pro-torrenting cliches that need to die

1. Studies say pirates pay for more content than people who don’t pirate. Those studies are old, small, and of dubious methodology, involving self-reported data. Of course, none of the people who constantly invokes them cares to look at them too closely. They are believed because they tell people what they want to hear. But even if this claim is true, it doesn’t prove what the people who say it think it proves. The question is, do these pirates pay enough to replace the revenues that are lost to the system, as a whole, from piracy? And given the way that the music industry’s revenues have cratered, and the ongoing slowdown in the movie industry, the answer appears to be no.

(If pirates download $500 a month worth of digital content on average, and spend $100 a month on digital content, and those who don’t pirate spend only $50 a month, then yes, the pirates pay for more content. But the system still loses the revenue that the pirates would have paid for the things they pirated.)

2. People only torrent things that are not available for purchase. Just entirely, demonstrably untrue. Go to any torrent site and look at the number of downloads of movies, albums, and games that you can easily purchase in any number of ways. If you really are looking for something you simply can’t get your hands on otherwise, go with God, I won’t judge you.

3. I only torrent because legal alternatives are so expensive and inconvenient. You can legally download millions of movies, books, albums, and games, at cut-rate prices, from dozens or hundreds of sellers, directly into the device you’re going to be using them on, usually without having to be at home or plugged in to anything at all. The amount of incredibly cheap content you can buy now is breathtaking, with constant sales and a relentless downward pressure on prices. This complaint has not changed one iota in five, ten, or fifteen years, despite the fact that the conditions on the ground have totally changed. The goal posts just get moved; the more convenient and cheaper the legal avenues become, the harder the pirates are to please. (I’ve literally had people angrily tell me that $9.99 for an album is an “outrageous” amount!)

4. We need IP reform. Totally true. Irrelevant to the moral question of whether you should pay the people who make the media you love for their work.

5. Pirates go on to pay for things that they’ve torrented if they like them. Pirates say they pay for things that they like, after the fact, but there’s no evidence to believe that this is true writ large. Even if that’s true, it’s totally unworkable as a business plan. A world where you only have to pay for the art and media that you’ve consumed if you decide that you like it after the fact is a world where art and media die as professional phenomena.

6. If the music/movie/publishing/video game industries still made good stuff, I’d pay for it!  See above. People sure seem to torrent award-winning stuff a lot. It’s not actually true that music now is so much worse and even if it were that wouldn’t mean you’d be entitled to get it for free.

7. I only torrent things I wouldn’t have seen/listened to/read/played otherwise. This is non-falsifiable. There’s no way to prove this is true. It seems highly unlikely given how many of the biggest, most popular properties are torrented endlessly. You can’t be nearly as certain about what you wouldn’t have otherwise paid for when you regularly get things for free.

8. The music industry/movie industry/publishing industry makes money hand over fist! They can afford it! All three of those industries have seen major losses of revenue. This argument is made totally independent of any facts. Perfectly independent observers and experts who have no love for the industry groups involved have come to the same conclusions. The notion that the idea of declining revenues in these industries is all a conspiracy is tinfoil hat nonsense.

9. You’re just a shill for the RIAA/MPAA/etc.! That is not an argument. It’s also not true. I hate the heavy-handed tactics of these industry organizations, and I find things like DRM and suing individual downloaders to be wrongheaded and counterproductive. But I think paying people for the hard work and inspiration they invest in making the art and media we enjoy is a simple and important principle.

10. Piracy only steals from the big names, which levels the playing field for the little guy. Literally the opposite is true. As Astra Taylor demonstrates in her magnificent  book The People’s Platform, and as Jaron Lanier has also argued, it’s in fact those on the bottom who suffer the worst– the experimental artists, the independent sellers, the middle class workers who have made money in ancillary positions in creative fields. Those at the top can sell their celebrity, making money from endorsements; those on the bottom find it harder and harder to make interesting, experimental, daring work.

11. Evolve or die!/These industries need to find new models/Businesses need to adapt to a changing world/etc. Which new models? Evolve how? Change in what way? Simply saying “you have to change” is not a plan. The implication that there is some obvious plan for monetization out there that is not susceptible to endless digital copying has not been backed up by any actually expressed plan. The ways that these industries have actually changed to recoup lost revenues — more product placement, “free to play,” advertising, microtransactions — are universally hated by the self-same people who advocate torrenting.

12. Torrenting is a victimless crime that has no impact on the industries in question. How can that be true? We know that millions of people torrent. We know that they download billions of files. How could it be the case that all of this has no economic impact? Yes, it’s true: there are executives in these industries that get paid. Yes, it’s true: there are stock holders who make some of these money. That’s true. But it’s also true that the creators themselves depend on the profitability of these properties. And not just to get paid themselves, either, but to be able to make more movies, albums, books, and games in the future. You cannot wiggle out of this fact: when you don’t pay for the media you consume, you are ultimately depriving the people who work hard to make the art you love.

Think about the “evolve or die” claim: what if the result is “or die”? What does it mean to you as someone who loves to pirate if these industries do die? You get a lot less of the art and media that you love. This is the most frustrating, short-sighted part of all of this: the refusal to recognize that by getting things for free now, you reduce the breadth of what you could potentially get in the future. You could be the victim, one day, because of the movie that you might love that may never get made.

I have no love for the industry groups that push aggressive, counterproductive tactics to combat piracy. I make a grad student’s wages. I agree that the creative industries are often frustrating and hard to respect. But I also think that  we should create a culture expectation, a social pressure, based on a simple principle: pay for the digital art and media you consume. That’s the alternative to ineffectual DRM technologies and lawsuits, a social movement, using the power of public pressure, to urge people to pay for what they download.

141 Comments

  1. I agree with almost all of these points, but this bugs me:

    “If pirates download $500 a month worth of digital content on average, and spend $100 a month on digital content, and those who don’t pirate spend only $50 a month, then yes, the pirates pay for more content. But the system still loses the revenue that the pirates would have paid for the things they pirated.”

    This is only true if the pirate would have purchased the pirated media. If the pirate’s media budget is $100 a month either way, then sure, they’ve gotten away with something, but the industry hasn’t lost any money. And this is the problem with industry claims about the extent of lost revenue. Download numbers do not equal lost sales, at least not on a one-for-one basis. People pirate lots of stuff they’d never buy.

    I don’t know whether or not the decline in revenues for the music and movie industries is mostly the result of piracy. It’s certainly plausible. But it doesn’t strike me as obvious.

    1. I agree that the question of how much money is lost from someone who would only have bought some of it anyway is a complicated one. But look: the spectacular decline of revenues that the music industry has seen lines of perfectly with the rise of Napster and file sharing more broadly. Is that proof positive? No. But what other remotely plausible narrative is there? To think that so many people could download so many songs without an attendant decline in sales would be foolish.

      1. I am aware of one other plausible explanation, which is that the medium change from cassette to compact disc killed single sales, temporarily forcing casual music listeners to buy many additional songs packaged with the ones they knew they wanted, not to mention ushering in a golden age of concept albums. Digital therefore debundled music and returned things to their former, pre-CD trend.

        I won’t put that forward as an explanation to the exclusion of piracy, but it at least passes the sniff test.

      2. I still thing the larger problem, in terms of revenue, isn’t pirating, which remains something most consumers A.) don’t know how to do B.) don’t feel comfortable doing C.) has never even occurred to them as a possibility, but rather the fact that services like Netflix and Spotify make it absurdly cheap and easy for everyone from my niece to my grandmother to consume thousands of hours of their preferred media entertainment.

        Piracy certainly creates downward pressure on media prices, especially for a certain tech savvy, culturally cued in, highly sought after 18-32 demographic, but anywhere near as much as a la cart streaming?

        1. I think the only reason Netflix and the various legal digital music services are so cheap is because of the competition from piracy, or rather the threat of this competition.

          That is certainly the argument Apple used to convince labels to adopt a 99 cent price point for music.

      3. “But what other remotely plausible narrative is there?”

        What about the added cost of a novel utility that has become more or less required (and is increasingly considered a human right), plus flat or negative wage growth among the middle class, and a rise in legal and cheap alternatives to previously expensive means of receiving distributed media? If you add on the increasing amount of time we spend with new media, whether that’s commenting on a free blog, watching twitch users stream their games, or subscribing to a popular youtube channel, it seems pretty easy to account for the “spectacular decline.”

        Piracy is almost certainly a contributing factor, don’t get me wrong. But I think it’s specious to suggest that it’s the primary factor.

          1. How? I don’t see any real benefit to the end of the media paradigms of our youth. Creators now more than ever must be proficient marketers, social media experts, and networkers, a situation I find a little alarming as I think about launching my own career as a writer.

            As far as I’m concerned, we’re right in the middle of two awful extremes; we could live in the 90s, where a half dozen companies control the vast majority of media content, or we could live in the near future, when “media” as we know it stops being a profitable enterprise. Either way, creators get screwed. That’s capitalism!

          2. Look, you really just can’t throw up your hands and say “I don’t have any evidence that piracy is really the problem here, but what else could it be?” Maybe purchased music, etc, is just losing out to other forms of entertainment. Maybe people just no longer have the disposable income to pay for as much music as they once did. Pirating has actually become much more difficult in recent years than it was in its heyday, and legally acquiring content has become significantly easier and cheaper… and yet, revenues apparently continue to decline. How does your theory account for that?

      4. Well, for the music industry, one of the very likely plausible alternative narratives explaining the loss of revenue is the rise of the single song digital download, which allows people to buy their favorite music without buying the whole album. Blame iTunes for that.

        Also, the hurt that pirating gave to the music industry is at least partially explained by their incredible, hostile resistance to digital media and digital sales of music. This pushed a huge portion of the music-buying public to the torrenting sites, and hugely increased the severity of torrenting in their industry. Similar losses in sales haven’t occurred in digital book publishing, which thanks to Amazon embraced digital media and lower prices way ahead of the curve, rather than behind it. The result is a fairly minimal degree of pirating in the publishing industry, along with record sales and profits from the big publishers. Plus, a very healthy rise of the self-publishing writer, who is now making very good money, especially in comparison to their equivalents in the music industry.

