Pirates of the new world


Reading recent posts by Muhammad and Zahira, it reminded me of something I’ve wanted to write about for a while: piracy.

These days, pirated entertainment – music especially – is widely available, and many seem to have no problem with downloading the songs, tv series and even movies that are ‘available’ on the Internet. It seems too good to be true: get all the songs you want, all the movies and tv series – often before they are released in South Africa – for free; or very cheap. All you need is access to a fast Internet connection, the relevant software, know where to find what you’re looking for, and you’re in.

However, it IS too good to be true.

Like the anti-piracy ads say at the beginning of all movies: piracy is stealing. Stealing is a crime.

But how many people take this seriously? Have these warning just become an addition to the movie – like the warning label on the front of a cigarette box? Do we just think of it as another advert at the beginning of the movie, and ignore it? 

I have a valid reason   

But wait! “I have a ‘valid reason’ for getting pirated entertainment,” you say: – “The legitimate CD/DVD is too expensive.”– “I don’t have access to normal stores, since I live in a remote place.”

– “The entertainers are making millions anyway. A few dollars lost isn’t going to hurt them.”

– “Its my Internet connection. I can do what I want with it.”

As much as you can come up with reasons to justify why you’re doing it, the bottom line is that there is a core principle involved. A core principle which is black and white – clear for everyone to recognise, if they really think about it.

Back to basics

If you ask a 5 year old child: “What do you call it when you take something that is not yours, without the permission of the owner?”

Having been taught some of the basic principles of right and wrong, the child could tell you that you would be stealing, if you did that.

However, with piracy, its a little more complicated than a 5 year old can understand: the item (movie, song, etc) is in digital format – it’s not something you can hold or put in your pocket.

Does this mean it does not count as being someone else’s property?

Absolutely not.

We have something called “intellectual property” – a legal term for an intangible item that is produced by someone, for example, a song or a story. You produce a creative work, if you write something, or shoot a video or movie, or produce any kind of work that people can enjoy, but cannot hold in their hands. (Beyond holding it on a CD or DVD, I mean. The actual content of your work is not a physical entity.)

You feel that this work is something you did, and no Tom, Dick or Harry (or Sally) should be able to just come and copy your work and sell it, or give it away free – unless, of course, you give them permission to do that.

You can choose to let people distribute your work for free, if you want. This is a good way of promotion – and you are entitled to do that, if you wish. But it’s YOUR choice. It’s not the choice of another person. It’s YOUR choice. YOU, as the person who produced the work, have the right to say how it gets distributed.

If someone else decides they want to give your stuff away for free, or worse – sell your stuff – but you don’t know that person and you have not given them permission to do it, how would you feel?

Violated, I’m sure.


What has happened, in the above case, is that your “copyright” has been violated. “Copyright” means that the owner of the work – the person who produced it – should have the control of how the work is distributed. It is an intellectual property law that prohibits the unauthorised duplication, adaptation or distribution of a creative work.

In the recording industry, there are usually two copyrighted works involved:

  1. The copyright in the musical composition, i.e. the actual lyrics and notes on paper. This is usually owned by the songwriter or music publisher.
  2. The copyright in the sound recording, i.e. the recording of the performer singing or playing a given song. This is usually owned by the record company.

When you download (or upload) music, movies or any form of entertainment without having the owner’s permission to do so, it’s legally no different than walking into a store, stuffing a CD/DVD into your pocket, and walking out without paying for it.

It’s stealing.

“Intellectual property” is not just some legal mumbo jumbo cooked up by lawyers, that you don’t need to know about. “Copyright” is not a difficult principle to understand, if you just read a basic definition of it.

With every right and priviledge come a responsibility. If you are enjoying a piece of entertainment, you are responsible for ensuring that it is not an illegally-obtained piece of entertainment.

You wouldn’t steal a car and drive it, and think of it as your own property. It’s the same thing here. If you didn’t acquire it legally, you don’t have the right to use it.

