I Used to Think Pirates Were Cool, Until I Learnt About Illegal Downloaders

08/02/2011 01:34 pm 13:34:28 | Updated 01 October 2011

In early 2009, the annual figures for music download sales during the previous year showed that legal downloads had helped the music industry to grow by about twenty percent. However, alongside these figures came another statistic, and this one was extremely concerning. Of all the songs, videos and other files that had been downloaded in 2008, only five percent had been obtained legally. I am fully aware that this is a sensitive subject, but there is one fundamental fact that people tend to slightly forget when discussing this topic. Funnily enough, illegal downloading is not legal. It is against the law, and there are valid reasons for this. You can bicker about whether the provider or the downloader has commited the worse crime, but really, who cares? Both have committed a crime, and anyone involved in file piracy should undoubtedly face consequences. Most guys know deep down that when they were two foot shorter and a lot less wise, they wanted to be pirates. But the pirates in question here are pretty different. They're not cool, and they don't wear eye patches. Plus, they steal treasure which isn't rare or expensive. In reality, if you look in the right places, legal downloads are very reasonably priced.

This problem has been escalating out of control for over a decade now. The cynics claim that the issue has yet to "cross the line". I don't think whether the matter has crossed a line or not is particularly relevant. People who share files they don't own the rights to cross a pretty major line. It's called the law. However, besides each individual nation's justice courts, there hasn't been, and isn't, a central authoritive figurehead that has been able to take responsibility for the disciplining of offending downloaders (yet). It is estimated that in 2010 alone, two hundred million people downloaded movies illigetimately. It probably won't surprise you to learn that only a handful were prosecuted and fined. People with the powers to deal with this crisis should not focus on prosecuting, though. The threat of prosecution is not enough to stop people from committing an offence. There are still knobs that drink and drive, and there are still jerks that illegitimately rinse the British welfare system dry. However, irresponsible drivers and greedy slobs cannot be prevented from doing so. They cannot be dealt with until caught. Illegal file sharing, on the other hand, can be stopped.

Internet Service Providers (or ISPs as they are disguisingly referred to) have the power to do two things that could help stamp down illegal downloading. The first is simple; they block all websites that are known to post downloadable files that they don't own. The second, even simpler; they discipline, and in the most severe cases, take offline any illegal downloaders and uploaders, whilst notifying the police of their names. These two basic methods offer straight forward solutions to stop this wrong, yet common illegality. Last week, British ISP BT made the first step towards halting file sharing, when they accepted an order by the High Court of the United Kingdom to block a website that had made files owned by Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., and many more production companies available for download. The site, which I won't name for risk of publicity, had uploaded thousands of popular movies. The move has been labelled by some film executives as the first in a "major crackdown" in online piracy.

I think I've emphasised enough in this entry that if you participate in download piracy, you are breaking the law, so let's move away from that fact for a moment. It's still morally wrong, and I'll explain to you why. That file has been produced by any number of people between one songwriter in their bedroom or one thousand crew members working on set. They deserve to earn from their work, like anyone selling primary goods does. Illegally downloading things appeals to people because it's free, right? Well, it's free because the makers of these amazing goods aren't getting a penny in royalties from your acquisition. Their goods must be pretty high quality, because you've taken the time out to download them and your willing to use space on your harddrive to keep them. The most common excuse I've heard from the perpetrators of this crime is that it doesn't hurt anyone. Well, it does; by clicking one button and unlawfully downloading that one tiny file onto your computer, you could be depriving thousands from their earnings.