The War on Internet Piracy

By Gazette Editorial

The Gaucho Gazette (Petaluma, California)

Internet piracy is an issue that plagues the media, music, and film industries, as cyberspace is a vastly unregulated territory. Some believe that piracy broadens creators’ fanbases and ultimately brings them more money, while others believe the unlawful act is destroying and deprecating the aforementioned industries.

Streaming is Stealing

   The internet is a vast platform with access to endless information. For the current teenagers of Generation Z, this open service offers the convenience of free media, specifically surrounding movie pirating and unauthorized music streaming, which have damaged these respective industries greatly.

   It is important to note that internet piracy (using the internet to illegally copy software and pass it on to other people) is theft, and downloading a pirated movie would make you a criminal. If you are indicted, you can be fined upwards of $250,000 and incarcerated for up to three years. Not only is it morally and ethically wrong, but by clicking the download button, you are risking copyright industries and the jobs of the people employed there, not to mention that you are robbing movie and music industry workers who should be compensated for their work through the legal purchase of media. Depreciating the worth of a product that was intended for the function of capital gain is wrong, no matter how you put it. Piracy is not “sharing,” unless your definition of sharing means that the person giving isn’t actually losing anything. Piracy also decreases creativity—who would really create quality content if they knew that they were going to lose money? It’s not as if the people who pirate are broke: they simply feel entitled to view media on the internet for free.

   According to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), common examples of online copyright infringement of music include downloading “an app on your smartphone that allows you to ‘strip’ the audio from any YouTube music video . . .” and joining a ‘file-sharing network and [downloading] unauthorized copies of all the copyrighted music you want for free from the computers of other network members.” In a study conducted by the Institute for Policy Innovation, it was found that sound recording piracy results in the loss of over 71,000 jobs and $12.5 billion in the U.S. economy every year, while both the sound recording industry and downstream retail industries lose $2.7 billion annually. You are not entitled to illegally accessed music any more than you are entitled to the CDs at a store without paying for them. Just because you don’t see the people you’re stealing from doesn’t mean you aren’t affecting them.

   There are many arguments defending and justifying music and movie pirating alike, ranging from “movies and/or music are too expensive these days” to the timeless “I’m just one person, how could me pirating a few movies/songs hurt anyone?” The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter your excuse, stealing is stealing, and by illegally downloading the current box office hits or chart-topping singles, you are stealing not only from artists and producers who worked tirelessly to create the art you are wrongfully consuming but also from the workers who helped get that media to your local store or theater.

   Streaming music offers an entirely different problem to the music industry of today. Even though many music streaming services are technically legal, it still damages the music industry. Huffington Post writer Reed Alexander asserts, “streaming powerhouses like Spotify and Pandora don’t compensate artists fairly for the right to play their music, in such a way that allows consumers to circumvent having to purchase songs and albums through traditional means, whether those are record stores or iTunes or anywhere else.” Streaming services are changing the music industry for the worse, for although it may be easier to hit shuffle on Spotify than to pay for a song or album, it makes it all the more difficult for artists to monetize their work.

   In the end, it comes down to respect. Respect the artists and the work they put in for the media to even exist. Respect the industries that fuel and maintain the entertainment we consume daily. Respect the people who are there every step of the way to produce and deliver the media to us, people whose jobs jeopardized by hitting the download button. Even in a seemingly victimless crime, there are those who pay the price you went out of your way to avoid — nothing is truly free.

Streaming is Sharing

    Growing up, you might remember that whenever you popped in a DVD or VHS tape, there would always be an ominous FBI warning that showed before the movie started. Sometimes these warnings were even accompanied by a commercial attempting to discourage the viewer. It had people breaking into cars or stealing TVs; it used these actions to remind the viewers that pirating a film is also a form of theft. However, if a film is watched or if music is downloaded illegally, how much damage is truly being done? Yes, the people whose income is made up of how successful a movie is in the box office will take a small hit, but more often that not these moguls will continue to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, even if you skip paying the $10 for a movie ticket and watch the film for free in the comfort of your own home. The same goes for downloading music. Musicians make money from selling their songs, albums, merch, and concert tickets, so it seems that someone like Beyoncé (whose net worth is over $350 million) can handle it if her next album was downloaded illegally, even if it’s done on a grand scale. The question remains: how much damage is actually being done?

   Those who would seriously be hurt by pirating entertainment are the independent, burgeoning artists who are working hard to simply make a name for themselves. Yet those are the people who are offering their music at a reduced rate (or even free) because they desperately want to develop a fanbase. Once they have fans, they can start selling merchandise and going on tour, and the more fans they have, the bigger spaces they can fill, thus selling more tickets. Musicians make most of their money from touring, anyway, and when they do sell a single or an album their recording company takes a portion of the profits; therefore, they really only make a couple of cents a song. All artists should support the illegal downloading of music because it makes their product more accessible to the masses. People who wouldn’t normally pay for the album may download it for free and become a fan; if the only option was to buy the music upfront, why would anyone buy music from an artist they don’t know? It is simple, really: free music means more fans, more fans means bigger concerts, bigger concerts means more tickets, more tickets means more merchandise sold, and more merch and tickets sold means more money.

   This same logic can be applied to movie streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, and the like. Imagine yourself in this situation: you are watching TV when you see a trailer for a new addition to the movie series “Mission Impossible” come on. Unfamiliar with the series, you let it play and forget about it immediately after it ends. This is where streaming services come into play. Making films available for free means that the respective producers earn a bigger fanbase; had you been a member of a streaming service, you could have just binge-watched the entire series for free and when you see the trailer, you’re ecstatic, and cannot wait to go spend your valuable and hard-earned money on a ticket. Often you’ll see the last movie in a series pop up on Netflix a couple of weeks before the new one comes out on the big screen. The older movie may now be free to watch and not earning any revenue, but accumulates more and more money in the respect that it makes viewers want to see the next entry. Plus, the producers will see the result of this decision in dollar signs once the movie premieres.

   In most cases, streaming and pirating music and/or movies seems like it would be detrimental to the creators, but in the long run the benefits outweigh the bad. Recognizability and familiarity are great rewards that result from streaming; building a fanbase requires your music or movie to have these assets. Eventually, the profits obtained from having this base belittles the consequences of any lost revenue from pirating and/or streaming. Conclusively, streaming and pirating should remain the same. It widens the size of the audience so more and more people can enjoy the creator’s pieces of art. It benefits everyone, so save money today and go download some free movies and music!

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