Downloading content illegally vs. getting away with it

Downloading content illegally vs. getting away with it

Summary: I have mentioned a few times before my somewhat controversial view on Internet piracy - the end-user downloading (and uploading, to some extent) of mostly videos, music files, software - and the issues which surround it. As this generation of students are the forerunners of the technological age, born into an era where technology has surrounded our upbringings and shapes our future, when the two collide, it makes for interesting news.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

I have mentioned a few times before my somewhat controversial view on Internet piracy - the end-user downloading (and uploading, to some extent) of mostly videos, music files, software - and the issues which surround it. As this generation of students are the forerunners of the technological age, born into an era where technology has surrounded our upbringings and shapes our future, when the two collide, it makes for interesting news.

To read up on my previously mentioned controversial views of this topic, you can find more here:

Some time ago, my editor-in-chief, Larry Dignan, sent me a personal email after I asked how I was doing. As a student employee, it's important to receive feedback from your superiors to receive praise but also ways of improvement. He said:

"...broadly speaking you represent the next generation of IT workers" and "what do the older generation need to know about your generation?"

Well this is for you, slightly-older generation. Piracy and downloading videos, music files and software without paying for it is illegal; there is no doubt about that. But it is a way of life, and it's not going to stop us doing it. Yes, you can throw ridiculous and disproportionate fines at students especially, thinking you're terrifying the bejesus out of the rest of us, but it doesn't. And frankly, it just makes you [the RIAA in this, and many of the cases] look powerful yet oxymoronically impotent.

Is it the cost of media?

Chris Dawson, counterpart in education/student blogging and good friend, makes a good point:

"Our students largely understand Internet safety. If creepy guys try to convince you to meet them in person after chatting you up on MySpace, don’t do it. Fine. But what nobody seems to understand is that just because a torrent for your favorite band’s latest album is available doesn’t mean you should download it and seed it."

But generally what he says, that "kids should knock it off", I can't believe in. I can agree with him on a legal front because to reiterate, it is illegal, but in a strange way it is now part of our culture. It's not as if we are loaded or have plenty of money to splash out on a £29 ($48.50) Blu-ray disk for a one-time bout of entertainment. When I saw The Simpsons: Movie at this price in my local HMV, I didn't stop ranting about it for ten minutes. The price doesn't outweigh the high-definition goodness. I could download a reasonably small 250mb version of the movie and stick it on my iPod to watch on the morning commute, and still be happy with it.

An interesting twist; the video below is available on BBC iPlayer, the BBC's free on-demand service to UK citizens, but was also separated into four WinRAR files and uploaded to RapidShare. Because iPlayer content is protected, I opted for the RapidShare approach.

Even though the RIAA have taken a chunk out of RapidShare in a lawsuit two years ago and now proactively removes flagged content as copyrighted, if you search hard enough for something, you can still find it. Not to mention, it downloads over HTTP which runs at your maximum bandwidth, as opposed to torrents which can be flaky at best.

Confusing but equally valid case study

Consider this interesting thought. I pay my TV licence which allows me to watch any terrestrial or digital broadcast on my television in my home. This TV licence is a tax on television, basically. This funds the BBC and in return, the taxpayer owns it (like most of the banks nowadays). BBC iPlayer lets us download television programmes onto our computer after the broadcast it should we miss it or wish to watch it again.

My friend also has a TV licence but has a slow Internet connection. So, I download a programme from BBC iPlayer, stick it on a flash drive, go over to their house, have a cup of tea and transfer the programme from the flash drive to their computer. It would take them days to download it with their connection, so I thought I would help them out.

The twist here is that you don't actually need a TV licence to download a programme from BBC iPlayer. But in essence, we still helped pay for the broadcast and the general running of the corporation. But I just shared a copyrighted television programme with a friend. Is that illegal? Honestly, I don't know - but if it is, that can only be described as utterly mental.

But then again, not only does the BBC endorse file sharing with BBC iPlayer, it actively uses peer-to-peer technology to reduce the loads on its servers.

The viable alternatives and solutions

Currently there are two main players when it comes to music and video downloads. Software and games are in a league of their own, especially after digital rights management software has caused more problems with the gaming industry.

iTunes lets you download exactly what you want at a fraction of the cost of an album in the shops, which has a bunch of songs on you really can't stand. Instead of spending £8.99 ($15.15) on an album, you could spend roughly £2 picking out two songs you actually like from the album. This literally is the best example I can give for value of money.

