Aaargh! Piracy – It be a crime!

Piracy: It be a crime!

Today (Sept 19) is International Talk Like A Pirate Day, a perfect opportunity to discuss that which we all hate to discuss… piracy.

By piracy, I don’t mean those folks in boats, with dashing good looks, wearing awe-inspiring costumes of so-many-layers-you-know-why-they-don’t-want-to-walk-the-plank, no, I refer to the illegal copying of music, movies and software. No-one (apart from the parties being infringed) wants to talk about it, because we secretly don’t see the problem with it. But, the truth is, piracy really is a crime and our kids need to be brought into an awareness of the problem.

I recently had a discussion with one of my classes in which I asked whether it was okay to share their music around. The vast majority thought it was. So I asked  them if it would be okay for me to come and ‘share’ their HD TV – after all, it would look really sweet on my wall at home. Not surprisingly, they didn’t think that this idea was very cool. “So, what’s the difference?” I asked. The responses ranged from, “It’s on the Internet, so it must be legit” (btw: wrong [link – pdf]), “it’s just digital, so no-one gets hurt” (again, btw: wrong [link]), to “No-one’s going to catch me…” (and yet again, wrong [1], [2], [3]).

To me, the biggest problem with piracy is its name. Piracy has been romanticised by movies like Pirates of the Caribbean, through novels and, even through days like International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Piracy, in its root form, is Copyright Infringement. In loose terms, it is the taking, using and/or redistributing of someone else’s stuff, without their permission, and without paying them what they asked for it. In blunt terms, piracy is theft.  Downloading software, or music, or movies, which I would otherwise have had to pay for, is the digital equivalent of going into a shop and taking what I want without paying for it. Do we allow that? No, we don’t – and for good reason – it would lead to anarchy and shops would go out of business. When we discuss the issue with our students, this needs to be stressed – piracy is theft. A pirate is stealing someone else’s work, livelihood and food. We need to modernise our view of piracy to more closely align it with today’s real water based pirates:

Somali Pirates

Not so swashbuckling, are they?

Some of the arguments I’ve heard over the years relating to piracy are pretty simplistic:

  • “I’m just trying it out”: I dare anyone who says that to walk into an electronics store, take a TV off the shelf and try to walk out without paying for it. When apprehended, see if ‘evaluation’ is a solid defense (it’s not).
  • “I’m not hurting anyone”: People sell their goods to make money. That money goes towards paying for food, electricity, rent etc (and their family’s needs). Would you be happy to not be paid every now and then?
  • “It’s only the publishers getting hurt”: The publishers pay the recording artists. Now look at the point above. The same rule applies.
  • “It’s on the Internet – therefore it really is free!”: No. While I love the Internet, it does not make everything right. There are criminals in all facets of life, including online. Don’t become an accessory to the crime.
  • “No-one cares if I do it (as long as I don’t sell it)”: Again, no. There are organisations out there to protect the interests of recording artists, movie studios and software developers. They are interested in tracking down and prosecuting thieves.
  • “Everyone else is doing it”: Really? Aside from being a gross generalisation, the argument doesn’t hold water. Lot’s of people steal from shops, cars etc. Would you be happy if someone broke into your house, took your stuff and then used that argument?

These are just some of the more popular arguments I’ve heard. There’s even more when it comes to movies and TV shows… Australia is (apparently) still the number one for pirating Game Of Thrones. By the way – did you notice that it is trackable?

Today is a great time to have those discussions about piracy, what it is and what we can do about it. I encourage to allow students to have a free discussion – but be careful not to give tacit approval to the idea… after all, piracy be a crime.

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