Confessions of an Unsuccessful Digital Pirate

My vocal opposition of PIPA/SOPA doesn’t equate to believing stealing content is ok. I’ve spent my last dozen years working on people-powered platforms which intend to help creators distribute and monetize their IP (Second Life, AdSense, YouTube). Two motives seem to catalyze digital piracy by consumers:

“I didn’t want to pay for that movie because [I don’t have any dough; it’s too expensive; content deserves to be free; it probably sucks]

“It wasn’t available on my [ipad, tv, computer, country] so I just downloaded it”
Neither of these rationales are legitimate. Stealing is wrong. End of story. However even the strictest laws aren’t as powerful as societal norms. Bigger fines, longer sentences just create more sophisticated tools to steal. So how do we change perceptions among some of us that it’s ok to steal? Well certainly by exerting peer pressure in our social circles and refusing to participate in the consumption of pirated content. And cleansing the sins of our past (I’m Jewish, don’t really know how this confession thing works). So here is my meager history of digital piracy.
Books
Never have downloaded anything pirated. Probably purchase between $500 – $750 of books each year from Amazon and local bookstores.
Movies/TV
Again pretty clean. Can’t recall ever torrenting a movie – I rarely see films in theaters and tend to rent/buy from iTunes for consuming on my iPad during travel. Same thing for most tv series. If a particular piece of content isn’t available that studio just loses out on my dollars. I assume that studio has withheld digital distribution because their models suggest doing so wouldn’t be revenue maximizing. But I think their math is likely flawed. Let me explain:
We pay for basic cable from Comcast. Two years ago I was getting into ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.’ Missed an episode and DVR didn’t record. Since it’s on basic cable, episodes don’t appear on Hulu or iTunes instantly because I certainly would have paid $1.99 to see the show (even though I was already paying Comcast). Was it on the Comcast VOD service? Who knows, that UX is horrible to navigate. So I turned to the Internet to see if I could stream it illegally from somewhere. But couldn’t find it (wanted to stay away from any downloads) so you know what I did? Started caring less about “It’s Always Sunny.” I was forming a habit, becoming a committed viewer but the lack of availability severed those ties. Fox didn’t just lose my $1.99 for that one episode, they lost my eyeballs and dollars ongoing – my lifetime value as a customer decreased. There’s lots of content out there and I’m okay spending my time with the video available on my terms.
Music
Studying at Stanford during the Napster years meant I had great download speeds and thus probably several hundreds songs on my hard drive (hope that statute of limitations has expired!). At the same time I was still buying dozens of CDs every year – the downloads were more about content discovery and one-hit-wonders than replacing purchase. Now I buy fewer than 10 CD/digital downloads every year but I haven’t pirated a song since 1999. So what changed? Well I pay Pandora $36/year and Spotify $60/year for all I eat. And ~$175 to Sirius for satellite radio in my car. 
So that’s it. I’ve come clean. Pretty lame I know. I’m not a very good thief and lucky enough to live in a country with lots of media availability plus some disposable income. But if we are to be credible in our insistence that SOPA/PIPA are wrong, we have to put our money where our clicks, err mouths, are. Direct dollars to the distributors and creators who are treating us respectfully. I was happy to give Louis CK my $5 for his digital download. I love to pay creators. I hate to pay corporations. These bills are being written by corporations that seek to preserve their slice of economic rents. That’s a very different motivation than solely trying to protect intellectual property.
Don’t steal. Because it’s wrong. And because you lose credibility when you oppose laws like SOPA/PIPA.

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