Once again I come across an article discussing the legality of downloading software from various sources on the Internet. As I read the article above I already had my own view on downloading content through “other” channels. As I read through the comments, I came across very few arguments I have never heard before. All-in-all, my personal thoughts about the matter didn’t change. I always get frustrated with people who take the supporting side, for many reasons; which I will bring up here. But first, let’s go over a few things.
Thing 1: the Evil Studios just want more Money
The MPAA, RIAA, and everyone else with billion dollar content claims piracy is ruining their business and destroying them financially. This is simply not true. Sure, if all those pirates out there bought their copies instead of downloading free copies the studios would have more money. Since those people aren’t, however, it would seem the studios are losing the money those persons would have given them. The key word here is IF – if those people would have bought copies, the studios would have that much more money. However, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t have spent any money for that content. The “free is free” mentality usually gets the better of us and leaves us with junk we would never, in a million years, have paid for. So, just because someone downloaded it off the Internet for free doesn’t mean they would have bought it in the first place. These free screenings do promote future releases, regardless of what studios claim. A person who watched Iron Man on some crazy, free movie website and liked it might have decided to see Iron Man 2 in theaters; expecting it to be as good or better than the first. While it’s true the studios want money, it’s not necessarily true they are greedy; at least not more so than any other profitable company. Sometimes it’s about the art, and sometimes it about the business.
Thing 2: Just because the Studio is Evil, does that make them Wrong?
I’ll bet there are millions of people out there who have pictures and videos from a concert they attended. There’s likely to be many of those videos on YouTube. When a person or group performs live in a public venue, it’s hard to say, “NO PICTURES!” I want memories I can share with others. So I snap a picture. Even if you had to pay to get into the concert I don’t think anyone will argue with your grainy, distorted, personal copy of a live performance of “Dude looks like a Lady.” And I’m almost positive Aerosmith just don’t care. The big thing studios are against, and rightfully so, is when you make money off of their hard work. And yes, playing music is work; or rather a lot of time spent practicing. Even more work goes into producing an album, a movie or TV show, and even video games. When these studios whine about compensation they are a little justified. They hold the Copy Right on that content. This means they are the ones who decide who gets access, who can make copies, who can hold showings, and who can sell the merchandise. I wish it was as simple as this: if you made a chair and someone else made a chair which looked exactly like yours and people bought it because of that fact, you would be mad and try to stop them… simple. However, this debate is not so simple. While the studios are correct when they say, “stealing is illegal,” most people don’t view digital media as a thing which can be stolen. When you download a copy of a movie off the Internet, the original is still there. Did you really steal it? The same thoughts apply to TV shows, music, e-books, photographs, software/programs, and video games (also software, but different enough to name separately). You’re not taking a copy off of store shelves, robbing them of a product they could have sold. Neither are you compensating the studios for their hard work, however. They put all the hard work, time, and effort into making the movie and you’re essentially saying, “I don’t have to pay you for your hard work. I’m watching the movie for free!” Nevermind the greediness of the studio, taking something without permission is wrong; even if it exists infinitum.
Thing 3: LIEcenses, Copy Right, and Fairy Dust
There are tons of people who talk about Copy Right and licensing. None of them ever bother to explain what those are or how they work. This is one reason people feel no shame in watching movies online from places like FreeMoveez.info (not a real site btw). People think that they own the DVD when they buy it. It’s quite natural a thought when you think about it. You go to the store, pickup an item off the shelf, pay the cashier, and it’s yours. But it’s never yours in the sense that the design, name, function, or content now belongs to you. You can’t buy a TV and claim all rights to every TV. You can’t buy a spatula and claim all rights to flat cookware. You can’t buy a car and claim all rights to the motor vehicle. You can’t purchase something and claim it was your idea. Now, I haven’t really heard anyone make this argument, “I bought Lord of the Flies. I wrote Lord of the Flies. I now own the rights to the kids-get-stranded-on-a-deserted-island-and-create-their-own-government storyline.” Nor have I heard someone take credit for the spatula. So, on the surface these analogies do seem out of place. Until we go back to the chair. If I bought a chair, and then made my own chair (for my own use; not to profit from it) I would have made a copy of that chair. I did not deplete the number of items on store shelves. I did, however, rob the company of money. How, you ask? Instead of paying them for another chair I just made a copy. This loss is negligible until everyone starts doing it. Still, the question remains: it is right? Do I have the right to make copies of that chair? Remember, I’m not just making any ol’ chair. I’m precisely copying that specific chair, because that’s the chair I want. The studios tell us they are not selling us a movie; they are selling us a DVD disk which contains the movie and giving us a limited license to have our own private screenings. In essence, we are paying for the right to watch the movie on the disk (along with materials) – we are not paying for the movie on the disk. The DVD even has a disclaimer at the beginning saying it is a federal offense to copy and redistribute the contents of the DVD. The DMCA (Digital Millenium Copy Right Act) does allow you to make a copy of DVDs, but only as a replacement, should something happen to your originals. It does not say you can obtain a copy made from someone else’s DVD over the Internet because you scratched yours up. This license also only allows you to watch that movie on a DVD player. If you are buying DVD disks expecting to play them on an iPod you are buying the wrong item. Do I want to pay $15 for a DVD and then another $5 for a copy I can watch on my mobile device? No, I do not. This is why many studios put out DVDs or Blu-Rays which come with a digital copy, or a license to view a streaming copy. Again, though, it’s always a license to view, not to copy nor distribute. They’re not trying to trick you or get more money out of you. Quite frankly, I don’t think the studios understand what is right or wrong any more than the digital peanut gallery fighting about it in blogs and article comments.