        In short, the music industry blew the transition to digital, and it didn’t have to turn out the way it did.

        1. I think your judgment of the music industry is overly harsh. The reason filmmakers have fared slightly better in the transition from analog to digital than musicians is because we’ve had more time to adjust. Napster changed everything seemingly overnight. Book publishers and filmmakers were able to watch and learn.

    2. And seeing this is the cornerstone of most anti-piracy policy, the “unrealized sales” myth, I’m not sure I can get behind any of the rest of it. It’s like a car dealership assuming every single customer that visits the lot is a lost sale, marketplace optimism at its worst. You don’t hear that industry complaining about people kicking the tires.

      In particular, the music industry is a popularity contest: The more customers that listen to your music, the more sales you make. That business model also known as “radio” is a prime example of this, even if the costs are shifted. Only a success story like Metallica could imagine suing 10,000 of their fans as good business policy, and as a former musician I can assure you I would love having 10,000 fans.

    3. In fact, I think it’s highly unlikely that said pirate would have paid for $500 worth of content. This is pretty basic economics.

      Not to say that I approve of pirating – I don’t. But counting ALL the stuff pirates downloaded as “revenue losses” to the media companies is just as bogus as some of the statistics slammed in the article.

  2. These points are well-taken but they are too kind to the distributors. Why should consumers pay a monopolist so that a pittance trickles down to the artist? Or, as a thought experiment, I wonder if you think it would be morally okay to torrent an album and send an artist a check for their $2 cut?

    Back in the 90s, if you bought a CD at Best Buy or an indie record store, you could expect that you were partly paying for bricks and mortar, employees to stock the shelves, and so on. Retail has always cost more than the supposed reward for making good art. The remainder of the sticker price would go to big music labels, who probably lost a lot of money by taking risks on artists who never drew large audiences. This is all well and good. Apple put a lot of these stores out of business, but instead of abolishing the “retail” portion of my $15 CD purchase from Best Buy, they continued to pocket 30% for providing almost exactly the same service as the torrent sites. In the music world, recording costs are very, very low (ask the garage bands) and the distribution costs are clearly almost zero. Movies and video games are still expensive to produce and appeal increasingly to picky, niche audiences. In this sense, I think it’s important to pay for hit movies and videogames that are expensive to produce and require artistic risks that torrent sites never support. But music is another story.

    The average listener has to choose between shortchanging an artist by $2 or metaphorically shortchanging themselves by $8 supporting a redundant streaming service that probably moves fewer bits of data than gmail does, and which invests very little in new talent. Not all media is created equal, and the very fact that we have linked excessive overhead with artist pay is a problem. This is why we need more low-overhead means of financing artists working in media that don’t require big risks. Bandcamp and kickstarter come to mind. In any case, I think it’s suboptimal to ask customers to support ill-managed media monopolies.

    1. Recording costs might be dirt cheap but you’ll get what you pay for. Sure you can run some mics outside your garage but the resulting recording is going to sound hideous. If you’re lucky, your local church might have recording equipment and an architectural structure that supports your acoustics that they’re willing to rent to you for a small fee. Studio time is not cheap. The time of a decent recording engineer is not cheap. Spending time writing and recording your music rather than performing and promoting it is not cheap. There is a fair amount of cost involved in operating a small band and producing commercial quality recordings of your music. Sure, large corporate labels have always screwed over the artist but the situation doesn’t improve if you cut out the middleman and let the customer screw over the artist directly instead.

  3. I mostly agree with this, although I have a caveat with #5. The “analog” media had a way to try out books, films, and music for “free” to see if it was something you actually wanted to buy, via the library system. The digital equivalent isn’t quite there yet – libraries have patchy access to e-books for rental, even less access to digital music rentals, and next to no access for digital movie rentals. There are some efforts at private libraries for these, but they have the same issues that the public library systems have with e-books (patchy access), and some of them require money.

  4. What pro-torrenting straw man is this post a response to? My sense is that most torrenters basically know that content piracy is ignoble behavior, but do it anyway, out of sheer laziness.

    1. “I have not personally encountered this behavior” is not sufficient reason to call something a strawman. I strongly encourage you to call torrenting an ignoble behavior in the comments section of Gizmodo. You will find many dozens of people who articulate all of the points I’ve made above.

  5. OK, so this post is a response to commenters at Gizmodo. That answers my question. I thought that maybe it was responding to something someone with actual power had written.

    Because that’s the only thing that could possibly make a difference in the current political economy of the culture industry: persuading people with power to change the laws. Making torrenters “feel bad” will change nothing. Torrenting is classic race-to-the-bottom consumer behavior. People are going to do it regardless of how they feel (politically or however else) about the fact that they’re doing it.

    I can see value in trying to persuade internet commenters about some issues — when it’s relatively clear that, at least to some extent, the nature of the online discourse is what’s driving the broader political/economic trends. There are lots of examples of these kids of issues, and you often give such issues smart attention on your blog (MOOCs, sexual assault, teachers unions, etc). But I’m not seeing how torrenting fits this mold. Again: it’s something people will do regardless of how they feel about the fact that they are doing it. There aren’t really any forces of “discursive determinism” at play in this case. The Gizmodo commenters, even if they’re hypocritical jerks, are not doing anything to shape the situation. The way to re-shape the situation is to persuade people with power to change the laws.

    1. This comment is nonsensical. The Gizmodo commenters have the power to torrent. The Gizmodo commenters are shaping the situation by torrenting. They have perfect power over their own behavior, which is what I’m writing about here. And you’re just totally wrong about the relative power of laws to shape this behavior compared to the power of social stigma. We already have legislative responses to digital piracy; they’ve utterly failed to address the problem meaningfully. But social stigma could work, the same way that social stigma has been incredibly effective at lowering smoking rates in the United States, reducing littering and pollution, making certain kinds of speech taboo (while not illegal)…. Simply saying “torrenting isn’t like that!” isn’t an argument, and saying “change the law” without proffering anything like an actionable solution makes you guilty of cliche #11.

      By the way: since I didn’t use the words “feel bad,” don’t derisively use quote marks around those words. In general, try being a little less clever, for your own good.

      1. Torrenting is done in privacy, while all your examples are done in public.

        Also, isn’t there already a social stigma against piracy?

        A: “So I was sitting in my room, smoking a cigarette and then suddenly…”
        B: “So I was sitting in my room, torrenting the season finale of Game of Thrones and then suddenly…”

        Nobody would care about A. But B…?

        So you don’t just want a social stigma. You want a very, very strong social stigma, like against pedophilia (just the attraction itself, not any crimes). Good luck with that.

  6. I get all my tv and movies from subscription streams, my music from ad-based streams or public radio, my journalism from the web, my games (well, back when I used to play games) are from deep-discounted sales or bundles, and my non-game software is almost all open source. I’m not pirating anything, but I’m not increasing anyone’s revenue very much. And I have a suspicion that people like me might be a larger part of the revenue problems content producers are facing than actual pirates–especially people making the sort of niche or challenging content that I would tend to be interested in. (Not that most people are out there seeking open source software, but everyone who uses computers depends on open source code whether they know it or not, and as heartbleed and shellshock demonstrated, we aren’t putting enough resources into making that code reliable.)

    However, though it makes me sad that the people making the stuff I love aren’t making more money, if I suddenly decided I could spare a chunk of money to make the world less sad I’m not sure that’s where I would start.

    1. Yeah, that’s something I t hink about all the time. The question is, to what degree is the move to super-cheap streaming a response to piracy? I sometimes think the media companies feel that they have to offer streaming at dirt cheap or else their stuff will just get pirated. But I can’t prove that, of course.

      1. I’m pretty sure you’re right. Super-cheap streaming would still exist, just as the bargain bin for movies, music, games, etc exists in retail stores, but without piracy as a threat content holders would probably demand more for their popular works.

        Some kinds of streaming, e.g. Pandora, would exist unchanged because they don’t need to seek permission from artists anyway under the law as it exists today.

      2. It may have started that way but I think a lot more people use Netflix than bittorrent. The problem isn’t really the piracy, it’s that the low distribution costs create a race to the bottom among the streaming companies themselves; it’s hard not to think that this would have happened eventually either way.

        For example, I don’t think there’s an industry more afflicted by this sort of price war than mobile gaming and apps, where the norm seems to be “anything above 99 cents won’t sell.” Yet the app market is probably better-secured against piracy than any other.

        I really think piracy is just one symptom of what is, good or bad, a broader restructuring as distribution costs go to zero. Get rid of it tomorrow, and you’ll still find producers getting squeezed pretty hard.

        1. I agree wholeheartedly and think that it’s streaming and pirating hand-in-hand that have pushed revenues down. I don’t think you can separate the two.

          2000ish – 2010ish was a golden era for independent filmmakers because digital cameras and editing tools had dropped production costs into imaginable realms but you could still sell DVDs. DVDs, despite their packaging and delivery costs, are more profitable than streaming.

      3. I mean, now you’re in a chicken-or-the-egg situation. Before piracy, movies killed the radio, television killed the movies, VCRs “killed” television (before DVR killed television, natch), etc. I’m obviously simplifying things, but it’s easy to see the pattern here.

        What’s the response? I’m reminded of Jack Donaghy, who hoped (and I’m paraphrasing) “to make it 1997 again, through science or magic.”

  7. Smoking and polluting are odd examples of what you mean, given all the laws and bureaucratic institutions in place to reduce both. But anyway, yes, torrenting is indeed completely different from both smoking and polluting. To the extent that a smoker or polluter feels stigmatized, they feel stigmatized because their community can see them smoking or polluting. Generally, a torrenter will not be observed, by his or her community, in the act of torrenting. So they won’t feel especially stigmatized.

    And I completely disagree that “we already have legislative responses to digital piracy.” If you were right, then the executives of the major torrenting companies would be wanted criminals instead of Silicon Valley’s well-to-do. Our state regulatory apparatus has made a decision to give Silicon Valley a long leash while strangulating the producers of cultural content. That’s why we have the outcome which we have. Not because Gizmodo commenters don’t feel guilty enough.

