Unrepentant file sharer explains why he does it

hise’s a quite long screed by Bobbi Smith, a media consumer who both buys and pirates a lot of material, in the form of an open letter to content creators. To sum it up, Smith finds he actually buys significantly more media since he started pirating than before he could ($2,500 per year, he says, according to his credit card statements: “A $200 per month entertainment habit that is unequivocally fueled by file-sharing”), but he has no patience for media publishers and producers who do not make their media available in a manner in which he desires to buy and use it.

Smith discusses all forms of media, including books. he points out that authors such as Ray Bradbury who hold out against e-books are shooting themselves in the foot, because their books will already be available on pirate sites. And sample chapters aren’t enough to get him to buy, though they may be enough to get him to pirate it—and if he likes it, he’ll eithis buy the next book by the same author, or buy that book and give it away to someone he thinks might enjoy it. And this is his basic philosophy toward downloading media in general.

Do I feel bad for file-sharing? No, not in the least. True, it’s technically illegal, but so is rolling through a stop sign and jaywalking. Yet everyone reading this has committed both of those crimes. The main reason I don’t feel bad is because, like I detailed above, I know I’m buying content. Anothis important reason I don’t feel bad is because I’m not profiting. I’m not taking your content and trying to resell it as though I’m a legitimate vendor. Physical piracy is a genuine problem and even the file-sharing community supports laws against it.

Being an active file-sharer means I have a clearer picture than you do of what’s really happening. I know when I download something that it’s not a lost sale and it’s not theft. The fact that you can’t see that is not my issue. I’m not going to let you stop me from sailing the world just because you think the Earth is flat.

Of course, in the end, one way or another, it all comes down to “entitlement”—on either side. The folks who take the hardline against piracy will say Smith should just take what the media companies want to sell his and like it. Those who agree with Smith will say, as did Mike Masnick at Techdirt, that “It’s the story of someone who’s sick of the sense of entitlement from big entertainment providers—those who want you to pay top prices for mediocre content—and then expect you to come back for more.”

Masnick adds:

If you read the full thing, you’ll realize that the article is not a defense of piracy. It’s an argument for how content creators can do better—something that we’ve been seeing more and more content creators figure out. Content creators who understand this letter will recognize that it’s not about piracy so much as about how to satisfy a market and make money doing so.

I have yet to see any signs this sort of understanding may be dawning in Hollywood, however. When Warner Brothers’s latest brainstorm is to allow you to take your DVDs into a store and pay for them to be ripped to a DRM-locked video format—something that anyone can do for himself (albeit illegally) at home with just a couple of free software downloads, and produce a DRM-free file to boot—it makes you wonder what color the sky is in their world.

18 Comments on Unrepentant file sharer explains why he does it

  1. Male. First thing in Chapter One: “I’m probably in your demographic. Male, mid-thirties, no children and living in Los Angeles.”

  2. Here’s my issue with the entire argument: IT STILL DOESN’T JUSTIFY STEALING JUST BECAUSE THE CONTENT IS DIGITAL.

    The author has some great points about pricing and service, but to use their initial example, the poor customer service at the car rental place doesn’t justify stealing a car rental the next time. Just because an item is digital doesn’t mean it’s ok to steal it, any more than shopping in a store with overpriced goods gives you permission to shoplift.

    I say this as someone who has worked in retail, been screamed at by loss prevention people about lost merchandise, and honestly, having lost potential sales bonuses because the balance sheets were off due to mounting losses in the DVD sections. So I know firsthand how much it sucks to be an employee and feel powerless as merchandise just walks out the door…so I have a very hard time justifying piracy as “they deserve it”.

  3. Theft is theft, no matter how hard you try to justify it.

  4. So he steals because he knows he can get away with it. Is that supposed to impress anyone?

  5. The law is actually quite clear on this. Infrigement IS NOT theft.
    Could we please move the discussion forward just a tad. Because frankly, waving your arms around and screaming THIEF everytime you run out of arguments is getting a little stale.

  6. Ok, maybe I’m confused. I read the article as the author downloads some things that he owns, but other times downloads things he does not own and does not plan to pay for…there’s a difference there. If I d/l a movie I own on DVD but don’t feel like ripping, that I will give you is a gray area. But if I d/l a movie and don’t buy the DVD or decide it sucked and therefore I don’t need to pay anyone for it, that’s still stealing.

    Whether the law says it is stealing or not, it’s still stealing in my worldview.

