Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stop Pirating Stuff (okay guys?)

I realize that US copyright law is terrible. It's a veritable rabbit's warren of senseless laws and regulations, all in place to make sure that rights holders can wring money out of things they own until decades after their creators have died. It's an even bigger mess than the Stark County Treasurer's office.

Likewise, I think that current Digital Rights Management schemes are as pointless as they are futile. Each attempt by companies to protect their intellectual property is more restrictive than before, to the point where legitimate, paying customers are also paying for caring to consume the content at all. If I never had to download another update for my Blu-Ray player, I'd be happy. And, to add insult to insult, pirates are constantly cracking new DRM schemes within weeks of their introduction.

The people who distribute this stuff to us are doing bad things. Terrible things. I hate it, and you should too. But the root cause, the reason why developers and publishers and distributors make it a pain in the ass to enjoy the things they develop and publish and distribute, are pirates. No, not those pirates. These pirates.

Internet pirates often present an argument which, at first blush, seems virtuous. They want content to be free of copyright. They want anyone, anywhere, to be able to access anything. They want to upend the system, to make the industry behemoths who kept physical CD prices at $20 for years to pay for their greed. It sounds noble, in a Robin Hood-esque sort of way.

Needless to say, companies don't like this sort of pirate. The Computer Entertainment Suppliers Association estimates that piracy of games for the DS and PSP have cost the industry $41.7 billion. For those of you who use the Metric system, I believe that is approximately seven fucktonnes of money. Prices go up not just because of inflation and increased costs, but because those damn pirates are using the BitTorrents to siphon off all the profits.

Pirates have an excuse ready for this argument, natch. Organizations like CESA calculate industry losses by assuming that every pirated copy of The Content is a Lost Sale - if piracy were not a concern, the nefarious downloader would have walked into his local Babbage's and paid MSRP for the latest blight on Final Fantasy's good name. Pirates say that they would never have paid for the stuff they've downloaded, so The Industry isn't really missing out. In fact, according to pirates, downloading is good for the industry. If I pirate something and I like it, it makes me more likely to purchase and enjoy future entries in that franchise/products from that group/stuff in that vein. Piracy is good for the industry! What are you guys talking about?!

Now that I've laid out the popular pro-piracy positions nice and pretty for you, know that I find most of them to be ridiculous excuses for what is all-too-often outright theft. It's not the people who make a copy of a DVD for personal use or rip CDs to their iTunes libraries computer who get me mad, and indeed while the letter of copyright law classifies their activities as illegal the law as it is currently enacted largely leaves them alone. It's that ridiculous last excuse that gets me, the one where people justify their wholesale theft of something by saying they'd never pay for it. It's like stealing a car and saying that Toyota isn't out anything because, hey, you'd have never even looked at the car if you had to buy it to own it.

Pirates seem to live in a weird, wacky world where the ease of copying data, as well as that data's relative intangibility, means that it shouldn't cost anything. Certainly, it's easier to burn a CD than it is to hotwire an Impala. But surely, when you people download that copy of Get Him to the Greek or the insufferable new Sufjan Stevens album, you realize that this shit ain't free, right? It didn't spring fully-formed from the hard drive of Zeus. A bunch of people worked on it, spent money on it. They need money, your money, to be able to do other things in the future.

Companies are just now working out how to make people pay for anything on the Internet, even if that price is occasionally self-destructively low. Many stores have listened to your complaints - Amazon MP3 downloads and most iTunes downloads these days are high-quality, DRM-free offerings that make a lot of sense in the Internet age. Valve's Steam service offers up a reasonable level of DRM in exchange for one-stop management of all your PC games (and some awesome sales, to boot). And yet, pirates still pirate, year after year, using the same excuses they've always used.

To close, this is what I want pirates to do: stop being dicks, you guys. Copyright law is bad, and DRM is worse, but something has to give. Even worse, when someone does give you the DRM-free, easily downloaded, completely open-sourced stuff that you want for literally any price you want to pay, as several indie game developers did earlier this year with the Humble Indie Bundle, don't make them regret it by pirating the bejeezus out of it anyway.

This arms race between pirates and copyright holders, where piracy of content begets increasingly ridiculous DRM schemes which punish legitimate customers and then get cracked anyway, which begets even more aggressive DRM - has to stop. Because of you people, we're all stuck in this endless hell of perpetual firmware updates and crazy restrictions. Stop it. Pay for your shit, and if you find the price to be unfair, then do without. That is all.