    1. You realize that Gizmodo commenters s is an example of a much bigger phenomenon? Like, I’m not sure what you’re getting out of this obtuse performance, but it’s tiring and boring.

    2. Plenty of friends and acquaintances of mine talk openly about how much they pirate or stream illegally, and the thought that someone would object to their behavior never seems to cross their mind.

      Maybe downloading occurs too privately for stigmatizing it to have much of a deterrent effect. I’d be fine with stigmatizing the behavior enough that yelling about it in public was discouraged.

  8. What I get out of it is tossing in my two cents that the people who are creating this problem are the Sean Parkers and Nikki Hemmings of the world, and their legislative enablers. It’s the people with power. The torrenters are just behaving exactly as people always behave when given access to lots of free stuff.

  9. In the middle ages, there was no way for a musician to communicate with millions of people. Musicians didn’t make much money.

    Comes radio, TV, movable type, and art consisting of literature, images, movies and music, can be distributed to millions of people cheaply with the aid of an industrial infrastructure. A few artists, favored by the millions make a lot of money. A large body of law and morality develops to protect and abet this industry.

    Comes the internet and art can be distributed cheaply without the aid of an industrial infrastructure other than the internet itself. Art will change, just like it changed with the industrial revolution.

    This will change how artists are compensated and what art gets made. Laws and morality will regarding artist’s ownership of their work will change too. I am not sure how they will change, but the old structures will not work anymore.

    Two things remain. Artists will continue to produce art. People, in the mass, will continue to consume art without paying for it in the conventional sense.

    We will develop new methods of compensating artists – they won’t look like the old methods. Just as the art that’s been created in the past was influenced by the infrastructure – the movie studios, record industry execs, and the publishing establishment, new art will be influenced by Google, YouTube and Facebook, or their successors.

    1. Quite true. One of the ways this has changed the music industry is that most of the money is now being made by playing in front of live audiences. Which is pretty much how music ought to be. Recordings are becoming more like advertisements for performers, helping sell tickets. Fortunately, people still seem to care about seeing music performed live, and are willing to pay much more for that than they are for recorded music. So we are going back to the times when musicians made their money as performing artists rather than recording artists. And many are doing rather well at it.

  10. in answer to your question, “what if the result is “or die”? the only answer i have is “so what?”. the death of the music industry would most certainly not be the death of music. it’s came along quite well in the past without an economy of exploitation built around it, and i’m sure it would continue to do so if every record label in existence ceased to exist tomorrow.

    1. Your “so what” takes it as a given that “or die” refers to record labels, and implicitly big publishers. But it doesn’t. Torrents don’t distinguish between recordings — and books and movies and software and any other kind of media — made by the biggest publisher and one-person operations. (Re)read Freddie’s point #10, which is really relevant here.

    2. This is absolutely correct. Modern transmission methods and cataloging have led to a much, much larger marketplace for consumers than existed previously. Content producers have yet to come to terms with this, and the resultant fact that their intellectual property has plummeted in value due to the added competition. There are still a variety of pricing schemes and structures in place that attempt to keep these works artificially valuable, but they are all failing in the face of technology to bypass them, and will continue to fail. It’s inevitable that the current media models will crater completely as the systems designed to milk tons of money from consumers (into the pockets of management and investors, not content creators) will fail as people find other alternatives. Genie’s out of the bottle.

      When it comes to torrenting, I don’t have any elaborate justification or argument that needs to be made. I do so because I want to do so, and that’s the end of it. Same as why I speed or occasionally break other petty laws. Because I don’t give a shit. If some writer or movie creator decides they can’t make enough money due to my activity, I could care less: there’s plenty out there who are willing to work for less.

      This post was one big straw man after another, it doesn’t address the root reason why people do what they do, just knocks down a bunch of obviously BS justifications.

      1. This response, at least, is honest. Of course, “I do so because I want to do so, and that’s the end of it” is identical to the reasons that rapists rape, or that thieves steal. It’s not a justification but a confession of immorality. And if that’s where we are as a society– where the entitlement is so pervasive and so powerful that people think simply saying “I wanted to do it” amounts to some sort of defense.

        If some writer or movie creator decides they can’t make enough money due to my activity, I could care less: there’s plenty out there who are willing to work for less.

        But many types of art and media that you like the most cannot be made for less. And that’s what’s going to happen, if not in your lifetime than to people like you: poverty of choice, thanks to decisions that you make. You’ll all note the schizophrenic attitude here: torrenting is destroying current models and cannot be stopped, but that will never have any impact on my own life. Pure, pure folly.

        1. Of course, “I do so because I want to do so, and that’s the end of it” is identical to the reasons that rapists rape, or that thieves steal. It’s not a justification but a confession of immorality.

          This is a false equivalence and an appeal to extremes wrapped together. My speeding on the highway a bit or downloading a song illegally is in no way identical to rape, and frankly I think most rape victims would be offended at the analogy.

          What more, I’m not particularly concerned with moral judgements in this area, because I don’t believe that Intellectual Property laws have anything to do with morality whatsoever (other than a general respect for law, which people are pretty flexible with). These laws were created and put on the books to ensure that certain folks continue to earn as much money as possible from their currently existing creation and distribution methods – NOT to protect some fundamental moral point of ownership. I have no interest in furthering the current system and am unswayed by arguments that damn me for refusing to do so.

          But many types of art and media that you like the most cannot be made for less.

          This is an assertion at best. Remember that current pricing levels not only support the actual artist/team creating content, they still support the antiquated systems of distributing and managing content, with all the useless layers of middle management in the middle. This is why many ebooks are still for sale for the exact same price (or extremely close) as a physical copy of the book, though this is ludicrous on it’s face. It’s not my responsibility to prop up a pricing structure designed to keep middle-men in profit.

          Even if it’s not an assertion, I’d be happy to take part in the experiment to find out! If the alternative is to hold on to a buggy-whip system, in the name of not hurting profits or potential shrinking the market of producers, I have no qualms whatsoever in exploring a new model.

          poverty of choice, thanks to decisions that you make.

          Oh, c’mon. I like reading sci-fi and fiction books. There are literally dozens of thousands for me to choose from. My top 5 books last year were all independent writers who self-published, and yes, who I paid for their works after downloading them illegally (despite your insistence that this is rare, I do it all the time and others do as well (though this isn’t necessary to justify my behavior, I do so simply because I want to)). There is no poverty of choice and there won’t be anytime soon, no matter what I and other torrenters continue to do. You won’t sway anyone with such a thin assertion.

          On a separate point, I believe the idea that music and movie industry profits have been ‘harmed’ by torrenting is a joke. You know what’s harmed the music industry? Youtube and internet radio. Why should I pay for a song that I can watch on youtube whenever I want? You’re simply reporting the fact that models have changed and assigning the blame for reduced profit margins to those engaging in so-called ‘illegal’ behavior, when many perfectly legal reasons also exist. It’s a bad case of corollary argumentation.

          1. I’m not equating rape with torrenting. I’m saying that the statement “I’m going to do it because I want to” can be applied to any bad behavior. Right?

          2. I’m not equating rape with torrenting. I’m saying that the statement “I’m going to do it because I want to” can be applied to any bad behavior. Right?

            Well, you can apply any argument to any situation you like; it’s the responsibility of the person uttering the statement to choose an argument that they believe will convince the other person (or third-person spectator). In this case, your argument that the sky is falling due to torrenting isn’t very convincing and equating it to serious crimes (with real, non-imaginary victims) doesn’t help.

            I mean: “oh no, the music industry only profited seven billion dollars in 2013, down from a high of 11 billion in 2000, why, they’re getting raped!” Not a very convincing analogy.

            You’re going to need a lot better argumentation to convince people like myself and others that they need to change their ways, though I do agree that most of the points you raised in the original article are transparently self-serving and false justifications put forth by those who don’t have the honesty to say what I do: it is a petty crime, the industries who see files copied are still highly profitable, we haven’t seen content creators priced out of the market, and some are profiting handsomely off of understanding and exploiting the new models. I fail to see the problem.

          3. “oh no, the music industry only profited seven billion dollars in 2013, down from a high of 11 billion in 2000, why, they’re getting raped!”

            When the music or film industry loses billions of dollars, thousands of people who dedicated their lives to learning a skill that was valuable under an old economic model are really shit out of luck.

            You don’t care if other people suffer as a result of your behavior and you aren’t ashamed of it. Fine. But how can you say that your lack of empathy for the people you might harm doesn’t have “anything to do with morality”?

          4. When the music or film industry loses billions of dollars, thousands of people who dedicated their lives to learning a skill that was valuable under an old economic model are really shit out of luck.

            This might be relevant if they were actually losing money. But, they’re not – the industry is very profitable and remains so. Those people who learned skills and got paid for them? Still getting paid. Those middle-men and producers and other unsavory record label elements that add nothing to the listener’s experience and don’t help the artist? Still getting paid. There are likely some very rich investors who aren’t making quite the return they used to, but if you think the industry isn’t still paying and rewarding those who work for it in the face of piracy, you’re very wrong.

            You don’t care if other people suffer as a result of your behavior and you aren’t ashamed of it. Fine. But how can you say that your lack of empathy for the people you might harm doesn’t have “anything to do with morality”?

            But, they’re not suffering for it. There are two different tacks to this:

            1, I wouldn’t have purchased the product anyway, so the idea that they are losing money due to my pirating is nonsensical. Mr. DeBoer addresses this in point #7 above, and states that it’s non-falsifiable, which is true; however, I don’t need to justify my behavior, and can also report that I certainly wouldn’t have bought the vast majority of things that were downloaded, so you can take that as you like. The long and short of it though is that there’s no possible way that all the kids out there who are downloading these movies and songs would have ponied up full price for all of them. Not even close.

            2, the industries in question remain quite profitable and haven’t engaged in any real internal reform to cut costs and increase profitability in the face of the ‘piracy’ wave, so it’s hard for me to see how anyone is suffering.

            Show us evidence of people out of work, families not being fed, studios failing, investors getting wiped out. Show how this is actually connected to piracy and not other factors. Then you’ll have an argument that would elicit and deserve an emotional response from myself and those like me. This hand-waving about mystical ‘damage’ being done is highly unconvincing without actual evidence to back it up.

