I'm really feeling it!
I'm really feeling it!
Illustration for article titled The Piracy Discussion

Piracy. The corporations say it's destroying them. The lawmakers say it's stealing. Blank DVD sellers love it. Venezuelans don't have a choice. This is The Piracy Discussion.

Most have us have pirated SOMETHING in our lives - emulation of retro games is very much alive and well, services similar to Napster and Limewire still exist, and Pirate Bay is still going strong, despite 8 million URL changes. But... Is it ethical? I'll offer my opinion on this from my perception of several different perspectives. If you disagree or have anything to add, absolutely do not hesitate to discuss it in comments below.

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way - yes, piracy is illegal in most countries, and penalties tend to range between fines and serious jail time. It's important to remember, however, that in most countries in the western world, the people directly influence the laws. While laws are sometimes manipulated in the wrong ways by equal parts deviant and incompetent elected officials, it's important to remember that laws can be changed - if something as petty and unimportant as marijuana can be legalized in an ultra-conservative nation like the United States, then laws in any matter - anything within reason, rather - can and should be changed to reflect the majority views of the people. As such, it is vitally important that you discuss piracy as if it were up for debate - your opinion does matter.

If you asked the Sonys, Microsofts and EAs of the world, you'd think piracy was the cardinal sin. According to most publishers of software and entertainment products, piracy is a major source of their losses, and is often the scapegoat for poor sales. However, some companies have used this line of reasoning to impose uncooperative, anti-consumer DRM into their products, which has caused a great deal of controversy in games like Sim City (fucking unplayable), F.E.A.R. (DRM prevents the game from playing in any computer with more than one disc drive) and Diablo III (Why can't I log in?)... Because of this, I am skeptical - me personally, I make a point of buying any product I pirate and enjoy. I'll get back to this later, but I reckon piracy has actually caused me to buy more than I would have otherwise.

On the side of national and international law, piracy is lumped in with theft. As many .jpg images on the internet suggest, piracy is not theft - as nothing of value is taken, no real loss is incurred. One could certainly argue that piracy makes it so that legitimate sales will never happen, but with piracy so readily accessible to anyone with a decent internet connection, how could that be true? Games, for instance, are still selling strong numbers - and greater numbers than ever before. Even though it's quite easy to download a 360 game on Pirate Bay days before it's released, I'm willing to say that a majority of people do not. In reality, those that download products readily available in stores likely constitute a very small percentage of gamers. For reasons that I'll get into in the coming paragraphs, piracy constitutes more good than evil.

Growing up in poverty, I know what it's like not having much. My family could never afford name-brand Lego, I've never been on a "vacation" (like a cruise or a resort or any of that fucking crap), and until I had expendable income as a teenager, I never had modern technology in the home. While I now have a sizable gaming collection (too many games, honestly...), I discovered many of my favourite games through piracy. Games like Chrono Trigger, Mother 3, DoDonPachi and SMT: Strange Journey, games that were either not accessible to me financially or available in my region.

Then there's "high-end" piracy, one might say - piracy of software that costs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars. These are usually priced for companies, not for individuals. This is one of the piracy methods that I completely understand... Since these products are priced for companies and not for individuals, I don't find it at all unacceptable to download these softwares to improve your career prospects. Last I checked, every employer under the sun wants experience with a particular design software that I never got to use much in school, and I don't exactly have $4000 laying around to buy a legit license!

In some countries, games are not nearly as accessible as they are where I am, in Canada. There are countries (such as Venezuela) where socialist governments have such strong policies of protectionism that video games are almost impossible to buy - and when they are, they're exceedingly expensive. Just as well, Venezeulans have a cap imposed on how much they can spend on imported goods, so buying online is definitely not an option (especially when other goods, such as clothing and small appliances, take priority). Then, of course, there are places like Kenya, Bulgaria and Kyrgyzstan, where video games are exceedingly expensive and often take months-to-years longer to arrive on store shelves. Is it not ethically acceptable for these places to pirate games?

And then of course there's retro gaming - while services like eShop, PSN, GOG and Steam provide access to some of the better games of the past, there are still tens of thousands of titles that are no longer offered for sale by their publishers. In some cases, such as with arcade games or Japan-only titles, the games are either impossibly expensive or simply impossible to obtain in English (or whatever the local language is). Even in the case of games for common consoles like SNES and PS1, the titles can still be prohibitively expensive to buy second-hand. I can almost guarantee that every single person reading this has MAME, zSNES, NESticle, Gameboid or some other emulation software on their computer or smartphone.

To sum up a ton of writing, I'm okay with a certain degree of piracy, and I totally endorse it in most cases. I have zero sympathy for people in western countries, where the games are available and affordable (if not at $60 at launch, then at $30 after a few months) on launch day, but who yet still download and play brand new games without paying for them. While piracy isn't technically theft, these people are definitely blocking week-one sales and damaging the industry for everyone. For the rest of us those - those retro-pirates, high-end pirates and "my country kinda sucks" pirates - you're doing what you gotta do, and I don't think it's right that legal repercussions exist for that sort of thing. I'm not sure what should change, whether it be the copyright laws (perhaps make things public domain 10 years after release and/or after they've made a certain percentage of profit if no re-release of said product has been made available?) or public perception (honestly, if the justice system keeps ignoring small-scale pirates, then no harm is done), but the rules-in-writing currently addressing piracy are... Screwy, to say the least.

In theory, a free-market capitalist society (as most of the western world is) should have a system that allows the consumers to determine what they're willing to pay. In practice, corporations are getting an increasing amount of power to limit and destroy the consumer's ability to make an informed decision. Piracy, in a way, may be one of the last powers we have as consumers - one that should never be relinquished, lest we all be controlled. It's not a simple matter of "it's just entertainment - if you can't afford it, you don't need it"... It's a matter of consumer freedom, and one that needs to be openly discussed and debated with greater frequency.

Thank you.


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