Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

The latest Oatmeal cartoon has been making the rounds of Twitter (largely thanks to John Gruber’s link). It makes two points about the problems of piracy exceptionally well.

The intentional point is that the content distributors often make it crazy-stupid hard for us to give them our money. Most of these industries have been frustratingly slow to adopt to the patterns of the modern consumer. News flash: we’re not heading to Blockbuster Video any more. Well, actually, yes, we are. But only because the Blockbuster went out of business and a Panera Bread is now leasing that space. We’ll probably get a Bacon Turkey Bravo for lunch and then watch some Netflix via the restaurant’s free WiFi while we eat.

Consumers couldn’t make their desires any more clear. We’ve got money to spend on TV and movies, but now we’re looking for it on iTunes and Netflix and through all other kinds of network-connected devices. If a distributor shows up in any of those places with a product we want, we’ll buy it.

[Added to clarify: and if they don’t show up in those places, they’re making torrenting that much more attractive. They’re just feeding the monster they’re trying to fight. That’s crystal-clear.

Remember the mistakes that the comic book industry made. Digital distribution made no sense to Marvel and DC, so they never really committed to it. Fine, but reading a comic book on a phone or a laptop made perfect sense to their audience, and they’re the people with the money. In the absence of a legal means of digital comics distribution, an illegal infrastructure of file standards, consumption tools, and distribution systems developed and flourished.]

The Oatmeal made an unintentional point that was just as important as the first, however:

The single least-attractive attribute of many of the people who download content illegally is their smug sense of entitlement.

Here’s my conversation with a hypothetical person who wants to check out “Game Of Thrones.” Not with Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal, I hasten to say. Just a conglomeration of the species of torrenters as a whole.

You want to see what the hubbub around “Game Of Thrones” is about? Cool. The show is produced by HBO and it’s available exclusively on that channel. It’s a premium channel and any cable provider can sell you a monthly subscription.

HBO’s awesome. They have a streaming app that will allow you to watch pretty much any original series or movie that they still have the rights to (including “Thrones”) and it works with almost everything that can play streaming video. HBO doesn’t even charge for the app or for the extra access.

You say you don’t want to subscribe to HBO, or even cable?

Ah. Well, no worries. The show will be released on DVD and Blu-ray later in the year.

You’re not into physical media? I’m with you. It’ll be on iTunes soon. See? The store page lists the release date. March 6. You can circle it on the calendar and everything.

You’re still frowning. What’s wrong, Scrumpkin?

Oh. You want it right now.

But — umm — the release date is only, like, two or three weeks away. Just hang on a bit. You’ll be fine.

Yes, I heard you (please, sir, there’s really no need to shout). I understand that you want it (and I hope I’m not misquoting you) right the ****ity-**** NOWWWWWWWW. But you can’t have it now. You can have it on March 6. It isn’t even as far away as you think. Remember? February is the super-short month?

(Sigh)

You’re already torrenting it, aren’t you?

Annnnd now you’re also calling me a d*** because I expected you to wait two weeks, and you’re claiming that you’re “forced” to torrent it because the video industry is bunch of turds. How charming.

Here’s the terms of use for commercial content: you have to pay for this stuff. This means either you need to wait for it to become commercially available, or if you torrent it today you need to buy it when it gets released. So long as you buy it as soon as it’s possible to do so, I can confidently reach for my “No Harm Done” rubber stamp. Some content is commercially unavailable because the publisher or distributor has no desire to ever release it. I’ll even go so far as to say that downloading it illegally is a positive thing; you’re helping to keep this creative work alive.

If you avoid purchasing the media in some form, however…you’re just Johnny No Wanna Pay. Simple as that. Get off your high horse and don’t even try that “I’m making a stand and sending a message to content producers” stuff. It’s bunkum.

I’m reminded of a Louis CK joke. I’m going to clean up a little because I’m not Louis CK and this isn’t a live comedy stage. It really wouldn’t come across the same way otherwise.

“I’m totally opposed to stealing an Xbox. Unless Microsoft sets a price for them that I don’t want to pay, or there’s a new model in a warehouse somewhere and it won’t ship to stores for another few weeks. Because what else am I going to do? Not have that Xbox? That’s no solution!”

The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it. If it’s not available under 100% your terms, you have the free-and-clear option of not having it.

I sometimes wonder if this simple, grown-up fact gets ignored during all of these discussions about digital distribution.

It was still a funny strip, though.

315 thoughts on “Heavy Hangs The Bandwidth That Torrents The Crown

  1. Gemma

    Much like “tech pundit” is synonymous with “oh hey let me write a linkbait article citing why people shouldn’t be so offended when they can’t pay for things they want and are available elsewhere, wherein I just make myself irrelevant and prove how out-of-touch I am with the people I’m writing about,”, yes?

    If the content is ready to show on TV, it’s ready to be digitized and sold online. There’s absolutely no reason for there not to be subscription fees to television shows. This whole thing is backwards.