          5. “This might be relevant if they were actually losing money. ”

            You already said you don’t care if the industry loses billions of dollars as a result of your behavior, and that you find the prospect of being asked to care hilarious. I’m just pointing out that if the industry loses billions of dollars, regular people will suffer. So, perhaps your mirth is a little bit gross.

            You also already said you don’t care if artists are forced to abandon their chosen profession, because other people will do the work for less, and it’s their fault for becoming artists.

            I’m addressing the moral grossness of these arguments that you already put your name to. I’m aware that you later decided that it would be easier to defend an argument of “prove to me 100% that pirating is bad for the industry.”

            But I’m more interested to see whether you’ll defend the more nakedly odious things that you said earlier.

  11. I am writing from the third world, so my point of view can be distorted and narrow. I see digital piracy (intellectual property copyright infringement) as very mean form of cultural imperialism which is not only tolerated, but subtly promoted. Maybe death penalty for copyright infringement of HBO series, major record labels, Hollywood movies, BSA software… would be the best solution for everyone.

    1. I may be replying to a joke comment here, but…

      If region lockouts, intellectual “property” clauses in transnational trade deals, heavily publicized busts in major piracy centers, etc. are Hollywood’s subtle endorsement of piracy, then I’d really hate to see what their full-scale embrace of it would look like.

  12. it’s in fact those on the bottom who suffer the worst– the experimental artists, the independent sellers, the middle class workers who have made money in ancillary positions in creative fields.

    I agree with your points in general, but you’re talking a little bit past people because you have different ideas about what “the bottom” is. Your idea of the bottom is the middle to the pro-torrent people, who have in mind a layer even below that.

    The bottom you’re talking about is those who are on the bottom of the established pyramid. Among artists, that means people who barely are successful enough to get a major publishing, record company, or studio deal, or the ancillary workers who are on major projects. They’re almost always worse off because of the reasons you cite.

    People below them who would not have made the cut and gotten deals at all are on average perhaps better off in the new system, simply because they would have gotten zero there and even the pittance from donations and the random chance of being discovered and going viral is better than being rejected from every studio and publisher in town. However, as you note, this is generally not enough to make being an artist (or ancillary position) a professional endeavor. However, overall in the new world a semi-pro or amateur effort at artistry is somewhat easier.

    Yet, the killer rejoinder to the torrenters is that such semi-pro or amateur artists who wish to distribute in such a manner are free to do so voluntarily, and if people only torrented things that the creators wanted to be torrented it would be a different matter altogether, and not piracy at all. However, I think it would still be a world where the bottom of the industry pyramid would find itself the most squeezed by the marginal people previously just outside the industry, and now more easily able to compete on a semi-pro level. (That is to say, I agree with you regarding torrents and yet, as I am sure you agree, it would not solve the problem at the bottom of the pyramid, as for example the experience with self-publishing on Amazon and so forth has benefited some authors that would never have gotten publishing contracts but made things harder on those at the bottom of the industry world, and that’s without piracy.)

    1. I’d say I torrent because it seems kind of stupid not to. It is like finding $10 in the street and not picking it up because the proper owner might come back for it. I am sure artists would be delighted if they could play a recording of their music or movie in a public place and people would toss wads of money at them, but that does not happen. Now it turns out that if you record anything it works out to much the same thing and we are supposed to clutch our pearls and say things like, “well, if this is ok, then what about rape!”

      I think it is hard to say how this plays out, but it will be fun to see. Maybe to listen to music we will have to go out to find it where we might run into like minded people. A dystopian nightmare to be sure, but I’m ready to give it a try. I am dubious that this is bad for the little known artists seeing as the whole music enterprise is about creating buzz around selected “stars”. If torrenting does anything it will take disproportionately from the “stars” which can only give more breathing space to all the rest. The risk here seems to be the loss of the winner take nearly all lottery of the current system which is something I can live with. If artists have to work a little harder than the few days of singing in a sound room to make a million dollars that also is no bad thing.

      Drawing a line between music downloads and movies is ridiculous. When you download music you are getting *exactly* what you would otherwise be buying. With movies you are not able to download the experience of seeing a spectacle on a 60 foot screen, or an easy and relatively inexpensive way to get out and do something with friends or dates. Home theaters are taking away some business, but there will always be a need for a place where kids can get away from their parents.

      If you look at what gets downloaded a lot you will see a preponderance of stupid comic book movies. If torrenting destroys the economics of this count me as elated. It is not that I don’t think the masses deserve what they want, but there is a destructive cycle going on where coarse, formulaic entertainment is creating a public taste as much as it is answering it. Maybe we’ll revert to those dark times when cheap movies like Casablanca and The Third Man counted as mass entertainment. If torrenting does anything it will force entertainment to be smaller and more personal and created by people who love it and have something to say.

  13. I always feel as if your anti-piracy posts do a better job of criticizing goopy tech utopians than they do the actual practice of piracy.

    Different forms of industrial organization have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s also hard to switch between them without damaging existing institutions (and by extension harming the people working within those institutions). I do think it’s possible to simultaneously believe that 1) the reduced cost and difficulty of digital distribution offers benefits to consumers and, on balance, allows forms of industrial organization that are superior to the pre-internet status quo, 2) these new forms of organization are not beyond criticism and won’t necessarily support the range of creation that the previous status quo did (but may support new forms of art that were previously unviable), and 3) we ought to be concerned about the producers — particularly artists, who are frequently on the economic fringe anyway — who risk getting ground up in the transition.

    I’ve pirated stuff in the past when I’ve been hard up for cash or it’s been hard to find elsewhere, and although the amount I spend on music and movies and books has increased dramatically over time for various reasons, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t expect to sometimes pirate stuff in the future, too. There’s no question that, at least personally, the availability of piracy as an option has dramatically improved my life, exposing me to a vast range of art that I’d literally never encountered or heard of a few decades ago. It’s hard to experience that and not come out somewhat optimistic about digital distribution. But I’ll absolutely confess that it’s also sometimes hard to see how a system of production based on price discrimination, which is what pro-piracy sorts seem to envision, could possibly be stable, especially when it applies equally to multiple forms of media, some of which are cheap to produce and others which are fantastically expensive.

    In a lot of ways it seems like that’s what the pro-piracy crowd misses. They’re not wrong that the technology has a lot of promise, but they forget (or would prefer to ignore) that stable, functioning social and economic institutions do not manifest out of thin air, perfectly keyed to the technological moment. Building those institutions takes time, a lot of trial and error, and genuine honesty about about potential pitfalls. And it’s hard to build them well — there’s no guarantee it will happen — which is why it’s frequently cause for concern when existing institutions collapse, even if they’re as obviously imperfect as the 20th century media industry.

  14. A cliche I don’t see addressed here: is torrenting morally or ethically acceptable as a response to poverty? Being a consumer of culture isn’t treated as a luxury by most people, but participating in cultural conversations in real time can be an expensive prospect. Certainly, one could enjoy the media of the distant or recent past — a PS2 and some games, or a subscription to Netflix, or rented content at the library — but that locks one out of the conversation happening now. This is even more pertinent in areas you don’t highlight; for example, bypassing the NYT paywall, or streaming CNN through an illegal site. Do people have any right to participate in our media environment? Are those rights fully satisfied by “free” options?

    Personally, I’d like to see data on torrenter demographics, and what percentage of torrenters stop torrenting when they have an income that allows for purchasing media. It’s usually such an unpleasant and tedious process for all but the most obvious files that the convenience of simply paying money and downloading the file is often worth the cash.

  15. I think you make great points. I don’t torrent at all, but I used to a lot. Now I pay for my content. But I look at the demographic of under 30-year-old consumers and I see them playing video games (are their sales declining?). If you took all of those hours spent on League of Legends and World of Warcraft and put it into consuming music/movies/books, you might see part of the revenue made up there too….

    1. Thank you for paying the artists who make the stuff you love by paying for it. And thank you for this comment

  16. I don’t really disagree with any of your points, but I nonetheless think that ending media piracy would be a moral catastrophe. It’s simple: a world with piracy is a world with more access to more media by more people. In objective terms, it is a richer society.

    If I invented a Star Trek replicator, would you demand I pay a dollar to Jacksons of Piccadilly every time I spool up an order of “tea, earl grey, hot”? Would you impose costs on a system that could otherwise solve world hunger out of allegiance to a system of intellectual “property” that was developed under entirely different conditions (non-free replication) for a separate purpose ? Perhaps you can distinguish between a basic need and media, but as far as I can see the principle is the same either way: the magic cornucopia versus those who would destroy the magic for selfish reasons.

    If artists need more compensation, I’m 100% for it. But there are other means to that end than putting the genii back in the bottle and leaving the world a poorer place for it.

    1. 1. What are those “other means”? Specifically, and concretely, what are those other means?
      2. You cannot simultaneously say that torrenting has the impact of making media far more accessible while at the same time acting as if this will never reduce the amount of media that gets produced. You cannot have it both ways. “Torrenting is an unstoppable juggernaut that is destroying the traditional media companies” and “torrenting will never result in less good art and media getting made” simply cannot both be true. They can’t be.

      1. Since no one could ever see every movie, hear every song, or read every book, it’s very possible to produce less media and simultaneously enrich more people’s lives through greater access. I’m not sure that’s an outcome I’d prefer — I like shiny new stuff as much as the next guy — but trading output for access isn’t completely crazy or logically incoherent.

        1. And the basic principle that people who work hard and produce stuff that people consume and enjoy should be paid for their labor? Do you work for free?

          1. People ARE still getting paid to produce — I’m really not aware of anyone who literally had 100% of their work pirated. They’re just getting paid less per unit, because a certain subset of consumers are putting a bit of effort into getting the stuff for free.

            Paying people less on average will obviously eventually drive some producers out of the market, which sucks. But it’s not crazy to think that overall we’re better off anyway.

          2. Anyway, I find this sort of strange retort from a guy who writes a blog which is freely available on the internet and then helped fund it through a completely voluntary donation drive. I really don’t mean that as a nasty dig in the slightest (and just chipped in a few dollars to prove it): I’m only saying, one part of hoping people who really enjoy your free blog will help support it and you, is understanding that sometimes people will also, if given a chance, prefer NOT pay for media that’s relatively incidental to them.

