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Chris Peak Headshot

Why We Can't Stop Pirating -- But We Should

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It's purely by coincidence that I'm writing this on pirated software. In just a few hours, to wind down my evening, I'll watch a pirated movie (thanks, Ellen DeGeneres) in the confines of a cozy bed. And I'm sure that after I brushed my teeth this morning I listened to my iTunes, full of songs which, you guessed, are pirated. It's easy -- stealing media that is. TOO easy, actually. Like taking candy from a sleeping baby (because an awake baby will probably still cry).

The vast and nearly all of the majority of people who pirate, do so for that reason -- the ease of it. Which doesn't make it any lesser a theft or crime (eeee, dirty word). We're Gen Y! We're into home breweries and smoking hookahs! Come on, man. If we wanna pirate, we'll fucking pirate! We're supposed to be anti-establishment and DOWN WITH CAPITALISM (shakes fist in air)!

I'm not naive to think that because I choose to watch a movie on my couch rather than in a movie theater, it's not stealing. I understand that it is. It's no different than if I walked into a friend's room and when he wasn't looking I swiped his DVD of Freddy Got Fingered. It's the same, but the stealing sounds worse because I recognize my friend as being the victim. Stealing from some rich stranger? Pfffff... why the hell not?

Author's Note: Watching Freddy Got Fingered would also make me a victim, too.

Right now, there are 86,784 people pirating The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and 58,543 people pirating The Wolf of Wall Street. One day, one site. More people than the Rose Bowl can hold -- just today, or this week, or however long someone "seeds," or "leeches," and then dumps the file.

Currently, the most pirated program on torrent sites is Adobe Photoshop CS6 (approximately 4,600 people downloading it) -- and at $699.95, why not? The more expensive the product, the more it's pirated. Adobe doesn't need the money. Their revenue last year was $1.04 billion (Adobe laid-off 750 people two years ago). Sure, maybe a free version of CS6 in the hands of some young 12-year-old who otherwise wouldn't have access to the program, is a good thing. But good or bad, it's still stealing.

When I was a freshman in college, one of the benefits we were afforded was 24 hour access to the college's digital music library, which I think was the largest, or one of the largest, in the world. It was just before iPods and iTunes but right around the time Napster was flooding college laptops. The process for listening to a record was somewhat tedious. We had to walk up to the desk, which meant talking to someone (cringe), choose an artist, obviously a CD, and then burn it (the horror). As you can imagine, burning CD after CD soon filled our CaseLogic books, weighing down my backpack like the fupa on an obese house cat. Wi-Fi was kind of new, so we still used ethernet cables to access the Internet, and the access and ability to download the latest song from Coldplay (I NEED EVERY LAST SONG! NEED IT NEED IT!) in 12 seconds suddenly became too good to be true. "Are you telling me I can download the new Gin Blossoms album in 30 seconds? Shit. What about "Top Jams of 2001?" WHAT?!?!" Suddenly, counterpoint seemed secondary. That's how it started for me. I don't know when the transition went from niche to normality, but eventually it did.

The victims of these thefts are not the movie stars and rock stars. Leo and Katy Perry are doing okay despite their movies and albums being some of the top pirated torrents in the past few years. The real victims of pirated software, movies, and albums are the production assistants, the assistant engineers, the make-up artists, and the junior software developers -- oh, and the dolly grips. MY GOD, THE DOLLY GRIP! It's called "trickle-down piracy?" Ever hear of that? Probably not because I just thought it up.

Regulating or shutting down torrent sites is about as hard as Ron Jeremy on a Thursday. Kickass Torrents, Torrentz, and everyone's favorite red-light torrent site, The Pirate Bay, are all operated outside of the U.S., countries like Tonga, Albania, Latvia, and Tokelau (uh-huh), have few, if any, laws prohibiting Internet piracy. But bet on them not having piracy laws. So, it's difficult to venture into an anti-piracy agreement with a country you didn't know existed.

