Ethical Piracy

Written by: NetworkError, on 01-12-2008 12:22
Last update: 10-04-2009 21:35
Published in: Public, Musings and Soap Boxes
Views: 8756

Update: I found a pretty good article out on Digg.com about this.

“Piracy is bad.” - Corporate America
“Piracy is good.”  - The Pirates
“Piracy is only as good as the pirate doing the pirating.”  - NetworkError

On today’s issue of the soap box, I’d like to explore “Ethical Piracy”.  My target audience is pirates.  My hope is that a few will read this and take it into consideration when choosing how to conduct their black-market activities.

Fact 1:  Pirates often operate outside the bounds of the law because they demand a product or service that either isn’t available for the right price or isn't available in the desired form.  This is a failing on the part of the content producers.

Pirates who conduct themselves ethically can effect positive change in the market.  Pirates can put enormous pressure on content producers to fix prices, quality, etc...  Pirates can cut out greedy middle-men by obtaining content illegally and contributing money directly to the artists who produce the work.  Pirates can negate the effectiveness of consumer-controlling business practices by circumventing technologies like DRM.

Fact 2:  On the flip side, there is a tendency for pirates to get greedy and refuse to pay a fair price for goods and services.  This is a failing on the part of the pirates.

Pirates who conduct themselves greedily cause trouble for everyone.  Their failure to contribute harms content producers and gives the pirate community a bad name.

So how can pirates operate ethically?

I think there are two guidelines that each pirate can follow to fix the problems in the pirate community.

First, it’s important to understand that pirates operate on the honor system.  Since they’re usually beyond the reach of the law, it is up to each individual to conduct himself or herself in a manner that is not harmful to content producers, whenever possible.  Unfortunately, “honor” isn’t something that’s taken very seriously in today’s culture.  I think this cultural deficiency is the root this problem (and many others, IMO).  However, among the pirate community, a pirate’s honor should be closely guarded and of paramount importance.  Honor before greed.  This means exercising restraint and not pirating when you feel it is wrong.

Second, it’s important to understand that producers must be paid a fair price for their goods if they are to stay in business.  Caveat:  You may decide middle-men who artificially inflate prices to pad margins may not be entitled to full payment.  (I’m looking at your, RIAA and MPAA members!)  Or you may decide the product isn't worth its list price.  However, you shouldn’t rob the content producers.  You are empowered to pay content producers what you think a product is worth.

Where is your moral compass set?

I hope the pirate community can conduct itself more respectably in the future.  To that end, I have some “what ifs” to give your moral compass something to think about.

If you purchase a movie or see it in theaters, you pay royalties.  The people making the movie get paid.  If you want to own a high-def version (let’s say you own the VHS or DVD version), you can easily obtain a high-def rip from the pirate community.  Is this ethical?  What if you saw the movie in theaters a few times?  What if you saw it in theaters once?

If you want to sample a game, movie, or music before purchasing, you can easily obtain a copy from your friendly neighborhood pirates.  Upon sampling, you decide not to purchase.  Is this ethical?  What if you delete your pirated copy?

If you want something that’s out of print and obtain it via piracy, is this ethical?

You obtain your favorite band’s discography via piracy.  Is this ethical?  What if you attend a few concerts?  What if you own a few of their CDs?  What if you send a "donation" to the band?

If you obtain a band’s discography via piracy, but you don’t listen to it often, is this ethical?

You purchase a game (like Unreal Tournament 2003) that totally sucks.  A year later, the producers release a finished version (like Unreal Tournament 2004) that works correctly and is fun to play.  You pirate the later release.  Is this ethical?

If you pirate software that is too expensive for your budget, is this ethical?  What if you use the software to make money?  What if you rarely use the software?

If you purchase a game and get a no-cd crack, is this ethical?  What if you pass out copies at a LAN party?  What if you ask everyone to delete the copies after the party ends?

You buy a used game and run into Digital Rights Management software that limits the number of installs you can perform.  To bypass it, you download a crack.  Is this ethical?

You download a game and get tired of it after a month.  You delete it.  Is this ethical?

Conclusions…
The point of this exercise is to calibrate your moral compass.  Which pirating activities feel honest and which feel like steeling?  Remember, content isn’t free and the people producing it need to get paid.  By choosing to pirate, you choose who gets paid and how much they get paid.  Vote with your dollar and don't get greedy.

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