This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time (think years), but I've refused to blog it, because it goes against the beliefs of many of my friends. In short, this post is going to hurt, but I just can't hold out on it any longer.
Question: Are you one that pirates music? Movies? Software? Any other digital media that is otherwise copyrighted in a manner that would consider your actions piracy? If so, then I have a second question for you: Do you believe in the principles of freedom and liberty? Then this post is for you.
I'm going to shoot straight- piracy is a slap in the face for those of us fighting for copyright restrictions to be lifted, for Digital Restrictions Management wiped from the face of the Earth, and the DCMA over turned. The fact of the matter is, we hate the RIAA, MPAA, blood sucking lawyers, and everything else wrong with copyright just as much as pirates. However, we recognize there are more mature ways to reaching our goals, and we further recognize that piracy is just hurting our cause, not helping it.
Think about it for a second. If you pirate music, books, movies, software, or any other copyright material, what are you saying? At first thought, you're sticking it to the man, right? You're also harming material that is open, in the public domain, or otherwise copyrighted in a manner that let's you share to your hearts content (commonly referred to as "copyleft"). Look at all the artists who have chosen independent labels, if any label at all, that encourages sharing of their music. Instead, you're sharing Tori Amos, Metallica or some other artist. What you're saying, is their music is better, but I doubt you've given the other music a try, haven't you? What about proprietary software? You're saying that you don't want to pay these outrageous prices on software. You're also saying that this application is superior to Free Software. The same can be said for images, books, videos, and other digital works. Piracy isn't liberating anything, it's just making it so you don't have to pay, and it's making more laws on copyright further complicating the system. It's not the solution to the problem.
Now, I understand the want, or even need, to get these materials. Maybe school requires Microsoft Office. Can you use OpenOffice.org, or some other Open Source office suite? If so, why pirate Microsoft Office? If you absolutely need that specific office suite, surely the school has student discounts. What about Metallica? I was just as pissed as the next guy when they went against Napster, but pirating their music only says you still like the band, and you still like their tunes. Why not boycott them? Why not find another artist in metal that allows sharing and free distribution? If you just like their tunes so much, why not listen to them on a radio service, like Last.fm? Using a service like this, not only will you get Metallica tunes, you'll also get similar artists that you may not have known about. Discovering new artists is a great way to support music in the Free Culture. If you must have their stuff, is it really that hard to pay a dollar on Amazon or iTunes? If you don't want the money reaching Metallica, why not get their albums from a gray market shop?
Piracy just doesn't equate to honesty as well, no matter how you look at it. You're not being honest in your dealings with your fellowman, and if you're engaging in piracy, how can others trust you in different aspects of your life? Sure, you can admit that you're a pirate, but you're still not honest with the law. You're not honest with the artists or developers. As much as it sucks sometimes, we should believe in honoring, obeying and sustaining the law. I'm not saying follow the law blindly, and there are always times when we should lobby changes to the law. This seems more the right path than ignoring the law and engaging in piracy, don't you think? Now, we're not perfect law abiding citizens. I for one have a hard time sticking to posted speed limits on the road and coming to a complete stop at stop signs, so I'm certainly not one get all high and mighty, but is that an excuse for me to break other laws? Further, what if I place something in your care that requires your trust? Can I trust you won't put it on bittorrent, or otherwise break my trust?
Piracy especially is troubling for those of us who believe in the Free Software ideals. Here, we're fighting the good fight for software freedom, then in the dark corners of the basement, we're pirating proprietary software. Isn't this hypocritical? You either believe in the ideals or you don't. Playing both sides doesn't work. Further, as already mentioned, pirating the software only pisses off the software execs and their lawyers, making the whole copyright process more complicated- it's doing nothing to liberate the software at all. Boycotting the software, and using competitive open source applications are a couple ways of getting the point out that software should be liberated. If no one is using their software, how can they continue with their business models?
Finally, I admit to being a pirate many years ago. I had a collection of gigabytes of music, videos and software. I was on the peer-to-peer networks night and day. However, when I thought about it, I realized that my actions could not be justified. How could I promote and advocate "copyleft" licenses and continue doing what I was doing? No man can serve two masters, and I had to make a choice. I deleted my entire repository of music, videos, books, software and anything else that was pirated, and started anew. This was nearly five years ago, and guess what? I don't miss any of it. I have all the music I want to listen to through Last.fm. I have all the software I want to install through my distribution's software repositories. When I need movies or music, I hit up the gray market shops, getting them for cheap and in excellent condition.
Give yourself a soul-searching moment. Think about your beliefs and then your actions. I think you'll find that piracy just isn't the right way to go about removing all the restrictions we currently face. Piracy only makes more ridiculous laws and prevents the Free Culture from furthering it's cause.