As a part-time producer of creative works that I think are worth something (though I’m not currently requiring payment for anything), I struggle with the urge to acquire my entertainment media as conveniently, quickly and cheaply as possible. My viewpoints on this have changed over time, especially as my disposable income grew, and I’d like to share with you my current ideas / rationalizations on when it’s okay to steal.
Music you’ve already paid for
Depending on when you were born, you may have bought some of your favorite albums in upwards of five formats: vinyl, 8-track, cassettee, CD, and MP3 (if you lost the CD, or it got too scratchy). I’ve never actually held an 8-track tape, but I’ve owned albums in all the other formats, and I’ve decided I’m not re-buying anything.
When I bought my first CD in 1989, (Faith No More’s “The Real Thing”, which still rocks really hard), the people who produced it had no intention of tracking its sale for more than a couple of years, not to mention that conventional wisdom at the time considered the new Compact Disc format to be practically immortal.
Practical concerns aside, I paid for it once, and music isn’t meant to expire. So, even though the CD itself got lost somewhere along the last twenty years, when I decide I want it back in my music library, I won’t be paying for it. It was already paid for. I’ll just acquire it somewhere.
Shows your location won’t allow you to watch
My wife and I deeply enjoy a few shows that are produced and released by the BBC. We have BBC America, but even the shows that make it over to this country are delayed, usually six months or more, and they’re often edited, censored and shown in standard definition (as opposed to HD).
So I download those shows as soon as they’re available online. This is not the same as downloading, say, “True Blood” without being a subscriber to HBO. I feel a little more justified in yanking “Doctor Who” down to my hard drive because BBC content is produced without regard for sponsors or subscription fees, as we understand them.
Movies and TV from used/rental stores
I’m a little more iffy on this one; sometimes it depends on the quality of the movie, but after a DVD is bought once, the studio got paid as much as they were ever going to. If the DVD then ends up in a used/rental store, I don’t have a moral problem with copying the DVD to my hard drive, and then taking the DVD back to the store.
There’s also the case that I saw the movie when it was new in the theater, and I’ve rented it at least once. In that case, I can’t bring myself to pay for it again, and I’ll just make a digital copy.
Frankly, if it were easier, and a little bit cheaper, to legitimately buy and download (and keep, forever, free of DRM… otherwise it’s leasing, not buying) a movie. I’d probably do that instead of “stealing” it.
On the other hand, when a show originates online (e.g. Homestar Runner, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog, Ask a Ninja), I’m more than happy to support the creators by buying DVDs and merchandise. Why? Because they don’t bother me with commercials. They can’t keep making the show without me, and that’s a business model I can get behind.
Do you have similar rules for yourself? I’d love to hear them in the comments.
Published or updated July 21, 2009.