            Is that a sustainable model of production? Heck if I know. But is it cognizable? Of course.

          3. Anyone can choose to work in an industry in which the outcome of their work cannot be copied digitally. Those who do not, chose not to. Not only that, can we identify any actual people that have been chased from the market due to torrenting? Businesses that went under, writers who refuse to keep writing, movies that aren’t getting made?

            I ask, because I just don’t see it happening. I mean, who’s not getting paid out there due to torrenting? Let’s just look at one example, the ‘most pirated movies of all time:’

            10. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (14 million)

            9. The Incredible Hulk (14 million)

            8. The Departed (14 million)

            7. Kick-Ass (15 million)

            6. Star Trek (16 million)

            5. The Hangover (17 million)

            4. Inception (18 million)

            3. Transformers (19 million)

            2. The Dark Knight (19 million)

            1. Avatar (21 million downloads)

            Do you honestly think that those who created these works weren’t getting paid? That they didn’t profit tremendously off of these works? That the investors in these films didn’t realize profits? Let’s look and see:

            10. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (14 million) – profited at least $660 million dollars

            9. The Incredible Hulk (14 million) – profited at least $130 million

            8. The Departed (14 million) – profited almost $200 million

            7. Kick-Ass (15 million) – profited at least $60 million

            6. Star Trek (16 million) – at least $230 million

            5. The Hangover (17 million) – at least $430 million

            4. Inception (18 million) – at least $700 million

            3. Transformers (19 million) – at least $550 million

            2. The Dark Knight (19 million) – at least $800 million

            1. Avatar (21 million downloads) – profited almost 1.8 BILLION dollars

            Every single person involved with these highly pirated products made serious, serious money off of their films. The amount they would have stood to make in excess of the original box office receipts is pocket change. And this doesn’t even count DVD sales, netflix royalties, anything. C’mon. There isn’t a single large media industry that is seriously suffering from piracy when you look at the actual numbers involved. NOBODY is being forced to ‘work for free’ due to piracy, which makes your comment, once again, an appeal to extremes.

          4. If I discover a mathematical algorithm (for example) with enormous practical use, the moment I release it “into the wild”, anybody can use it for free. I cannot charge other people for using it. It’s not patentable. So the principle “people who work hard … should be paid for their labor” does not really exist.

            There is nothing natural about IP (copyright and patents), there is no central principle behind IP, it’s just a strange set of “practical” and pretty inconsistent rules, which independently evolved over time. For example, the distinctions between idea and expression, between discovery and invention are just completely arbitrary and muddled.

        2. There’s a weird logic to your argument that

          A) there’s already more media that we could possibly ever consume

          and

          B) The world is a better place because people have more access to free content.

          It’s already the case that there is more public domain work than anyone could consume in a lifetime. The world already has access to classic literature (and TV is free, the internet has tons of free content, etc.). The world can be plenty enriched by access.

          The people who will be hurt piracy are contemporary artists. If the work of contemporary artists is important, then society is not enriched by those artists working less or dropping out. If they do not enrich society, then the whole argument that their work needs to be free falls apart.

      2. “1. What are those “other means”? Specifically, and concretely, what are those other means?”

        I’d readily support state stipends for artists, or anything with a comparable effect (e.g., guaranteed basic income). You might, correctly, point out how politically untenable such a thing would be in our current politic, to which I would reply:
        – If the doomiest and gloomiest predictions prove true, this could conceivably change, and, regardless
        – Isn’t there something deeply wrong with a society that can find no way to compensate its artists besides making the pie smaller?

        “2. You cannot simultaneously say that torrenting has the impact of making media far more accessible while at the same time acting as if this will never reduce the amount of media that gets produced. You cannot have it both ways. “Torrenting is an unstoppable juggernaut that is destroying the traditional media companies” and “torrenting will never result in less good art and media getting made” simply cannot both be true. They can’t be.”

        Torrenting will never result in less art and media getting made. Reduced compensation to artists may result in less art and media getting made (and almost certainly will in some cases). Torrenting is currently, indirectly, contributing to the latter due to its damage to the historic artist-compensation system, but the problem is ultimately separate. Given that hewing to the old system requires the artificial imposition of scarcity, I think alternative solutions should be preferred.

        1. Just chiming in to agree with the idea that a guaranteed basic income seems far superior to accepting artificial scarcity and the rent-seeking class of distributors that come with it.

          Of course, if we’re ever actually presented with that choice, it will be due to societal shifts that have very little to do with a bunch of people downloading Wolf of Wall Street.

          1. See that’s the thing: what I want is market socialism. But what I insist on pointing out is that socializing the arts and media without first socializing rent and food is a recipe for disaster, and quite cruel to the members of our creative classes. As long as we are living under capitalism, the only way to actually love and respect the arts is to pay for them.

          2. re: Freddy

            But if you’re a socialist, how do you not have more qualms about reifying commercial reproduction rights into a form of “property” that must be respected both legally and morally?

            That’s my dog in the fight, for the record. If I thought piracy was to begin and end in media, I’d probably end up somewhere along the lines of your practical, it-is-what-it-is stance. But I think the question of “how to compensate the designers of products that can be reproduced at no cost” is only going to accelerate and apply to more and more of our lives. Eventually, (barring highly possible catastrophe) we might be LITERALLY talking about downloading cars. When that day comes, I don’t want us to throw away a post-scarcity future out of a myopic attachment to a pre-scarcity economic and moral framework.

          3. I think socialism has to start at the means of economic production, and start with the redistribution of basic material needs for life, and then proceed upwards from there.

          4. Re: Freddie,

            While I can appreciate the moral dimensions of your desire, scarcity and the economics of distribution just got all pear-shaped ahead of schedule. The problems you’re discussing are politically and technologically “hard”; is it any wonder that we ended up “solving” the much easier problem of media distribution first?

            Which isn’t to say I disagree, I just think that, as usual in the post-industrial age, technology is racing far ahead of our political reality.

      3. “What are those “other means”? Specifically, and concretely, what are those other means?”

        Direct subsidies based on consumption, or paid for by a tax on hardware. This has worked to make the BBC free and commercial free for decades, and partially the case for NPR/PBS (which should be entirely supported by the government).

  17. Your number 4 above feels straw-mannish. At minimum it’s misleadingly incomplete.

    Would your conclusion of moral irrelevancy still hold in the face of an argument that no one has any moral right to control their public ideas and that torrenting massively increases social welfare relative to the pre-torrenting baseline?

    (And I’m afraid I’m very lost as to how ‘loving’ media might trigger a moral duty to compensate its creator(s).)

    Is mass digital sharing resulting in either less quantity or quality of art than would otherwise be the case? That is a difficult question to answer well, but it is the crux of the issue to my mind.

  18. Many of you are dramatically underestimating the kind of resources that are necessary to make great artwork. Sgt Pepper could not have been made by dedicated amateurs. Even today, high-quality recording costs are far higher than people realize. Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro and a dream. Nobody laboring alone in his bedroom could code Half-Life 2. Etc.

    1. Agreed that much art would be very different, and much less costly, if market returns were expected to be lower.

      Did art get better with robust ip protection? I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone try to make this case, as subjective as it is. But I’m not sure why anyone would think it so in the first place.

      It seems to me that art is fundamentally not a capitalist activity. Profit motive is not a driver of art in the way it is for a construction company. In fact, one might even define art as a type human expression not predicated on financial recompense.

      And assuming the moral right of artists to receive payment for their art is assuming an awful lot. But, having said that, I do agree that a social arrangement whereby a mass of starving artists works without adequate food/shelter while entertaining the rest of society is hardly an optimal result. Better, perhaps (perhaps!), that people reduce their expectations of financial reward when making a career in art.

    2. Just a quick note to say that Counter Strike absolutely WAS coded by a bunch of volunteers as a result of their own enthusiasm. Likewise Team Fortress.

      Oh – and the Linux kernel, which drives most of the web today. And BSD Unix – the framework on which Mac OS X is built.

      And pretty much all of deviantart.com. And a majority of the stuff on 500px.com. And a great deal of good writing.

      Lawrence of Arabia could not be made by some kids with a GoPro, but that does nothing to diminish what a couple of kids with a GoPro can do. And Sergeant Pepper – oh, this is silly and childish. Your proposition is that Great Art is not possible without significant resources being brought to bear. The real proposition is that some kinds of creative endeavour (some of which is decidedly not great) are not possible without significant resources. And your warning is that diminishing revenues will result in the death of these endeavours.

      You’re falling victim to one of the most basic misapprehensions in ‘media’ today: That this is a crisis of production. It’s not; it’s a crisis of distribution. There is an entire industry whose existence is predicated on controlling distribution of creative works. That is the industry facing death. It’s those specific companies whose income is predicated on controlling access to the creative works they pay for (they’re not creators themselves) whose fate is in the balance now.

      My personal feeling is that they can go take a flying leap. They never did anything for me, or for the vast majority of very talented creators whom I’ve known in my lifetime. They actively quench a great deal of expression, because scarcity is their stock in trade. And they have so subverted the state of the internet now that the vast majority of the planet does not have access to the ‘millions’ of works that you think are so readily (and legally) accessible.

      And now, lest you accuse me of not having a reasonable, practical alternative, allow me to point to just one perfectly workable approach that I’ve come up with over the years.

      Freddie: you’re not wrong about all of this (though you are quite wrong on some of the details; they only apply to America). You’re just having the wrong conversation. The biggest problem is that you seem guilty of the very American tendency to equate wealth with success. That’s not useful. There’s a lot more to it than that.

  19. Information wants to be free.
    Information also wants to be paid.
    Therefore information is broke.

    Untie this knot if you want a valid internet business model.

  20. So, the retort that “no one is getting put out of work” accompanied by posting a long list of profitable films, misses the point entirely. Pirating is not going to stop Hollywood from making Pirates of the Caribbean. What’s it going to do is reduce the profits on something like Pirates of the Caribbean, especially in terms of (1) overseas box office, and (2) rental fees after the theatrical run. Those reduced profits amount to money that won’t be used to fund something interesting in the future. People look at blockbuster movies and think pirating is having no effect on the film industry, but that’s just, frankly, ignorance. Indeed, one of the most annoying things about pirating advocates is their ignorance of the industries they claim won’t be hurt by pirating.