A victimless crime

Because the item being pirated is not in a physical form, some may think of it as being a “victimless” crime – it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Or, because entertainers are so rich already (or appear to be so rich, from the images portrayed), some may think that they won’t miss a few dollars or Rands here or there. They are rich – I am not. Is it really wrong for me to save R150 on a CD, when they would use the money towards buying some new house or car or jewellery?

To address the “entertainer” part of the equation first: the answer is, “yes”.

Back when I was really into music, I’d hear about how artists really don’t get that much from the sales of their music. The record companies got the big profits, and the entertainers’ earnings weren’t always a fair reflection when you look at what the company makes from the product.

A lot of them make much of their money from touring. If you look at hip hop, many rappers make money from their other ventures: clothing lines and other products, product endorsements and sponsorships.

I haven’t done much research into the breakdown of earnings in the music industry, but I get the strong sense that artists don’t really make as much as we think they do. Sure, they can appear to have a glamorous image, have all the fancy cars and gadgets and celebrity lifestyle – but in reality, do you think they make all that money from their music?

And for that part of the money the do make from their music, do you really think that you – one person – are the only one with the attitude of “it’s just a little bit of money, it won’t be a big loss to them”?

You know how widespread pirated goods are. It’s simple mathematics to see that when many people take this attitude, on an individual level you may be taking a small amount of money from them – but add up everyone with that same attitude and you have a much bigger, collective loss for those entertainers.

While the above considerations are debatable, and can be argued on both sides of the issue, let’s get to a side which cannot be disputed: the “support” staff.

For any music or movie or entertainment to make it into the marketplace – to make it to the eyes and ears of us, the consumers – there is a chain of people and entities involved. Other than the actual entertainer, there are production companies, labels, distribution companies and finally, the store that sells the product.

If you buy an entertainer’s album or movie, you do so after it has made it’s way along that whole line – from the studio recording all the way to the CD you find on the shelf.

Similarly, when you buy the entertainer’s album or movie, there are people who work at all points along those lines: the recording engineers, the lighting people, the drivers, the marketing staff, the salesperson in the store (who could be you, if you work at a store).

Those people are ‘normal’, everyday people. They don’t live a celebrity lifestyle. They don’t make millions. They don’t live in the glamour and excessiveness that their industry seems to produce.

They work behind the scenes. They work long hours. They have families to feed. They have bills to pay.

When a CD or DVD or any piece of entertainment is legally sold, all of these people are paid from it. They are compensated for the work they do.

It’s not just an artist, or a fat cat executive, who gets all the money from sales of entertainment. It’s many, many normal, everyday people.

when you get it ‘free’ by illegal means, you’re stealing from those normal people, from their families – from their income.

So, if you get pirated goods, thinking yourself to be some kind of modern day Robin Hood – taking from the rich and giving to the poor – you are mistaken. You’re not taking from the rich only – you’re taking from the ordinary people too. In many cases, you’re taking from the poor – because a lot of those support staff struggle to earn that money.

And who benefits from the piracy? The poor? Are you getting it ‘free’ – taking from the rich – to then give to the poor?

No, you’re taking it for yourself: you want the song or movie, and you’re taking it for your own enjoyment. (Or worse, to sell to others – which is a two-fold crime)

The fact is that piracy is NOT a “victimless crime”. There are many, many other people involved in the production, distribution and marketing and sales of music and movies.

When you get stuff illegally, you steal from them too. Even if you’re not the pirate, but the end buyer, who comes at the very end of the process – you are still part of the chain of the crime.

If the price is right

Some of us complain that the entertainment is “too expensive”, so pirated goods are just a means of levelling the playing field.

But, honestly, I think that many of us can afford a DVD nowadays. Or a CD. R200 or R120 or so is not a lot, if its something you really want.

With music, if you don’t want the whol album – but just like a few songs – you can get just those songs legally, by legally downloading them at sites like Musica Digital; for just R10 a song.

