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Piracy and Me: Is Paying for Stuff for Suckers?

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It happens more and more often. Ask somebody what the last CD they bought is and their response is laughter followed with “you still buy CD’s?”  Go to a message board and see somebody complain about having wasted sixty dollars on a half-assed game and behold the mockery at somebody who actually purchased a copy of what could be downloaded from the internet for free.

Right now you are either saying “f*** yeah, loser!” or “Nick, why didn’t you call the police and turn these miscreants in to the proper authorities?!” Any way you look at it, piracy is part of our world now. Welcome to the digital age. The only question is what the hell can we do about it?

Well for starters, let us all collectively point and laugh at the tools who suggest that multi-billion dollar corporations track down and sue the families of every child who downloads a song or watches a Youtube clip that they don’t own the rights to for millions of dollars that they’ll never get just to ruin as many lives as possible. That’s not an option.

And let’s go ahead and mock those ridiculous anti-piracy ads that corporations have possibly been wasting more money making and distributing than they were ever losing from piracy while we’re at it.

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Ummmmmm….they may be going about this wrong.

That last ad does have a point seeing that corporate capitalism resembles pimping more than anything else. The people at the top have other people do all the work, take all of the profits, and then dole out as little scratch as they can get away with to the people whose labors earn them their fortunes.

With the internet making information so easily transferable and most media being easily reduced to information, it’s natural that people would begin file sharing. The concept is a natural progression from handing a CD or book to an acquaintance. But now, the entire world is digitally acquainted.

So we’re back to the question of what to do about it. I’ve struggled with this issue for a long time. There are so many ways to obtain media in the digital age, but the people selling it seem stuck in a business model that no longer works. Their reaction to theoretical lost profits from piracy seems to have been to raise prices, which in turn has led more and more people to turn to piracy for relief.

Income and employment are down, the cost of living is up, and corporate profits are still rising. It makes you wonder who is the real bad guy here. You know what? I NEED a downloadable car.

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Go, internet, go!

Do I care if the pimps at Disney or Microsoft or Warner Brothers lose money? Not even a little. But here’s where it becomes an issue for those of us whose interests extend beyond the mainstream. Capitalism is the closest thing we have to true democracy. We vote with our money. If a little video game or indie flick made by an innovative artist comes out and can’t get any financial traction, they go away, possibly never to resurface.

This is why I still buy DVD’s, video games, CD’s, and books. I think of it as donating to the cause. Whenever I can, I try to support the cause. But is particularly taxing for a comic book reader and anime fanatic like myself. Comics are a few bucks an issue and anime series are typically released in pricy box sets. And here I am turning my pockets inside out to find only lint.

Comics in particular have been an issue for me. There are a ton of them out there and it’s nigh impossible to keep up, much less acquaint oneself the classics without devoting yourself entirely to it. This is the medium where I lean on file sharing the most, and feel the worst for doing it. It’s an industry I support as much as I can, but to read an entire run of a comic series is a triple digit investment at least.

How do I live with myself having availed myself of a creator’s blood sweat and tears without paying? Well, if I love it, I will buy it when I can. In the meantime, I have often taken to the net to review and otherwise hype my favorite titles as a way to give back. It may not be legal tender, but I like to think in some way I do my part to pay the artists back by bringing in new fans. Hopefully ones with fatter wallets. Isn’t rationalization fun?

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Then there’s anime. It’s a niche industry in America that always manages to find a major distributor like the now-defunct ADV or Funimation, but it is always struggling. Companies go out of business and operate on small budgets with many of the voice actors also taking on production duties in the localizations. It’s a small circle. But more and more often fans are taking to streaming on the internet rather than waiting for DVD releases.  This doesn’t bode well.

Hits like Attack on Titan and Kill la Kill are viewed, raved over, disseminated, memed, and moved on from long before they even make it stateside now. I prefer to wait given the choice, but that brings me back to money. The prices went down for a while, but they seem to be back on the rise now.  Netflix has a massive anime selection, but they are far from reliable when it comes to getting the latest and greatest, either to stream or on disc.

Basically, if you want to have any hope of keeping up, your options are either stream for free, import on the cheap, or wait a year or two and pay a ton for it. I tend to trend towards the middle option, but that opens up the even worse issue of of bootlegging.