  2. masa

    So far, the electronic distribution has increased our feeling of entitlement. ITMS helped us get things now, legally. But, it also decreased our ability to wait for anything.

  3. W Blake

    Unfortunately, the “Industry” has created this monster and whines today when it turned upon them. Yes, we want it now as is aptly pointed out in some of the comments. Yes, we will pay (iTunes brilliantly demonstrated this for music), but, in the past, when Napster came along, and the Industry could have cut a deal, they decided to be gready, keep to their models of distribution, not how we (yes, sense of entitlement) wanted it. So, they tried to kill it. Smacking it down resulted in much spatter which grew into clones. Smack them down, and we saw new technologies, WinMX, others evolve until we got the distributed monster of bit torrent today. Supress that? Encrypted tunnels are next. Technology will evolve and there will always be a small subset that feels entitled to have it all, preferably at no cost. But there is a huge majority that will pay a reasonable price, if it is offered. Sadly, the Industry doesn’t think that way, and they will continue to feed a monster, that provides a service to meet a demand that they are unwilling to meet. Sad really

  4. matt

    on “stealing” vs “copying”…:

    you have a pencil sitting on your desk, and i come by and need to write something. i dont have a pencil, but i do have a Cloning Ray Gun ™…so i zap your pencil and WHAM — a perfect copy of your pencil appears out of thin air. i take this pencil back with me and write things with it.

    did i just steal your pencil? or did i copy it?

    two different words. two different meanings.

  5. Rob

    @G:

    The only thing better than V being delayed two years in your country is if it had never been released at all. Trust me on this one.

  6. Charles

    I’m not saying that anyone should torrent, but season 1 of Game of Thrones ended in June. Waiting eight months is nothing compared to the old days, but is an eternity compared to the rest of the current market.

    Yes, we’re entitled pricks who want everything right away. But the story isn’t that we can’t wait two weeks. It remains that consumers want content and are willing to purchase it and networks continue to put policies in place to protect their older distribution channels over newer models. I understand the business model is complex and difficult, but as they say… “come on, man!”

  7. eilfurz

    no, it’s not about 2 weeks of waiting it’s the 1+ year since the first episode aired, that everyone who has no hbo available in his country (like here in austria) has to wait. (btw., we got no itunes tv-shows and no netflix either). and the one+ year we have to stear clear of spoilers.

  8. eilfurz

    also, like a previous commenter said – even if we get those shows eventually in european tv (or itunes), they are often dubbed beyond recognition. (for example, futurama is unwatchable with german dubbing – not only are the voices completely different, a lot of jokes are lost in the sloppy translation )

  9. Bill

    Andy’s a writer. Probably gets paid by the word. So forgive him if he takes too long to get to the point. Here it is for you morons in the comments.

    Stealing is wrong, both morally and legally. No amount of self justification can make it right. None.

    I’m amazed at how many people in these comments are trying so hard to justify their theft of other people’s intellectual property. These people probably wouldn’t dream of stealing somebody’s DVD or Blu-Ray, but they really do believe that if it’s in bits, then it’s fair game. They are wrong. Very, very wrong. No exceptions. Stealing is a criminal offense. This really isn’t hard to understand.

  10. Wendy

    Surely you should have also mentioned that DC and Marvel have both adopted same day digital distribution models? I’m not sure why you’ve even mentioned comics when both the big guns in the comic industry (and a few of the smaller ones) have moved to exactly the model you’re arguing against.

  11. John F. Braun

    Funny how consumers also had a “smug sense of entitlement” when labels would only sell an entire album of songs, rather than offering to sell them individually. Then along comes iTunes, and eventually other services, now consumers can purchase single tracks, and everyone is happy and making money.

  12. lkalliance

    @ Matt:

    You’ve created a straw man argument. Cloning your pencil means I’m copying a thing that you wouldn’t have sold to me anyway. You making a copy of a piece of content that you otherwise would have been required to pay me for is theft. As another commenter put it, you are stealing a license to view the content.

    If I would have charged you $50 to use my pencil, then yes, you stole $50.

  13. Phil Groce

    There is nothing ethical or unethical, per se, about torrenting GoT before it’s released on DVD. Does it support HBO or the people who produce GoT? Nope. Neither does me going to work in the morning. The issue is downloading GoT *and not compensating the people who produced it*.

    However, there is a huge cognitive roadblock that prevents us from talking about this in appropriate terms. Content creation is a service. Yet we insist on trying to think of it as a product. In a universe where the “product” can be copied for essentially zero cost, that no longer makes sense.

    Not that you’re alone in this — in fact, you have the weight of (outdated, harmful) law on your side. Every conversation about compensating content creators for the service of content creation eventually invokes the phrase “intellectual property.” But IP is a device by which we shoehorn compensation for services into a framework of compensation for goods. (The distributors also provide a service. In the world of digital distribution, the costs for this service per instance of its use are infinitesimal, and should be compensated for appropriately.)

