Why young people pirate (Pssst: It's not just about money)

Summary:Why do the younger generation and students pirate music, software and television and movies? Failing main street shops? Or plain old exploitation of weak systems? It's not all about the money.

Piracy is rife among the Generation Y. With lawsuits threatening students to a disproportionate level and with media and record industries lobbying governments for a change in the law, there is no let up in sight for the piracy problem.

Could it be simply down to the lack of available regional content between the US and Europe? Could it even be down to retailers failing to grasp the online market where others succeed? Do we get a kick out of it and take advantage of insecure systems? Or really, is it just about the money?

After studying this subject for some time, and ethnographically examining the practices of students and young people alike, there are three areas to take into consideration:

  • Money is tight. Unless you get driven to college from your dorm room in a cedar chair, you will be like the rest of us and struggle with money. With our innate mentality for the value of culture, we see 'entertainment as free'.
  • The Internet is the be all and end all of every bit of content there is. If you want it, it will be out there. If you want to watch, listen to or play with something for your computer, you can bet your bottom dollar that someone else out there does too.
  • More often than not, it's simple, or there's a thrill in the chase. It boils down to simplicity of the search and the ease of access to downloadable content. If a system has been exploited, the temptation to take advantage, carte blanche is perceived.

It would be a lie to say that money was not a significant factor for younger people and students alike. But to collate and understand why young people pirate boils down to one easy summarising statement.

The legal options are not as readily available, simple enough nor consistent enough to access. It really is as simple as that.

But there is method to this perceived madness »

Television is perhaps one of the most pirated and easily available content to download illegally within the Generation Y age range. On this side of the pond, European citizens do not get to see the television on offer in the United States because of the lack of availability.

Cable television in England is almost non-existent compared to our US counterparts. Though cable is widely inaccessible, satellite broadcaster Sky takes the vast majority of subscription television viewers. While the digital switchover from analogue television is still underway, Sky still offers premium television often broadcast at the same time as, or within a few days of US broadcasters.

In essence, you can watch popular US television programming if you have a subscription to a premium broadcaster and have satellite hardware on your roof.

Student households will rarely be permitted to install a satellite dish on the roof, let alone be able to afford the investment. Students often move houses each academic year making this rarely a viable option.

US students have the option to watch television on-demand online, even without a cable subscription. This is wholly dependent, however. On-demand television is widely available from individual broadcasters, but in short, the best crime fighting, ninja busting, heart-racing television comes straight from the States.

Either young people and students have to resort to a premium satellite subscription costing hundreds of pounds throughout the year, or download illegally file hosting websites or torrents.

What would you rather watch: a British period drama with jaunty little bonnets, or an American high octane drama with Kiefer Sutherland ripping the face off a terrorist?

Music retailers struggling with 'iTunes generation' »

In the music sphere, Spotify has revolutionised music for the Generation Y. By allowing users to stream music with subsidised advertising, music becomes on-demand through a recognisable iTunes-like interface. It gives the option for allowing younger people to reduce illegally downloading music by streaming instead of downloading each track.

But the main street is suffering with the wide availability of on-demand and downloadable music.

HMV, the flagship store for many main streets, announced the closure of dozens of stores in the UK because of poor sales and a massive plunge in shares. For many consumers, the simplicity of downloading via iTunes and the diversity of technological advancements caused the move away from the in-shop experience.

The fact of the matter is that students and young people aren't shopping in stores anymore. The option of piracy or legally downloading music, films and television through iTunes is more popular than ever.

The music industry has failed to engage with their market audience by not taking advantage of these particular technologies. Music downloads cannot compensate for the shortcomings in the shop-bought record market.

HMV and other online retailers are struggling to compete with iTunes as one of, if not the primary source for obtaining legally bought music for the Generation Y. But whether iTunes should act as a conduit for online retailers or as a directory for artists directly is arguable.

Online music retailers can't compete with iTunes. Whether iTunes helped kill HMV again remains to be proven. But even if music is available directly from the web without passing through iTunes, the consistency for one-click purchasing is tacit at best.

Do young'uns simply take advantage of flawed design? »

Copyright laws are still out of date. The hair is falling out and the children are trying to change the will. The existing laws do not prevent piracy, they only punish on the rare occasion someone can be convicted.

The recent Mac App Store disaster kicked off a wave of embarrassment for Apple, where the new software center was cracked within 24 hours of it being available. This allows users to easily download applications from torrent sites to then 'convert' them to premium and paid-for applications by exploiting a receipting exploit.

Who wouldn't want to take advantage of that? It really is a simple as being asked to not take the $10,000 cash that is sitting comfortably on top of a safe while the CCTV is down for scheduled maintenance. If you could guarantee you wouldn't be caught, you might even take that Ferarri parked outside.

There are no right or wrong answers to solve the problem. Discussing them is frankly a moot point. I'm not even trying nor going to suggest how to solve the problem, as this post is to explain why, but not to justify or condone the actions of those who do pirate.

But one thing is clear: take the abolitionists' approach. Like drugs or prostitution, the answer to solving the problem of piracy falls to a Boolean value. Either criminalise and do it well, or decriminalise and lose a legitimate industry.

Topics: Browser, Enterprise Software, Piracy, Security

About

Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET, and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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