Thing 4: Wherefore art thou, Avengers Blu-Ray
The article which set me off today has a very specific question. The OP (original poster – for those of you new to the century) paid for the video game and then downloaded it from an illegitimate source – meaning he did not download it from the studio who made it nor the distributor in charge of releasing it. It would seem that any arguments about his actions might be moot. What does it matter? It would be similar to a situation where I give Amazon $500 and then take my neighbors iPad. Amazon got their money, why should they care if I don’t get the iPad from them? Now, this isn’t exactly the same, because my neighbor lost an iPad and I’m probably in jail. But I haven’t told you the whole story yet. [SPOILER ALERT as if you were going to read that article] The OP pre-ordered and paid for the game, but then downloaded the game from the illegitimate source a few days early – before the game was released. It would probably be more similar to say I pre-ordered and paid for the iPad 4, but then got one from a guy at the docks a week early. Now I have the iPad 4 before the intended release date Apple had initially setup. So what if I get a few extra days to play with mine before you get yours? I still paid for it and you will get yours eventually. The bigger issue here is the license. Where did that copy come from? How did you obtain it? Remember, the studio gave you a license to play that DVD, not any copy of that movie where ever you can get it from. The same goes for video games. You actually cannot go to your friend’s house and take his disk media, install it on your computer, but use your key code. When the company sold you the game you had a license for that copy, not any copy you can get your hands on. Disk rentals work (at the disdain of the studios) because only that one copy exists. When you return it you no longer have it and can no longer play it. That license also restricts you from making copies of the disk or software. You cannot copy a DVD to your computer and redistribute it. Neither can you take downloaded software and redistribute it (unless, of course, it is freeware or shareware; two terms I don’t hear too often anymore). That means the person who ripped the DVD and placed it on the Internet violated the terms of the license they bought into when they purchased the DVD. But does that mean you did anything wrong by downloading it? Yes, it does. There are official channels and illegitimate channels. Some of the official channels are free. Likewise, just because it costs money doesn’t mean it’s legit. No matter how you feel about the copy you own or how much money you paid for it, if you aren’t getting it from official channels it’s just not right. The other issue here is this nasty operation known as hacking. The game our OP downloaded early was modified to make it playable. Many video games come with DRM (digital rights management) software embedded into their core. Even though it was originally a legitimate copy of the game, someone had changed the code to remove or bypass the DRM, making an otherwise useless piece of software a working game. This is most likely definitely a no-no according to the terms and conditions of the game’s EULA (end-user license agreement); many of which typically say “you don’t own our code,” and “don’t mess with our code,” and even, “don’t use software which bypasses, restricts, or modifies our code.” So, even though the OP had paid for the game (negating the fact he obtained the game before the official release date) the copy he obtained was an illegal copy because it’s code had been modified. Once again, when you purchase a video, song, e-book, or game you are really only buying the license to view/listen to that specific form of the media through that specific outlet (e.g. If you purchase a movie in iTunes, you can only watch it in iTunes or on your iDevice. You cannot do anything to it to make it playable on your Xbox.)
Thing 5: Last thing, I promise
Who do you think you are? Nevermind, I don’t want to get into a philosophical “who am I” debate. (and yes, we are really puny compared to the universe…) The question I want answered does remain, though. We just have to step back to see it all clearly. A person creates a chair. You buy that chair, paying him for the materials he used to construct said chair as well as his time spent working on the chair. Likewise, you pay the plumber for his time working on your throne, even though you’re not purchasing a product from him. It just seems like these people who work on movies, TV shows, books, music, and software deserve to be compensated for their time and effort. These people spend their days and nights filming scenes, acting, writing scripts and books, building props and sets, practicing their art, recording their art, and finalizing their art so the rest of us may enjoy it. Saying things like this is stupid: “art is meant to be done for yourself, not others – do your art for the joy of the art.” That’s like saying, “don’t make iPads for others, people starving in China, make them because you like making iPads.” These people want to make a good movie for you in a similar way that your real estate agent wants to find you a house you love. They’re not gonna do it for free. I’m going to say this and then explain it: just because that lot is full of cars nobody is using doesn’t mean you can just go take one. Now, as I said before, software and digital copies of movies and music exist infinitum. You download a copy and the original is still there; you did not take away from the stock. Neither did you pay for an item which the creators or Copy Right owners do charge for. Right now there are copies of Heroes, Season 2 on a store shelf somewhere. It will cost you money to take that DVD set home. Why would anyone think it’s OK to download that collection off the Internet for free (through Torrents or P2P software and websites)? Ford sells Mustangs: why should they be OK with you obtaining one for free?
Draw your own conclusions. I believe it’s wrong. It’s hard to argue with people who bring up the fact that it’s out there. If it’s out there, why not download it? However, they don’t realize it’s out there illegally, which is what makes it illegal to download. Even still many people agree that if they own a purchased copy, that entitles them to have other copies of the same content however and where ever. Again, this is a license issue; another thing most people don’t understand. Then there’s the people who understand everything I’ve said, but continue to download stuff for free simply because free beats expensive. Some of them even do it just because they feel the system is so messed up and this is a form of vigilante justice. And finally, there are those out there who are just as greedy as the studios they slander. All they want is the content, whether or not they make any money off it. They just do it because they do. No matter what you say or do, the studios won’t agree with you. And no matter what the studios say or do (unless they start giving stuff away for free as policy) chances are people will always want more for less and play the greed card every time.