    Writers, musicians, and even creators whose work is (accidentally) difficult to reproduce, like sculptors deserve to be compensated for their efforts. But we should do it the way we compensate for the services of carpenters, plumbers, architects and other service providers. Pretending that their ideas were commodities worked (sort of) while duplicating the real commodities based on those ideas was hard. Now that that isn’t true for many creators, we need to think of another way. And when we’ve come up with it, we might as well apply it to creators who haven’t (yet?) been bitten by this problem. It’s the sensible thing to do.

  14. El Aura

    I have occasionally missed a (commuter) train because the line at grocery checkout was so long. Should I have jumped the queue and walked out of the shop without paying and just make sure I pay them next time I come by their shop?
    The problem with that behaviour is that once it becomes ok to walk out of a store without paying A LOT of people will do so without coming back and pay later.

  15. Derek Kowaluk

    What we’re talking about here is that grey area between need and want that people misinterpreted as entitlement.

    Each media object has a social interest level, a peak and a decline.

    To feel included in the group an individual has to have a certain level of shared social experiences. This can include actual experiences with the group(parties, hang outs, sports), virtual experiences(multiplayer online games, blog forums, facebook) and common interests.

    Everyone has had the experience of not being able to participate in a discussion because they lack the prerequisite of seeing that movie, playing that game, or reading that book. Its ok to not being able to participate, but it isn’t always desirable to not be included.

    So what we have here is social pressure to experience that media as soon as possible.

    A media product’s desire is created by the media producer by its advertising (explicit advertising by paying money, word of mouth advertising by creating a quality product)

    Scarcity increases desire. It’s a basic economic principle.

    Artificial scarcity is looked upon as exploitation by the public.

    Torrenting is seen as an easy way to get socially desirable media objects and bypass artificial scarcity.

    The result is that socially desirable media objects, artificially made scarce, will be obtained by torrenting.

  16. Justin

    Oy vey.

    Most of the dissenting comments prove Andy’s point. Just because the Internet exists, people think they’re entitled to everything and anything from anywhere. That’s all it is.

    Game of Thrones exists only through HBO services. Go buy cable, or STFU. Oh no. You’re an international viewer. Hey! How about you buy the Blu Ray and a region A Blu Ray player and ship over to your country? Crap. I just solved your problem. Face it, you just want stuff for free by any means necessary.

    Honestly, I’ve done my share of pirating for a long time (Remember Hotline Mac users?). But I don’t try to make up rational in my mind for the wrong I’m doing. This just ain’t kosher.

    Ugh. First world problems…

  17. Chris S.

    The author claims that people downloading GoT and other HBO shows are just unwilling to pay the subscription. That’s not entirely true. I would be happy to pay a subscription to *HBO*. What I am *not* interested in doing is paying a huge monthly bill to a local cable company to get a “super deluxe premium VIP package” that will get me HBO plus a whole pile of programming that I’m not remotely interested in.

    If I look at my local cable company’s site, the top-up to get HBO added to your cable service is $21/month. That’s part of a package with a bunch of channels for The Movie Network, so lets say the portion of that related to the HBO content is $12. HBO itself only gets a portion of that, lets say $6/month. I’d pay that, no problem.

    I’m not *entitled* to this, of course. But why they make it so hard for people who want to pay for content to actually follow through is beyond me.

    If HBO were to just open up HBO Go to direct subscribers, the problem would be solved. I guess in their calculations, the subcribers they’d gain that way don’t make up for the business they’d lose by pissing off cable companies. Hopefully that balance changes before too long.

  18. El Aura

    “To feel included in the group an individual has to have a certain level of shared social experiences.”

    Well, thus if you cannot afford what your social group can afford for simple monetary reasons, what would be the justified solution? Social redistribution of wealth or stealing?
    There is a very good argument for social redistribution on some level (eg, should the school pick up the tab if a poor student cannot afford a school trip). But if I cannot afford the expensive clothes my schoolmates wear, would it be justified to steal them?

  19. pcg

    This response is well-written, and well-reasoned — as far as it goes. Unfortunately, it misses the point entirely. The cartoon doesn’t demonstrate why people with a smug sense of self-entitlement are *justified,* it simply illustrates *why it happens,* and this larger issue is what the media industry is afraid to face.

    Yes, everyone knows that downloading media without paying for it is illegal and “unethical.” It’s also *extremely* easy, and growing more
    widespread every day. The industries that desperately clutch outmoded business models and try to graft them on to emerging technologies
    *will* lose this battle if they do not start thinking differently about what they do, how they do it, and what they can reasonably expect to gain by it. Before the advent of home media, they weren’t “entitled” to continued profits for a lifetime after the theatrical run of a film, remember? Because this technology now exists, they are entitled to profit from it? Maybe — but only if they can figure out a way to do so.

