Piracy in the information age

Story by Zack Katz, Staff Writer

Given our capability to communicate in the age of information, Internet piracy is largely unavoidable. So, why is there such a stigma attached to file sharing? Objectively speaking, sharing information without the consent of authors is stealing. In spite of this, we may be too quick to dismiss piracy without taking time to rationalize its benefits.

I do believe there is a mature, sensible approach to file sharing. But the million-dollar question is, when would Internet piracy be acceptable, even beneficial? Ethically, we consider pirating to be taboo. For this reason, I don’t think we’ve spent enough time exploring the benefits of pirating and how it can actually promote artists.

First, I think we should stop to consider the fact that the authors of pirated information are not necessarily being hurt by it.  File sharing, more often that not, removes barriers for individuals trying to share music, film and, most importantly, ideas.  Making a piece of art more accessible also makes it more discussed, experienced and defined.  That, for me, would be more beneficial than selling a larger number of copies.

I think a common example is the “try it before you buy it” argument.  Given the high prices of computer games, albums and movies, I feel we should be entitled to some sense of what we’re purchasing before we commit to it. If we’re interested in a product, we give it a try. If we like it, we buy it. If not, we delete it and move on.

Pretend you’ve purchased the rights to a film or an album, but you’re not satisfied with the quality.  Would you consider yourself entitled to a better version of that work? In my opinion, that depends on if you feel you’ve paid a fair price for the quality delivered. Say, for instance, we are unsatisfied with ‘The Avengers’ in normal quality. I would venture to say this entitles us to the Blu-ray edition.

Consider how much we pay for satellite television packages and Netflix. Have you ever been frustrated because you don’t use the large majority of the channels you pay for, or can’t find any movies you like on Netflix? Pirating is essentially creating a playlist of exactly what you want, and cutting out all of the unnecessary media you will never use.

Economically speaking, piracy is a naturally occurring effect of inflated pricing. If pricing surpasses the demand for products, then people simply won’t pay. The problem for many is, if we can’t beat pirates, do we join them? I think a larger number of people would answer no. Even so, file sharing will always exist, so I can’t help but consider the benefits.

At a glance, it seems dishonest to think we could work around the wishes of an author. Respecting the work of an artist is important, but we should also consider that piracy is unavoidable. I do believe there are honest reasons for pirating a work. Personally, if I were to steal a film or piece of music, it would be to promote the work and in turn support its author. For me, supporting artists intellectually seems more valuable than supporting them monetarily.