And now that were done with that, let me jump right in to the topic at hand. Piracy. Piracy, and more specifically media and software piracy, is the act of illegally distributing copies of trademarked or proprietary merchandise (in the case of software piracy, applications and games). It's the illegal procurement and distribution with the intent (either on purpose or not) of making a profit out of the stolen goods. Making a profit though is not limited to positive gain on the part of the pirate, but also includes negative loss on the side of the producer or manufacturer of the stolen goods (and this side of piracy is most often overlooked).
But piracy does not end there, piracy also includes obtaining illegal merchandise through pirates. This means that even the end buyer is culpable of piracy, even if he or she is not directly involved with the illegal distribution (and in fact, he or she is already directly involved, through the act of buying or obtaining said merchandise).
So why am I talking about this? Read on to find out.
First of all, I am against piracy, and I do not find any merit in standing up for piracy. At the baseline of things, piracy is theft; piracy involves illegally obtaining merchandise, that alone should be enough of a basis to say that piracy is equivalent to theft. And while I'm sure there are a lot of ways to justify piracy, I do not find any of them as just or sound; most of the justifications are merely excuses, and while the prohibitive costs of some merchandise are really unjust, it is still not an excuse to be stealing from them.
Now, before I proceed, I wish to make it clear that I myself have in fact committed acts of piracy before, and most likely I would still commit such acts in the future. But as with all my other reflections that defines my stand in an issue, genuine effort for me is enough. I am genuinely trying to purge myself of this act, and I believe this should be enough of a reason for me to advocate my opinion.
Anyway, now that I'm done explaining my stand, I wish to put all that aside to look with an unbiased eye on the reasons why people still commit such acts, and to look and probably devise a way of addressing such problems. After all, nobody would be committing acts of piracy if they weren't given a reason to do so. I thought about various reasons, and while the reasons I came up with would not encompass all the possible reasons, I believe they are major enough to account for the majority, and as such, should be a sound representation of those opinions.
That said, I would think the biggest reason why people resort to piracy is (as mentioned previously), the prohibitive costs of the merchandise in question. I suppose everyone would agree when I say the prices of goods today have skyrocketed to impossible proportions. Some even theorize that in a few years, even basic "free" commodities like water (and ludicrously enough, air) would cost an unjust amount. Blame it on the decline of resources or the inherent greediness of human beings, the fact is, stuff are expensive nowadays. And people would always clamor for things that are free, and would find ways to obtain goods on the cheap, hence piracy (although not always, I'm merely pointing out that it is due to our inherent desire to obtain goods on the cheap that piracy came to be).
Now, while prices do tend to be unjust, we should also consider the fact that merchandise actually have a cost of production, which means that in order to produce goods, the producer spends resources of their own. And since we (especially the entrepreneur producers) also have the inherent desire to profit, the price of merchandise must at least be able to compensate for the cost of producing them. This is a very basic rule of our current merchandising system, and in my opinion, is also the cause of a lot of the greedy and corrupt actions society is currently committing.
So where does piracy come into play here? And for that matter, what are its effects? Basically, when people pirate merchandise, the producer of the merchandise does not get the compensation he or she was ought to get ("ought to get" as defined by the merchandising system discussed above). As a result, the overall sales of the merchandise could become less than the cost of production, resulting in a loss to the entrepreneur. So what does this all mean? Very simply, it means that piracy is preying on the spirit of entrepreneurship; and the more people pirate, the more the innovators degrade, and in the worst case, disappear.
While it is understandable that people would always want things on the cheap or even free, this desire destroys the merchandising industry. In the favorable order of things, when an entrepreneurial activity is deemed successful (and the measure of success is often if not always the amount of profit gained), better products are developed and made, often on the said profits of a previous activity. This ensures better and better quality goods, especially when we include in our model competitors and natural obstacles. But as soon as the unnatural obstacle of piracy kicks in, innovative entrepreneurial activities become uncompensated, resulting in their decline. This would snowball into the degradation of product quality, and could even result in more unfair prices as entrepreneurs want to at least break even with their now uncompensated product.
So should we say then that piracy is evil? Well, amidst all the inherent even that piracy is capable of, it does do one thing, and it does so very very effectively. Piracy destroys capitalism. This I would think is the heroic image painted by piracy, the robin hood effect that pirates revel in. And I suppose this is perhaps a nice little ideology, if it wasn't a nice colorful mask to the truly greedy. I suppose some pirates have this ideology as the reason why they commit acts of piracy. This is I think the reason why underground file sharing communities came into existence (and I suppose the idea of sharing bought merchandise isn't new to our generation, but because of the terrible adaptation of the capitalist model to electronic merchandise, it has become ever more controversial). But this ideology should be approached with caution, as this of course can also be used to justify unjust greediness.
Now that this has all been said, what now can be done? I suppose the only true way to address piracy is to revise the whole merchandising and profit system (capitalism in short). While the idea of unbounded profit is a good thing, it is also a greedy thing. In my opinion, perhaps a naive alternative would be to implement profit bounds that are just enough to compensate for the cost of production AND make a good amount of profit, perhaps for the production of future goods. Once the profit bounds are reached, the said goods could be given out for free; future profit generation from "bound-over" goods could then be in the form of donations and the like. In doing so, while the profits would end up being bounded, at least it could deter pirates, as after the said bound is reached, the product is going to be given for free anyway.
It sounds funny and naive yes, but really, the point I'm trying to drive home is that capitalism should be revised, as it's doctrines are the source of greediness and corruption. And if there was a generation capable of doing this, I do have a feeling that it is OUR generation who could. We are more aware of corruption and are hungrier than ever before to stop it. We, in my opinion, have also become less greedy, and more reasonable and rational. And while there would always exist people or groups ready to feed on and take advantage of the rational and the reasonable, I think in our generation, we have enough of a level of social responsibility to actually start change and put enough of a pressure on capitalist groups.
On a more personal level, I have agreed with myself to follow a certain set of rules when it comes to piracy, with great emphasis on software and media piracy, as these are the kinds of piracy that I find myself committing a lot. For the record, these rules are:
- Never obtain pirated or illegal copies of merchandise or goods that I could have obtained legally anyway, unless I am in a pinch which I would define later.
- Obtaining pirated or illegal copies of goods that are already out of production is allowed, as buying them from second hand channels would not result in the cash ending up in the hands of the original producer (since these items are already out of production anyway, and in effect, the producer have released the merchandising rights to the goods).
- In the case of in production goods that are not readily distributed or obtainable from where I currently am, I am allowing myself to obtain pirated copies of them, as long as I get original copies as soon as they become available.
- Finally, in a pinch is defined as any life and death situation or any situation on that level, in which case, the caveat of rule 3 must be followed.
I know these rules maybe idealistic or even questionable, but I set them up so that I would be guided in my decisions. Again, these are my rules, set on writing as a contract with myself. This is not in any way meant to be for anybody else, and if anyone would like to object, I am most happy to hear their objection out, but it would not necessarily mean a change in the aforementioned rules.
And there, I guess that should be it. With all these written up, I feel more at peace with myself, and with how I would deal with these kinds of situations. I know this blog post took a weird turn here and there, but like I said in the beginning (and would apply to all Reflections blog posts), this is more so that I could be at peace with my thoughts and to have a more unbiased look at things. Again, this is not meant to be targeted against anyone, and is not meant to convince or change anybody else's opinions. It's just me, sharing my opinions to the world.
And at the end of the day, what matters is the soundness of the opinion.