Piracy Is Not Theft

by Evil Roda

Originally posted on Neocities, Tumblr, and WritScrib on March 16, 2018

Piracy is not theft. Many people will be confused by that statement. If piracy is not theft, then what is it? It's a completely separate thing. If we're going to call it a crime (although I will be arguing that most of what we call piracy shouldn't be a crime, anyway), then it should be entirely separate from theft.

I'm writing this because of Geoff Thew's video on why there's no excuse for pirating legally available stuff. I should note I don't even disagree with everything he said, and even though I do disagree with the main point, I don't think he's stupid, I think he's wrong. Also, this article will cover more than just anime, I'm just using his video as a jumping off point. So Geoff's main point is that there's no reason to pirate legally available anime. Well, what about cost? I personally just got Netflix in January of this year, and at this point, I really can't afford more than that, as much as I would love to get a Crunchyroll subscription as well. What, should I just not watch it? Screw that. He also mentioned, when he was talking about the exception to the rule being anime not legally available, out of print anime. But if the English edition is out of print, that means that it is legally available, and we should pay for it. Yes, I know he justifies it by saying that the creators don't get money from it anymore, but that's the thing. Let's say I have a DVD, and I let somebody borrow it. Let's say that this DVD is still in print, and easy to purchase. If I lend it to my friend, the creator doesn't get money from it. If I watch a movie on Netflix with my friend, the creator only gets royalties from one viewing, and if my friend doesn't have a Netflix subscription, Netflix is only getting revenue from one viewing.

"But that's different!" I hear you shriek from across the datalinks, "At least that way, there's some money going to the creators!" Yes, but publishers don't usually see it that way. That's what I'm trying to tell you. You may not have a problem with it, but why do you think Microshaft wanted to do that always online, no borrowing from friends scheme? Why do you think things like DIVX were created (DIVX as in the failed disposable DVD scheme Circuit City tried to do, not the encoding thing; there were later disposable DVDs that worked by destroying the disk after a while, rather than software DRM)? The way we think of piracy is all wrong, because to the publishers, even sharing a DVD is piracy.

That brings me to my next point, DRM. DRM is a scourge upon this Earth. Geoff may handwave it by saying you can mod it out of video games, but that actually is considered piracy, at least legally. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act forbids breaking DRM. It also forbids tools for breaking DRM, which now includes Sharpies, Post-It Notes, and Windows Task Manager, due to some horrible implementations of DRM. That's not even going into the fact that DRM is often harmful, like when Sony installed rootkits on people's PCs, or when Bioshock's installer only allowed two installs and the phone number to get more was wrong (although to the credit of the publisher, 2K, they abandoned that one pretty quick). Then there's Games for Windows Live, which basically ruined Bioshock 2 for me. When GFWL went down, most devs patched it out, but not all. So, you know, fuck you if you bought it legally, I guess. Again, if you crack it, that's illegal. So what do you do?

There's also the issue of preservation. If your content is locked behind DRM, what if it ends up lost? Historically, ignoring copyright law has helped save Nosferatu from being lost when the German government ordered all copies of it destroyed after the Stoker estate sued the creators for ripping off Dracula. America didn't really care about following that order, so American prints survived. Now imagine if the German government had the power to just remotely wipe those prints. For reference, Nosferatu is the reason vampires burn in the sun. It's that influential. If you don't think something like that will happen, well, it already has. I personally know somebody who had Apple Music delete their music collection, including recordings of his band, which, by the by, wasn't even on Apple Music. Amazon has also deleted ebooks off Kindles, and although they said they wouldn't do it anymore after the fact, it's still possible for them to do it. You also have preservation issues with video games, big time. With video games, bit rot isn't the only problem, it's also platform rot. I know somebody's going to chime in and say Virtual Console, but if that's the only source, it limits the democratization of knowledge that is key to preserving our culture.

You can't think of piracy as a lost sale. So somebody watches a movie they didn't pay for. Maybe they buy an action figure, or a shirt, or a licensed toaster. Would they have bought the media in question? Probably not. If they're pirating it, there's some reason they can't or won't pay for it. However, they might get invested in your franchise or your work, so if they can get it legally later, they might. I realize Geoff's video is talking more specifically about people who pirate because they're dicks, but I'm clearly not one of those. I have a Netflix subscription. I pirated Minecraft way back in the 1.8 beta days, but I paid for it later on. I pirated San Andreas, but later bought several GTA games on Steam. I pirated a lot of films, but I couldn't pay for them. Hell, I watched a fuckton of movies by checking them out of the library when I was in university. Most of those were still in print and easily attainable on Amazon, I'm sure. If I pirated the movie Little Miss Sunshine, the effect would have been the same as if I checked it out of the university library, which is what I actually did. Either way, I didn't pay for it, but somebody did, because somebody needed to buy the damned DVD to rip it in the first place.

I'd like to raise another point: what if the person pirating doesn't know they're pirating? I know, I know, people using Piss Anime aren't exactly ignorant about what they're doing, but quite a while back, there was a post going around Tumblr linking to a YouTube channel with the entirety of the Disney show Gargoyles uploaded. Said post claimed the episodes were legally and officially uploaded by Disney. When I saw the videos weren't HD and the YouTube channel looked kinda barren, it made me think that maybe this wasn't official. The fact the videos were later taken down for copyright violations is one more indicator, still can't be sure, though. In all seriousness, I may have realized they weren't legitimately uploaded, but I'm sure there were plenty of people who didn't realize it. Or, what if you buy a DVD that's been pirated? If it's a good fake, you might not realize it.

Finally, we'll talk about the pedantic definition argument. Theft involves a physical good being taken. A DVD is something that needs to be produced, and requires physical resources. You steal a DVD, that's theft. Copying the content of the DVD is rearranging bits on a hard drive, altering the configuration of ones and zeroes. What you're doing is not taking a physical object from somebody else's posession, in fact, you're literally making more of thing you copied. This is not theft, because nothing changed hands. You see a green square, you paint a green square, there are now two green squares, and one of them is in your posession. You've committed piracy, not theft. Same exact concept.

So where does that leave sites like Piss Anime? Well, yeah, they suck, and are leeching revenue through their piracy. Yeah, the people who think they're morally superior because they use sites like that are idiots. But maybe, if we're going to say piracy is a crime, they're the only ones we should call pirates. Maybe the guy who seeds a Black Panther torrent isn't the criminal here, maybe it's the people making money off of unlicensed streaming of Black Panther. Maybe the guy listening to the latest music albums on YouTube isn't the bad guy here, maybe it's the guy getting ad revenue off it. Now, I don't know where to draw the line on this. I know the guys running Pirate Bay use ads to make revenue, but they claim it's to cover the cost of hosting the website, which is something I'm not exactly in a position to verify. But surely, there's a difference between me, the guy who just wants to watch a damned show, and the guy using cryptomining software on his site's video players.

I'd like to close this article out by reiterating that Geoff Thew's not a bad person. Even if he reads this and disagrees with it, I hope he at least sees where I'm coming from. Piracy's not necessarily a good thing, but it's also not evil, and it's certainly not theft. The perception of it being theft has wider consequences than some people being smug, it's what causes legislation like SOPA. If we don't change that, we could easily lose control over our rights to consume media.

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