Why do you need to do something illegal to get it?

My theory is that it could be related to unrealistic ‘needs’. Greed, in other words:

If you have lots and lots and lots of albums you want, OF COURSE it would be expensive to buy them all legally.

If this is the case – if this is why you find it “too expensive” – then the problem is not ‘overpriced’ CDs. The problem is that you want more than you can afford.

Simple economics dictates that you can’t have more than you can afford.

(Unless, of course, you have a credit card or take out a loan – but thats a whole different story)

Granted, in modern times, it is very easy to fall into greed for more, and materialism. But when you do fall into that, you need to find ways to support your addiction.

I call it that, because it can be that – like a drug. A drug user would steal money from people to buy drugs. Those who have an addiction for entertainment – but can’t afford it – would use these illegal means to get it.

Both ways, you’re doing something wrong in order to feed an addiction.

Decisions, decisions

Just because you CAN do something, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD do it. We are responsible for all of our actions, our choices. And we will be called to account for each of these.

Do you value ‘entertainment’ so highly that you’ll compromise good values, just so you can get a ‘good deal’ on something which will entertain you for a few hours? Is a “bargain” – a worldly bargain – your highest priority when it comes to your transactions.

Maybe you’ll do it a few times, and think that these few times are minor – nothing to worry about. But, can you honestly guaruantee it won’t become a habit? You’re likely to be exposed to pirated stuff regularly – so can you promise yourself that you won’t give in to that temptation when you’re faced with it again? Do you have the power to stop yourself, to stop it from becoming a habit?

Rather than going along with bandwagon mentality, or justifying to yourself why you’re getting pirated stuff – just stop for a few minutes BEFORE you do it, and think whether this is something you really want to do. If this is a choice you really want to make – a decision you can live with in the long run, knowing you ARE accountable for it.

If, after seriously – and honestly – thinking about it, you decide you want to do it, then fine. you have free choice to do what you want.

It’s so easy to fall victim to the lure of instant gratification, and getting things free…but remember, it may appear to be ‘free’ right now – but there’s always a price to pay.

So, choose wisely.

I’m not judging or critiscising – because I haven’t always been 100% legal, and my music collection today isn’t quite perfectly legal yet. But, this is a big issue amongst our generation, so I want this to be an open debate. Please post your thoughts, and let me know what you think.

What they say

Let me leave you with some quotes on the topic, from prominent music artists. This is just one side of the debate, and I’ve selected quotes from the side I’m arguing. Feel free to respond with the counter point, if you are on the other side of it:

Eminem, Grammy Award Winning Rapper:

“I’m sorry; when I worked 9 to 5, I expected to get a paycheck every week. It’s the same with music; if I’m putting my heart and all my time into music, I expect to get rewarded for that. I work hard and anybody can just throw a computer up and download my music for free. It could kill the whole purpose of making music. It’s not just about the money.It’s the thrill of going to the store; you can’t wait till that artist’s release date, taking the wrapper off the CD and putting the CD in to see what it sounds like. I’ve seen those little sissies on TV, talking about how ‘The working people should just get music for free,’ I’ve been a working person. I never could afford a computer, but I always bought and supported the artists that I liked. I always bought a Tupac CD, a Biggie CD, a Jay-Z CD. If you can afford a computer, you can afford to pay $16 for my CD.”

DMX, Multi-Platinum Award Winning Artist, “And Then There Was X”:

“It was a rough road but I made it. I got to where I wanted to be. And, part of being where I want to be is getting paid for my work. But, when you download songs off the Internet it’s stealing. It’s taking away from those 19 years of writing, it’s taking away from those 19 years of struggling. Because straight up and down it’s stealing. My fans, my real fans, they got love for me. [It]’s stopping new artists from getting where they need to be. It’s killing the industry as we know it. Stop stealing. Go in the store and buy like everybody else.”

