Downloading Media for Free is Theft

My partner Deprava, from the podcast not life, recently had an argument with certain people, who won’t be named (John Green, Zurabi Lominadze), about the legality/morality of downloading media for free. So I thought I’d give my 2 cents on the subject, unless someone takes the information from me for free, and then no one gets any cents. First of all, let me say I won’t argue the legality of downloading media for free because it is not legal. That is a fact. It’s written in legal codes and shit. If you try to argue otherwise you’re a moron. I’m going to address the ethical aspect.

In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I do download TV shows, music, and movies for free. I’d like to say it has to do with me living in Japan and not having normal access to that media…but really, I do it because it’s free. However, what I do not do is invent fantasies or excuses for those actions. When I download the latest episode of True Blood, I am fully aware what I am doing is theft.

I’m not sure where the term “piracy” originated in the stealing media context, but it seems to be giving a lot of people a lot of wrong ideas about what it means to take a CD for free. Internet downloaders, make no mistake, you are not pirates. You are not swashbuckling romantic figures middle-aged housewives want to fuck, you are greedy, pimply introverts with too many computers and too much time on your hands, taking someone’s hard work for nothing. And yes, you’re taking someone’s hard work. Just because a CD says “Sony Music” on the packaging, doesn’t mean a group of 4 dudes with instruments who probably went through a lot of shit and tough times to get their big break and record with SONY music, didn’t put a lot of hard work into that cd.

“But I don’t want to pay $15.99 for a CD, because it only costs cents to make.”

Fuck you, and stop oversimplifying. First of all, when has a CD ever been $15.99 in the past 15 years? I remember buying CD’s at Media Play (may its soul rest in peace) in Middle School for $12.99 and under. You can buy CD’s on Amazon for like $10, and on iTunes they’re $9.99 ( I know iTunes is only a digital copy, but the point is still he same that you can get music for less than $15.99). So stop saying CD’s cost $15.99! Unless you live in Japan, where CD’s cost $30. Second, manufacturing a single CD costs less than 2 cents. But what good is a single CD? You need to package it, market it, distribute it, oh, and put music on it. Also, record companies don’t grab music for free out of a unicorn’s ass. Recording studios and developing talent also costs time and money. Now, all told, does a CD cost significantly less than $12.99 to produce? I’m sure it does. But record companies are a business, and they manufacture products for our consumption and their profit. Hollywood companies don’t spend $400 million making James Cameron movies for the good of the Earth. Or Pandora.

“Well, companies outsource now, so production costs have gone down, yet cd and DVD prices have remained constant.”

You’re totally right. Completely. Because all other production costs except labor always stay equal through time. And every single company on the planet produces its goods in Malaysia. And inflation doesn’t exist at all, and BOOM! (that’s my head exploding).

“Record companies should sell music like Radiohead did with In Rainbows and have people pay what they want.”

What is wrong with you?! How does this make sense? Just in principle, what gives consumers the right to decide how much they should pay for something? Companies have figured out a CD should be sold for $12.99. I don’t know if they have formulas or a bunch of wizards in a room or what, but they add up production costs, assess risks, and have profit targets and that all goes into the final price. If you don’t want to pay for it, then guess what? Don’t listen to it. I doubt your life will be worse off for not owning the Lady Antebellum CD. But in what world do you have the right to tell that company what you want to pay? Lenin couldn’t come up with this crap in his steamiest proletariat wet dreams. And why only music? Why couldn’t I walk into a Maseratti dealership and demand the salesman pay me to drive away in a 2011 Gran Turismo? Why can’t I buy an ice cream cone and spit into the cash register as payment? Oh right, because everything we’ve ever known would crumble to nothing if we used that as an economic model.

