We all know people that use software and websites created for the sole purpose of “sharing” media. If you’re being honest, you might even admit that you’ve enjoyed a pirated movie, music, or even a video game. You may, in fact, be one of those people who engages in rampant and undisciplined piracy of all types of media, refusing to buy anything since it’s all readily available for free online (although you’re risking spyware and malware with every download). Or worse, you might be the person ripping discs and posting files for others to download. The problem, apart from the fact that this is illegal, is that pirating copyrighted content has a cost. In fact, the Entertainment Software Association estimates that more than $8 billion a year in profit from handheld games alone is lost annually thanks to global piracy. And in the U.S. and Canada losses are somewhere in the neighborhood of $3.5 billion for video games in general. But there is a much more serious cost to consider.
For starters, there is the personal cost for those who post and download content illegally. It was only a year ago that Kit Dotcom, the founder of media sharing site Megaupload, was arrested in New Zealand, along with several other executives in the biggest anti-piracy bust to date. Mansions, cars, bank accounts, and other assets were seized and Dotcom was looking at 20 years for online piracy, copyright infringement, and racketeering, amongst other things. Of course, there were so many blunders made with the arrests and the warrants, not to mention the revelation of illegal spying, that Dotcom was eventually released and granted access to his accounts and assets once again. He is still confined to the country of New Zealand as he fights U.S. extradition orders, but in the meantime Megaupload remains defunct (although he has started a new site, Mega, which is positioned to provide more privacy for users to share whatever they wish).
The point is that governments are looking for ways to cut down on piracy, and they apparently aren’t afraid to cross international borders in order to stop the criminals involved in this theft. Perhaps this is because the U.S. is claiming more than two and a half billion dollars in lost tax revenue annually associated with media piracy. You can steal from the artists and creators of intellectual property, but when you start dipping into the government’s cut there’s going to be a problem. And with plenty of sites realizing their folly and finding ways to put the onus of legality back on the shoulders of the public (through privacy policies that prohibit employees from being aware of content shared by users), the government could start coming after individual citizens next.
Of course, there is also the cost to society to consider. When piracy is allowed to flourish, it not only makes it difficult for creators to earn a living, but it could actually backfire by causing them to seek out other forms of gainful employment. Plenty of people complain about rich recording artists, actors, or video game publishers that have loads of cash and still charge too much for their wares. But the truth is that people who create something have every right to charge money for it. If you were making games and selling them you might feel the same way. People who engage in piracy seem to have a sense of entitlement that causes them to believe their actions are justified, but piracy is stealing. Would you steal a pair of jeans from a store because they’re overpriced? No, you’d simply walk away and find a cheaper pair of jeans. So use your burning software from CyberLink to share music and videos that you have created. And if you want a video game, for goodness sake, wait for it to go on sale.