I'm Not So Bad

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MP3 pirating is in the media, and thought to be larger scale simply because of the sheer volume of MP3’s that travel around. But when you think about it, how much is ONE mp3 really worth? Let’s say the average CD costs $18 (Canadian $), and the average CD has 12 songs on it. This means that one song is worth about $1.50. So if a million songs are traded over the course of a week, or a month, that’s 1.5 million bucks. Sounds like a lot, right? Well consider large-scale software piracy. Software like 3DSMax, or Lightwave, or Maya. Those all cost several thousands of dollars each. To equal the 1.5 million dollars of mp3’s traded over a week, or even a few days, only 750 copies of software costing $2000 on average would need to be downloaded. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that there are a great many software titles that cost this amount, or even more, it really isn’t that much.

Then you have lower-cost software, the $60-$100 range, software like games, win98, things like that. Now, while a million of these won’t be traded around over the course of a week, I have no problem believing that tens of thousands of copies will circulate in a week. Add that onto the big-ticket software, and you’re talking some big bucks here. Now with all this money going down the drain, you’d think the software companies would put a stop to it, wouldn’t you? Well, the fact is that they try, and they fail. Even massive dump sites hosting hundreds of gigs of illegal software remain operational. Websites offering links to pirated software stay alive, as do the sites. It’s not that software companies don’t try, I’m sure they do, the problem is that it never works out they way they say it will.

As far as the record companies saying they’re going to be able to track your downloading of music; that’s BS. They can track, on napster for example, what music you have on your harddrive, but having mp3’s on your computer isn’t grounds for a court hearing. And if it’s so easy to sniff around FTP’s, why isn’t the software industry already doing it? Microsoft charges a fine of something like $5000 if you pirate win9x, but I’ve never heard of a single soul actually having to pay up, yet I know tons of people who pirate windows.

I guess I’m just rambling, and upset that someone has been so affected by the media to think that this will actually make a difference. I know that you think you’re “in the scene”, and maybe I’m not. But I’ve had first-hand experience with this kind of thing. Rogers@home told me they would monitor my bandwidth, but they don’t. A webhosting company said in their TOS that I couldn’t host certain files, but I do, and transfer those files thousands of times a day. The record company is trying to put a scare into people, and you’re only helping to heighten that scare.

Editorial comment: There’s some interesting premises here:

It’s OK to steal if others steal more.

It’s OK to steal if you can get away with it.

Would you trust the word of anyone you knew believed all this? Don’t you think such a person would be likely to rip you off if he got the chance?

There’s probably far more than a million MP3 being swapped around every week, but the exact number is not the point. The point is the level of piracy is such that record or movie companies will never go to digital distribution so long as that’s the case. That means in the long run that honest people will have to pay more. The end result is that pirates not only steal from some big company, they steal from you, too.

Per warez, not only does theft not justify theft, but the question you have to ask in any of these situations is, “Would the person have bought the product if the person hadn’t taken it.” In the case of software, in most cases, the answer is no. In the case of MP3s, the answer’s probably “No,” too.

In both situations, we have to look at the underlying problem. With both warez and MP3, a portion of people certainly use the product regularly. Another portion probably treats them as trophies, and eventually discard them without using them at all, or very slight use.

I would bet the biggest proportion of either is used casually, used every once in a while, but not enough to justify actually buying it.

Partition Magic illustrates this problem on the software side. It’s a very useful program when you need it, but how often does the average person need it? If you’re someone who uses Word and Excel all the time at work; a few hundred dollars is no big deal. But if you use it just ten times a year, it is.

One-hit wonders illustrates the problem on the musical side. You might really want to hear that song once every few months, but is that worth buying the CD?

This is one of the few areas where neither side deserve moral brownie points. The providers would have you pay too much. The pirates would have you pay nothing. Neither is a really good choice.

However, piracy prevents even the possibility of a better choice emerging. There are many situations in life where you need something just for a little while. Like when you move. You don’t want to buy the UHaul truck; you just want to use it for a little while. So you rent it at a very reasonable fee compared to the cost of the truck.

If people started stealing UHaul trucks left and right, though, this happy state of affairs would end very quickly. Either the UHaul people would go out of business, and you’d have to spend much more hiring a moving company, or the UHaul people would become like a moving company, and you’d still pay a lot more.

Not trying to claim record companies are chomping at the bit waiting to rent songs to you on demand. They’ll have to be dragged kicking and screaming to that, but if digital content were secure, eventually they would be dragged kicking and screaming to that. Piracy guarantees that will never happen.

But realizing that takes some foresight. It takes the ability to look down the road and realize what might be good for you in the short-run might not so good for you in the long run. It means acknowledging consequences other than those that don’t slam you in the face.

Finally, it means realizing that stealing is wrong, period, not that stealing is wrong only when you get caught. Any society is based on trust people will normally do the right thing. You normally trust your employer to pay you. You normally trust your grocer to sell you fresh and not rancid food. You normally trust the gas station to sell you undiluted gas. When you go to the movies or to a concert, you expect to normally see a movie or concert.

Sure, all of you have experienced or know someone who hasn’t gotten what he paid for. But imagine what life would be like if getting any of things were a 50-50 proposition, or if all these people normally thought, “Hmmmm, I think he won’t go away if I don’t do the right thing 10% of the time?

Would you think your employer was right in skipping a paycheck every once in a while knowing that you can’t afford to leave at that particular moment? No? Then why is it OK when you do that for the same reason?

Think about it.

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