There’s been plenty of fallout from this week’s raid on The Pirate Bay, which finally took the site offline, but perhaps none more misguided than this piece by Caitlin Dewey for the Washington Post.
In the article Dewey makes the loosely argued case that piracy is acceptable, simply because technology has come far enough to make stealing content quick and easy. Citing a report from NetNames that essentially shows how widespread illegal downloading and streaming has become, she makes the bizarre leap that this must mean it’s an acceptable activity.
Rather than accept that The Pirate Bay was targeted by authorities for facilitating the mass theft of content under copyright, Dewey seems to adopt an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality, looking forward to the potential for a similarly illegal platform to replace it. It’s fair to say that her employer would disagree if it were their work being used without permission.
Her takeaway from the action of Swedish authorities to remove one of the world’s most notorious content theft sites is as follows:
“The real problem, for millions of Internet-users, is how am I going to watch TV?”
Where to start, given the abundance of entertainment options we now have at our fingertips… well how about WhereToWatch.com, for starters? The new initiative from the very industry group that many criticize for holding back digital viewing.
Or how about comprehensive new mobile apps with all-access passes from the likes of CBS and Comedy Central? Or Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Amazon Prime? Or even, you know, paying for a good old fashioned cable subscription to get an all-you-eat TV and movie offering.
The options range from simple rentals at $2.99 all the way up to monthly subscriptions, and legal online options abound. Where can you watch? It’s far quicker to list the few instances where Americans can’t find something they want to watch online!
The reality is that studios don’t want to limit your viewing. On the contrary, they want to spread the work of the creative talent that they represent as far and wide as possible. But they do want to receive compensation for their efforts and, yes, to be able to make some money to actually pay those same creators for the productions we’ll enjoy in future.
Dewey’s perspective is fundamentally flawed. Technology and the Internet have driven the most rapid advancement of entertainment viewing options in history, many of which are legal and accessible across all devices. There’s no argument to be made about scarcity when studies show that the overwhelming majority of popular and critically-acclaimed TV and movies are available digitally, while the industry that invests in them funds entire projects charged with helping fans find and watch those same titles. In short, legal access levels are unprecedented because of the very technology that her article says should now justify piracy.
No, the real argument is one of ethics, and it’s a simple one at that: is it acceptable to take the work of someone else without permission, simply because it’s now easy to accomplish?
The writer’s position in this case seems to have no qualms about ripping off the work of others, and being published under the banner of a reputable media outlet like the Washington Post lends credence to this otherwise unsustainable argument. If her own articles were taken and published under the name of another writer lazily passing it off as his own, would her response be the same?
Technology has made it easy to take what isn’t ours without asking but that doesn’t make it right to do so. Perhaps Caitlin Dewey will reflect on the ethics of content theft after spending hours researching and writing her next piece, and wonder what it would be like if someone else took credit – and profit – for all that work.