    Sharing music is only unethical because “They” say it is. And the only reason They ever got to define it as unethical was because They had
    the power to control distribution. When They no longer have the power to control distribution, They lose the power to define the terms. This
    is neither wrong, nor right — it simply is.

    The basic idea of owning controlling who can hear a song you wrote and performed is an extremely recent development, and only became possible because of technology. Now technology is changing again, and that little anomalous window of history is closing again. It had a good, what, 80 years?

    Everyone has an opinion on whether, when, and what it’s justifiable to download media. What nobody seems to be talking about is whether the
    collapse of modern media production and distribution is a good or bad thing. Everyone seems to take it as granted that it’s a bad thing, and I’m not inclined to agree. I’m not *rooting* for production companies to fold, but if the entire construct comes crashing down, I don’t think we’re any worse off. And, in some ways, we’ll be better off.

  20. JR

    It is not stealing. The industry can repeat that as many times as it wants, or convince pundits to repeat it, over and over again. That does’t change the fact that people do not perceive it as stealing because… it’s not.
    A simple analogy explains this simple misunderstanding: if I go to my library and i read a book, I am not stealing its content, even though I did not pay for it.
    If I go to a library and I steal a book, on the contrary, I am stealing.
    Everybody understand the difference between borrowing a book, listening to a song, watching a movie at a friend house and stealing a friend’s book/cd/dvd. The fact that we can borrow movies/books/cd from strangers over the internet doesn’t change this simple fact. Copyright laws (and patent laws) are outdated. They create a fake scarcity for something that is not scarce (bits). Most of the people seem to understand this. If you call it stealing is simply because you have chosen to be a friend of those who produce artificial scarcity of material goods that, by nature, are not scarce.

  21. aepxc

    There is a resin why such a response comes when dealing with digital media but not physical artefacts. Given the fact that copying and distributing information has now become trivial, any limits on the distribution of that information are, essentially, crippleware. And no one has ever liked the crippleware approach in anything.

    No one feels entitled to demand that, say, new episodes of Game of Thrones be broadcast everyday. People do demand that ONCE information is released, it is released everywhere, and they demand it because not releasing it everywhere simultaneously actually takes MORE EFFORT than doing it. Crippleware, in other words…

  22. Scott

    Wow, JR, you really have no idea, do you? Downloading a movie or whatever is like going to the library? Libraries have to PAY for the media they lend, they’re just paid for out of public funds to give people access to information to certain items. Sources of content can say a library can not distribuite their material publicly if they choose. There’s a BIG difference between listening to a freind’s CD with them or watching a movie and illegally burning/downloading content to use whenever you want. Someone has to actually BUY the stuff.

  23. El Aura

    JR, so if a photographer takes a photograph, everybody should have the right to use it for whatever they want? Because you are not physically stealing the image?
    No, what you and others are doing and promoting is to take the law into your own hands because you think the actual law is ‘unfair’.

    aepxc, so a photographer limiting the number of prints of a photograph of his, is producing crippleware? The point is that if you produce something it is your right to say what can be done with it.

  24. JR

    @ Scott. You are making a point about copyright laws and how they work. The point is not relevant in our present discussion because, from a legal point of view, stealing is what the law defines as such. So, if your point is the tautological assertion that “the people who do that break the law as defined by the law,” I grant you that.
    However, Ihnatko’s point is about what is moral (get go your high horse….) and not about what is legal. Then, I repeat my analogy: if I read a book (or watch a movie, or listen to a cd) in a public library, I am not stealing anything, even though I might have bought the movie/cd/book. If I copy the cd, leaving the library’s cd intact, and I then listen to the cd at home without going to the library, I am not stealing anything (from a moral point of view). It is not the act of going or not going to the library that makes it stealing, it is the fact that I make it unavailable to other users (or to the owner) without having the right to do so that makes it stealing. Again, we can debate this, but do not pretend that this is not how large sectors of the world population see this issue and do not attempt to claim that I know I am stealing, as Ihnatko implicitly does. I am not stealing, you are just saying I am until you come up with a moral argument (the legal one is important, but laws don’t have to be moral).
    @ El Aura. Looking at a photograph is not the same as “doing whatever they want.”
    The problem with Ihnatko’s argument is that he doesn’t consider what the users see: the lack of availability is not the result of real scarcity (it takes time to make, there are limited resources etc.), but the result of a decision by the industry to make a good scarce to extract more profit from it. When people see that the artificial scarcity aimed at extracting unreasonable gains from a good is a normal strategy, they get mad and they are right to be on high horses. Stop the artificial scarcity and accept a real market prize and we’ll talk. The model of iTunes match is a good example of a reasonable new direction. The rest is only a way to get sympathy from the RIAA

  25. dismal

    I feel about as entitled as someone who shows up to a car rental place to rent a car and gets a horse and buggy instead. Or as entitled as someone who wants to get across the atlantic and is told to take the steam ship.

