Yesterday I set off a minor shitstorm on my Formspring account when I dared to advance the notion that pirating movies is bad. Here, for your amusement, edification and horror are some of the highlights of the conversation I had with a number of anonymous wetbrains. And, as time went on, with some really intelligent people as well. That’s what’s great about the internet – if you’re willing to wade through the morons and the trolls you’ll find lots and lots of very smart, very interesting people out there too. They just don’t make as much noise. And some of them may have different opinions from you and can actually back them up.

I have not edited anything, including my own crankiness at the beginning. I have kept this in mostly chronological order, but have swapped a couple around for effect. I have also not left out any intelligent replies – no one managed to come back with a real explanation for why piracy isn’t bad. The best they could do were variations on ‘This other thing is bad too!’

It’s pretty easy to be against pirating when you get to see all the movies you see for free. How would you feel if you were working a minimum wage job just getting by and couldn’t afford to rent or buy or go see movies?

Get a better job. This is the worst argument for piracy yet. Who raised you, wandering pickpockets?

Let’s put it this way: if you’re making minimum wage but you really want a big TV, is it okay to steal that TV? Of course not. You’re not entitled to get whatever you want. You have to earn what you want, and that may come in the form of earning money to purchase what you want.

Honestly, this is a shameful question and you’re a bad person. You are without ethics or morality or sense.

Pirating movies or music is no worse than doing ILLEGAl drugs which you have endorsed in the past and admitted to doing. You can’t pick which laws or morals you want to follow.

This is actually retarded on so many levels, the simplest of which is that stealing hurts other people while doing drugs only hurts myself.

But you’re right, you can’t pick what morals or laws you want to follow, so I guess people who pirate movies are EXACTLY AS BAD as people who fuck babies. Nice work, baby fucker!

Doing drugs doesn’t just hurt you, moron — you’re keeping drug dealers employed. Remember in Scarface when all those innocent bystanders in the Babylon Club got gunned down? That’s your fault.

People on the internet not understanding real life? How could this be?

Criminalization of drugs is what keeps drug dealers employed. Notice how rival liquor manufacturers are no longer shooting at each other in the decades since Prohibition was lifted?

I beg you to learn to use your brain. If you cannot do that, I beg you to unplug your computer from the internet.

So I noticed you’re anti-piracy, and I totally agree with you, but I was curious as to what you thought about this article:

I wonder if Serafinowicz has really thought that out. He’s basically giving everybody the same stupid excuse that over-entitled 15 year olds make again and again. To wit:

- I don’t want to have to wait for it; this is an argument that boils down to ‘I’m a huge impatient baby and getting it now is more important than getting it properly.’


- It’s easier; this boils down to “I am unbelievably lazy.”

On some levels I understand what he’s saying about getting his work out there, especially in countries where his stuff isn’t legally available. This is the same argument that small bands who relied on touring made about Napster way back in the day, and I totally get it.

The reality is that we’re in a place where the nature of copyright and distribution is changing, and I think Serafinowicz should acknowledge that in his next project and work out a deal with whoever funds it to put it on YouTube or whatever. I think he’s right that for someone smaller getting viral on the internet is a HUGE bonus. It can make you.

The problem is that the people who don’t pay for your little things won’t pay for your big things either. Pirates are simply lazy, selfish and childish, and they’re not suddenly going to start ponying up cash for your next stuff.

Here’s an example: A game developer produced a bundle of their popular games at a pay your own price point. You could put that money to charity if you liked.

One fourth of people who downloaded it paid nothing:

To me this is the epitome of the pirate mindset. Hey, I get the idea of hunting down a rip of a VHS movie that will NEVER get released on DVD, that maybe isn’t even obviously owned by anyone. I get the tape trading of the early MST3K days. I did it. Hell, I even understand buying a pirated copy of the STAR WARS HOLIDAY SPECIAL, because that shit will NEVER see the legit light of day. Ever.

But the reality is that pirates aren’t looking for better price points or easier delivery systems or even DRM-free media. They’re looking for something for free. They’re children, coddled pieces of shit who have enough money (or their parent’s money) to afford good computers and big internet pipes but don’t want to pay for their entertainment.

I think equilibrium will arrive. The studios will figure out that offering your content globally in as many formats as possible is the best solution to piracy, as 98% of people are decent, honorable human beings. But there will always be that 2% of scumbags who will refuse to pay.

In the meantime I hope that Serafinowicz rethinks his position. If he wants his stuff freely available online, he should make it so. But there are some people still wed to the old fashioned idea of making money off their own work.

I can understand why you want to speak out against copyright violations–it hurts the industry and creativity. But, it’s a nuanced matter of public policy that you reduce to name calling. Why do you insist on framing it so childishly?

It’s not nuanced. It’s stealing. You want something, you don’t want to pay for it, you take it. What’s the nuance?

