Whether it be torrenting an album or just watching a movie online before it comes out on DVD, most of us have probably pirated something at some point in time. The question that keeps coming up is whether piracy can ever be morally justified. In my opinion, media piracy is never completely morally or legally defensible, but there are instances where piracy is a lot easier to understand and sympathize with.
It’s a cliché example by this point, but HBO’s blockbuster fantasy series “Game of Thrones” is still by far the best illustration of media companies driving people in droves to pirate their content. HBO’s current policy is that you don’t exist to them if you aren’t an HBO subscriber. If you’re one of the roughly 50 percent of Americans who don’t have cable and you still want to watch “Game of Thrones,” your only options are buying an expensive cable package for one show or waiting a year until the season comes out on DVD. It’s tough to blame people who choose the piracy route when you put one of TV’s hottest shows behind an exceedingly steep pay-wall and deny them all other options for legally acquiring that content.
Even worse, you have the cases where consumers don’t have any viable options besides piracy or may even get a superior product through piracy. For years, piracy was epidemic in the anime industry because the majority of series would never be released in other countries, and often featured botched translations or dubs when they were. Streaming providers like Crunchyroll has started to turn this around in recent years, but slightly less than legal versions subtitled and released by fans online still generally provide more accurate subtitles, superior video quality, and a larger selection of series, which are all the areas that anime fans care about the most.
Finally, we have music piracy. Although still not excusable, this one is probably the most understandable. There’s painfully little point in buying albums to help support your favorite artists, since they’re unlikely to see much money from it unless they’re signed to an indie label. Artist recording and royalty contracts often read like a comprehensive list of ways to screw the artist out of as much money as humanly possible. Consequently, it’s hard to get behind supporting your favorite band by buying their albums when you know that it’d be far more effective to buy one of their T-shirts or to go see them in concert.
It’s impossible to completely eliminate piracy. You’ll always have people who just don’t want to pay for things. However, there are people who pirate because of legitimate issues, and I believe that these are the kind of people who would turn to legal methods if their complaints were addressed. HBO could give their customers more viewing options, anime distributors could start providing a more competitive service, and recording companies could be a little more equitable with their album sale profits. Consumers get what they want and media companies get their money, so everyone would win if these changes were enacted.