  26. El Aura

    @JR And why would it not be a perfectly legal and legitimate right of anybody, including the entertainment industry, to extract as much profit as they can out of their products?

    I guess it is ‘unfair’ for Hollywood because they are ‘evil’ or because they act like a cartel. And whenever somebody is evil it is morally alright to break the law if the only downside is to reduce the income of that evil entity? Or if somebody is acting as part of a cartel that you consider illegal or just immoral and regulatory entities (government, congress, courts) don’t act against that cartel, it is morally alright to take the law into your own hands and punish them by reducing their revenue via pirating.

  27. fancycwabs

    Huh. The music industry has gotten with the program, and I pay for everything I use, either by actually paying for it, or using a site that generates revenue through advertising. The film and television industry is slowly embracing that model, with HBO being one of the major hold-outs.

    Of course, I live a privileged first-world life, and resent the fact that my internet provider forces me to pay extra every month for a cable subscription that I never, ever use, thanks to their monopoly. I guess only consumers are allowed to feel “entitled,” though.

  28. El Aura

    @dismal Do you realise what your actual argument is? That a studio has the exclusive rights to any given movie (or TV series), a monopoly so to say. And that monopolies are immoral (and since generally illegal should also be illegal in this case). Thus if something should be illegal and thus be punished but the law does not punish it, it is ok to take the law into your own hands and punish them (eg, by not signing up for a HBO subscription).

    The problem with this is that is a an awfully convenient way of defining monopolies. I assume Ferrari has a monopoly on their cars, if they want to sell only 4000 per year, they only produce 4000 per year. Should there be a law requiring them to produce as many as the market want, at a ‘fair market price’ (ie, the price the majority of potential buyers would consider fair)? And in the absence of a law, should be morally ok to steal one out of their factory as long as you leave enough money behind to cover what you consider a fair price for it?

    Get real, flights over the Atlantic are a reasonable market, if somebody attempts to create a monopoly for it, they will get a slap on hand by the law. The digital download of a single movie is not a reasonable market.

  29. JR

    @ El Aura. It is not because, as you say, “they are evil.” It is just that, in market economies, the principle of fairness of the market is based on a balance between supply and demand. The assumption is that, if there is enough demand, supply will be stimulated and a reasonable price will come out of that. Competition brings prices down and monopolies bring prices up, against the interest of the public and of new entrepreneurs. The entertainment industry has been trying to sustain prices through artificial scarcity. The public understand that and refuse to pay their price. They don’t want to innovate their model and mass sabotage of their industry is the result. In this situation you choose side. Calling it theft is one way to choose side. Calling us “cry babies” is the same choice. You call me a thief and I call you a sellout to the entertainment industry and to its inability to innovate.
    Very good position for a technology blogger/writer. There is clearly a time when the people who started to write about this industry as teenagers, getting paid to do it, become simply to old to side with innovation against conservatism

  30. Jesper Bylund

    Andy, try your argument on another market to see your error:
    “You just have to wait 2 days for your meal”
    Customers are already used to getting it NOW. That’s the norm. Anything else is bad service. Why should they put up with it?

    You’re just assuming they’re wrong because they’re smug and annoying.

  31. El Aura

    @JR, I have no beef calling it theft, if you prefer illegal copyright infringement (ICI), I’ll use that instead, it is just more typing.

    ‘The principle of fairness of the market is based on a balance between supply and demand’. There is no blanket ‘principle of fairness’ in in laws governing our economies. The general principle is that of the rule of law. There is the principle of the illegality of abusing a dominant market position (which includes the illegality of forming cartels) and in some jurisdictions, the illegality of so-called ‘unfair competition’.

    You can make the argument that the big studios have *together* a dominant market position and are colluding with each in an illegal way in the market for movie downloads (because they dictate the terms of that to the actual providers of downloads, Apple, Amazon, Netflix). And in this case, the competition authorities should use the legal system to (a) punish them and (b) force them to offer their movies on better terms.

    What you suggest is that because the competition authorities are either unwilling or unable because they don’t have enough evidence to go ahead with this, you have the moral right to take the law into your own hands, another term for this is vigilantism.

    But let’s also look at another market: images instead of movies. If a photographer takes a photo you really like and offers you to obtain it in six months via CD-ROM send via mail for a fee so you can print it and hang it on your wall (or just use it as desktop background), you can just say no, I’ll get another image, or you can say it’s worth it over the other alternatives, I’ll wait and pay for it. Or you could just download it from somewhere and not pay anything, in which case you illegally infringing the copyright and deprive the photographer of some income.

    The general point is that you cannot define a market to consist of a single product (unless that product is essential like crude oil). You imply that your market definition is a single movie and that the studio is abusing its dominant market position in the market for that single movie. But if you write a book and refuse to sell it as an ebook, in your view one should be able to force you to do so.

