Is piracy helpful? Kirk has some ideas.

Once upon a time, I pirated movies, television shows, music, and software without feeling the slightest measure of guilt. There are many ways that I used to justify this shameless disregard for the artists of the entertainment industry. In some ways I still think that piracy is warranted ethically if not legally. Although I have not given up piracy completely, the media world has changed dramatically and thus negated some of the excuses that I once used.

When I was in college, as I was introduced to piracy through a friend who had a then rare home broadband connection and a piece of software known as Napster, I was poor. I was the typical broke college student. I paid for music from the artists that I already knew about and whose music I knew I would enjoy. What I was downloading was merely for discovery purposes. These were artists that I would never have had a chance to listen to in that era. If anything, it broadened my taste. I probably bought more music as a result.

In the ten plus years since then we have music subscription services like Spotify, Google Play Music, and now Apple Music. I listen to most of the music I want through one of these services and do occasionally purchase an album I would like to own. The fact is, legal music adapted to what the consumer wanted. I could still be pirating music, but the paid alternative is more attractive. Which brings me to another justification that I once used and still, in some respects, do.

The industry has to compete. Prior to high speed internet, folks had to put up with any antiquated system that any of these media companies wanted to use for distribution. There was no alternative and would not have been any alternative without high speed internet. The technology to distribute content in a more user friendly way was there long before the big media companies decided to take advantage of them. I contend that without piracy, big media companies would never have been motivated to offer content on services like Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, Steam, or any of the other digital content service providers that exist in the wake of piracy.

Big media companies are champions of capitalism. In a capitalist system one has to compete with any other service providers. That does include black markets in this case. At first they resisted. They tried to sue their way back into the game. They were used to having control over the method of distribution and did not want to make changes for the kids of tomorrow. Eventually they have started seeing that they would have to offer a more alluring alternative to piracy. It wasn’t hard. Piracy can be clunky. Do you think I am going to pirate a movie or series that I can find on Netflix? Not a chance. It is so much easier to use Netflix and have a library of content at my fingertips. I even tend to choose something that is on Netflix over something else that I maybe wanted to watch which is not. This all because of the efficiency over piracy that Netflix provides. In that light, content providers are losing money by failing to provide it through such a service.

As much as I would like to say that I am a pillar of progress and that through only viewing content which is available through these types of services I am only supporting those content providers, I cannot. I have found that currently airing television series are still served superiorly to me through piracy. I think that network fragmentation is culprit there. Hulu has tried to offer a solution to that issue, but those particular content providers are still too greedy to go for it. I am pretty sure someone could improve on Hulu anyhow. Sorry, but serving ads along with subscription content will not fly.

So, dear reader, what do you think? Has your use or justification of piracy changed with the times? If you were a user of early services like Napster, do you still pirate to the same extent or at all today? Was it ever really justified or would we have progress just the same without it? Let me know your thoughts.

Kirk Aug

Kirk is still the new guy around here.  He is added some gravitas and intelligence to the group. Follow him on twitter @kirkaug