Independent correspondent at Fellows
and Associates, Ben Johnson, discusses whether illegal downloads should be seen
as a crime or a simple moral judgement.
Be honest. Have you ever heard a great song which you immediately downloaded for free with the click of a button? Or have you ever
had an overwhelming urge to download the latest Hollywood blockbuster online
without having to wait for the DVD?
Many people would freely admit that this is a regular occurrence
for them but what are the issues, both morally and legally, that so often seem
to divide public opinion on the subject of copyright?
The risks of illegal downloading in the UK are becoming
greater all the time, with the government recently signing the Anti-Counterfeiting
Trade Agreement (ACTA) Bill, allowing
imprisonment for up to ten years for serious cases of copyright theft.
The matter is seen as so serious in fact, that the task of
tackling copyright theft has been given to the Serious
Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), which would suggest that downloading the
latest Coldplay track from a file sharing website is now seen by some as up
there with human trafficking, serious gun crime and drug smuggling when it
comes to severity.
But, do people take these threats seriously? Internet
activists have described the UK as having some of the most oppressive
copyright laws in the world, along with Brazil and Thailand, yet the illegal
downloading of films has risen 30% in the last five years according to internet
consultancy firm Envisional.
The research, led by Dr David Price, suggests that there are
four main reasons for this rise in illegal downloading. Firstly, broadband
speeds are forever increasing, making the task of downloading a movie less
Secondly, technology has made internet piracy quicker and
easier, with even a complete novice being able to find what they want with just
a few clicks on a search engine.
Thirdly, the delay in airing hit US television shows in the
UK means that rather than waiting for months to catch their favourite show,
people can feasibly download each episode from a file sharing website minutes
after it has aired in the US.
Lastly, and most intriguingly, it is suggested that there is
simply a new generation of people who simply do not think that piracy is wrong.
This is where the issue gets a bit thorny, with the police
and copyright executives on one side and the defenders of a free internet on
the other. We all know that the music and film industries are losing vast sums
of money to piracy because we’ve all sat through long (un-skippable) adverts at
the start of a DVD, but as for the artists themselves, did they ever really
make much money from the copyrighting of their work? Or is it the huge
conglomerates that are really losing out?
If so, many would suggest that the price of a DVD or trip to
the local multiplex has started to become prohibitive, and that if prices were
lower, then the loss of income from piracy would also follow suit. However, can
this really be an argument? For example, if I went in to a shop and wanted some
grapes (which rarely happens) but they were too expensive for me to buy, should
I then just steal them? Claiming that I was right to do so, and will continue
to do so, until the shopkeeper lowers his prices?
No, this is basic right and wrong that we are taught
from an early age.
Another common argument is that people only illegally
download something which they probably wouldn’t have paid for. I can see a bit
of logic here, for example, I might be (very slightly) curious to see the new
Twilight movie, but certainly not curious enough to head into HMV with a crisp
twenty in my hand, whereas a new Werner Herzog movie would have me handing over
my hard earned cash with pleasure.
But can we learn anything from this? Not really, because
taste is personal and subjective. Who is to say that only a “good” movie should
be expensive, while a “poor “one should be cheaper?
I am not convinced that this “new generation” simply does
not believe that piracy is wrong, rather that they know it is wrong but don’t
really care as, despite the constant warnings and hard-hitting adverts, they
are still very unlikely to be caught and prosecuted.
It is a simple equation of gain minus risk, and until the
risk becomes real in their minds, people will continue to download music and
films, and I certainly won’t be reeling in shock when the piracy figures go up
again next year.
This article reflects the opinion of the author only. If you have any comments or feedback, drop us a line at email@example.com.