The Ethics & Sense of Entitlement of Digital Piracy

I’ve been away awhile.

Too Long.

Life, unfortunately, has a way getting in the way of things we love to do sometimes… Anyway, I’m back, and I want to talk about something that’s been nagging at me quite a bit this week: Digital Piracy.

Ron Marz, a writer I greatly respect, published a great article this past week about the subject, and the debate that followed really got me fired up. (You can read the article  & the comments if you follow the link at the end of this post.)

Now here’s the thing, I have no interest in talking about what can be done to stop pirating, or whether or not pirating causes a lost sale to the pirated product’s creator/distributor. I’m also not looking to point the finger at anyone or play innocent. Let’s face it, most of us have (at the very least) made a mix tape or CD for someone at some point, or possibly burned a copy of a CD that a friend let us borrow. And in the eyes of the law, these are both illegal acts of redistributing a product we have no right to redistribute, even if they’re not on the same scale as pirating. The difference (at least I hope) is that most of us know this is wrong, and that keeps us from doing this on a larger scale – kind of like we know speeding is wrong, even though we do it, but that doesn’t mean we’re also robbing banks even if we thought we could get away with it.

What I want to talk about is the morality/ethics/legality of digital pirating, or rather the complete lack there of. This is what’s really set me off.

In reading and responding to the comments of the article I mentioned, I came across a slew of people who vehemently hold with the idea that pirating (both the distribution and acquisition aspect of it) isn’t morally wrong, unethical, or even illegal. Here’s a quote that blows my mind: “We live in a global society. The internet is the global library. The inability of the content providers to monetize it is not the problem of those with the ability to benefit from it. Instead, they try to make it our problem by unjustly chaining it down with the rule of law and criminalizing the audience.

Legally speaking, there isn’t a difference between someone who downloads something but knows its wrong and someone who does so thinking they’re justified. The hope, though, is that the conscience of the person who knows it’s wrong will eventually overpower their urge to download something illegally. Or at the very least, keep them from uploading files they don’t have the right to redistribute (arguably the bigger crime). While on the other hand, it seems the person quoted above (and any like-minded people) are a complete lost cause. How can your conscience keep you from doing something wrong if you don’t even understand that the act in question is wrong?

I’ve since been told, “It’s the Internet, people say and do things they wouldn’t normally say and do.” And while I know this, the fact that so many thousands, or probably millions, of files are pirated leads me to conclude that this isn’t just “Internet talk.” And what really scares me is this lack of morality, this sense of entitlement we’re fostering in our culture, is leading to the moral decline of our society.

Heavy, I know.

Another popular argument on this topic is that the artist or corporation is rich, and that they don’t need the money. While this may be true in some cases, there are also plenty of artists just scraping by and need every sale they can get to put food on the table for their family. Either way, it’s still wrong. Overpaid or not, needed or not, no one has the right to take something that doesn’t belong to them whether it’s a physical product or a digital one. The makers of BMW don’t need my money, but I’m not stealing cars of their lots regardless.

My favorite justification, though, is that “the Internet allows people to sample things for free, so they can decide if they want to spend their money, and that this is the way entertainment should be.” Of course this only holds true in the digital world. When it’s pointed out that you can’t go see a movie or a concert and decide to pay for it afterward and only if you enjoyed the show, these morally ambiguous people claim “it’s not the same thing.” I’ve yet to see or hear a logical explanation as to how they’re fundamentally different.

Related to this is the justification that if artists and entertainers created a better product people wouldn’t download them illegally. Really? The logic behind this argument is staggering. Why on earth would you steal something that you don’t think is even worth paying for? I understand the mentality of stealing something you can’t afford (not condoning it but understand that rationalization), but something you don’t think has any value? If you want to tell an artist/entertainer that their product is inferior don’t buy it. End of story.

What scares me about all of this, as I said above, is that this sense of entitlement has crept out of the Internet and into our physical world. It’s in our classrooms where students think they deserve to pass their classes simply because they show up, regardless of the fact that they don’t do any of the work required of them. It’s on the job where recent grads expect all the privileges and benefits of employees with years of standing (or even better, turning down or quitting jobs because the employer won’t let them access Facebook and Twitter while on the clock – and yes this is actually happening: here’s a link in case you don’t believe me

Hyperbole aside, I know the internet isn’t the sole contributor to this mass scale moral decline. It’s simply one of the major contributors, alongside parents who won’t tell their children no (or actually teach them right from wrong), public school officials that tell their teachers, “You’re focusing too much on academics” (a quote from a friend who will remain anonymous), and a government that’s more interested in arguing about who can and can’t get married, rather than tackle these issues that are having a detrimental affect on our society (and in the case of Internet pirating, the global society).

The most interesting question in this is, to me anyway, is it even possible to fix the moral compass of a 20, 30, or 40 something year-old who has gotten this far with theirs damaged? Are legal ramifications the only way? Would they even be enough to make a significant impact, or are these generations of people a complete lost cause?

Regardless, I’ve rambled on long enough, and this has become more of a stream of consciousness response to the topic than I originally planned. Anyway, let me know what you think.

Ron’s original article:



Filed under Entertainment, Writing

6 responses to “The Ethics & Sense of Entitlement of Digital Piracy

  1. Great piece, Daron. I find it mind boggling that we have to explain to people how illegally downloading comic books is unethical. Seems like their sense of entitlement overrules the ethics involved.

  2. Right, and that’s why I felt the need to write this. I don’t understand how someone can think they are entitled to “take” something just because it’s digital. I get that it’s easier to take, but to actually think there’s nothing wrong with it, that you’re entitled to it???

  3. ChrisD

    Well done article! People as a whole just have less respect for each other. Think about the way people behave while driving. Not speeding per se, but the horrible tirades, distracted driving, and hare-brained foolishness that people pull on the road. it illustrates another way individuals show entitlement to do whatever they want.

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