Hypocritical pirates destroy value of IP

Alright, let’s get this straight right off the bat. I opposed SOPA. I opposed PIPA. I think the RIAA and MPAA are vindictive, greedy people. I think it’s ridiculous that little Sally can be fined thousands of dollars for downloading a copy of “Tik Tok” that she can buy on iTunes for a buck.

However, I hate piracy. As a CS major, this puts me squarely in the minority of my peers. It’s kind of like an EnvE major saying, “I wish the government would stop investing in green energy.” Piracy apparently just comes with the territory of being in computing.

But really, being anti-piracy makes sense to me, especially professionally. I’m going into a field where me and several dozen (if not several hundred) others will pour months of effort into designing, coding and testing a product. If someone pirates a copy of that, they’re robbing my company (and, through my stock’s value and my paycheck, me) of a sale on something that we bled for.

Of course, this is usually the point in the conversation where piracy advocates break out all the old arguments. Pirates wouldn’t have bought it anyway, if it’s actually worth something, people will pay for it, open source is the way of the future, etc. etc. etc.

I don’t put much stock in these arguments, and here’s why. At the end of the day, piracy boils down to the pirate getting something that inherently has value without giving anything in return. Whether the pirate and the producer agree on how much value is irrelevant; if I as the producer of a piece of IP say, “I think this is worth X,” then it is entirely within my rights to want people to either pay X for it or not use it.

The problem is that we have been conditioned by the Internet to believe that something-for-nothing is the norm and we get angry with companies that have the audacity to expect to get paid for their work.

Really, though, people who pirate things don’t bother me. Let’s be honest here: If I really had a problem with pirates, I wouldn’t have many friends here at Tech, would I?

The people who really annoy me are the pirates that try to act like they’re taking the high road by pirating. The ones who talk about how they’re supporting indie filmmakers by pirating mainstream Hollywood movies. The ones think that paying $20 for things like the “Humble Indie Bundle” justifies stealing $400 worth of top-10 games. And, my particular favorites, the ones who act like anything that interferes with their pirating abilities is a mortal threat to our freedoms. Some, like SOPA and PIPA, really are. Others — not so much.

One case in particular makes me laugh. Recently, the Internet has been all a-twitter (or, more accurately, all a-reddit) over the takedown of filesharing site Megaupload. People have been screaming about how this shows that the evils of SOPA are already upon us, that the government is in the pockets of the MPAA and that this case puts other sites—like Dropbox, and other storage services—at risk of a similar shutdown.

Frankly, I think this is ridiculous. The difference between sites like Megavideo and sites like Dropbox is night and day. The indictment against Megaupload even goes so far as to lay out why the services aren’t the same. There’s a big difference between a service primarily used to shuffle documents between coworkers and a service almost exclusively used to illegally watch copyrighted movies and TV shows.

In a nutshell, I opposed SOPA because I saw it as a unnecessary piece of legislation that threatened the openness of the Internet without offering much in the way of shutting down piracy. I support the shutdown of Megaupload because I see it as an effective application of existing law, to shut down and obvious and repeated infringer of IP rights.

Listen, I’m all for encouraging businesses to look at new models that allow for more open exchange of IP. I’m against suing the pants off of people for downloading a song. I think IP laws should encourage creativity.

But I think it’s hypocritical to expect people to pay for things we make when we won’t pay for movies and music. I think musicians, developers and filmmakers have a right to make a living off of their work. I think studios and record labels have a right to make a profit on the development and advertising they do for their artists. I think these companies have a right to run their businesses how they see fit.

And, most importantly, I think they have every right to expect the government to protect these rights, and for consumers to respect them.