Scenario: I am from a third world country where the most popular movies will never be released here (USA) and most of them likely will never make their way to DVD. Is it wrong for my Mom to send me pirated copies? Not from torrent or internet.

Your mom should buy you copies legally and mail them to you. Or buy a region free player and import then DVDs you want.

Well, for one thing copyrights in the U.S. were originally capped at 14 years. But, thanks to cartels of multinational corporations and their campaign $, can be as long as 120 years now. Again, why do you insist on framing the issue so childishly?

What does that have to do with anything? A) just because you think copyright law is unfair doesn’t give you the right to steal stuff and B) what does a 120 year copyright have to do with stealing a movie that’s in theaters RIGHT NOW?

It’s not being childish to say ‘Don’t steal. If you steal you are a bad person.’ It’s childish to try and come up with excuses and reasons why what you’re doing isn’t bad.

I would have a lot more respect for the middle class pussies who pirate if they just owned up to being thieves. There’s nothing more pathetic than people with limited frames of reference and shaky understandings of law trying to rationalize their thievery.

Piracy is worse than theft since the pirate is imposing greater economical damage (reducing demand) however it is not literally theft since nothing is being taken from the supply, only copied. Copying DVDs is worse than theft but it is not theft.

Concepts of theft need to be a bit more fluid now. Plagiarism is theft, despite the original text being still in place. I think saying it’s not theft is a semantic argument.

Didn’t arguthat unfair laws make it acceptable to infringe on copyrights. And not offering excuses. Just ASKING why you only use your soapbox to spew ad hominem attacks and flamebait when you could be actually advocating for fair copyright policies?

Because I think piracy is much more dangerous than unfair copyright.

Jerry Lewis’ “The Day The Clown Cried” appears on a movie piracy site. Do you illegally download it?

This is a great question. I believe there’s a moral grey area when you get to unavailable works. There are movies on VHS (or that never even made it to VHS) that will never get to DVD, let alone Blu-Ray. These films sit ignored by their owners and will probably never be serviced again. The only way to see these films in the modern day is a screening – and some of these movies may no longer have a print – or a bootleg rip from a VHS.

It would be wrong to torrent a movie like that, but I might still do it. I would be like the archeologist sneaking into the forgotten tomb… I don’t have the legal rights to do it, but other considerations come first. But I also wouldn’t argue with someone if they told me what I did was wrong. I would own my actions.

My father had a bunch of bootleg albums in his collection, records that were made up of unused takes and studio chatter. That was from a day when that stuff didn’t get released in giant boxed sets and the only way to listen to these gems was to buy bootlegs. I grew up listening to that stuff, and it formed my ethics on this matter, which boil down to:

If the thing is legitimately unavailable (not that you don’t want to wait, not that you live in a country where it isn’t released yet) then it’s a minor sin to bootleg it. As a serious aficionado you’ll probably almost feel like it’s your duty to get your hands on the unavailable material. You’re still in the wrong, but sometimes you have to do the wrong thing for the right reasons. Movies shouldn’t disappear just because nobody wants to port them to digital.
As for DAY THE CLOWN specifically – since it’s never been released and Lewis doesn’t want it out, any pirated copy would be legitimately and completely stolen. I wouldn’t download that.

When you’re at a bar and the bartender is playing music off the their ipod how do you respond? Do yell at them for being a pirate? Do you drop the dime to ASCAP?

I can’t tell if this is intellectual dishonesty or subintellectual reasoning. At this point I’m just waiting for the guy who asks me why I’m not mad at libraries.

I’m going to actually answer this, by the way. I think ASCAP getting down on bars playing music is silly and incredibly counterproductive. I also don’t think it has a single thing to do with the issue of pirating movies.

Music is consumed very differently from movies, for one thing. For another, listening to a song in a bar is very, very different from owning a movie. Or even owning that song. If a movie plays in a bar I don’t think anybody is pirating either. Just as I don’t think anybody is pirating if a friend plays a song at a party or invites me over to watch a movie.

People are dropping all these questions in Formspring about the law and why am I above the law when it comes to drugs but not here and copyright laws and blah blah blah. Fuck the law. The law isn’t always right. I doubt you follow the law to the letter every day – maybe you don’t recycle properly or maybe you speed or maybe you smoke a little dope. The law isn’t the arbiter of morals. Ethics is the arbiter of morals.

It’s blatantly, obviously wrong to own something you didn’t acquire properly. That’s what it boils down to. It’s wrong. You know it’s wrong, just like you know that it’s not wrong to play a song at a bar. You know that the ASCAP stuff is wonky money grubbing. But you also have to know that downloading a movie that is in theaters or otherwise legally (and probably easily) available to you is just wrong.

I honestly don’t understand why people are arguing against this.