But then we have Spotify. Not only did Neowin provide an in-depth review of Spotify, it defines it as an "iTunes killer", which so far, it seems to be slowly chipping away at the service. It looks and feels like iTunes, works on both Mac OS X and Windows, but provides the content for free.

But when researching how Spotify make their money without getting the virtual crap beaten out of them by the RIAA and other corporations, it didn't seem to make much sense, nor could I find myself disagreeing with this reply.

To throw all of this into summation, downloading something which you haven't paid for is illegal. The laws are still unclear and frankly, especially with the Gary McKinnon case, I personally thought if anything went hideously wrong, at least I would be able to face sweet, sweet British justice. But avoiding using torrents is one way to avoid legal battles for the time being, and while it's not entirely free, RapidShare and other HTTP hosting services offer a relatively cheap deal for what you can get.

But if you can find services which offer a subscription service, similar to the HTTP hosting services - RapidShare, MediaFire, etc. - then go for it. Because iTunes is clearly too expensive and at least this way you fight a good chance of saving your pennies in the long run.

Will this make the slightest bit of difference to you? Are you going to continue downloading illegally just because you can? It'd be interesting to see what you think.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

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  • Basically, student don't appreciate the effort going into music/videos

    Their world is focussed on their own wants and desires, rather those those with whom they do not share much thinking-wise.

    It is only after having to appreciate the value of their own efforts that values change and respect for what others spend of their time and money grows. In other words, they grow out of it.

    Unfortunately, the major media producers, especially music, have abused their artists and so their 'anguish' about lost artist income seems like 'crocodile tears'. With their guilt, they seem to be reticent to explain the full accounting that goes on behind the few hits and the great, great many losses. Read 'Confessions of a Record Producer' by Moses Avalon for a much better insight into the music business mechanations.

    The fact is, to make our CD on our own, it took us 100s of hours and $1000s of dollars, and we did not have the $50k budget to market it, so we still have most of the first batch left, despite getting a few sold into the biggest music/viseo retailer in Australia.
    On CD Baby, we are just one of too many. We cannot do live gigs, so are limited in the evenues for promotion. Therefore, talk of 'music should be free' rings rather hollow and sounds more like lack of respect and laziness of thought.

    If a student can make rough music and be happy with it, the added costs of making music for wider circulation do not gel with them.

    Different realities mean that students are in their own world, and will not change until they have to make it in the wider world. Therefore, there will always be a subclass that wants free. The problem occurs when such thinking endures beyond the enclaves of learning and clouds the reasoning towards others. Then selfishness rules and others suffer.

    • We do...

      But it costs too much, and if you can download it and get away with it - why not?
      • If you can steal a car and get away ....

        ... with it - why not? If you can kill someone and get away with it - why not?

        If getting away with it is the only justification you need to break the law then the world is in deep trouble.
        • I see your point, and raise it...

          Ultimately, when a crime is committed - someone, somewhere, gets hurt, either physically or emotionally. Same with illegal downloads - yes, some people get hurt like the recording artist. But they've got merchandise, advert deals, sponsorships, all kinds of things keeping them afloat. They are literally raking it in, which is one of the reasons why music is cheaper than it has ever been. But it's not cheap enough.
          • Zack, Zack, Zack

            I'm shaking my head here. You started out good there then just fell to pieces at the end. Because "they are raking it in" is not a justification that works, it's what most folks (like parents) would call a "lame excuse" for doing something you know you shouldn't. These excuses, they sound like something a kid would say to his/her parents when they found an "unexplained" (read shoplifted) toy in the house.

            P.S. and yes this happened to my brother and my parents taught him a lifelong lesson by taking him back to the toy store and explain to the manager, and police, what he had done.
          • Ahh, see I knew I lost it ;)

            Then again, I wrote what I wrote and have made my thoughts and opinions clear. I'm not saying one is right and one is wrong - I have clearly said that it's illegal - but I'm merely reflecting the views of our generation :)

            In regards to your brother - yeah, I understand that. I've never shoplifted, but had I done, my parents would have done the same thing. My sister on the other hand... woah don't get me started on that screwup!
          • I know :)

            I do understand that. I just worry quite a bit, in a society that manufactures very little these days, services and intellectual property are almost all we have left. This really concerns "your" generation, the one that wants careers in the computing industry. If the members of our own society cannot bring themselves to respect IP then how can we expect the rest of the world to. Like I said below, it's going to come back to bite us in the rear.
      • I guess for the same reason that someone else will have

        when breaking into your house and robbing you blind - Why not?

