Columns > Published on August 31st, 2012

Top 10 Reasons People Use To Justify Pirating Digital Content (And Why They’re Wrong)

Pirating digital content is illegal. Full stop. 

Yet people continually steal eBooks and movies and television shows and treat it like it's no big deal. There's a couple of reasons it happens: Torrenting is easy and the chance of getting caught is low. And saving money is fun, especially when the economy isn't at its strongest. But an eBook is a luxury, not a right. If you can't afford it, too bad, but that's life. 

Still, people excuse the practice of pirating with a plethora of ridiculous reasons that don't hold up to scrutiny. I have yet to hear a single legitimate argument in favor of it. Here's the ones I've heard so far--and why they're complete nonsense:

An eBook is a luxury, not a right. If you can't afford it, too bad, but that's life. If you go to Target and they have a flatscreen television you like, but you can't afford it, can you just take it? No.

10. We're only hurting big business.

Say you steal a book published by HaperCollins, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch. Yes, Murdoch has a lot of money, and I bet it's satisfying to take a few fractions of a penny out his pocket. But here's who you're really hurting, besides the author (which should be enough): The editors, the layout people, the marketing people, the cover designer... hell, even the maintenance staff in the building where the book was put together. Those are the people who are getting paid from the cost of the book. It takes a village. Murdoch isn't sweating the loss; the people who brought the book to market are. 

9. Authors already have a plenty of money.

J.K. Rowling may not notice a loss in income, but what about the self-published author? What about the author who’s counting on a royalty check to cover the rent? Publishing a book isn’t a path to fame and fortune. There are plenty of mid-list authors, or authors whose books are out of print, who don't see a dime from their work. And it doesn't help them if their books are pirated, obviating any need to buy them. 

8. The distribution method sucks.

Just because you don't like how something is distributed doesn't mean you can steal it. Game of Thrones is pirated at a huge rate, and sure, getting HBO shows can be tough--if you don't have cable and a subscription, you have to wait until the show is released on iTunes or Amazon Prime or on DVD. People like to say, Well, if they just offered HBOGo for $15 a month then I would pay for that. Except that doesn't work. HBO is an exclusive service for cable customers--if that service is no longer exclusive, cable companies might not carry it. HBO may be "leaving money on the table," but it's not enough money to justify losing the support of cable companies. Then they won't have enough money to make Game of Thrones

7. Digital content is too expensive.

I will acknowledge that pricing on eBooks is not ideal, but pricing is a different conversation--you can't just take what you want, when you want, because you disagree with what's being charged. If you go to Target and they have a flatscreen television you like, but you can't afford it, can you just take it? No. Same rule applies. 

6. We would pay for it if we just had access to it.

This is bullshit of the highest order. Some people would, sure, but you know what? Both season 1 and 2 of Game of Thrones are available on DVD, and through a variety of digital download services, and it's still pirated at a huge rate. If this was true, as soon as something was available for sale in another format, it wouldn't be pirated ever again. It's ridiculous for people to pretend they'd be noble, if only the circumstances were right. (As someone pointed out in the comments, season 2 of Game of Thrones is not available yet. Plenty of digital content gets pirated even though its for sale elsewhere, so the point remains).

5. What about libraries?

Libraries purchase the large majority of books in their collections through wholesale retailers like Ingram and Baker & Taylor. Money changes hands. Authors get paid. All this argument shows is you don't even care to check your facts. 

4. Everyone else is doing it.

There are a lot of examples of mainstream acceptance of pirating, but the most recent (and troubling) example comes from David Pogue, the technology writer from the New York Times. He wanted to get The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum for his son, but he discovered the eBook wasn't available because of a dispute between Ludlum’s estate and Bantam. Instead of downloading any one of a million other eBooks, Pogue downloaded a torrent and cut the publisher a check for $9.99. Except if the books aren’t available, the estate probably still has the rights, so the check should have gone to them. And he used the biggest and most respected paper in the world as a venue to justify a selfish, petty, and illegal act. Shameful.

3. We live in a different country so we don't get movies/books/shows until months later.

Distribution methods are not ideal--far behind the capabilities of technology. It's frustrating, and distributors should absolutley rethink how media is disseminated in our global cultural landscape. But it still doesn't give you the right to steal something. Again: Digital content is a luxury, not a right.

2. We already own the book/movie/show in another format.

If you have an eBook, you can't go to a bookstore and take the paperback version, claiming that you already own it anyway. I'm heartened to see that some publishers and movie studios are including digital copies with physical media--I'd pay a few extra bucks to get eBook versions of the physical books I buy--but until that's a common practice, this is the system we have. Buying something in one format doesn't give you the right to other formats. 

1. If you're a writer, you should just be happy to write.

I've seen this tossed out a couple of times--that if you're a writer or a filmmaker, you should just be flattered that people want your stuff, and you should take pirating as a compliment. Well, screw that. Writing and filmmaking and art are great jobs, but they're still jobs. A self-published author still has to sit down and proofread and code and release and track an eBook--these things take time. Expecting people to forgo payment because you wanted something and didn't want to pay for it? You're an asshole. And if you're an artist, you're an even bigger asshole, because you lack empathy for fellow artists. But, look, if you're utterly convinced that artists should just be happy to create, I'll make you a deal: I'll do my job for free, but you have to do yours for free. We'll circle back in a month and see how that went. 


Am I wrong? Do you think any of these reasons are legitimate? Let's discuss. And let's keep it civil, alrighty?

UPDATE: So in response to this article (an opinion piece you guys, so really, calm down) I got this anonymous e-mail. Just wanted to let you know you suck. You suck as a person. If I ran into you on the streets I would punch you in the face. I would punch you again just to do it.

I'd love for someone try to punch me in the face over something I wrote on the internet, because my life has been too normal lately. 

About the author

Rob Hart is the class director at LitReactor. His latest novel, The Paradox Hotel, will be released on Feb. 22 by Ballantine. He also wrote The Warehouse, which sold in more than 20 languages and was optioned for film by Ron Howard. Other titles include the Ash McKenna crime series, the short story collection Take-Out, and Scott Free with James Patterson. Find more at www.robwhart.com

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