The Truth about Digital Piracy, From an Ex-Torrent Junkie


I find it irritating when people talk about issues of morality with no real experience, like when Prohibitionists proclaim the negative nature of alcohol without ever tasting a drop or when anti-marijuana activists vilify the substance without ever toking up. People who have hard opinions on subjects after dipping their toes in the water for five seconds are just as bad.

At a young age I discovered that the general consensus wasn’t always right. Just because 90% of people believe one way doesn’t make them undeniably correct, which is why I’ve never taken the masses’ word as law and lived a life of experimentation. Being able to speak from real personal experience is much more powerful than regurgitating secondhand supposed “facts”.

I recently came across a prime example of such ignorance in a blog post titled “8 Reasons to NEVER Pirate Content”. (I won’t link to it, but the clickbait is hardly difficult to find.) The writer creates a short list of “reasons” that any 80-year-old grandmother who watches CNBC could recite from memory even though she’s only sat in front of a computer twice in her lifetime.

The post was regurgitated garbage and characterized an uneducated perspective of digital piracy that I simply can’t abide. As an ex-torrent junkie with over a decade of personal experience on the subject, I feel compelled to right the record for inexperienced souls who want the truth of the matter.

My Credentials on the Subject

I say ex-torrent because it’s the primary method people use to pirate digital content nowadays, but illegally acquired digital content in a variety of ways. It all started back in middle school, when I’d use peer-to-peer programs like Bearshare to download music. This was well before most people knew it was possible to download anything off the internet, and I made a nice chunk of change burning custom CDs for classmates. For $10 they got a CD with any 12 songs they wanted and I made money hand over fist.

My little music operation didn’t last long though. A couple years later my classmates had discovered how to download music on their own and iPods were phasing out CD players, but it was nice while it lasted.

I didn’t know what I was doing was illegal at the time, although I quickly heard the horror stories of adults and teenagers alike being burned. Instead of being scared of getting caught I became curious as to how others were discovered and quickly learned how to take steps to avoid their fate. Athough with my business gone I wasn’t downloading much beyond the occasional album and the usual things a puberty-stricken teenage boy secretly stashes from prying eyes.

Don’t worry, I won’t bore you further with my digital piracy escapades. If you’re old enough to recall when iPods began making CD players obsolete then you should know just how long I’ve been at this thing called “piracy”.

The Truth about Digital Piracy

1. You’re not going to get caught.

Most of the horror stories you’ve heard about people getting caught and sued to death for digital piracy are quite old. There was a crackdown back when the issue first cropped up, but distributors and publishers quickly realized how impractical it’d be to pursue a case against every 12-year-old who ever downloaded a music file.

Can you be caught and prosecuted? Yes. Will it happen? No.

The real danger isn’t in consumption, it’s in distribution. No one cares about Little Billy who downloaded and watched The Avengers for free. They care about the person who gave The Avengers to Billy and 20,000 other people.

Ever seen a drug addict busted on a crime show where the cops offer the junkie immunity if he gives up his source? It’s basically like that except finding and proving someone illegally downloads is more difficult and time consuming than finding a crackhead high in a den or on the street.

“But they can track my IP and find where I live!” Statements like this tell me you know nothing about computers.

Again, is it possible? Yes. Is it practical? Hell no.

Any tech geek who truly understands what doing so would involve can tell you how impractical tracking down thousands of IPs would be, and any lawyer could tell you how ludicrous the subsequent lawsuits would become. I’m not going to get into it because this article is already quite long and IP tacking is not the focus. Just trust me when I say you’re not going to get caught.

2. It’s a victimless crime.

A lot of people talk about guilt and how digital pirates should be ashamed because they’re “stealing” something that people worked hard to create and taking money out of the artist’s pocket. While that’s a cute way of looking at the world in black and white, it’s also highly misrepresentative of the truth.

First of all, a lot of artists don’t get paid in royalties. Those who do don’t tend to make the brunt of their money from royalties. This argument is often used with music artists in mind, which is funny since the most of those artists make the majority of their money from concerts, merchandise and various other means.

Those really hurt by digital piracy are the distributors and publishers who buy the rights from the artist. These companies have been exploiting artists for decades, especially those in the music industry, so you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t feel guilty about screwing over a corporate entity that’s making millions a year on the back of someone else while I’m worried about where my next meal will come from.

