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Ethics of Piracy

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When I talk about piracy, my argument centers around softwares such as Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Word. Some of these programs can end up costing users hundreds of dollars annually in leasing fees. Piracy, however, makes these tools freely available to anyone with a computer. Coupled with the near infinite tutorials you can find online, anybody with an eager attitude can learn a new skill, granting them a leg up in an already cutthroat economy.

One of the most common arguments I hear when I talk about piracy is that stealing in all forms is wrong. This is where many get caught up in the literal definition. Piracy isn’t stealing; it’s sharing. If my friend buys a copy of Powerpoint and loans it to me, how much should he be fined for? Uploading something to the Internet for everyone to borrow is just sharing on a much larger scale. If I purchase something from a merchant do I not own it?

Pirating forces companies to adapt quickly to demand. In an attempt to combat piracy, most companies have shifted their products away from traditional version-by-version hard releases to subscription-based access. The most famous example of this is Game of Thrones. A week after their seventh season came to a close, HBO reported that it had been illegally shared over one billion times. This forced the premium cable network to open up other ways to access their content, such as partnering through Hulu and Amazon, as well as releasing their own streaming service: HBO Now.

Piracy does hurt revenues, but since a pirated copy doesn’t directly translate into lost sales it can be hard to estimate how much revenue is lost. A recent study by the Recording Industry Association of America estimated that the U.S. economy loses $12.5 in total output annually as a result of music theft. However, in a 2012 article by the New York Times entitled “Perpetual War: Digital Pirates and Creators” it was reported that the RIAA “tend to exaggerate piracy’s economic costs and threat to jobs” to lobby the government for stronger anti-piracy legislation. If you do feel guilty about pirating, especially in regards to something created by a small business like an indie game or an album, there are several ways you can still support the artists. Social media has changed the way we market to consumers. The phrase “like, share and subscribe” can go a long way in promoting a creator’s visibility. We are more connected to one another than ever before. It takes almost no effort to post a link on a popular forum such as Reddit or Tumblr. If you’ve got the money, attending a live performance or buying merch will always put money in the artist’s pocket. Lastly, word of mouth is still arguably the most powerful form of endorsement there is. When you tell a friend about how amazing something is, they’re far more likely to check it out than if a stranger shares a link online. Remember: sharing is caring—when performed responsibly!

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Illustration by Jooyoung Park

written by
Ian Kelley
December 18, 2018