Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Ethics of Piracy

I'm not especially interested in the strict legality of "piracy".  The information age has put the rights of artists and the rights of end users into conflict.  The courts and the legislatures of the world are working on sorting it all out.  Things will change, and a new balance will be established.  I have definite feelings about what the balance should be, but in the meantime, what is the path of the righteous?

I have watched movies and TV shows online for free.  When possible, I try legitimate channels.  I am a fan of Hulu and Netflix.  Some networks make their shows available online.  However, there are times that legitimate channels do not work.  Either the show is not available for free, or there are absurd restrictions.

While I was in France, I was not able to watch several shows online since I was not in the United States.  Why should that matter?  Why should the pilot of the Walking Dead only be available to me if I am in the United States?  Companies are free to make their content available to whomever they wish, though the restriction does seem odd.

I have DVDs in my collection with Chinese subtitles.  I have watched movies on YouTube that are almost certainly not authorized.  Where should I draw the line?

Entertainment companies have been vicious in protecting their cartel.  I have little love for them, and I have no ethical qualms about removing their restrictions for materials that I have purchased.  Nonetheless, my actions have not always been ethical.

Is it ethical to buy DVDs from China?  Is it ethical to watch YouTube videos of copyrighted material?  I believe that the answer is no.

Is it ethical to support a corrupt system that is taking away the rights of its users?  I am not totally sure.  For the time being, it seems the lesser of two evils.

Perhaps the best bet is to limit yourself to free material.  Libraries make a great deal available.  Video rentals are cheap.

We live in dangerous times.  We need to be vigilant for our rights, and respectful of the rights of others.  The convenience of the internet makes it easy to violate both.