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Moving on to video games, PC gamers are legendary for their pirating prowess. In fact, they kind of invented modern piracy as we know it. As I said, it’s commonplace to go to a message board and see a poster declare that a game wasn’t worth the money they paid for it followed by a number of posts cackling at the very concept of paying money for a game.

Personally, I have almost never pirated games; they are too readily available and the prices on games go down pretty steadily after release. Console gaming is a primary hobby for me and I support it with gusto so my conscience is clean here, but the community on the whole is dirtier than bad hentai.

Game developers have probably the best reactions to piracy too. Sometimes they release augmented copies onto the web that are deliberately broken at key points so that after a gamer has spent ours investing themselves, they get reamed by being unable to progress further. I can’t say I disapprove of this method.

Others take a kinder gentler approach. Hotline Miami creator Jonatan Söderström went so far as to offer technical assistance for pirated copies of his 8-bit 80’s ultraviolence wonderland after it was torrented far and wide. When questioned about it, his statement was “I’m not going to criticize this, it’s a fact of life. It would be nice if guys could find it within themselves to pay for it, but that’s the world I’m in, so you know, you just have to take it for what it is.” My reaction to this dead-on assessment was to go buy the game.

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Last on the chopping block: music. This has been ground zero for the fight against piracy, and it will possibly be the industry that finds a solution. Apple’s one-dollar-a-song approach paid huge dividends for everyone, but that price point has since gone up substantially to the point where it’s still often a much better deal to just buy the physical disc.

While other companies are finding some success with a subscription model, the constant raising of prices for downloads and the decline of physical media has led to pirating becoming the standard way to own music. I’ve had many a head shaken in my direction while trying to extoll the virtues of buying stuff instead of torrenting it to music “fans”.

And maybe they’re right. After all, most artists make precious little from album sales with the record label taking the lion’s share. Whenever I buy a new album, they release a better version with bonus tracks or a live disc a few months later, which makes me feel like a sucker for being in such a hurry to tell them to shut up and take my money. After they take it, they demand I shut up and buy it again for the bonus tracks.

And with corporations taking things to insane extremes to go after consumers and extort money or ruin their lives while lobbying for draconian new laws that practically make the internet itself illegal, I’m not sure I see a downside to watching them crash and burn. There are plenty of ways for artists to get their work out to the general public in the digital age. Corporate sponsorship is not the only way to gain distribution anymore and without payola and massive advertising campaigns determining what we see and hear in the media, quality and word of mouth could actually determine what succeeds for a change.

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I’m still on the fence, personally. While I can acknowledge the ethical issues with torrenting when you should be buying, I’ve never been a proponent of eliminating file sharing or hunting and legally savaging those who engage in it. It’s just too valuable a tool and I’m not at all sold on the concept that it’s destroying our way of life; maybe the way of life of someone with a much higher standard of living than mine, but that sounds like somebody with comparatively little to bitch about if you ask me. And is it as bad as knocking an old lady down and stealing her purse or even shoplifting? Psh. Distributing a digital copy is not the same as taking somebody else’s property. Until you understand the difference, you not able to partake in this discussion seriously.

But this has all been discussed to death. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to keep with my happy medium in the meantime. My meager monthly comic bill nets me a few hours of reading, and a pricey anime box set I might not even enjoy that much will keep me busy for a few more, but to even imagine an attempt to give love everywhere it’s due in geek culture, torrents and streaming are a necessity. Otherwise I simply would never read or watch a lot of great titles and that would be a shame for artist and thief alike.

Is not paying and not reading/watching in any way better than not paying, reading/watching, and spreading the love? I don’t believe it is. And this is why piracy and I will maintain a casual acquaintance. I’ll never suggest that we should not pay into the things we enjoy, but at the same time I think we have to respect that the sellers have so much more than the buyers at this point and there is so much out there that cheating a little is kind of the way it’s going to be for a lot of us. Just don’t forget that some things are well worth supporting and I won’t tell if you won’t.

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About Nick Verboon

I am a guy on the internet who writes stuff sometimes. Try and keep up. I used to write reviews Amazon and other sites under the moniker trashcanman before semi-retiring from my unpaid career for a while. But now I'm back in action writing columns for Unreality and Gamemoir. Enjoy. I

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