What do you think of the pricing model for downloads? I agree that piracy is theft, but when it costs $40,000 to fill up an iPod with legally purchased music and iTunes is selling the CAPRICA pilot for $20…well, one kind of feels like a sucker.

So don’t buy it. There’s a lot of stuff I like but feel is overpriced or out of my range, and I simply don’t own those things.

As for filling an iPod… where is the Constitutional guarantee that you should be able to fill an iPod, let alone do so cheaply? I had zero problem filling a 40gig iPod just using music I ripped from my CD collection on legally purchased music.

Since it was mentioned below, what do you think about the current state of copyright law? Does it agree with your thoughts about the purpose of copyright law?

No, I think they’ve fucked it up, but then again I think concepts of intellectual property have changed since copyright law was first written. I think there probably needs to be a ground up rethink of the whole thing – I’m not sure that allowing Mickey Mouse to become public domain is the only solution. Maybe some broader version of fair use, but I’m just spitballing here.

You’ve addressed the ethical stuff, but what I don’t get is this – clearly pirates like movies enough to be passionate about defending their theft – don’t they realize that new films will GO AWAY if no one buys them? Rampant piracy is unsustainable. by evandickson

Well, movies won’t go away. PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN will keep chugging along. What will happen is that cool, smaller (genre in particular) films will go away.

While I think piracy is unsustainable I actually also think the modern distribution system is unsustainable. I don’t think the answer is either or – it’s a third way.

Do you see the film industry being essentially cratered by piracy in the same way that the music industry was? Or does Hollywood have a better idea of the threat and how to combat it?

The music industry was uniquely susceptible for a number of reasons. First, their product is mainly consumed at home. Second, their product comes in the form of small songs that were easily transmitted even over primitive internet pipes. Third, they were in big trouble already and internet piracy just nuked them.

Going to the movies is much more across the board mainstream than going to concerts, and more people can go to a movie in a weekend than any concert. That’s a big difference, and that’s why 3D is the hot shit – a blatant attempt to keep people in theaters and not in front of their computers.

The recent FCC ruling allowing the studios to pipe their movies to you almost day and date (and giving them some control over your cable box, which is upsetting some folks) is a sign that the movie industry is at least TRYING to adapt beyond gimmicks.

Multiple delivery systems are the future of the movie industry.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s even wrong to download stuff that is not available for purchase and will likely never be. It’s like: there’s a TV sitting by the side of the road, no one around, no sign, no indication of an owner. Is it wrong to take it?

Yeah it’s wrong to take it! What if somebody was running to get their friend to help them carry it and left it for a moment?

A continuation of the TV sitting by the road analogy: Suppose it’s been sitting there for a week. Is it wrong to take it now? How about if it’s been sitting there for 20 years (or longer)?

This is getting to be almost Talmudic in its attention to minutia. The world is complicated, so is life. You make the best decisions you can based on a few solid principles. You try not to hurt anybody else. You try to be understanding of other people’s pain. You try to be honorable. You try not to steal stuff, and if you do steal stuff you try to at least be mature enough to acknowledge that you’re fucking stealing stuff.

In less than an hour you’ve gone from
“What’s the nuance?” to “The world is complicated, so is life.” Are you
aware of how proud I am of you for maturing so fast?

But there’s no nuance in
stealing. It’s wrong. You make your daily decisions as best you can, but
you have to start from basic truths that include ‘stealing is wrong.’
Unless you’re Jean Valjean.

You’re aware that the “nuanced” comment was w/r/t to copyright law (which you admit is broken) and not a defense of theft? You keep screaming about thieves. Thieves will be thieves. Why don’t you scream about the solution?

Because the changes to copyright law is not what is broken. The extensions of copyright have nothing to do with people stealing movies that are in theaters now. The issue of piracy I’m discussing isn’t people making knock-off Batman t-shirts.

Piracy demonstrates that people will do whatever they want as long as the consequences are minimal or non-existent. You wouldn’t be reading so many half-assed justifications if pirates were being thrown in jail left and right.

I agree that’s part of the problem. The people who pirate probably break few other laws because they’re terrified of getting caught. I used to be a very avid shoplifter in my younger, stupider days, and that was an activity with a real danger to it – getting caught didn’t just mean a letter from your ISP. And that’s why these people don’t break those kinds of laws – they’re basically cowards.

But I don’t think jail is the answer. I think a financial punishment is key. And it shouldn’t be just paying the cost of whatever you’ve pirated – if I got caught stealing something back in the day I couldn’t just pay for the item and walk out unpunished.

And it doesn’t matter if the pirate is trying to make money off the thing or not, and it doesn’t matter that the original text/song/movie is still there. It’s theft of services, the same as if you snuck into a movie theater. Theft of services is fraud, and it can possibly be prosecuted as a felony. So maybe I’m going back on what I just said and maybe jail IS the answer after all.