        Laptops cost too much, so if I can acquire yours for free, my actions are one hundred percent justifiable, as my needs definitely outweigh yours.

        And no, you do not appreciate the effort going into music anymore then the person who steals your laptops appreciates the effort you put into purchasing it.
      • What should media cost?

        Hi Zack,

        A very interesting article, not to mention response. I'm curious,
        though, what is an appropriate price for media? As you might guess,
        free is not a good answer.

        Content (particularly good content) costs a tremendous amount of
        money to make and someone has to pay for it. While we may loathe
        the record companies, their original business model is not a bad one.
        They create a packaged recording of music and then sell it to
        consumers directly.

        When you say that package is too expensive, what is a more
        reasonable price? And how should artists/distributors be
        compensated? Because even though the record industry will fail, there
        will always be distributors. The next generation of such will probably
        be iTunes, Amazon, and CD baby.

        In the larger picture, how do content producers deal with the internet?
        One of its byproducts is that the value of content has plummeted to
        near zero. Consider how the internet has devalued the IP of
        newspapers, for example. It has literally gutted a multi-multi billion
        dollar industry overnight.

        What comes next? Because these problems will only get worse.


        Rob Oakes
        Rob Oakes
      • Well yeah...

        If your argument that paying for music/movies etc. is "too expensive" compared to your alternate plan of downloading illegal copies for free then really any expense will seem excessive. I guess here in the US $.99 for music is downright highway robbery compared to free. You can't beat free if all you have to do is "bend the rules a little".

        Then again some folks claim the moral high ground around here "RIAA is evil therefore my actions are justified" etc. How altruistic of them, fighting the good fight against "the man" because it sounds good and justifies, in their minds, what they already decided to do, or have been doing for years and now, grown up a little, they need to find justification. Reading posts from other articles I am pretty sure the core justification for downloading illegal content is "Why not because I can get away with it" or for those blissfully unaware of the law "Because I can".
        • The Oldest arguement.

          Time and time again I see posts like this one. It seems everyone sees this arguement in black or white. The real problem starts with social inequallity. for everyone who was able to get their BS or higher degree and get into the respectable paying areana that provides a respectable amount of pay, good for you. But what of the rest of us. How does one see a new movie when like a majority of people we are struggling to pay rent? I am not advocating piracy, but if you are hungry and broke what are your options? Starve, not likely. So how do we equalize the playing field. Employeers will not/can not pay there workers more, and the industries (music, movie etc..) will not/can not lower their prices, what are the rest of us left with? Something has to break between the haves and have nots before a problem like this will go away.
  • RE: Downloading content illegally vs. getting away with it

    Does anyone actually proof-read your work? I hope ZDNet is not paying you because it's painful trying to follow you.
    • It is

      ..proof read. Every article, without fail. (It's so I don't secretly put surreptitious messages in there to the occult, or communicate with the FSB).
  • RE: Downloading content illegally vs. getting away with it

    Their is no justification for it. I keep seeing how just because something can be stolen then it means the providers need to change their model so they make money other ways. While they do need to do this it not a justification for being a thief. I always hope that somewhere down the line it affects you. Maybe you write a piece of software or become an artist hoping to make money and people only steal it leaving you broke. Students need to grow up and fast.
    • Oh they will understand it

      When these "next generation" folks who want jobs in the computer industry go out into the real world and find jobs lacking because no one wanted to pay for something that could be pirated for free.
    • its called civil disobedience to a corrupt system

      • IF

        Your goal is to make a "political" statement against a true injustice and not to justify your continued access to free music. I just don't buy the "civil disobedience" excuse, that may work for a few. IMHO I suspect most down-loaders are doing it because they just don't feel like paying for it.
        • blank

        • not surprised you dont accept that answer

          Neither did those who fought FOR prohibition, Against abortion, and Against civil rights....

  • RE: Downloading content illegally vs. getting away with it

    Not sure really... maybe proportionally. Have you ever been on a night out where the more drinks (of a certain drink) you buy, the cheaper it gets? It's essentially stock-market drinking. You buy a Smirnoff Ice at $4.20. Because you bought one, it goes down $0.20. The more you buy, the cheaper it gets. That happens now to some extent but it happens over the course of years - and as soon as Jackson kicked the bucket, his albums, singles and whatnot shot back up tenfold. If it's done by electronic means - the more people who buy it, the cheaper it gets. Overall, it's not fair on the people who first bought it - those spending more from the word go - but that's the price you pay for getting it straight away.

    Perhaps it wouldn't work - knowing me, it wouldn't - but that's all I can come up with on short notice.