Confessions of an Internet pirate

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Instead of the Senate passing new laws to stop pirating, we should improve availability and accessibility. That way, fewer web-users will feel the need to resort to Trojan-infested torrents, says self-confessed pirate, S. A. Starcevic.

PIRATING IS one of those things we all do even if we don’t admit it. Kind of like stalking a crush on Facebook or rehearsing what you’re going to say before cruising up to the drive-thru window at Mickey D’s.

Except the difference is pirating is illegal. Well, sort of.

For those who aren’t up to date on all the latest lingo, pirating – or file-sharing or bootlegging, whatever fancy name you want to give it – means downloading or distributing copyrighted material without permission.

I’m not talking about the Jack Sparrow kind of pirating with doubloons and rum and whatnot. That’ll be in next week’s column. (Not really.)

Songs, movies, TV shows and more all fall under the copyright law umbrella. Nevertheless, there are boatloads (see what I did there?) of arguments to be made about pirating and its dubious legality.

Some insist it’s a form of theft since most pirates aren’t in the business of coughing up for the content they’re lifting. And the anti-piracy laws passed through the senate last year would certainly support that — even if they’ve yet to come into effect.

But for others, pirating is the only way to access content they would’ve been locked out of otherwise. That might be because their favourite show isn’t available in their country – some networks take forever to snag airing rights to new episodes – or because the content is just too pricey in their region.

Some forms of copyright infringement are perfectly harmless. For example, fan fiction writers often borrow characters from their favourite worlds and slap them into their own original stories without turning a cent of profit.

Theoretically, the real authors can demand to have the offending material taken down, but that would involve jumping through a bevy of bureaucratic hoops. It’s not enforceable, so it’s just not done.

Full disclosure: I’m a pirate. Arrest me, cuff me and haul me off if you want to, but it’s the truth. I don’t bother shelling out for an iTunes voucher when I can just rip songs straight off YouTube. And who needs to skip down to the local IMAX to see the latest Hunger Games movie when I can wait a few weeks for a shaky bootleg shot on someone’s iPhone to pop up?

That doesn’t mean I’m all gung-ho about it. I fork out for a monthly Netflix subscription because it makes me feel a bit better about gaming the system. (And also because it’s impossible to stream the latest Orange is the New Black episode without getting assailed by annoying pop-up ads. With Netflix, that’s not an issue.) And if I really enjoy something, I’ll go out and buy the hard copy, or find some other way to support the creator.

Maybe instead of trying to stop pirating cold-turkey – which, let’s be honest, isn’t exactly realistic, not with a third of Australians tuning into shows like Game of Thrones through a backdoor – we should improve availability and accessibility. That way, less web-users will feel the need to resort to skeezy websites and Trojan-infested torrents.

There’s no hard and fast solution to something like this. But if we hoist the sails, we might just be able to keep this ship afloat.  

You can follow S. A. Starcevic on Twitter @BookshelfOfDoom.  

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