Saturday, June 30, 2012

This is How I Pirate

I used to pirate applications when I had Windows, because I didn't have an income and Windows didn't have any tools to allow me to do what I wanted.

I later on discovered Linux and the Open Source community and I found that I could be doing a lot more than I ever thought I could with a lot of free tools, which are mostly available on Linux.

My application piracy went down to zero, but my music and movie piracy kept going, as I still had no income but I did "need" the entertainment.

Skip ahead many years and I'm now an employee with a comfortable salary and all my machines are running Linux and zero pirated software. To satisfy my hunger for music, and to keep disk usage at a minimum, I subscribed to Pandora ($36 / year). They stream the music to your computer or phone and it plays music according to your taste (from the names of tracks or musicians you add).
The downside is that I cannot listen to music offline, but I'm hardly offline, so it's not a problem. If I did need something to be available offline, I look for it on youtube, download the content and play it when needed. Tools like avidemux allow me to extract audio from videos so I get to keep the audio tracks & ditch the large video files.

Last but not least: Movies. It took me a while to figure out how to have a proper payment method. The whole licensing scheme designed by American corporations makes it hard for consumers to "just consume" and instead we end up frustrated and annoyed when content isn't available for our region, or worse, our money is rejected because we're not from the US region!

I eventually found a workaround: I login to via US VPN and then I'm able to rent any movie that I like. Because Internet in Kuwait is something that is still lingering from the '90s (2 Mbps DSL at home), I pay for the movie, then download it as a torrent then watch it at my comfort without having any jittering or buffering problems. If I like the movie, I rent it as many times as equivalent to its price until its price has been fully paid, and I keep the ripped file that I had already downloaded.

However, I recently saw a movie that wasn't available on YouTube, so I couldn't rent it. The movie was O.K. and I did want to support the film makers, but I had no option to pay for it. I checked on and they had a DVD version but no online version of it. Buying the physical media means I have to ship it to Kuwait, which means paying for shipping + customs, and there's a huge possibility that our customs will confiscate the media because they don't allow importing movies without screening them first.

I stumbled upon a friend in IRC yesterday who is living in the US, and I told him about my ethical problem here, and I suggested that I buy the movie from Amazon and send it over to him, for free. He agreed (who wouldn't?) and I did buy the movie, and my conscious is finally relieved.
I told him that I'd do that whenever I fail to find the movie on YouTube for rent, but I may send a used copy instead of a new one, and he was O.K. with that.

I still torrent TV shows, without paying for them, because they're being displayed on US TVs for free anyway. Another example is Disney's latest Tron: Uprising animated series. It's only available on iTunes. I do not wish to subscribe to Apple nor purchase any Apple product. Why am I forced to subscribe to Apple? I couldn't rent it from YouTube, so I downloaded it from people who made the rips available, in 720p HD format.

There are many out there who wouldn't pirate if content was easily reachable. It's the license holder and media companies' fault that we cannot simply pay from anywhere and get our content. It is because of their greedy region-specific license schema, that we are branded as thieves.

Piracy won't end until companies change their monopolistic strategies and unify the globe into a single region, make purchases available to everyone online and get rid of this idiotic region-based licensing scheme.
I understand this involves changes in the copyright systems of many countries, but the media companies already have a lot of cash & most is spent on fighting "thieves" they have helped in creating, so they might as well spend it on changing the system into a consumer-friendly one.