Piracy is a very hot topic right now. The music industry is actively pursuing those who illegally download their products. The MPAA is running ads encouraging people not to promot video piracy. Video game companies have developed complicated measures of piracy protection. Most of these methods fail to stop the growing tide of digital piracy. I know that I used to be guilty of the same crime. In college, I didn't think twice about downloading a CD from a file sharing system, or searching for a serial number, password, or crack for a new video game. Sometimes these products would be available in our dorm before they were released to the public. I thought I was really clever to get all of this stuff for free.

My attitude regarding piracy has changed dramatically over the past couple of years. Our office used to run a server that everyone would copy their MP3 collections to. A lot of the songs were from CDs that we owned, but it was difficult to tell. Then I started to read articles about companies that were sued for millions of dollars for keeping just such a system. Ours was promptly dismantled. Then I started to think about the industry that I was in. I was in the business of selling software. We create custom software for our customers. Due to the nature of our product, we generally do not attempt to install any protection measures, as there is very little desire by most to steal what we make. Still, we make software, and if our customers were able to take it from us without paying for it, it would really kill us. After thinking about that for a while, I decided to delete any software from my PC that I did not have a legal right to. This got rid of a lot of games, but I found that open source software provided a lot of the same applications and some of the games that I liked for free. And open source software was legal. I had a legal copy of Windows NT, and a legal copy of Office 97. As much as I despise Microsoft, I felt better about running a copy that I had a right to rather than one that I had stolen. Even if I did not own those, I could always run a version of Linux and Open Office freely and legally.

The next thing I did was to delete all of the music that I had downloaded from file sharing networks. I miss a lot of that music, but I still have a large collection of music that I really enjoy. My stand on downloading music now is that, it is okay to download a song if your intent is to discover new music that you might be interested in. However, downloading entire albums is not okay. Just as you wouldn't walk into a record store and steal the physical album, you should not download the album from the web and think it is okay. Many people are convinced that, because it is easy, and because you never leave your house, then you can't really be stealing. That is wrong. If you are downloading music that you have no right to, and you never intend to purchase the music, you are stealing. Just as you can go to a store and listen to any track, I have no issue with someone downloading a track from a CD to listen to see if they like it. If you do like it, then buy the CD. Or, if you just like the one track, open iTunes and pay 99 cents for it. Lots of companies creating iTunes clones which are making it cheap and easy to download the music you like legally. There is not excuse for downloading libraries of music and feeling as though you have no responsibility to pay for it.

What really disappoints me are the people who are now pirating movies. We had an intern this past year who downloaded The Hulk and Matrix Reloaded before they ever hit the theaters. A couple of people that it was really cool, and watched the movie. Movies are so different from music. Music you can listen to while you drive, work, or exercise. You can mix your favorite tracks into a personal CD, or compile a library and listen to it over and over. Movies are much more intimate. As the recent issue of Wired points out, you wouldn't sit down and create a mix DVD of all of your favorite chase scenes, and play that while you work. Downloading movies takes a long, long time. The files are huge. Not only that, but usually the quality is very poor. You end up with some joker in a theater with a handycam, or else a pre-release version of the movie with editing markers all over the place.

Now that I am taking a course on law, it has become crystal clear for me: downloading copyrighted material that you do not have a right to is wrong. Shoplifting a DVD, a CD, or a video game from BestBuy is the same as downloading those items from the web. It costs $0.99 to download a song from iTunes, or $9.99 for an entire album. Those prices are sure to fall. If you really want the disc itself, checkout eBay or SecondSpinfor a cheap used copy. That is legal, and it gets you the official disc and contents. If you want a movie, go to BlockBuster and pay $4 for a new release, or checkout NetFlix For $20 a month, you can get unlimited movies from NetFlix with no late fee. And those prices are sure to fall as well. In short, if you are holding off on going to see a movie, or buying a CD, because you know that you can get it on the web, you should realize that something is wrong.


Jade Mason