The fact of the matter is it’s hard to prove if piracy affects a company’s bottom line. Just because something’s being pirated doesn’t mean people intended to buy it in the first place, it just means the cost of free was enough to entice their interest.

A lot of people who pirate digital content are Average Joes having a hard time making ends meet. They can’t afford to buy a ticket to every movie they want to see, every album they want to listen to or every game they want to play. Pirating gives the less fortunate a chance to partake and enjoy life instead of being left out, and most artists would rather someone unfortunate experience their art for free than not at all.

Just because 20,000 people downloaded the latest Eminem track doesn’t mean those same 20,000 people would’ve bought it if piracy wasn’t a possibility. Sure, there are some people who pirate instead of otherwise purchasing an item they want, but the percentage is a lot less than you think.

The idea that pirating digital content is the same as stealing a car or actual piracy is ridiculous. The people who believe such claims are fanatical zealots and aren’t going to listen to a word I have to say anyway, so I’m not going to bother explaining basic logic. However, I will link to a picture that sort of says it all for your educational enjoyment.

3. It’s easy to avoid viruses.

I’m not going to teach you how to digitally pirate carefree, but it’s incredibly easy to learn. You don’t have to know how to program in Python or understand the basic steps to bringing up your computer’s command prompt. It seriously just takes a basic understanding of file extensions and sizes.

A three minute mp3 song download isn’t going to be 500MB or 1GB. A movie in 720p can’t fit within a 50MB download. All it really takes to avoid viruses while downloading is a simple Google search. Combine that knowledge with an anti-virus program like Avast and your computer will be fine.

However, things get a lot more complex when you try to pirate software like video games and Photoshop. If you’re not a tech geek, stay away from cracking programs. Even the most tech savvy of individuals are liable to wind up with malware when they start cracking software, and I’m telling you this as someone who played PC games for years without ever paying a dime. It’s easier to find games cheap during a Steam sale or on sites like G2A where potential illegality doesn’t fall on your shoulders.

4. Pirating doesn’t result in bad quality.

Every movie I’ve ever pirated was a Blu-ray rip, meaning the file came from a Blu-ray copy of the movie and was the exact same quality. Who the hell thinks 1080p is bad quality? Most of the TV and Netflix you watch is 720p or 1080p regardless of your TV’s capabilities.

Most people can’t tell the difference between FLAC and mp3 music files, and you can pirate both versions of practically any album ever released. Pirating music actually gives people better quality options than iTunes currently provides.

The only time pirating results in bad quality is if you pirate something in bad quality. The act itself doesn’t ruin a file’s quality, and thinking otherwise is just another sign of utter technological ignorance.

Why You Still Shouldn’t Pirate Content

In four points I’ve covered the eight listed within the ignorant clickbait post that sparked this topic. Pirating is incredibly unlikely to lead to legal ramifications and results in high quality, uninfected content for people who can’t afford to buy everything they want.

So why shouldn’t you pirate content?

As consumers, the only way we can vote is with our wallets. Ever wonder why some crappy movies get sequels? It’s because so many people went out to see the original that a sequel just makes good financial sense. Paying for the content you like is the most powerful way to tell publishers, distributors, developers, filmmakers, musicians and everyone else behind-the-scenes that you want more of the same or at something of similar quality. Your hard earned money is your economic voice, and when raised together it’s a voice that content creators are unable to ignore.

Sure, you’re just one person out of millions, but that line of thinking is what perpetuates civil rights violations and injustices around the world. We all have to do our part and put our money where our interests lie.

Pirating the content you want to see more of is inherently anti-consumer. Don’t work against yourself just to save money. Ensure high quality digital content you want to see gets the positive reinforcement it deserves. Your money is the only thing inspiring and enabling new and young talent in today’s economy. Without it, there’s no telling what kind of garbage we’ll be inundated with in the future.

Let your voice be heard and don’t pirate quality content if you can afford to pay for it. You’re only hurting yourself if you do.
"Digital Piracy" is such a misused term it's criminal.

Why is it you can't make a spare copy of a bought BluRay without worrying the process will either trash the burner or the stand-alone player? (Unless something has changed in the past year or so.)

Might as well be back in WWII Germany.
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