    In short: what we don’t see are the films that don’t get made. We don’t see the artists who can’t get a meeting, whose scrips sit in development hell, who have to turn to fickle outside funding to get something made, at a reduced cost, and if at all. Pirates of the Caribbean, the Hunger Games, the never ending stream of comic book garbage, etc., all of that will continue to be made because, yes, it will withstand piracy. But, in the future, if piracy doesn’t stop cutting into the profit margins of those films, then other, better films won’t get made. They won’t even get considered. And then we’ll have a movie industry composed almost entirely of comic book films pitched to 15 year-old boys. I really, really don’t want that world. And I doubt pirating advocates want that world, either. But that’s what we’ll get. Pointing to a list of profitable films and saying “see, the greedy bastards are doing fine!” is to just show your ignorance of the industry.

    1. In short: what we don’t see are the films that don’t get made.

      This is a conveniently unprovable assertion. How do we get data defining the number of films that don’t get made?

      But, in the future, if piracy doesn’t stop cutting into the profit margins of those films, then other, better films won’t get made.

      Another unprovable assertion combined with a value judgement. Plenty of ‘better’ films are already being made, that profit FAR less than the blockbusters, and have been forever. Nothing about the new digital situation has changed this at all, and profits aren’t declining industry-wide. In fact, ticket sales have been rising for quite some time; the last several years have seen records set in gross receipts and tickets sold. Investors in movies are doing no worse today than they ever have, and arguably making better returns over the last decade than they did before. How does this square with the idea that ‘piracy’ is somehow holding back non-blockbuster movies?

      Answer: it doesn’t, it’s simply a lazy argument on your part with no data to back it up.

      1. First, “gross receipts” is not the best way to measure the success of the industry since it pays so little attention to profit margins. Movies are very, very expensive to make, and those costs aren’t likely to reduce unless the film industry voluntarily chooses to make cheaper films, i.e., stop producing blockbusters and return to a low-cost industry modeled on a couple of golden age studios (Fox, to be specific, which specialized in cheaply-made thrillers with high profit margins throughout the golden age). There is, of course, no evidence that this is a viable business model today, or that the cheap films would be any good, but I guess it’s an option a studio could theoretically try.

        Also, profits were down this year, significantly. Not sure if that’s the sign of a larger trend, since it’s just one year, but it’s still an important data point.

        Third, I’ll readily grant that my point about “the films that don’t get made” is unverifiable. Of course it is: it depends on evaluating the worth of something that never came to be. However, it just doesn’t seem wild to think that, with profits concentrated (as they are right now) in a handful of blockbusters, as opposed to being spread among a larger pool of films with some variety in their subject matter and target audience, that a decline in profits would harm films on the margins. Now, maybe some of those films are terrible. No doubt many of them are. However, some of them were likely going to be very, very good. Maybe outside funding steps in to take over for the studios. There’s not much evidence for that right now (all of the indie producers are basically subsidiaries of major studios now, i.e., the trend is toward consolidation, not independent producers). Maybe everything turns around, Hollywood continues to make money hand over fist, and studios pour the profits into producing unique works of art as opposed to more Marvel films. However, if the latter occurs, it will be in spite of pirating, obviously. Certainly, pirating is not contributing to the film industry’s profitability; at least, I sincerely hope you aren’t saying something like that, since that’s some Big Brother talk about how freedom is slavery or what not, not an honest look at the effect of what is essentially theft on an industry that depends on consumption of its products.

        So, even if I am completely wrong and film producers are still making boatloads on blockbuster films (something that is just empirically inaccurate, but I’ll grant it for the sake of argument), and even if every single worthwhile film that could have been made does get made (again, obviously not the case), those conditions exist in spite of piracy. Piracy only makes that state of affairs more difficult. So, what’s the defense? Why support it? Because people just like free stuff? So? Who cares? I like free stuff, too. Hell, if I had my druthers, I would love to have everything for free. But other people have to work and eat and live, too, so I don’t just steal it from them because I want it. I’m waiting for a defense of piracy that actually deals with this point.

        1. I think you’re overly dismissive about the benefits of “free stuff.” Free stuff is a very good thing, and while it may be the case that at the end of the day it’s not worth the negative systemic effects on the film industry for us to all have that free, anyone making that case needs to appeal to something more than “well you wouldn’t steal ~insert tangible good that can’t be copied for free here~ would you?”

        2. Piracy only makes that state of affairs more difficult. So, what’s the defense?

          The ‘defense,’ not that one is needed, is indeed that I want free stuff and that nobody is being harmed by my taking that free stuff, outside of your theoretical awesome movie that isn’t being made and probably never would have been made, or something like that.

          Every trend in movie production you mention predates digital piracy. By a lot. And pirates are, overall, not really harming the profitability of the industry – just, the industry is relying upon a bunch of films that you personally find distasteful. I fail to see the problem here – just a bunch of assertions and projections and hand-waving. My downloading a movie picks nobody’s pocket and causes nobody to go out of business – or perhaps you can point to actual evidence of that happening? With real crimes, you can, yaknow.

          1. But you downloading a movie absolutely does pick someone’s pockets in the sense that the movie is supposed to cost a certain amount of money to see–whether it be through seeing it at a theater or paying to rent it or stream it or what have you–and you have not paid that money. Like, what? Is that really debatable? My confusion is genuine here.

            And of course, you, as an individual, cannot cause the movie industry to go out of business. But you, in combination with millions of other people engaging in the same activity, can in fact cause damage to an industry and the very real human beings who work in it. Again, is that really debatable?

            I’m genuinely confused as to why I’m having to explain this.

          2. But you, in combination with millions of other people engaging in the same activity, can in fact cause damage to an industry and the very real human beings who work in it. Again, is that really debatable?

            Yes! It is debatable!

            Why, you say, with a confused look on your face? The answer is elementary: millions already are engaging in that activity and there isn’t any actual evidence it’s harming the industries in question! Just conjecture, hand-wringing, and moralizing. No evidence of loss or significant decline.

            Not only that, but file sharing does spread the word about titles that you may not have heard of before. As Mr. De Boer says above, this shouldn’t be seen as a justification for engaging in the activity, but then again I don’t feel any justification is actually necessary, so it’s important to bring it up as a point. I’ll give you an example: through file sharing I heard about The Decemberists about a decade ago. What a great band. I never would have heard them on the radio in the area I lived, and I certainly wasn’t in the habit of buying CDs or songs of groups I’ve never heard of. Now, I’ve been to see them in concert almost ten times. I buy swag at the shows and tell people about them. My downloading of ‘Engine Driver’ in 2004-5 DIRECTLY led to them profiting from me. A lot. And it wouldn’t have happened without the free publicity. Doesn’t act as a justification for my behavior, but the end result is another loyal and dedicated fan for the group.

            So, did I pick their pocket in this instance, or not? All that extra revenue they’ve realized from me really must suck for them.

            Some of you guys just don’t seem to be able to wrap your head around the models of the Sharing Society, the old paradigm of a zero-sum game just doesn’t work anymore.

          3. “I’m genuinely confused as to why I’m having to explain this.”

            He’s only picking a pocket if one has fully internalized the idea that a person who views media has an obligation to pay. Our view is that unlike, say, the obligation to not steal or assault people, this pay-for-viewing principle is a fairly arbitrary one, set up (in a completely different technological context) to provide for an end (compensation of artists) that could be achieved through other means.

      2. “This is a conveniently unprovable assertion. How do we get data defining the number of films that don’t get made?”

        It actually isn’t, really. Because we can quantify the types of movies that Hollywood produces. The number of sequels and brand franchises (“Lego” “Harry Potter” spin offs, etc.) have drastically increased in the last 5 years or so. The number of mid-budget comedies and small films have fallen.

        1. Precisely because declining revenues makes studios less likely to take risks and more likely to engage in endless franchise expansion.

          1. So are you now arguing that piracy is what brought about the era huge, unprecedented movie profitability by forcing studios to stick to safe bet franchises?

          2. I’m just not certain how piracy can be at once a bane on the movie industry and also the driver of its greatest successes. Unless you’d argue that this trend is something short term, but I don’t see any reason to think that it is.

          3. I thought it was pretty simple: piracy lowers revenues. Lower revenues compels studios to only fund the least risky projects. The least risky projects are those franchises and blockbusters.

          4. But Hollywood has always worked on this principle. How is the current franchise trend any different from the cookie cutter star vehicles that were churned out in the heyday of the studio system? Besides all that, revenues aren’t down. The studios are more profitable than ever.

          5. That is not true! Revenues ARE down. DVDs provided much more revenue on a per-movie basis than streaming sales, and theater attendance has declined for a solid decade. Just saying “revenues are at a record high!” is cliche #8.

          6. From the Hollywood Reporter last year. “And in a first, both Warner Bros. and Disney crossed $3 billion in revenue at the international box office.
            Like Warners, Disney and Universal enjoyed their best years ever on a worldwide revenue basis.”

          7. You get that total revenues are always going to go up with the population, right? The question is revenue per filmgoer, revenue per film, and revenue per capita.

            But let me guess: you’re going to come up with some rationalization here, too, right?

          8. The question is revenue per filmgoer, revenue per film, and revenue per capita.

            Dunno about revenue per film, but revenue per filmgoer is significantly up. Hard to see that as a major loss for the industry, especially as home viewing (not even counting piracy) has risen tremendously due to large-screen televisions, netflix, and other on-demand services.

            http://www.the-numbers.com/market/

            (I’m checking to see if the data in the link on this quoted above is in constant dollars or not)

  21. I torrented Duck Soup the other night. I’ll gladly send $2 royalty to Harpo, just give me an address in Fredonia to send it to.

