On things that aren’t ours

So here’s the problem: I’ve long wanted to write about piracy and the like for software/music, but struggled with finding a balance between the obvious heavy handed route, and so lightweight that it doesn’t really leave an impact. I’ve never wanted this blog to be preachy and overwrought. Okay, everything I write is overwrought, you have me there, but preachy is still out. I don’t want to be the high horse guy. So hopefully this is centred and reasoned.

My own history on the subject of piracy is mixed- I had Napster in the tail end of the “hey, we can get music for free!” golden age, and only in the last several years found a moral footing that fits what I really think, and I can easily talk about at parties (and, again, get appropriately self-righteous about). In summary: I used to do it. I don’t now.

In thinking for quite a while on it, I’ve come to believe that it’s not as simple as whether you can afford it, or whether you don’t want to pay for it. It does, to a point, come down to what we value. Stealing something tangible? No, we won’t do that. We’ll pay $1500 for a computer, $500 for an iPhone, $200 a month for insurance, $60 a month for that data plan (but not $10 for a bank account, though that’s diverging more into work than I care to). But there are some who won’t buy games/music.

My viewpoint on a lot of things has changed over the last several years. Working and learning and having life experiences has changed how I understand the world, and how I think the pieces fit together. Though we may individually consider ourselves drops in the ocean, everything we do has an impact. Piracy is not a victimless crime.

So let’s deal with the products that tend to get pirated. Economics is, at it’s core, supply, and demand. Products are priced at a point where companies believe that demand and supply will be exactly where they need to be. There are those that object to high prices, and supposedly lining the pockets of corporations in purchasing things. That’s a noble enough line, on it’s surface. No one’s forcing you to buy it. But you still want that computer game. You NEED it.

So, you’ve found your game, it’s on your computer. You get your torrent program, let your computer run overnight, and get your game. You’ve  successfully beaten Insert Name Of Big Game Corporation, got your fake CD key, and can buy more groceries this month. You got it for free. Congratulations!

Here’s where it collapses:  It wasn’t free to make. The corporation has $60 less on it’s balance sheet, sure. But who made that game? The testers who worked 60-hour weeks in crunch time to iron out the bugs. The marketers who made fancy commercials with that really annoying guy to promote it. The coders who drink far too much caffeine in a day. The guy who spent time on the interface, making pretty buttons that cast all those spells. The dude who made that box art for the collector’s edition (box art you don’t get to enjoy, granted, but still). Among many, many others.

You didn’t pay for that game. Some others did. What makes you more special than them? I’m asking honestly. If it sucks, and no one buys it, fine. Companies live and die on quality every week. That’s the nature of the beast. But we need to keep in mind that when we steal something, it affects things well beyond our account balance.

I’ve also heard the argument (mostly with music) that people want to “support the artists”. Another noble line. The exciting thing about this new, fancy, digital age is there are so many ways we can get media now. iTunes gives us individual songs instead of whole CDs. Every year, independent game companies and bands cut out the middleman more and more, releasing on the internet. If you don’t want to get everything from a big store, head to Google- if it exists, you can find it.

Additionally, no one’s forcing any band to do anything. You think they don’t know what they get into when they sign a contract (usually)? You think they don’t know it’s a business? It’s sad to say sometimes, but it’s how the world works.

I guess the summary is this: If you truly value getting the money to the creators, then there are ways of doing that. If you’re just looking to save money, that’s where it gets less explicable. Somewhere in that process, you’re cheating actual people, and you need to know that you are. I get not wanting to feed a fat cat CEO- who did put in work to get where he was, it should be noted- but you’re not just screwing him, you’re screwing people as well.

What it comes down to is what we value. How we act will reflect those values. If how you approach piracy is something you can justify, then a few poorly written words on the internet from me aren’t going to change your mind. If it isn’t something you can justify, then I encourage you to find a path that fits with your values.

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