  7. You say:
    Whether the law says it is stealing or not, it’s still stealing in my worldview.

    I say:
    Good for you, BUT THAT DOES NOT MAKE IT SO.
    When the real world and your “worldview” doesn’t match. Guess what wins.

    In MY “worldwiev”, anybody who can not see the difference between “infringement” and “theft” deserves 10 lashes in a public square. Does that make it so?

  8. Ok, clearly we disagree and that’s fine. But can you just clarify, are we talking about downloading a digital copy of something you already own, or downloading a digital copy from a torrent site and not owning the physical media already? Just so I’m clear.

    And I wasn’t gathering pitchforks and chasing anyone out of town for downloading and pirating…just sharing my opinion. Since I have no real influence in the matter, it’s just my personal opinion, and I don’t pretend it controls anything else. But this is a discussion, so I shared it.

    But seriously, I really want to make sure we’re discussing the same thing, I’m not trying to start a flame war.

  9. Again, the law does not care if you own “a copy” and just downloads “a backup”. You cant make a copy of a movie, even if you paid for that movie (Anti-circumvention). And you cant download a “preview” with the intent of “buying later”. As far as the law goes these are all equally wrong.

    But … it is still NOT theft to download a copy of something.
    This (http://www.vice.com/read/screwed-over-by-the-music-industry-lester-chambers) on the other hand IS THEFT.

    So yes, I think the “freetard info-hippies” have the moral highground here.

    And yes, I pirate.

  10. Logan Kennelly // March 15, 2012 at 4:49 pm //

    I agree with Jotunbane that we should move the discussion past artificial senses of loss.

    How about a similar scenario:

    You stay at a hotel. The room is dirty, the pool is closed for maintenance, and the guy at the front desk has no sympathy. When you check out, you find out that they forgot to charge you for a night. Do you say something and pay the difference, or do you just accept it as compensation for your trouble?

    What if you had a terrible experience trying to navigate the menus on your cable box to purchase a Pay-Per-View movie and the bill doesn’t show the charge? You wanted to do the right thing, you tried to do the right thing, but circumstances intervened.

    From the social experiments that have been run, most people will not speak up in these situations. Yes, they are “stealing”, but most people easily justify it to themselves. Even those that say they will pay when thinking rationally will ignore their own opinion when the moment arrives.

    And, yes, the situations are not identical, but it is a much better comparison than that of stealing DVDs from the store.

  11. “When you check out, you find out that they forgot to charge you for a night. Do you say something and pay the difference, or do you just accept it as compensation for your trouble?”

    Why stop there? Why not burn the place down and clean out the safe? Hey, you deserve it, right?

    “From the social experiments that have been run, most people will not speak up in these situations.”

  12. I find it somewhere between interesting and frustrating that so many discussions of this issue devolve to “stealing is wrong”. (Or “piracy is wrong” for those who don’t feel piracy is exactly equivalent to stealing.)

    Yes, it’s wrong. But lots of people are able to justify it, if only to themselves, just as we justify casually breaking the speed limit. (And some more so than others. How many times have I been tooling along at ten miles per hour over the limit and then someone passes me because even that wasn’t fast enough for him?) And they’ll continue to do so no matter how many people tell them it’s wrong.

    So perhaps the content industry should figure out how to deal with it. Suing it into oblivion hasn’t been terribly successful so far.

  13. May be the content industry should do that.
    But what CAN they do. As the letter points out ALL content industries are growing, so this is not a question of money. Its a question of CONTROL. I think that these people DO understand the internet, and it scares them. Because they realise that they will never ever again have 100% control, and thats their beef.

    I dont think this can be resolved, either “Big Content” breaks, or they succeed in breaking the internet. One has to go.

    Oh, and that piracy does not equal theft is not “a feeling”, its a FACT. (And yes, Im going to point that out every single time you try to sneak it in).

    Extending copyright law 16 times in my lifetime … Thats theft (from the public domain).
    A $150.000 fine for downloading a $1 song … Thats theft.
    Arguing for 5 years in prison for “willful infringement” (as has been done) … Well thats just nuts.

  14. I don’t approve of “pirate sites” or use them, BUT, I must admit I have been sorely tempted at times because of the restrictive practice of booksellers refusing to sell into regions. This means you can see a book advertised, you can buy a paper copy from Amazon (etc.) but can’t get a digital copy because this somehow is not allowed in a different country! Hello? I am not trying to buy porn or terrorist manuals, just an ordinary old novel. All sorts of feeble excuses are raised, but I think the main one is to allow the local bookseller to charge high prices and get away with it. Australia suffers very badly from this problem, and I would imagine this helps maintain a high local use of “pirate” sites!!

