Digital Piracy: Crime vs. Convenience

Ayla Safran, ‘15

Piracy is no longer under the purview of scurvy swashbucklers with peg legs and parrots on their shoulders. Instead, digital piracy allows anyone with a computer to steal a veritable treasure trove of entertainment, and it seems that most people have seized the opportunity. “I think everyone does it,” claimed one BHSEC student. Digital piracy, defined as any form of reproduction of original video or audio material, is now an everyday practice, even if it is illegal. Millions of people knowingly disobey anti-piracy laws, which are poorly enforced but, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), can lead to “a felony record, accompanied by up to five years of jail time and fines up to $250,000.” Despite these daunting consequences, there are many websites for downloading or streaming movies and television shows, not to mention those for downloading audio files. Apparently, BHSEC students are among those who believe that the laws are too loosely enforced to catch them.

Although downloading either movies or music constitutes piracy, some students feel that there is a distinction between the two. “I used to be extremely opposed to [illegal downloads] because of artists’ rights” said Y1 Cena Loffredo, “but now because I’m downloading mostly movies, I don’t feel as bad.” However, she did acknowledge, “I still feel bad when I download music, but I don’t have the funds to keep up with it.” Like Cena, many students feel guilty about failing to support their favorite musicians. While Y1 Anna Goldelman thinks that illegally downloading music is “great,” she added that, “I only do it if I’ve bought something from the artist first, though, like to show my appreciation.” Y1 Fatima Elmansy agreed, saying, “You’re robbing the artist in a way.” However, she explained, “I don’t really feel that guilty because they’re still making a lot of money.” Admittedly, many popular musicians make a large amount of money (like Beyoncé Knowles, for example, who makes over 50 million dollars per year), despite their fans’ unwillingness to spend money in order to listen to their music.

Most students do not let their reservations stop them from committing piracy, but Y1 Max Jenkins-Goetz explained, “I mostly don’t do it because I don’t know how.” Other students agreed; their technical ignorance discourages them from downloading files illegally far more than their moral sensibilities. Yet once discovered, file-sharing websites or apps are easy to use, if one is willing to put up with the unavoidable deluge of pop-up advertisements. Students who frequently use these websites are generally far more comfortable with piracy. “I do not own one song that I’ve bought off iTunes,” admitted Y1 Elena Perez.

Money is what motivates many high school students to break anti-piracy laws. “I download a lot of music, so it would be expensive to buy it all” said one student, whose reasoning echoed that of nearly every other student questioned. Teenagers on a meager budget find it extremely difficult to pay for all of the music that they want to listen to. While the teenage demographic is responsible for driving most music trends, it might not be funding most of them.

Websites such as Spotify and Pandora, which let users listen to music for free, albeit with advertisements every few songs or a paid subscription, are popular as well, but they are not as easy or versatile as music on an iPhone or mp3 player. Nor are there comparable resources for watching movies or television shows. Netflix, for example, requires an eight-dollar-per-month subscription and does not have much recently released content. It is easy and tempting for students (often looking for a way to procrastinate) to watch the same shows for free online, only a Google search away. Overall, BHSEC students seem not to be opposed to digital piracy; rather, they view it as a useful tool for access to content, free of charge and hassle.

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