  22. I’m trying to separate my feelings about the dying (or nearly dead, or perhaps just very ill) corporate music industry from my feelings about the loss of revenue to artists. Because on the one hand, the old model of a major label record company is not something I’d mourn. It was far more succesful at NOT paying artists than at making them millionaires (although of course the public mostly only paid attention to the Cinderella stories and not the far greater number of artists that recorded an album, went into debt to the label, and got dropped into legal limbo.) It also acted as a frequently odious gatekeeper of public taste. On the other hand, I agree that artists should be paid, especially if we want more art from them in the future. So it is unfortunate that the admittedly self-serving “Stick it to the Man!” sentiment of torrenters ends up claiming artists’ revenues as collateral damage.

    Now that it is finally possible for consumers to purchase directly from the artists they enjoy, there is at last the possibility of bypassing a hugely inefficient and exploitative middleman. I continue to hope, perhaps naively, that more artists will figure out how to sell directly to their fans.

    However, profit doesn’t give up without a fight, and the current hopes of the recording industry seem to be pinned to an industry-wide move to some kind of walled garden scenario, where the device you’re using dictates what media you can stream (because the idea of owning the media you download has already been left by the wayside. We’re supposed to just rent content now.)

  23. Note: I have no great desire to see corporate profiteers make huge amounts of money. But I also don’t see a viable film industry–one where artists have access to funding to make art–without some sort of studio structure in place. Sure, something like a film industry could exist at the scale of, say, classical music, where a small number of very rich individuals fund a small number of prestigious institutions producing a small number of high quality works a year. If that sounds good to you, by all means, let’s have it. But I doubt that’s what many people want.

      1. No, just that one of the guys up above said that ticket sales were increasing to prove that the movie industry was healthy in spit of pirating. I posted that just to point out that ticket sales have been falling for a decade, not rising. No argument about causation implied.

      2. “Do you really think downloading was impacting the movie industry in 2003?”

        I do. I’d say it began to have an impact around 2001.

    1. Those are statistically insignificant variations; 5-10% variation in sales isn’t a sign of a declining industry, but rather a stable one. What more, gross revenues are indeed up during that time. The studios are quite literally making more money off of less butts in seats than they did a decade ago. I fail to see the problem here.

  24. This stuff isn’t even hard to find: “Between 2007 and 2011, pre-tax profits of the five studios controlled by large media conglomerates (Disney, Universal, Paramount, Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros) fell by around 40%, says Benjamin Swinburne of Morgan Stanley.”

    http://www.economist.com/news/business/21572218-tale-two-tinseltowns-split-screens

    I’m not saying pirating is the sole cause of a 40% drop in profits, but it can’t be helping, right? And how can a 40% drop in profits not have an effect on experimental, interesting projects with much less obvious road to profitability? It seems like you have to have a very determined mindset to just look at this information and say “pirating is completely without consequences!”

  25. Here’s an argument I haven’t seen: 1. Downloading media without paying is only theft when the media are copyrighted, and 2. The purpose of copyright is to provide a limited period of protection for creators *in exchange for* the media later being released freely for the benefit of the public and culture at large. Therefore, 3. The concept of torrenting “theft” is not a moral construct but a legal, contractual one. 4. Thanks to the lobbying budgets of media corporations, the contract has been rewritten repeatedly and the copyright period has been extended to ridiculous lengths; benefits go not to the public that gives copyright nor to the creators who earn it, but to corporations that employ creators or purchase their work. 5. When one party violates the spirit of a contract, or tries to use the terms to disadvantage the other party, the moral implications of further breaking the contract are rendered questionable at best.

    Bonus argument: The industry is and will continue using technology to eliminate all but the most essential media jobs. This is reasonable, because they created those jobs in the first place and are acting only in response economic incentives and opportunities. Now, replace “the industry” with “consumers” and this paragraph is equally true.

  26. “Our view is that unlike, say, the obligation to not steal or assault people, this pay-for-viewing principle is a fairly arbitrary one, set up (in a completely different technological context) to provide for an end (compensation of artists) that could be achieved through other means.”

    How is it arbitrary? I guess I could see other ways of compensating artists: (1) paying a much higher price for concert tickets; (2) paying them when you feel good about their music/just feel like it (just another form of pay-for-view, but tied more to some sort of intangible sense of value? Not economically viable, of course, but it’s a possibility); (3) paying the artist directly? Still pay-for-view, probably, but no studio, which gets back to the point of how the music is actually going to get made absent restricting music to trust-funders and/or those who can record in their homes or on shoe-string budgets; (4) crowdfunding of records with a free copy (not actually free of course) for donators? That’s not identical to the current model, but it’s also probably not viable nor meaningfully distinguishable from pay-for-view since it still requires paying a certain amount of money to eventually hear the record.

    So, there are alternatives. None of them prove that pay-for-view is somehow “arbitrary.” I mean, sure, pay could be tied to something irrelevant to the product to be consumed, I guess. But that seems even MORE arbitrary than simply paying for the product when you want to consume it.

    What are the alternatives you’re suggesting? And how do they compensate artists?

    1. Arbitrary in the sense that it isn’t mandated by the laws of physics or biology. If I steal your car so I can drive it, you don’t have a car. If I hit you, you hurt. The laws against theft and assault are therefore deeply rooted in unsentimental aspects of reality.

      The laws against copyright infringement only make sense under certain technological and economic systems. It is easy to imagine alternatives–you just did it four times, and I could do four more. There are clear and longstanding exceptions–successful artists have allowed us to see and hear some media for free over the airways for a long, long time. It’s just all so conditional and political to a certain set of policies and conditions.

      1. I actually agree that we can obviously imagine a world without copyright. It would be very, very different, and there’s certainly no guarantee that any of the alternatives would be viable. They also may be considerably more complicated than “pay me some money to buy my album,” which may or may not be an argument against any alternatives, depending on their benefits.

        But none of this is an argument in favor of piracy. Piracy is nothing more than refusing to pay for something you are legally obligated to pay for. To put a finer point on it, piracy is stealing money that someone has a right to earn. You act like this is somehow distinguishable from the laws against theft because digital files are unlike tangible objects (steal a car = one less car, not just lost profits). But that argument just flat doesn’t work. Taking someone’s property without compensation is pretty much the definition of stealing, and the fact that they only lose money doesn’t make it “not stealing.” It also doesn’t mean there are no consequences rooted in “unsentimental aspects of reality.” The loss of money is rooted in an unsentimental aspect of reality, namely, the need to earn money.

        I feel like we’re talking past each other or you’re just deliberately ignoring really obvious points about the reality of human life in 2014. Like, I get that in some faraway time the world could be very different and this argument would seem quaint, but that doesn’t mean that, right now, in the word we live in, refusing to pay for something you’re using has no consequences. It may one day, but not this day.

        1. “I feel like we’re talking past each other or you’re just deliberately ignoring really obvious points about the reality of human life in 2014. Like, I get that in some faraway time the world could be very different and this argument would seem quaint, but that doesn’t mean that, right now, in the word we live in, refusing to pay for something you’re using has no consequences. It may one day, but not this day.”

          Well, speaking only for myself and recognizing that I’m in a thread with someone who is taking a somewhat different position, I’m not at all arguing that there are no consequences. I recognize there are negative aspects to piracy, and that in some contexts (namely cinema) those negative aspects may be pretty substantial. My position is that the positives outweigh the negatives.

          My problem with your posts in this thread is that it sort of seems like you’re discounting the positives because they’re illicitly gained. To me, this at the very least is putting the cart before the horse: the illicitness of piracy isn’t inherent in the way actual theft is. Instead, the problem of piracy is that it thwarts a particular incentive system. Therefore, you really can’t judge piracy until you establish the value of that particular incentive system.

          And I get your focus on the here-and-now, but I think there are some very important long-term considerations that have nothing to do with media. There are going to be more of these “can-be-copied-for-free” goods down the line, inshallah, and I think it’s very important that we avoid establishing any norms favoring artificial scarcity in preparation for that.

      2. Actually, there’s a pretty basic “unsentimental” logic here: people should control their work and product of their work. They give up control by entering contracts of course, but a pirate has not entered a contract. They have stolen the work. It is a form of wage theft.

        The “but if I steal your car you wouldn’t have a car so it’s totally different!” is a childish argument, and also one that doesn’t really hold up.

        If I snuck into your house and used your stuff while you were at work, but left everything when you got back, then there’s nothing wrong? If I look over your shoulder at work and see your business proposal, copy it, and present it as my own to the boss have I done nothing shady since I only copied it?

        All of those alternatives work (when they work) only because they allow the worker to decide what contracts they enter. You choose to kickstart, you can choose to give away music for free but charge more for concerts, etc. Anything else is wage theft.

        1. Actually, both your analogies are obviously facile. The violation any normal person would feel from your burglary idea is the loss of privacy and possibly the risk of accidental damage. A pirated work is intended for public consumption, and use of it causes no damage to the original. The “never intended for public consumption” aspect also applies to your business plan example, which has the additional issue of misidentification of the creator–if I torrent Avatar, everyone still knows who James Cameron is.

          It’s interesting how routinely really, really bad analogies come up in the piracy debate, even from very intelligent people. I think it stems from the fact that intellectual “property” is in itself a bad analogy–application of a concept and body of law built to deal with limited resources to an unlimited resource. It made a little sense when it was first introduced, when reproduction costs were non-zero, but now it’s incoherient.

  27. “The answer is elementary: millions already are engaging in that activity and there isn’t any actual evidence it’s harming the industries in question! Just conjecture, hand-wringing, and moralizing. No evidence of loss or significant decline.”

    I mean, you can keep accusing me of “conjecture, hand-wringing, and moralizing” until you’re blue in the face and yet the evidence of substantial declines in profits in nearly every single media industry plagued by pirating is impossible to deny. Can we trace the decline directly to pirating? I doubt it. Tracing the various causes of declining profit is difficult. Likely, there are many causes tied to larger economic trends independent of pirating.

    But you’re telling me that, because I can’t provide data tying a specific percentage of lost profits to pirating, then I have no cause to criticize pirating. That is, frankly, nonsense. It is merely common sense that consuming media without paying for it, in an industry the economic model of which is based on consumers paying for media, will have an effect on the economics of that industry. What you’re saying to me is the equivalent of saying “You can’t prove that massive theft of bread across the country is affecting the bread industry because you can’t tie the theft to specific percentages of lost profit.”

