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Stealing Isn’t Saving II
Author:  Alex Swartsel
Date:  08/16/2011

My post from the end of last week responding to a GigaOm NewTeeVee piece suggesting that economic instability would trigger a rise in online content theft, which GigaOm generously asked to republish, generated interesting follow-ups on both TorrentFreak and Techdirt.  I had a couple of thoughts I wanted to share in response.

Both enigmax’s post for TorrentFreak and Mike Masnick’s for Techdirt argue that I misunderstood the original post, written by NewTeeVee co-editor Janko Roettgers, which was “simply reporting a simple fact” (as Masnick put it) that “people who have the ability may choose to reduce their TV and movie bills in times of hardship” (as enigmax euphemistically put it).

In other words: movie and TV theft is inevitable.  Why?  Because it’s easy to steal something that, in physical form, exists only as data, and easy to justify stealing it as a result?  Because information wants to be free, no matter the cost it took to produce or its creators’ judgments about how best to disseminate it?  Because anything is fair game once it’s on the Internet?   Because if I rip a movie file off of a DVD or camcord a showing at a theater, I have created that movie with my own labor and can do whatever I want with the file, including posting it online and making money from ad sales or subscription fees?  Because by stealing films and TV, or watching stolen films and TV, I’m just exercising my First Amendment rights to freedom of speech?  All those are arguments we’ve heard before.

Mike Masnick wrote that we need to “adapt and deal with reality,” and actually, I think he’s right – depending on which reality we’re talking about.  Is it the reality that the Internet and the explosion of mobile technology have opened up vast new ways for us to communicate with one another and for film and TV-makers to offer their work to people who want to watch it?  Because as Julia blogged last month, there are “more options than ever before to get movies and TV shows online safely and legitimately” – we have a list on MPAA.org here, and the creative minds in our industry are working on even more as we speak. 

Is it the reality that some people do steal content online?  Unfortunately, it’s clear that’s true – otherwise we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation.  But do “many, many people” really intend to engage in theft just to watch a movie or TV show cheaply or for free?  We doubt it, particularly if legitimate, better alternatives are available; if they know it’s wrong; and if they understand it’s not a victimless crime. 

Efforts are underway on all of those fronts, both here at MPAA and across the country.  One major reason we published that list of authorized online sources is to make it very clear which sites are okay, because some rogue sites that seem to go out of their way to appear legitimate could surely confuse people who aren’t as familiar with where to go for movies and TV online.  A major benefit of our new agreement with Internet Service Providers is that it will help consumers get more information about why copyright is important and the impact of content theft.  And new organizations like Creative America are bringing together the people whose work goes into making films, TV, and other creative works to help make sure they have the opportunity to speak out about how content theft affects them – check out this post by Jessica last week with a video offering just a few examples.

But if what Masnick means is that we need to throw up our hands and look the other way while people who had nothing to do with making a movie or a TV show steal and profit from it, that is a reality to which we do not care to adapt, period.