignore or excuse their behavior based on their perception of the impact of their actions.

Unfortunately the impact of these decisions is very real for the entertainment industry and those that create said content, regardless as to whether or not they work at a corporation or not. It has been estimated that twelve and a half billion dollars are lost annually to internet piracy in the music industry alone. Seventy-one thousand jobs are lost every year as a result of piracy. A prime example of an incredibly successful piece of media that lost revenue is the James Cameron’s Avatar, which reportedly was downloaded over seventeen million times. Had these viewers paid for their experience, at ten dollars a ticket, the film would’ve made nearly 2 billion additional dollars. At a worldwide gross of nearly $2,787,965,087, it can be anecdotally said that Avatar potentially lost out on two fifths of its potential revenue. Many would say that that doesn’t matter, arguing that the highest grossing film ever released doesn’t need any more money – that due to Avatar’s incredible prestige the results of their decisions to illegally download are irrelevant, that the creators obviously do not need the money. As such, the consumer’s choice to steal the content isn’t important or immoral. A Lambert freshman asserts that pirating video games helps him to assess their quality before buying, stating that companies who make inferior games “don’t deserve my money.”

Justifications can be made to allow piracy in regards to more popular and financially successful entertainment properties. Some, as quoted above, claim to pirate as a means of seeing if they enjoy the product. It can then be assumed that said person would pay for the product should they find it enjoyable. The reverse position to this claim is that the thief’s ability to test a product before purchasing it is entirely based on the fact that it is easy to do so. Anti-piracy proponents would argue that there is no moral standing to support this when applied to other scenarios. One could never eat a meal at Five Guys, with their decision on whether or not to pay being completely dependent on their enjoyment afterwards. What incentive is there to pay for a product when the product has already been consumed? In a free market society, the customer will pay the vendor for their wares with the understanding that there is a risk in making the purchase. Just as a business owner will take a risk in opening their business, those who visit the business take a risk on the quality of the product they receive. Should the product be unsatisfactory, they know that they will avoid purchasing goods from this individual in the future. Just because internet piracy is easy to do – a crime that can be done from the comfort of the home without any worry of being arrested – doesn’t mean that ‘testing’ in such a manner is ethically justifiable or ideologically consistent. If a person would not walk into Best Buy to steal a television under the guise of testing it, or possibly because they believe that Best Buy already has enough money, then doing the same in a virtual setting is no different. Stealing from someone is always stealing, whether or not the person being stolen from is visible or not.

Believing that the impact of a single person is harmless is one explanation that seems to be quite popular. Another would be that many people who pirate claim that they only do so out of necessity. In a survey of fifty-seven Lambert students, ninety-one percent of students who provided the motivation for their piracy claimed that it was due to the fact that they had no money. The aforementioned anonymous junior said that piracy is “how I support my habits because I have little disposable income and I have a passion for film, especially.” This is understandable. Many high school students aren’t even able to drive yet, much less spend their time working after school. The counter-position is that the claim makes the assumption that the consumer is entitled to be entertained. Media is not a necessity. The inability to pay does not give one the right to take from others. Besides, there is an exorbitant amount of free content online. As of 2013, over ninety percent of internet bandwith used is for online video, forty percent of which is on YouTube. The vast, vast majority of YouTube videos are available for only the cost of electricity and an internet connection. When pirates choose to steal copyrighted content, they are doing so because the ability to enjoy what they want without personal expense and choose to do so because it is convenient, not because it is impossible to legally consume media for free.

The ease of internet piracy is also helped by the fact that is easy to do and virtually a zero-risk action. Average Americans are rarely prosecuted or punished in any way for online piracy. In an international survey, three fourths of people felt that users would permanently stop downloading copyrighted content if the same users received warning notices as a precursor to any legal consequences. Others feel that this is largely unnecessary, such as one Lambert senior who states, “I don’t think that piracy is really justifiable but as far as crimes go it hardly ranks higher than jay walking to me.” In that statement we may examine what is possibly the most potent force working against those who oppose piracy: apathy. Another Lambert student said that she is “aware it’s wrong and bad to pirate, but I literally just don’t care.” In the aforementioned survey conducted on the journalism website, nearly three quarters (73.68%) of students believe that piracy is ethically wrong, yet over three fifths (61.4%) report that they pirate. Most report that they typically pirate movies, television shows, and music, two of which generally last between an hour or two and cost upwards of ten dollars. Video games and books, two mediums that generally take more time to complete, were reported as being pirated less (perhaps due to the length of the experience acting as justification for a price tag). This survey largely suggests that, at the very least, Lambert students believe that piracy is wrong but choose to act in a contrary fashion to their personal ethics.

Piracy is wrong. It is wrong morally. It is bad for the pirates, who will not see iterations on the work they enjoy. It is bad for the content creator, who will not be rewarded for their labor. It is not justifiable and there are no excuses for doing so. Individuals are not entitled to entertainment and there is no difference between stealing digital products and physical products. It seems that when this is explained to most people, they agree. Apathy and convenience are the true enemies of piracy. Crunchyroll, an anime streaming service that licenses the vast majority of Japanese animation, began in the June of 2006; in recent years piracy within the community has drastically decreased. After all, a platform has been made available that is easier to use than torrent sites. Music streaming services, such as Spotify and Google Play, also beat out piracy sites by offering an incredibly convenient alternative to theft. The idiom – the customer is always right – may be the best solution to combating revenue losses. Making the process of obtaining a product as easy as possible could prove to be the most important consideration when released media or software. Laziness would be the virtue of the average consumer and the saving grace for artists. Digital stores have been replacing brick-and-mortar stores due to their convenience. Perhaps streaming platforms could replace torrent sites due to their convenience as well.