The RIAA squashed Napster like a cockroach in the late '90s and early into 2000 before forcing the file-sharing platform to shutdown completely in June of 2001. It was a mistake. The thinking was that by killing Napster and tying it up with legal headaches, it would set precedent and squash any future piracy sites or file-sharing programs. Of course it didn't because torrent sites and file-sharing programs started to breed like Gremlins. By killing Napster, the music industry naively thought that it would get to pound its chest and say, "See, fuckers? Don't steal our shit! We'll sue you and ruin your life, and force your parents to pay us restitution!" What they should have said was, "Look, kids (you little shits), we know you're going to steal music. You weren't necessarily raised improperly, but you kind of were. So let's work this out together." We would have answered with one important question; "Okay, but can I keep my porn?"

Pirating on public networks (and with a VPN) is preferable, for safety, but also has its major cons. Most public networks don't allow certain websites, like a Pirate Bay. If you find a public Wi-Fi, like a library or coffee shop, or some neighbor with a creepy network name, bandwidth is probably limited because there's 100 people on the network doing God knows what, so you know I'm not going to spend five days pirating August Osseeggeee County at 0.4KB/second.

Your ISP has been monitoring and throttling your bandwidth for years. Unless you are a serial pirate and use a good VPN (Virtual Private Network), Insert Cable/Internet Co. Here can't tell that I'm downloading a pirated movie, or program, but they can SEE that I'm using large blocks of bandwidth for 10 or 12 hours a day. Where there's smoke, there's a pirate.

Internet service providers already offer monthly data plans for the user who wants to take their Wi-Fi on the go or just cut down on their monthly bill. Most plans start at $40 and give you between five and 10 gigabytes of data per month. Enough for the average person but only a few days' worth of data for a pirate (not enough for streaming Netflix or Hulu, by the way). It's a cheap way to somewhat prohibit piracy -- implementing data caps on users.

The fix? There is a fix. And it could work. Tax me. Tax for me the amount of bandwidth I use. Tax me each month, then earmark the tax for the film and music industry. Collect whatever percentage off of that tax you want. Enter into an anti-piracy agreement with both the RIAA and MPAA, and distribute the tax as fairly as possible. It would be a difficult task to allocate the tax to the effected artists and software developers, but there are widely available lists, updated daily and weekly, of the most pirated albums, programs, and movies. Think of it as not just a tax, but more of a piracy royalty. I mean, I already hate your guts, Mr. Internet Service Provider. MY GOD, last month you charged me an "American Usage Tax." WHAT IN HOLY SHIT IS THAT? Are you really charging me to use my device in America?

Hollywood has given the pirates one reason to sit in a movie theater with strangers -- 3D. Seeing a film on a big screen and in 3D is well worth my $10.50, or however much it is. Actually, full disclosure, I've only been to the movies twice in the past (thinks) seven years. 3D is good. 3D will get me to the movies. Although Gravity still sucked even with the extra dimension. Sadly, I don't think 12 Years a Slave would play very good in 3D. So there will always be must-see movies, like an Avatar, or Gravity, that will get folks from their basement and into the light, and when I say light, I mean into a dark theater with people.

Bands and musicians have essentially given up on selling music. If they aren't doing some interactive album or making vinyl copies for people who live in Brooklyn, most bands will now give their music away for free in the hope that you'll like them enough to see them live, maybe purchase an overpriced t-shirt, which is where they make all of their money anyway. Beyoncé did the right thing in secretly releasing her album. It created a sense of excitement coupled with acute brain atrophy. A fictional condition when 13-year-old girls are suddenly rendered semi-unconscious, forcing them to go into their father's wallet and take out his credit card to buy the album. "It was late at night. I had a hot flash! What do you want from me? GAAWWD! I HATE YOU!" It was a brilliant move by Beyoncé, really.

Hollywood needs to realize that until watching a movie in a movie theater with people, where I'm dealing with bag crunchers and the real possibility of being shot, is greater than watching a pirated screener on my couch with my hand in my pants, nothing will change. And I want things to change. Really, I do. Because I anticipate in the very near future my own music being completely stolen from me, pirated, and offered for free for trade between my fans. Fans are great. I wish I had more (for self-esteem issues). But that music that you kind of stole from me... I spent years writing, years recording, and years begging and borrowing and spending my life's savings on, hoping that I would find enough fans to buy my music.

Because I kind of do this for a living and need to support myself. Get it?