Of Pirate Dances and Riding the WIFI Seas

Online piracy is rampant. Articles here and here make this readily apparent. Why do people pirate? Well, that’s simple: people like free stuff. Or perhaps less flippantly, people have a certain price threshold that, if crossed, they will take the risk of pirating. With all goods and services, the price is set at the highest possible point where people will still pay for it, however, what makes digital media (movies, music, books, etc…) unique is that an infinite amount of these products can be produced.

If I create a song (the Pirate Dance perhaps) and a billion people want to buy it well that’s fine, there can be a billion copies of that song. The point of all this is that people will pirate more if the cost for the product in question is perceived to be too high or inaccessible. This is a no-duh point. However, I think it’s important.

While there will always be people who steal, no matter how cheap or accessible the product, the fact that we see the rather dramatic growth of pirating is not all that surprising when the cost of entry for media streaming services is so high. The golden age of streaming is basically over when it comes to movies and tv. Whenever I want to watch a movie or show that I have heard about, I have to do the obligatory google search to ascertain which streaming site hosts it. Today we have Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and many more streaming sites that are popping up all the time. The cost to have even 3 or 4 of these is similar to, if not more than, the old cable subscription, which most people left to avoid such costs.

Growing up, Netflix revolutionized everything about watching movies, we could now watch practically everything we could ever want to watch at less than ten bucks a month. That is easier than piracy. Not being able to afford the numerous streaming services? The thought of piracy automatically becomes more appealing. Now, this is of course not a justification for piracy, but it is to point out that it is not too surprising that with the ever-increasing costs of streaming that we should not be surprised that we are seeing a rise. Of course, there will be continuous efforts to put a clamp on it, but it’s a big world and an even bigger internet, so it will never fully go away.

However, online piracy, like piracy of old, comes with risks. Ironically, when I was much younger (11 or 12) I had a friend who had the utterly brilliant idea to try to download a game (Minecraft if my memory serves me correctly) on my computer. Why I let him I do not know, but when he attempted to do this he ended up infecting my computer with a virus that crippled my computer for quite a while till a family friend who was handy with computers managed to fix it.

When we are talking about piracy or more generally criminality, it should always be framed in the context of risk-reward. The fact that so many people today are pirating (including me? Or at least I was complicit) digital media and software seem to entail that there is very little risk in their activities. This means that we can perhaps infer that the risk of malware is low and that the ability to enforce copyright law is low as well.

A recent case that I have heard about in this arena is about a site called KissAnime (Yes. I just outed myself as a nerd) which was a massive illegal online streaming site for, well, anime. There were (are?) variants for movies, comics, cartoons, etc… The saga of this site is that they have been repeatedly shut down online over MASSIVE amounts of piracy. The word ‘repeatedly’ should be noted as they have managed to continuously pop back up online over and over again. What this means is that, while some countries have cracked down on online piracy, there are others who have not. KissAnime is today no more, but the people who ran the site have created several clones.

In researching this, several of these clones are fake, however, with many a forum warning which ones are “legit” or not. In a sense, the crackdown has in fact made it far riskier for people (at least temporarily) to pirate digital media. However, like traditional pirates, when one area cracks down on this illegal activity it just goes somewhere else. This does not bode well for governments, companies, and individuals who want to crack down on this activity. It is also not helped by the fact that many individuals can operate with relative impunity if their country does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S or any other country that wants to prosecute them.


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