Kelly Price, R&B Singer, “Priceless”:

“[Piracy] threatens everything about the legitimate side of the business. From the artist perspective, they are raped because more often than not they don’t make a lot of money on sales anyway, so what little they would see is largely reduced by piracy. It’s also a huge disrespect when those artists have emptied their soul for the whole world to hear and see, and to know that someone standing on a corner can pimp them for $5. I wish it was taken more seriously than it is. Artists aren’t the only ones who lose. The fans lose all of the quality and don’t realize that in the eyes of the artist true fans would never support that in the name of saving a few dollars, anyway. It’s not a good feeling.”

Anastacia, Top-Ten Single “I’m Outta Love”:

“It is particularly discouraging to young artists and songwriters trying to get their foot in the proverbial door of the music business. I suppose it should be a compliment that people dig your music so much that they’re swapping it online. But thievery is thievery. If you dig an artist that much, then you should want to help keep that artist alive by purchasing the actual recording.”

Trent Reznor, member of Nine Inch Nails:

“Just because technology exists where you can duplicate something, that doesn’t give you the right to do it. There’s nothing wrong with giving some tracks away or bits of stuff that’s fine. But it’s not everybody’s right. Once I record something, it’s not public domain to give it away freely. And that’s not trying to be the outdated musician who is trying to ‘stop technology. I love technology.”

John Rzeznik, Member of the Multi-Platinum Award Winning Group, the Goo Goo Dolls:

“If you rob artists of their means of earning, eventually there will be no art of consequence or substance.”



10 thoughts on “Pirates of the new world

  1. Congrats Zahira 🙂

    Priya: thanx. I’m considering using this in some form, re-writing it to be an article, but need to think about how and where exactly.

    Marks aside, what is your view on this kind of piracy?

  2. Well I am guilty of piracy – copying CDs and what not. However, it feels like stealing from the artists that you actually like. But then again, these thigns are quite overpriced. I guess if it was cheaper, then piracy would not be an issue. What scares me though, is that crime syndicates use this as a means of funding for other worse crimes, like human trafficking. In that case, I do not buy pirated things off the street, and have stopped copying CDs and such.

  3. The related crimes is something i never thought about – that they use this as a means of funding other crimes. That is very scary – how one crime, which is very widely-practiced (well, there’s a big market for it), can boost other crimes, which people would never contribute to, if they knew how their money was being used.

    so, although a person may see piracy as being ‘minor’ – it is still a crime, and the knock-on effect can be one of far more sinister repurcussions than just taking hard-earned money from those who earn it legally.

    thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Yo ho, Yo Ho… a pirates life for me…

    No seriously… I agree with what you’re saying. Pirates do damage the whole money making ability of artists,who if they didnt get the money, probably wouldn’t be there in the first place.

    But let’s look at reality, yeah it’s wrong, but so many people out there are going to keep doing it. Piracy is like Teenage sex, they’re not supposed to be doing it, but you know that alot of them are.

    My view has always been that if its an artist I like, I’ll definitely buy their CD, unfortunately not many people share this view. I admit that sometimes when i want to venture out and listen to something new… I often scour the net, get a couple of mp3’s, put them on my ipod listen for a week and then decide.

    The wholesale downloading of anything and everything is just wrong.

    But we have to take into account that some information is supposed to be shared. And people should stand up and say something when public information is copyrighted and people are persecuted… that is the other extreme and is equally bad.

    so for now..

    yoho!! *cough* *cough*

    somewhere in between i guess…



  5. i suppose in one way, you could say that your one week evaluation is ok – but it depends on your point of view, really.

    i wouldn’t agree with doing that – because labels make the albums / songs available for preview in some way, even if it’s just 30 second snippets on Amazon. or, of course, you could listen in the stores.

    i guess i see things in black and white sometimes, so illegal previewing – even if it’s just for one week, is still wrong to me.

    as for public info being copyrighted – i don’t really know much about that. you’d have to give some examples so i know what you’re talking about.

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