  32. El Aura

    “You just have to wait 2 days for your meal.”

    Sure, but there are tons of other meals you can have right now.

    Why is there this god-given right that I can have every meal right now? If a restaurant wants to sell a certain meal only on Sundays, how is that illegal or immoral?

  33. JR

    @ El Aura
    “The general principle is that of the rule of law.” again, you are making a legal argument. Ihnatko was making a moral one. The problem is that people don’t feel that downloading is morally wrong. You can think that there is something wrong with their moral sense “they feel entitled” or that their moral sense is right, and it is just in conflict with the market and the law (it happens you know…). I think that the people are right because our moral definition of theft is not what happens when we download. If you want to say that what I am doing is morally wrong, using a norm that people tend to disobey is not a good strategy. Again, unless you think that these people are morally corrupt. I see much more corruption in our copyright/patent system. As we learnt in the case of Mickey Mouse, laws are made to protect the powerful, even when no real need is there. As we see with the patent laws, the attempt to make unavailable what is only ideas doesn’t help creativity.

    @ Wow, JR. I really like your nickname!

  34. Smith

    I find it interesting that of all the people trying to rationalize piracy, they almost never use the term “choice” or equivalents. This is telling; it is an imperative for them, and moreover, it’s always someone else’s fault. It’s always someone else who needs to “innovate” and “adapt”, not them.

    Rare is the pirate who admits they just want something for free, and I honestly respect those who much more than I do the usual mealy-mouthed doubletalking pack of self-entitled scavengers.

    For example, JR, who is going on about how other things are worse than piracy is, while ignoring the question of whether piracy is wrong. He seems to be labouring under a peculiar definition of moral relativism, where right is determined solely by the individual. A drug addict may feel he has the right to break into Jr’s apartment or mug JR just because he needs to get his fix, but I am absolutely certain he’d take issue with it.

    JR, patent and copyright encourages creativity by giving the creators control over their work and the usage thereof. They can even ask the government to enforce these rights for them. Piracy violates the latter right. And this is not a right exclusive to large corporations; it is a right granted to everyone. This is not even a “first they came for the communists” issue, because everyone is a metaphorical communist. It is not “ideas”, it is the execution of those ideas, creative content, which copyright protects and stimulates.

    Piracy stifles innovation by making it less likely the content producers, big and small, will be able to fund their work, as well as decreasing their control over it, granted by international law since before anyone alive was born. It leads to less edgy, risky products and more safe ones. It is the path that leads ever down into stagnation.

    “If you want to say that what I am doing is morally wrong, using a norm that people tend to disobey is not a good strategy.”

    So the norm is wrong because people do not want to abide by it? Nonsense. I refer you to our hypothetical drug addict, who has now made off with your TV, or wallet.

    This is also applicable to your argument about the companies “adapting”; if the drug addict breaks your window with a rock, does that mean you don’t need windows? Does that mean windows are obsolete?

    It’s cute how you ignore every point people make except the ones you can respond to, then pretend that was their whole argument. All you’re basically doing is saying that everything should be public domain, which is ridiculous for a variety of reasons.

  35. JR

    @ smith. Your argument is based on faith (piracy does this/copyright does that). I could say that our historical experience has been the opposite: the violation of copyrights have produced innovation (napster led to iTunes), whereas the entertainment industry refuses to innovate on its own. However, I don’t get into religious discussions: believe what you like.
    The only point that I want to make is that you misunderstand, or misrepresent, my positions. You talk about moral relativism, but there are many forms of moral relativism. On the top of my head I could think of at least ten that say ten different things. None of them have anything to do with “drug addicts.” Again, the assumption is that those who engage in piracy are morally incompetent (like somebody under the influence of drugs). I am sure you read it somewhere. My guess is that, if you truly believe that copyright and patents stimulate innovation, you have been under the influence of some powerful reality distortion substances lately. Judging from your inability to make a correct summary of what I wrote, you are still under the influence. So I feel compelled to ask you: are you talking about something you have done in the past? If that’s so, I have to tell you: don’t break my windows to steal my wallet. That would indeed be morally wrong and temporary insanity because you are under the influence is a weak legal argument.

  36. GadgetGav

    I’m late to the discussion here, but I was thinking about this for the last few days. Maybe the Game of Thrones is the wrong example for The Oatmeal (and therefore Andy) to have based this on because it’s made by and shown on a premium subscription channel in the USA.
    What if the subject was Downton Abbey. That’s made by and shown on an advertising supported channel in the UK that’s free-to-air. You don’t have to pay to get it and it’s paid for by commercials shown during the original airing of the shows. (I mean there are no commercial breaks when they release their programs to DVD).
    When that show is shown in the USA, it’s on PBS – another free-to-air channel but it’s several months behind the UK air date.
    Is the pirate / time shift / place shift argument changed at all by the fact that the downloader is downloading something that was free when aired and will be free in their territory in a few month’s time..? It seems to me that all that’s happening in that instance is the removal of an artificial delay. Shows with a seasonal theme could be seen in the correct season. The argument that you’ll buy it when it is available becomes null because it will be given away for free by the license holder…

  37. Petervb

    @JR, if someone makes something, and sells that at a price, then your getting it without paying that price is stealing. Libraries pay publishers, who in turn pay authors. Your reading in the library is thus paid for.

