Piracy is a topic that has come up a lot in the digital age. It’s been discussed a million times already, but even so, I still want to throw my two cents into the ring. Each time it’s been brought up, you have people who always look for ways to try and justify it. Is there any truly redeemable reason for someone to be a pirate? Let’s take a look at some of the most common justifications.
“I’M TOO POOR”
Out of all the reasons I’ve seen people give for why they pirate, this is the one I think I’ve seen the most. I have to admit, I’m a former pirate, so this was an excuse that I used quite often myself. In fact, my younger brother and I recently had a small conversation on this very same topic and this was the excuse he used. I first became a pirate when I was a kid. I’ve always been into computer games, so when I found out about torrents, it was like uncovering some kind of gold mine. Being able to get all sorts of games for free—it was amazing! But, as time went on I got older, and as I grew up so did my conscience. The older I got, the more I realized that while it was cool and very convenient to be able to just download games for free, it wasn’t right. It all didn’t really hit me until I got the very job which you see before you—being a game journalist.
Once I started making my own money, I was finally able to have the freedom to buy things without nagging my parents. It was around this same time that I got into console gaming. The timing was rather interesting since it isn’t nearly as simple to pirate games on modern systems as it is on PC. So, as a result, little by little I gave up the practice entirely. Nowadays, aside from the games that I receive for review, I purchase everything. It always feels nice to buy a game that I really want. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to have a “holier than thou” attitude here because I gave up piracy. Even so, the reality of it is: being too poor doesn’t mean it’s okay to pirate.
Last year when I turned 18, I moved out of my parents’ house to live alone. Not just in my own place, but in an entirely different country. It’s been an amazing experience so far, but living alone certainly, has its challenges. Having to manage my money for food and the bills leave very little to spend on my hobby, which of course is gaming. As a result, my list of games that I want keeps piling up, but I have to hold off until I have enough money saved so that I can play without starving. Going through this really showed me why some pirates like to use the “I’m too poor” excuse. For young kids who can’t really do much to make any money, I can understand why they would have that mindset. But for those of us who are certainly old enough to have an income (which is the majority of gamers), there really is no way to justify it.
No matter which way you slice or dice it, gaming is a form of entertainment, which means it is not vital to anyone’s survival. It’s a privilege/luxury to play a game, watch a movie, or even listen to music. You don’t need to do indulge in any of these things. You do, however, need food, shelter, and clothing. As a result, that’s where balance comes in. If you have to use most if not all of your money to take care of life’s necessities, then that’s going to require you to sacrifice entertainment. Here’s a scenario: imagine you’re deciding where to eat tonight. You have a few bucks, just enough for maybe a Big Mac at McDonald’s. But, you really want to eat a ‘real’ restaurant, even though it’s outside your budget. Are you going to go to that restaurant anyway, well knowing you don’t have the money? Surely you know that you can’t dine there, and then when the bill comes up, there’s no way you can tell the staff: “I can’t actually pay for this.” It’s a similar situation with piracy.
If you don’t have enough money to pay for some ‘fancy food’, then you just skip it. Likewise, if you don’t have enough money to buy a new game, or get a movie on Blu-Ray, then you just have to skip it. You wouldn’t go to a store and expect the cashier to just be cool with you walking out with stuff without being able to pay for it, right? So, why should we expect developers/creators to be okay with people pirating their products? That gives me a good segue into the next common justification:
“But Piracy Isn’t Really Stealing!”
Yet another line I’ve seen repeatedly. The mindset here is that because pirates take things like games, movies, and music in digital form, technically they’re not stealing anything because it’s not a tangible object. Technically, this is true; pirating a game is not the same as going into a store and trying to shoplift. However, it’s still stealing. How? You’re taking away a sale.
“Now hold on! Who says I was going to pay for it? Just because someone pirates something doesn’t mean they were going to buy it anyway.” I was going to turn this common phrase into another subheading, but it ties in nicely with the one above. Going back to the previous justification, “I’m too poor”, it is true that not every pirate can actually buy the products they’re pirating. However, that still doesn’t make really give an excuse to do it anyway.
As I said a few paragraphs ago, a cashier would not just let someone waltz out of a store without paying for an item. If the person can’t pay for it, then the item is left in the store. That’s exactly what happens in the digital realm, too. I already mentioned how my list of games that I want is piling up; I can’t pay for them yet, so I’m waiting. Even though I technically wouldn’t be ‘stealing’ them if I were to pirate, that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be taking away a sale from the developers. The proper way to access those games would be to buy them. So the matter of theft comes in if I were to access them without a purchase.
Whenever you purchase something digitally, technically you’re not buying an item because it’s not tangible. What you’re actually buying is a license to prove that you’re legally able to access whatever the item is. That’s why it’s still not okay to do something like buy a game and then burn a copy for your friend. The more common practice today is file-sharing, which is where stuff like torrents come in. It’s illegal because it involves people circumventing the ‘contract’ that’s virtually signed when you buy a digital item. Since you’re really only buying the license to access the item, that does not include the right to do anything outside of enjoying personal access. Of course, this does not mean that a friend coming over and playing your game every day is the same thing. That’s just normal sharing, which is something that developers/creators could never stop.
— The Bottom Line —
Ultimately, there’s no way to justify piracy. The common excuses I mentioned above are just a few examples, but regardless of what excuse someone tries to use, here’s the reality—if you can’t pay for it, then you shouldn’t have it. Some people actually do have the money to buy items, but they choose not to because they’re being selfish. But even those who legitimately don’t have the funds still don’t have an excuse, like I mentioned earlier. If you can’t pay for it now, then just try and be patient and save up until you can.
We need to remember that even though some games, movies, music, and software come from multi-billion dollar companies, they’re still products that were made by everyday average folks like you and I. The same way you expect to be paid for whatever work you do, they’re expecting to be paid for theirs.
I totally understand why piracy is so attractive; being able to get a new game, movie, or music album for free is sweet, but it’s just not right. It’s not as risky as shoplifting, but the same principle applies: you’re obtaining a paid item for free.