    The fact that a digital file isn’t bread, i.e., a digital file infinitely replicable while bread is not, seems irrelevant to me. The fact that digital files are infinitely replicable just explains why they’re so easy to pirate, not why pirating them is somehow consequence-free and morally defensible. Humans are not infinitely replicable; for every person who pirates, that’s one person who didn’t pay for the product but who got to see it anyway. Perhaps they were never going to consume it. That, of course, is just as unverifiable as any other attempt to prove a negative. And it still wouldn’t justify piracy from a moral perspective; indeed, stealing bread and then saying “well, I wouldn’t have bought it if I had to pay for it” wouldn’t justify stealing the bread. The only distinction here is that the studio didn’t labor to produce the copy of the digital file you downloaded (infinite replicability), while the breadmaker labored each individual loaf of bread. But, taken to its logical conclusion, your argument is that, because digital files are infinitely replicable, no one ever has to pay for any copies but the first because no labor was put into making the copies. That’s a nice recipe for a completely bankrupt industry that never receives any compensation for its labor after selling the initial digital file to a first user. Again, I’m not saying that this is what is actually happening (clearly not every single person is pirating any piece of media), but that your argument leads in that direction.

    1. What you’re saying to me is the equivalent of saying “You can’t prove that massive theft of bread across the country is affecting the bread industry because you can’t tie the theft to specific percentages of lost profit.”

      That’s actually the opposite of my argument, because – in the case of bread or other real-world, non-digital products – you CAN tie theft to specific percentages of lost profit. Directly. Shrinkage is well-studied and understood, and a loaf of bread stolen from a store is one less loaf you could sell. It is a direct loss that can be quantified, and is.

      The fact that a digital file isn’t bread, i.e., a digital file infinitely replicable while bread is not, seems irrelevant to me.

      On the contrary, it is directly relevant! When you copy a file, there’s no loss of the original product. The owner of that original product has no less today than they did the day before. They aren’t prevented from selling more copies to anyone else. They aren’t directly harmed and you can’t quantify the amount they’ve lost.

      That all being the case, how can you say it’s the exact same situation? By any empirical viewpoint, it is not. When a file is copied, the MOST that is lost isn’t a sale; it’s a POTENTIAL customer, only a small percentage of whom would actually make a real-world sale. It’s nothing to me if a company loses potential customers, and frankly it’s nothing to them either, because they never had it in the first place. Potential customers aren’t assets to be owned.

      But, taken to its logical conclusion, your argument is that,

      Yeah, I recommend avoiding ever doing that in discussions like this. The answer is always an Appeal to Extremes, always a logical fallacy, and never productive.

      1. An appeal to an extreme is not a logical fallacy. It’s just deductive logic based on the internal logic of an argument. The fact that you don’t like the consequences of your argument doesn’t make my pointing them out a logical fallacy. Pointing out that your argument leads to pernicious extremes is a perfectly valid argumentative tactic, even if the extreme will never come to pass. Why? The extreme will never come to pass because your argument will ultimately be rejected and compromised in favor of other values. Avoiding extremes constitutes a partial refutation of an argument that leads to those extremes because the argument actually contemplates and approves of those extremes by its very logical structure. To say, “we don’t want your extremes” is to say “we don’t actually agree with your argument.”

    2. The problem with using sales figures as your main argument here is that there’s no breakdown of how much is being lost to piracy vs how much is being lost to a shift to digital distribution. I’ve bought a lot of music over the past 6 months, but only one complete album, since I no longer have to buy a whole CD in order to get the three songs I like. If the only way to get a book is by purchasing a physical copy, the likelihood of my buying it decreases dramatically. I haven’t seen a movie in the theater in almost 5 years; I wait for it to show up on Netflix. It seems quite possible that the decline in revenue is primarily due to the greater number of cheaper legal access options for content.

  28. Regarding #4 (We need IP reform):

    No, there is nothing inherently immoral about listening to someone’s music without paying them. The same way there is nothing immoral about driving 68 mph. We have a speed limit of, say 65 mph, because we as a society recognize the dangers of driving too fast, and 65 mph is as good a place as any to draw the line. It’s immoral to drive 65 simply because it’s a reasonable law with a good rationale.

    Similarly, we recognize that a truly free market will not deliver the optimum amount of music, so we introduce a hack into the system. We give people a monopoly over their creations for a limited amount of time to so they’ll make a reasonable amount of money (if it’s any good), and incentive more people to create things. But the system we have now has been bought by large media companies, and the copyright now extends to 80 years after the death of the artist. Which goes way beyond the original purpose of copyright. This is a corrupt system that’s unjust.

    A reasonable, moral, response would be to download for free any music more than
    14 years old (which is as long as the original copyright term before media companies
    lobbied to have it extended).

    1. I disagree with this. If you torrent my independent film for free when it’s readily available at a fair price on my streaming site, then you’ve shoplifted something I personally produced (at great cost, no less!) from me.

      1. The obvious rejoinder to this is that – were I not able to get it for free – I wouldn’t be watching your independently-made film anyway. I wouldn’t even know about its’ existence and I certainly wouldn’t be paying you for the privilege to watch it. So, ‘shoplifting’ is a pretty inaccurate term – I’m not taking anything from you that you weren’t then unable to go ahead and sell to someone else and you’re not losing revenue due to my actions.

  29. Might be tangential, but how do you think sports factors into this? A norm of people paying for the stuff they consume seems sensible to me, but NBA League Pass/MLB.tv for example are relatively expensive and have blackout restrictions. Plus the sports leagues are in much better economic shape than the the music/film industries.

  30. Those cliches are crappy rationalizations. The actual defense is much simpler: IP aren’t real property rights, and in fact do vast amounts of harms by restricting the flow of information. It could be argued that each time I torrent I do an “iota” of harm to artists who aren’t compensated. On the other hand, it could be equally true that I do an “iota” of harm to the existing IP regime that needs to be overthrown. The unknowable consequences cut both ways.
    Thus, torrenting is analogous to buying a bag of weed (where it’s criminalized). I contribute to a criminal underground economy and perhaps indirectly to cartels. On the other hand, I also undermine existing drug laws. If it weren’t for the willingness of vast number of people to break drug laws, cannabis reform would not be having its current success. Likewise, violation of IP on a vast scale is the most likely route to true reform of IP.

  31. “Remember, kids! You are better off if you listen to less music!”

    Tough marketing sell, that one.

      1. This is not true (at least in the US). Libraries purchase books/CDs/movies and then loan them out. They do not pay a licensing fees to publishers. So… come on, man.

        Look, I support giving artists money. But what I am asking is, how is checking out something from a library, or buying a used textbook, or trading in videogames getting money to the creator of a work?

        1. Uh, actually, friend, FOR DIGITAL MEDIA WHICH IS THE TOPIC OF CONVERSATION, libraries DO pay licensing fees.

          This is why comments are staying off. So much confidence from people who are so wrong.

  32. The release of THE INTERVIEW exposed the naked lie about cost & availability. Even at $6 and available from Google and iTunes, many were STILL stealing it.

  33. Live in Portland, used to torrent a lot and not feel bad, have had friends put social pressure on me to pay for content I enjoy. Torrenting Is done in private, but sharing media we enjoy is done with others. Discussing it, viewing it, etc. there is room for social norms, pressure, etc.

    I have lived in China where piracy possibly has a larger impact on the domestic Chinese media industry. Have heard people in the industry there talk about the fact that there is a gap, a missing layer of Quality, innovative Chinese media that should exist but doesn’t because of piracy. Impossible to prove definitively, but an interesting concept. Piracy is more acceptable there, the industry is less robust/established. Sure, there are poppy mega stars, but what some bemoan is that there is a missing layer of quality innovative media that should be there because there are so many Chinese people and their economy is growing so fast.

    Some possible outcomes: the culture will change, no stopping that. No going back. But we have an interest in making art/media less trite, appeal to the LCD bullshit. I think of art/media in communist countries – sure, it was created, but it was mostly worthless because it was soulless. Created by the state for “the masses”. It is imaginable that media may become profit less and so will be created by those who can afford to not get paid or, if they want to get paid, created for “the masses”. It will be trite bullshit because by definition media for the masses does not offend, does not challenge.

    Some stick against piracy will be a necessary part of the solution. Even if you just make it harder to get thing illegally, this is all that is needed for most people who will pay for convenience.
    What about pay by income. Type in your social security number and you pay based on income? Like how tickets and fines are done in Germany?

  34. I’d add that illegal downloading is particularly devastating for reissue labels. There’s a lot of forgotten or previously unknown music out there, but finding and restoring tapes and other media can be a very expensive process. And in many cases the artists are elderly, dead or untraceable, so the “money from shows will take up the slack” argument is even more inoperative than usual.

    If you spend $10,000 to find, restore and pay for the rights to reissue a little-known LP from 1970s Africa or 1960s Indonesia, and hundreds or thousands of copies of the album are illegally downloaded, it becomes a lot less likely that you’re gonna go to that much trouble again. Unless you have very deep pockets, which most independent labels don’t.

    1. “finding and restoring tapes and other media can be a very expensive process.”

      Plenty of hobbyists do this for free, and obscure music from before 1970 has never been so widely available.

  35. The switch from records to tapes, from tapes to CDs, from VHS to DVD to BluRay all represented a completely unearned windfall for content creators and owners, who produced nothing extra (aside from 25 cents worth of plastic media), but received a ton of extra money as people paid money to buy the same content in a new format. Same thing for video game companies reselling Nintendo games that cost my parents an inflation-adjusted $100 in a format that works on new equipment. (The technology to do so is trivial and open source).

    Now consumers, for a change, have the upper hand because of technological change.

    “We need IP reform. Totally true. Irrelevant to the moral question of whether you should pay the people who make the media you love for their work.”

    Of course it is relevant if much/all of media that enjoys IP protection should not receive any such protection. Personally I’d set a five-year limit for copyright of music, games, and visual media to the extent my preferred option of direct government content subsidies and no copyright is not enacted.

  36. This comment section proves once again: you can’t have an honest, good faith argument with pro piracy fanatics.

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