    When you say “this is not stealing”, what you really mean to say is “I personally don’t define this as stealing”. The law however does not follow your definition of the world — it follows its own.

    You may not agree to how copyright and ownership are defined for digital goods. I would side with you on that, as would many. The way to deal with that however is to change legislation, not declare yourself above the law. (I’m not talking about Ihnatko’s moral point. I’m just reflecting on your denial on what stealing currently constitutes).

    BTW, check out Lawrense Lessig’s work. He has been at the forefront of copyright reform.

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  39. Rei desu

    The world does not OWE you Season 1 of “Game Of Thrones” in the form you want it at the moment you want it at the price you want to pay for it.

    Hmm, let me check. Yes it does. Since this thing actually exists, I will get it if I want; the only question is how do I obtain it, not if.

    Users could not care less for terms of use of commercial content, they just want some or another way of consuming it. Whoever provides it in the most usable form wins, others fail miserably and are free to blame pirates, ninjas, zombies and other unrelated people (and sometimes even inanimate objects, like websites or DVD-R discs).

  40. Kpow

    Stealing or not stealing, the real problem is the user experience. The content owners have every right to charge for their content, otherwise they wouldn’t have the resources to continue making new shows. The studios (sometimes) make great programming, and they should be rewarded when they get it right.

    However, they REALLY need to fix distribution to meet the the needs and expectations of a global and connected economy.

    For example, I own the Battlestar Galactica Boxed Set (Collector’s Edition, complete with the Cylon ‘Action Figure’ – No, it’s not a doll. Don’t judge me.) I purchased this in the US, but I’m currently living in Germany and my only BluRay/DVD player is a UK-purchased PS3.

    Will my disks play on my PS3? No, wrong region code.
    Am I going to purchase a new DVD/BluRay player and hack it to be region free? No
    Am I going to purchase a new BSG boxed set just to watch it on my UK PS3? No
    Maybe buy it on iTunes? 60 EUR JUST FOR THE 4TH SEASON! No thank you!
    Hulu doesn’t work from Germany, I’d need to use a Proxy Service (probably also illegal)

    OK, I could just use LoveFilm. It’s owned by Amazon and quite similar to Netflix, but for Europe. So far it’s available in UK, Sweden and Germany. It’s a little weird to be paying for a service to watch programming I’ve already purchased, but whatever.

    So I go to sign up for LoveFilm – Germany. There’s one small catch, all downloaded programs are dubbed into German. I wouldn’t want that even if my German language skills were good, which they aren’t.

    Can I sign up for LoveFilm – UK? Not with a German bank card.

    I PAYED FOR THIS F*****G SERIES! As a reward for my purchase, I have a box full of useless (to me) plastic discs. Terrible user experience. Although… the Cylon model still dutifully protects my workspace back at the office, so it’s not a complete loss.

  41. Joseph

    Andy, the very reasonable “terms of use” you describe in the final paragraphs are also 100% illegal under current industry-written copyright rules. Legally, you don’t have a legal right to watch a show in the format and time convenient to you just because you’ve paid for the same show in some other format or at some other time. So no less than the character in the strip, you take for granted that you should be able to write your own rules and could be accused of having the same smug sense of entitlement. As others have noted above, you are less likely to be accused of this if you can back up your “theft” with teams of lobbyists and tens of millions in bribes to members of congress.

  42. johny

    Andy’s whole argument is stupid but I’ll just point out one of the dumber points: comparing the “staling” of bits and the stealing of atoms is beyond asinine.

  43. Scott

    JR is just under the misguided notion in order to justify what he is doing. He’s not logical nor does he have any sort of ‘legal’ standing. His analogies are simply wrong but he uses them to justify his stand. It’s belief without factual basis. He says he doesn’t talk religion, yet he’s making the same illogical mistakes zealots do.

    The reality is fairly simple: if you want at-will access to something, in this case media, you need to pay for it or you’re stealing, period. In the case of the library, you don’t have at-will access, you have to check it out and return it or pay for it. In the case of your friend’s disc/book/whatever you need to borrow it and return it. If you don’t return it you are stealing it and he/she likely never loans you anything again and disolves your friendship because you broke the social contract. In either of these cases, you stole something that was legitimately purchased by someone else.

    Pirating media just cuts out the middle man and may be easier on your conscience because you don’t personally know the person you stole from.

