The ethics of thievery: when students pirate and when they don’t

So you’re looking to get your Saturday-night movie fix. You put a DVD in, but before the movie, it plays that super-annoying blue screen with a lot of words on it that you can’t skip.

“The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal.”

But does anyone take this warning seriously?

Piracy—the practice of illegally downloading digital media such as movies, TV shows, music and software—is surprisingly common. And that’s frightening for certain entertainment industries.

So here are the facts: higher rates of piracy correlate with lower demand for CDs and other consumer media. Various anti-piracy groups claim losses of billions of dollars per year in the music industry due to piracy.

At Country Day, 54 percent of the high schoolers say they have pirated digital media. (Incidentally, the numbers are higher for juniors and seniors, at 61 percent and 67 percent respectively.)

But there’s a positive side to piracy too. Some argue that piracy benefits music producers because of exposure: people who pirate music don’t have to buy it to listen to it and are more likely to try new songs or artists without already knowing they like them.

Others point to the inequities of the system: record labels take large portions of the profits from music sales. Contracts vary, but on iTunes, for instance, artists get less than 10 percent of the 99 cents (or $1.29) that a track costs.

Likewise, only a small portion (sources cite varying amounts) of a $15 album sale goes to the artist.

As one senior commented in an anonymous poll, “People in charge of music do a lot of things that are unfair, and this sort of balances it.”

Of course, if you pirate the tracks, the artist gets no money. But at least it isn’t going to the big record labels, right?

That’s the justification some Country Day students use, anyway. “I can’t afford to buy all the music I like legally,” a junior said.

“Corporations are greedy,” a sophomore said.

Another reason people pirate is for the convenience. As one senior put it, “I know it’s wrong, but for a large amount of content, pirating it is significantly easier than buying it.”

“For movies, I never pirate if it’s on Netflix,” he said. “I always check Netflix and Amazon. But if it’s not on either of those, the other options are to wait to get a DVD, by which time I don’t want it anymore.

“Or I can download it in like 15 minutes, and it’s incredibly easy.”

“If a movie’s out, and I don’t want to go to the theater, I can just download it,” another junior said.

A sophomore agreed: “If a producer makes no reasonable way to purchase a thing—I’m not buying box sets from 1968—then I would (pirate) it.”

For the unenlightened, piracy is easy: hop on a site like ThePirateBay, Megaupload, or any of various file-sharing sites (MediaFire, RapidShare, Dropbox, etc.), find files you want and download them.

It’s usually free (or a monthly fee about equal to that of Netflix for a subscription to some file-sharing sites), quick and easy.

However, piracy is also preventable, at least to an extent. According to Tom Wroten, director of technology, piracy can definitely be restricted at school by blocking certain “questionable sites.”

“It is up to the students to make the right choice when they are off campus,” he said.

Off campus, piracy is reduced in other ways.

One example of this is the gaming client Steam, which is an application used to buy and download games and keep the game collection all in one place.

On Steam, a wide variety of games are available for instant purchase at the click of a mouse. With the addition of frequent sales, the problems of price and convenience both vanish.

Instead of physically going to a traditional video-game store and dropping $30 or more on a game, one can sit at a computer and spend much less.

The senior mentioned above uses Steam to game, and verifies these claims.

“I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve pirated games, and it was mostly to try them out,” said the senior. “At one point I pirated Deus Ex: Human Revolution to try it out because I wasn’t willing to spend $30 on it.

“But when it went on sale on Steam, I bought it for $3 in a heartbeat.”

Previously published in the print edition on Oct. 28, 2014.

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