And the Radiohead CD….You know they actually lost money doing that, right? You realize the recording, production, and marketing costs exceeded their profit, right? And you know why? Because 90% of people “chose” to pay nothing. And the other 10% paid like $.10. In fact, Radiohead ended up re-releasing the album later through a record company. Is that because of evil record companies? No, it’s because of cheap, greedy internet pirates. (Editor’s note: All the numbers and percentages stated above are invented. I have no idea how well the in Rainbows experiment worked. I’m just assuming it failed terribly because I know how people are and I myself downloaded it for free. I’m writing this now, so that you can’t call me a liar later.) (Deprava Edit: According to Wikipedia, the most reliable of internet sources, about 1/3 of the people who digitally bought the album paid nothing for it, while the rest paid an average of 4 pounds. What this figure does not represent, however, is the number of people who downloaded the album through torrents or other sites not linked to the official release, so the reality is that more than 1/3 of the people who listened to the album refused to pay for it. Also, the album was a “success” due to sales of the physical copies, which had a set price, NOT the digital “whatever you want to pay” version. Thus you cannot say that business model was successful, and in fact the real conclusion is that it is more profitable for the distributor to set the price than to let the consumer pay whatever.)

This brings up to another point. Most people will never pay anything, not even $.01, if they can get the same thing for free. This has nothing to do with excessive prices for media, and everything to do with the fact no one wants to spend anything if they can get it for free.  Lots of people fault record companies for not embracing digital distribution and embracing this new age etc., but the truth is, they can’t. Even if Virgin records started a site where for $10 a year you get all the music you want, people would still download the albums for free from torrents. Apart from the fact that $10 a year from people couldn’t support a record company and its operations…or the artists who make the music. And I know copy protection and region codes suck and are annoying, but you think record companies would spend the extra money to put in all those security measures if people weren’t raping and pillaging their products? The only reason record companies are still around today are old people who don’t know how to download music, and buy Susan Boyle CD’s. And the companies know it!

I think the main issue here, aside from selfish, greedy criminals inventing ridiculous excuses to justify their illegal practices, is that a lot of people live under the false impression that music, movies, and games are a natural gift. And that big evil corporations are are infringing on a human being’s inherent right to experience media for free. Oh, and they’re also enslaving aspiring artists and turning them into cogs in their unholy money-making machine. This is bullshit. Where in the bible does it say it’s our natural right to view movies, listen to music, and play games for free? God himself charges you 20 EUROS to see the Vatican museum! I doubt he’d begrudge Universal Studios $14.99 for their Blu-Rays. That’s right, kids. The world doesn’t owe you shit, especially not the Dragon Age Origins expansion pack. So pay for it.

Media is a manufactured and marketed product, and the company responsible for the initial investment has a right to charge whatever they want for that product, especially considering this specific item is one of leisure. And you know what? That’s how it’s always been. Did Mozart play his clavichord in the middle of town squares? No, rich effete Austrians paid him tons of money and supported his irresponsible Bohemian lifestyle to create music for them. And they didn’t even like it; they preferred F. Murray Abraham’s uninspired operas, but they still paid Mozart anyway! And don’t start with semantics or any crap about art and human nature and cave paintings or something. I’ll bet Konga charged people nuts and berries or a night with their wives or something to see his finger painting of a buffalo in Southern France. And if he didn’t, he was just a poor businessman.

Another point that seems to get ignored frequently, is that not all that money goes into rich Hollywood Jews’ pockets. Some of it goes to the people who made the music, movie, or game. And guess what? Those pure “artists” enjoy making money, too. There’s plenty of indie game developers willing to start out the hard way and sell their creations for cheap or free, but you know what? That’s just a means to an end. You think any one of them dreams of making World of Goo and selling it for $2.99 on Steam? No, they want to make Modern Warfare 2 and earn billions, then get fired by Activision and sue them for even more millions. That’s true. Deprava and myself do blogs and podcasts for free because we enjoy it, have the time, and our product is so shitty and unpolished even we wouldn’t pay for it. But the first chance we get to earn half a buck on this shit, we’re jumping on that boat. Believe it. And if, I mean IF, we ever hit it big, and you download our podcast for free instead of paying the $1.99 to iTunes, then I promise you an angel will lose its wings. And then punch a baby, that’s choking a kitten, that’s directing another Lady Gaga Video. Oh, and more oil will pour into the Gulf.

I’m really starting to ramble, so I’ll just draw everything to a close right here. I don’t mean to paint record, movie, and game companies as saints or victims, but the fact is these companies put up often large initial investments into these projects, and they have every right to charge you $12.99 for that CD. Just as you have the ability to shit in their face and download it for free. However, that makes you a criminal, not a freedom fighter combating GloboCorp’s evil reign.

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