    There are also different ways to pay for media. In the case of broadcast media, the advertisers pay for a program to be broadcast with the understanding the broadcast station will play their advertising and expose you to their goods/services. Someone has still paid for the media, your payment in that case is not direct, it’s indirect by consuming the products advertised. Again, you are still paying for the media, just indirectly.

    Artists produce media for their living. Maybe JR’s never held a job and expected to be paid for his work. More likely, he’d be mad as heck if his paycheck were shorted because his boss felt JR’s efforts/time were owed to the business for giving him the job. He’ll come back with “but that’s different!!!!!!” But it’s not. If he thinks about it logically he’ll see it, otherwise he’ll keep spouting his nonsense of cheap justification.

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  46. ravi

    JR, I have to commend you on your patience and detail. I sense that the point you are trying to make about artificial scarcity, in particular, is getting lost, because people tend to look past that and implicitly wonder: well if such things have zero marginal cost, then how does the artist get paid in the current model? Your answer (“innovate”) is one, but it’s relevance is not clear without making the question explicit. In this sense, not only are you right that it’s the moral question that is raised here (by Ihnatko), but also the standard question of public goods in market economies. Of course one answer is that we as a people could just fund artists out of our taxes.

    At any rate, my kudos to you on your perseverance.

  47. Zed

    @Scott
    Paychecks *are* shortened in exactly those circumstances. Wages go up if there is competition for talent, and down any time they can get away with it. It is the same as piracy – both are cases of supply and demand. The fact is, every artistic product that has been or can be digitised is now available. “Supply” is infinite. Don’t be surprised when artists find their work devalued. That’s the market finding a new equilibrium.

    Given the extent that our morality is shaped by capitalistic principles, and the self-evident fact of rampant piracy, it genuinely is up for debate whether copyright-infringing humans see piracy as an immoral act. Equally self-evident is that generally isn’t the case with theft of physical objects – *everyone* thinks theft of atoms is wrong (and this is why the drug-addict comparison is not analogous). I believe JR’s point was merely to highlight the difference in the clarity of those two moral judgments.

    The issue is neatly symmetrical, by the way. Morality compasses are similarly confused when rightsholders seek statutory damages of millions of dollars from people sharing a handful of music tracks, or when they seek to rewrite the legislative basis of the internet just to prop up their ailing business.

    If there is a good solution, it involves a blank-slate review of copyright law and its intended (rather than current) purpose, in the light of technological development. Such a blank slate is not possible if you go into the debate thinking that all pirates are morally deficient thieves.

  48. ravi

    At the cost of muddying Zed’s clear response, some additional comments: the moral differentiation occurs (among other reasons) due to the finite nature of things made of atoms. The moral outrage is fuelled by the fact that theft of such things (atoms) deprives someone else of said thing. If you steal a book from the library nobody else can now read it. When you steal an MP3, you have not deprived anyone of the experience of the song.

    What is left is the question of the earnings of the creator (or in reality the distributor, the corporation that sells the songs). The idea of ensuring such survival by granting a monopoly to the creator (via patents or copyrights) runs counter to the idea of a market (capitalism) – or at least it’s an exception.

    We might argue for such a grant of monopoly for reasons of social good: society benefits by *temporarily* awarding such monopolies — rather than the seemingly Disney law that someone referred to above — in order to motivate inventors. This is a pragmatic argument. The complementary moral argument is the one outlined by Lawrence Lessig and those before him (Newton: stand on the shoulder of giants, etc) that no act of creation is possible without the use of prior and current social activity — the sort of activity that cannot simply be remunerated through apportioning of royalties.

    Or we might argue for an inherent right to one’s creations for eternity at a price determined by the creator. This is AFAIK a modern libertarian argument and an absolutist one.

    As far as I can tell, Ihnatko’s *moral* position seems to be midway — not a bad place to be, but he needs clarify if he really means that downloading any media to avoid the price set by the creator is pure theft. Without exceptions. I am guessing not and he means only the specific cases of the examples (downloading games or songs) and the like, and the positions outlined (i.e., the content or creation is not wilfully/counterproductively withheld by the creator).

    The technical problem of a sustainable way of generating profit through artificial scarcity remains.

    I quoted Thomas Jefferson (writing about patents, but one could extend the argument to copyrights) on my blog. I am reproducing the quote below:

    If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of every one, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density in any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

    Society may give an exclusive right to the profits arising from them, as an encouragement to men to pursue ideas which may produce utility, but this may or may not be done, according to the will and convenience of the society, without claim or complaint from anybody.

  49. Andy Polaine

    You’re argument is only really valid if you think the world is the USA. It’s not smug to want something advertised at you all over the place. Those ads cross borders, but nonsensical territory licence agreements prevent the content from doing so. What’s worse some show’s first season makes it to, say, iTunes Germany, but not the second. Not just late, but never. If I offer you to dinner and then say you can only eat half of it, is it smug of you to feel like you’re “entitled” to the rest? Of course not.

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