  15. Chris – I agree completely. It is indescribably tedious and a ghastly waste of time.

  16. Logan Kennelly // March 15, 2012 at 11:21 pm //

    DensityDuck, you are not helping the discussion. Not everything is a slippery slope into the dissolution of civilization.

    There is a psychology at work here, and understanding that psychology could lead to more profits and happier customers. Perhaps those of us discussing the topic are a minority and thus not worthy of consideration. Perhaps it is an issue of control and human factors are interfering. Perhaps there is intertia in law (and contracts) that is preventing publishers from acting in its own best interests. More likely, it is a combination of factors.

    But just because I want to read the Australian Greg Egan’s works in the U.S. doesn’t mean I want to recreate the end of Fight Club (the movie) and destroy the society that has failed me. (I use Greg Egan to show Carol A that sometimes it works in both directions. 😉 ) Rational argument over emotion … a queer concept in representative deomcracy…

  17. Binko Barnes // March 16, 2012 at 3:31 am //

    Some of the more idealistic among us actually thought that the computer age would bring greater freedom of access to information and culture. But guess what , big money interests are doing everything in their power to lock knowledge and culture down tight and meter access every step of the way.

    I’d like to imagine a digital age where everybody who loves knowledge can have a 1,000,000 book library of digital content. We could all easily have this because it cost’s essentially nothing to create infinite copies of digital works. But we are prevented by archaic pricing structures, DRM, artificial restrictions and device lockdown. Culture and knowledge are OWNED. If you want to learn things or experience common culture you have to PAY each step of the way.

    If you love culture and you love knowledge you are essentially at war with those who wish to restrict it, limit it, meter it and lock it down. Some of us recognize this. Most don’t. Most are like sheep bleating out the corporate line “It’s stealing, it’s stealing”, while they happily graze on what they are allowed and meekly submit to regular shearing.

    How do you like those 150 year copyrights, sheep? That’s sure not what Jefferson and Adams intended when they wrote about a limited monopoly for a limited term. But who cares about that when you have the newest shiny precious toy from Apple Computer that tells you what to buy and how you can buy it. No thinking required.

  18. Semantics aside, I think most people would agree that readers want authors to be paid so they can supply us with future reading pleasure.

    I think most ebook readers can comprehend the why of the DRM approach – publishers are understandably frightened by the ease of piracy possible in a digital world. But antipiracy purists and publishers should also understand why ebook readers feel short-changed.

    A paperback can be flicked through at the shop before buying. It can be lent to a friend. And when you’ve finished reading, it can even be sold to a secondhand bookstore. Do any of these things with an ebook, and the same acts are defined as piracy.

    Adding insult to injury: Selling an ebook for the same – or higher – price as a paperback, pocketing the production savings, then allowing it to be locked to a proprietary device like the Kindle so the distributor can get their cut in hardware.

    Behaviour that verges on criminal: Buying out and making unusable companies which allow multiple formats to be read on multiple devices, with the aim of achieving a monopoly wherein consumers have no option but to buy ebooks from a single site, which can then only be read on that same company’s proprietary ereader device. Amazon has taken this step with Stanza, and B&N did it to Fictionwise.

    So would I feel comfortable downloading DRM-stripped ebooks from a file-sharing site? Depends on the situation.

    Very comfortable:
    1- I have bought the ebook, but want to read it on a different device.
    2- I own the paperback/hardcover, but want to have it on my device where I can read it at the bus stop or on holiday.
    3- I own the paperback, but it’s somewhere on one of my bookshelves, which are all stacked three books deep, and I don’t want to get out the ladder and spend an hour searching.
    4- I own the ebook with DRM, but because the format is no longer supported on my device, it can no longer be read by me.

    Fairly comfortable:
    1- Not available as an ebook in my country.
    2- Delayed release as an ebook, until weeks after the printed book release.
    Provided it is ‘off-set’ by either buying the ebook when it finally comes out (hard to remember to do) or buy the ebook version of a book from that author which I already own in the printed form.

    No:
    1- Ebook available to purchase in my preferred format.

    In the end, digital downloads and DRM stripping are so easy to do that I think the DRM approach to epublishing serves as a reminder to the general public that piracy is wrong rather than as an actual impediment. Yes, there are some people who will always go out and take something for free, just because they can. But most of us just want to read our (purchased) book, when and how we want.

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