Giving you moral justification for theft!
By Sam Linton
Let me preface this column by saying that there is a series of ads on the air right now (and by “the air” I mean the radio airwaves. Does anyone out there still listen to radio?) that basically encourages you, Soviet Gulag style, to narc on anyone you know who is pirating software in exchange for CASH PRIZES!!! The Canadian Alliance Against Software Theft (whose website ties them in with the Business Software Alliance) would have you believe that piracy is a threat to the entire Canadian commercial way of life on par with global warming, the U.S./global economic meltdown, and Avian Flu, and this per head bounty, rapidly closing the historical gap between software pirates and actual pirates, is meant to show how great a threat they’re treating it as. But it also shows just how weak their position is, to be reducing themselves to such desperate and frankly, totalitarian scare tactics. And weak it pretty much has to be, because in going off against software piracy, it is facing off against the combined forces of both the consumerist drive AND social activism! Allow me to elaborate.
In my previous column in this series, I touched on how the urge to be ethically responsible in a capitalist society is often (most of the time) directly at odds with the instant gratification and leisure that makes capitalist society so attractive in the first place; sure, you COULD buy responsibly, but then you’d have to research your products, go out of your way to find them, and probably end up paying more, too. It’s a hassle, it’s time-consuming, and we only have so much time on this Earth to start with. Something like software piracy, however, complicates this dichotomy (comfort/ease vs. moral prerogative) by being both easy and cost-free to do AND directly taking money out of the pockets of big, faceless conglomerates. It’s like being Robin Hood, without that crap about giving to the poor. I mean, if you want to, I guess you could give the money you conceivably would have spent on media to the homeless or what have you, but that’s really up to you. But the important thing is that you’re stealing from our corporate masters.
Now, in order to combat this appallingly appealing prospect, media conglomerates have used the tactics of fear (the now infamous RIAA single-downloader lawsuits being an example) and increasingly and ironically, appeals to morality; because stealing is wrong. And that’s the area where their whole argument falls apart. Now, as a consumer whore (see title of column for more info), I generally make it a point not to research my purchases or spending habits, but I CAN take it as an article of faith that, generally, large corporations and conglomerates do horrible things. Therefore, without even checking Wikipedia, I can safely conclude that stealing from any media conglomerate is in the best interest of everyone, as the aforementioned conglomerate will have less of my money to do horrible things with. I may have lost a few specifics in my corner-cutting rationale, but the basic truth of the matter is still there (probably). And the various industries can spend money to make video like this, or try to guilt you by showing you the people that they’re going to fire if you keep taking their money, but really, isn’t that just like the Empire telling the rebellion about the hardworking maintenance men on the Death Star and expecting the rebels to not destroy the station? (by the way, I usually try to avoid the Star Wars references, as I’m not a huge fan, but in a discussion about media piracy, it’s just so apropos, and serves as a reminder for people to go download Star Wars, and possibly Clerks.) The simple truth is that there are few, if any, other opportunities in life to be both morally responsible and materially rewarded, so downloading media is an opportunity that one has to grab with both hands!
So what’s the point of this article? Everybody already downloads, and it’s not as though we need a banner to rally around when we do it. Some of us might have balked at the ethics before, but hopefully this article has set them right (I try to do what I can). I guess I was just a little surprised at the blatantly totalitarian approach the industries are taking lately. I’ll admit, it catches me a little off guard when they start snarling, but then I remember that it’s only a caged animal that reacts this way. So don’t let ‘em scare you; we still live in a time of free, ethically responsible entertainment for the masses. Carry on as you were, go about your downloading business, and be merry!