To be clear up front I don’t agree with pirating (copying and consuming commercial creative content without providing monetary compensation to the creator). But this post is a bit of a clarification on *what* exactly I do feel is appropriate.
Creators (whether they be musicians, writers or game developers) spend a lot of time creating the content that the rest of us love to devour. I don’t know if pirating is making much of a financial impact on most industries (I’ll talk later about the impact it does have on videogames, an industry I recently retired from) but there are people in my social circles that do pirate content that they used to purchase. For example I know couples who used to rent a large number of movies a week who do not anymore — they now download them for free.
Clearly there is a loss of revenue there.
Where I differ from many who do agree with me on the first point is that I do feel it is okay if you own content in one media and it is unavailable in another, pirating is ok. That is, if you have a print copy of a book and want a digital copy, downloading the digital copy is morally acceptable. I still wouldn’t bother doing it myself, there’s plenty of books already available as eBooks, this would just be a waste of time.
To confuse the issue I don’t agree that owning a print book or digital ebook allows you a free copy of the audio version (i.e., the words read by an actor). To me the audio book is a different kind of content.
I own an iPod Touch and an iPad and use both frequently. But I don’t buy music or movies from iTunes*. I don’t want to waste money on content that is locked in on a single device or a device family. I want to know that I will have access to my purchased content no matter what device I end up owning years from now.
Likewise I’ve stopped purchasing eBooks (no big loss I’ve already bought enough to last me a couple solid years of reading). I stopped buying eBooks because file formats kept on changing and becoming invalidated, or were locked in to a particular device. The next time I buy an eBook it will be only if it can be read in perpetuity on any device I own in the future. Until that happens, no purchases.
As I worked making videogames for over ten years, many of them in a senior position I feel qualified to express a more educated opinion on this industry.
In my experience the true cost of pirating (or to be more accurate, the fear of pirating) is lost developer time, which translates to fewer features. I wasted many hours in meetings discussing ways to satisfy our publisher’s DRM requirements and on message boards alleviating user worries. These hours could have been used to spend time on features that eventually died of attrition.
And in the end no matter what kind of lock is used, it is always broken, inconveniencing the legitimatize purchasers of the game. So it truly is wasted effort.
Once a Pirate…
And for the record I use to pirate videogames (when I was in highschool). In fact it was a huge and fun challenge for me to figure out how to crack the latest code-wheel or other devious method the videogame makers of that time were using. One of my fondest memories was of cracking an old Battletech game that could only be played on a hard drive and making it run on my trusty Tandy which only had a floppy drive. So yeah pirating for a while was fun.
But I grew out of it.
So like many who are braving this new world of digital consumables I realize I hold some contradictory positions. I don’t think people who have pirated content should be punished severely. I don’t think there should be content locks on digital content. I think by being creative and tying some advantage to ‘owning’ rather than ‘borrowing’ content is the way for industries to survive.
* – There is one exception to the no iTunes purchases thing, our kids have allowance that they are allowed to spend on cartoons from iTunes. Since we don’t have television this is how they get to watch programs that are not available for us.