Piracy Part 1: Free Culture

Piracy is a difficult topic for me. On one hand, I like free stuff and I'm a professional at justifications (we all are, really). On the other hand, the logical flaws in those justifications irk me no end. Plus, you know, my conscience.

Up until recently, we owned a fair amount of pirated stuff -- movies, music, software... Not because we are evil people, but because we live in a free culture. I can buy a DVD of any movie or TV show for $3, not in a back alley, but at a kiosk in the mall. To find legal software here, I have to walk past four illegal shops just for the privilege of paying 30x the price.

As we got rid of our illegal stuff, I realized the fight against piracy is not just about enforcing the law. Legislation and enforcement is part of it, sure, but free culture is powered more than anything by belief.

How do you fight it when your friend tells you about this awesome game that you just have to play with them. "Oh, I can't afford it," you say. "That's okay," they reply, "I made you a copy. Here."

Or you're homeschooling your kids, but curriculum costs more than you make in a month. "Don't worry," your friend says, "I'll copy my books for you at Kinko's."

Or say you love the TV show Babylon 5, but the entire box set is almost $300. What do you do when your friend gives you the whole set as a gift, knowing (because of the distorted disc labels and DVD jackets with Chinese on them) that he paid less than $50 for it?

That's what free culture looks like. When we got rid of our pirated stuff, we heard a lot of comments like, "I wish I could do that," or "You're just throwing it away!" or "I don't know how you can live like that in Thailand." (And these were from the missionary community).

When people believe that digital media is cheap to make, that corporations are extorting us, that everybody pirates and nobody gets hurt -- at that point it doesn't matter what the law is. People will look at you funny, even resent you, when you pay full price for stuff. In many ways, we're there already. I've got more to say, but that will have to wait until Friday.

In the meantime, I'm curious, what is piracy like in your own community? Is it something people look down on, or is it considered normal? Does anyone do it? Does everyone do it?


Amie McCracken said...

I feel guilty, but I still do it.

I think that's all I have to say about it. Seeing as my justifications will just be excuses.

Adam Heine said...

That's pretty much exactly how I was. Then my wife decided she didn't want us to do it anymore.

I'll tell you, it wasn't easy getting rid of my stuff. I was mad about some of it, even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

Natalie Whipple said...

That must be hard over there! Here, I can at least access legit stuff, and I try very hard to do so.

When I was younger (in the Napster days), piracy didn't seem like a big deal to me. I didn't understand what I was taking added up.

After working for a magazine, where we adhered to very strict copyright procedures, I know better. I've contacted many artists for permission to use their work or words, and I now understand what it means to respect someone's creative work—whatever form it comes in.

And now as a writer? Man, I really understand what it means to have your creative work stolen. It's disrespectful to the artist, really. If you think about these artists—many of whom aren't making as much as you think—they've worked hard and you are ripping them off. It's not right.

Wow, I have an opinion on this.

vic caswell said...

hey adam!
i totally agree with natalie. piracy isn't much of a problem around here though... maybe we're all too rural and backwards to know how to pirate stuff. :)
way to go getting rid of that stuff!
it must have been REALLY hard! your wifey must have convictions of gold!

Unknown Blogger said...

Great Post!

My confession: My mother-in-law still buys CD's. She's pretty hip so there is some of it that me & my family like too. So we rip them to iTunes and add them to our iPods. I think that's the extent of our piracy. I used to have a copy of Adobe Photoshop, but I no longer use it since I bought Corel.

QUESTION (especially for writers) : Is sharing books piracy? If my dad buys a book, reads it, loves it, gives it to me to read, is that piracy?

As for the "Free Society": I think a BIG part of this is the "corporations are just corporations, if I steal from them its a victimless crime. Besides, they make enough money, so my 1 little copy of [Adobe Photoshop] isn't even noticable to them." I could rant for an hour on this, but I think its a big big big part of our society.

Sorry you had to get rid of so much good stuff.

Take Care!

Joshua McCune said...

My dad always preached to me about ethical relativism growing up, but I'm not sure it took. I guess it depends who I'm pirating from...

if it's a microsoft product, I don't feel so bad b/c I feel like their product reliability is so poor and they intentionally outdate their products and strongarm competition, so I don't feel bad in the least with them.

With the 'little guys' or ethical big guys, I will adhere to the rules.

Adam Heine said...

Natalie: I first took it seriously as a game developer. We didn't get royalties or anything, but when people would come onto our message boards saying things like, "It's okay to copy because the developers make so much money," I was looking at my paycheck going: "Um, what?"

Didn't stop me from pirating later though, I guess.

Aspiring: My wife does have convictions of gold. She's full of awesome. And fortunately, some of my favorite stuff (i.e. my anime) was bought legitimately :-)

Andy: I could rant about it too. I have in the past (scroll down a couple pages and you'll find my 11-year-old arguments). Now that I don't have the hypocritical guilt on my back, I may in the future, but we'll see.

Sharing books, as far as I know, is totally fine.

Bane: Just yesterday I installed my newly bought, legal copy of MS Office when I saw "not for commercial use" in the fine print. My newly-forged conscience wouldn't let it go, so now I have to return it for a Business edition :-P

And hey, how's the move going?

Joshua McCune said...

Adam, you are too good... I highly respect that. What exactly does "not for commercial use" mean exactly in that context? I guess if you're using it in a direct business/profit-motive venture, then you'd need the business edition, otherwise the non-commercial license should apply, even if you're using it to pen (type) you're future bestseller :).

re: the move ... always seems to take longer each time. First move from college to an apt took 3 hours to unload... this one was an order of magnitude (or 2) higher. Precious or clutter? Depends on whether you ask me or the wife :)

Adam Heine said...

My wife has a lot to do with my goodness. I had to look up "non-commercial use" to be sure: Novel writing counts as commercial. So would our foster work newsletters, since they are for a "non-profit venture".

I get the precious vs. clutter debate. And the order of magnitude. Our most recent move took a couple weeks, but hopefully we won't have to do it ever again.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm way behind on my blogging, but have to weigh in on this one! I'm very anti-piracy, and was even before I started writing. Just a rule-follower in that way, I guess, but it always rubbed me the wrong way.

Just yesterday, I was schooling Worm Burner in non-piracy. He found a YouTube video he liked the music for and wanted to put it on his MP3 player (inherited from me, when I got my iPod). Some songs you can download for free, but this one we looked at and it was a band that had written the song for the commercial in the video. I showed him how to go to the official band site, then to Amazon, and then pay his $1 for the song. He happily ran up to his room and brought down a dollar from his allowance to pay for it.

I'm impressed by your fortitude, though, because at least we have the option to pay for things here. With places where access to legit goods is limited, I can see the temptation being stronger to pirate. Still wrong, though.

Go you (and your wife)!

Adam Heine said...

Worm Burner is awesome. You can tell him I said that.