Hypocrite and Thief No Longer

My posts on intellectual property here and here generated many interesting comments.  I have more to add to this discussion, and have come to some realizations and conclusions – but am left with even more questions.

In the “Hypocrite” post, what I did was clearly wrong.  To review, what I did was watch a recently aired pay per view event on a website that I found that was hosting a video of the event.  I didn’t email the site owner to see if he had a permission from the owners of the content to air the video, but it is virtually certain that he did not.  What I did there was wrong, illegal, and unethical.  I won’t do it again.  Which means that I won’t be watching UFC events until they come out for free on cable.  The price is just too steep for me. 

In “Stealing Again” I was faced with a bit of a different situation.  There is a show that is produced in Asia and only shown there.  I found several websites that were hosting the videos of the show after it was shown over the air in Asia.  The site I was watching the show on is not a torrent nor a P2P network – nor is it sponsored by the people who created the material.  In my mind the producers were not out anything, since this is not a product that is available here.  In fact I was of the mind that the producers of the show saw a benefit from me seeing the show (albeit a very small benefit), from me complimenting it, talking about it and referring it to friends.  Many commenters begged to differ, saying that it isn’t up to me to decide what the producers think or value.  In other words, if there is no license for this product to be seen in the USA, I shouldn’t come up with ways to watch it.

Part of maturing is being able to admit you are wrong – and I was.  No amount of justifying it makes it right.  So I have decided to stop watching the show.  There is an outside chance I may be able to keep watching the show, however.  I have emailed AXN Asia, who broadcasts the show as well as Imagine Omnimedia, the creators of the show, to see their official take on the issue.  I have also emailed the site owner that I was watching the show on to see if he by some chance received a permission to air it.  I will update this post if I hear back from any of these folks.

I am not going to be killing myself over these misdeeds, rather will simply find other things to do with my time.  There were some absurd comparisons in the comments to these posts that tried to equate this small illegal act to stealing cars or engaging in child prostitution.  I fully reject those arguments.  Also, the proposition was floated that since I stole this content that I must steal bigger things.  I reject this as well.  Outside of these intellectual property issues the most illegal thing I do is speed.  I sleep very well at night, thank you.

In the end, if you strip from our discussion all of the rhetorical devices and debate tricks, I will just plain admit that what I was doing was wrong.  But I have learned quite a bit about this issue and have learned that content providers are facing an enormous problem WRT protecting their content.

This article is very on point.  I like this part:

Warner Brothers’ China division, in a rare act of intelligence on the part of a major media company, demonstrated significant savvy last year when they began selling cheap, legitimate, high quality DVDs of movies within days of the theatrical release. By pricing the discs at around 12 yuan (approximately US$1.50), Warner is hoping to make cost a non-issue, thus allowing them to compete in one area where they hold the upper hand: Quality. Instead of taking a chance with on a low quality, shaky-camcorder copy of a film, Chinese consumers can get a high quality copy of the movie at a reasonable price, all while enjoying the warm fuzzy feeling that you can get knowing that you’ve helped to pay for some small portion of a a Hollywood star’s private jet.

In my case, if the producers of Contender Asia were smart (in my opinion), they would set up an official site that charged a nominal amount (I am thinking a buck or two) to view each episode via a download after it was shown on AXN Asia.  They could even include the ads on the download of the show.  This I would pay for!

I had no idea what a massive problem this issue is for content providers.  According to the article, usually the flow of information and entertainment goes the other way, geographically speaking.  In other words, content of American TV shows and movies is downloaded through torrents and other means to other parts of the world.  Also from the article:

Foreigners, due to the lengthy delay between a show airing in the US in markets abroad, have already been driven to illegal file sharing. In Australia, where the broadcast of US shows is typically delayed between 22-30 months, many viewers have given up on waiting for their favorite shows to appear on the tube, and have instead turned to BitTorrent. According to a report published in 2006, “Australians are responsible for 15.6 percent of all online TV piracy, bested only by Britain, which accounts for 38.4 percent. The US lags behind in third position at 7.3 percent.”

It is also mentioned in the article that a staggering 25% of all internet traffic is due to the downloading of torrents of TV shows and movies.  P2P traffic is also increasing geometrically. 

I am simply amazed that the networks and other content providers haven’t come up with any solutions to combat this, but large companies have amazed me before with poor decisions.  This genie is certainly out of the bottle.

And what about YouTube?  Recently I watched the complete Free to Choose series on YouTube.  I don’t think I violated any copyrights there, but how would I know?  The series originally aired in 1980, on PBS.  Since PBS is a partially taxpayer funded entity (through the Corporation of Public Broadcasting), and I am a taxpayer, do I de facto own the content? 

Content providers will certainly have to come up with some sort of strategy for the future in combating the unlicensed use of their property or they will simply go out of business.  Or maybe I am missing something – could it be that the networks get so much ad revenue out of the first airing of the show that they simply don’t care about its redistribution?  Do they perhaps see value in having the episodes shown in an unauthorized fashion to create fan interest as I had theorized? 

Another almost impossibly hard question for me is if the content providers decide to go after the torrent hosters, how will they do it?  You can get cease and desist orders all day long, but if the country that hosts the server does not acklowledge your laws what will happen?  Nothing.  Lets say that you do get a site shut down – ten more will open the next day. 

Interesting times to be sure in the information age.

12 thoughts on “Hypocrite and Thief No Longer”

  1. There were some absurd comparisons in the comments to these posts that tried to equate this small illegal act to stealing cars or engaging in child prostitution. I fully reject those arguments.

    You are being dishonest by making this claim (much as you were when you claimed I’d decided the producers were conspiring to keep their content from you). There was no argument that what you did was equal to child prostitution, and thus no argument of this sort to reject.

    I explicitly said in my comment:

    (note: I’m not equating what you’re doing to child prostitution, but instead using that universally repugnant illegal activity for illustration because it better highlights that these posts are not about the rightness or wrongness of the underlying activity, but about the desperate attempt to rationalize behaviour that you know is wrong in the hopes that someone else in the comments section will agree and absolve you.)

    I made that same clarification again laterin the same thread, for those that missed it the first time:

    I wrote that parallel example because by framing it that way, it is easier to see that the bulk of the original post is irrelevant to answering the question posed about the underlying behaviour (i.e. “have I stolen anything here?”); it is simply a litany of rationalizations for the behaviour.

    It’s good that you realize that what you did was (legally) wrong, and that your posts were focused on trying to justify/rationalize the behaviour rather than examine the legality of the behaviour.

    It would have been better had you done so without flinging one last dishonest handful of mud at the people who wouldn’t absolve you in the earlier thread.

  2. The fact that you’re as angry at yourself as you are proves you are not in the same class with folks who feel entitled to free entertainment and who suffer no guilt after stealing it.

  3. Dan,

    That’s a nice bit of ad hominem to go along with your dishonest representation of my arguments.

  4. Chalk it up as “lessons learned”, Dan.

    A lot of us have been having this argument for a long time. You were a babe in the woods when you started asking your questions, and you got ripped to shreds. Wolves will do that to you, especially when they know that they are in the right.

    You aren’t dishonest, or a thief. You didn’t deserve a lot of the accusations thrown at you. You asked an honest question that is not immediately apparent as black and white, although it actually is. You didn’t have much time to even try to offer justifications – old hats have heard this argument so many times that they preemptively made them for you, and then shot them down. They were right, of course.

    I’ll quote you here:

    Part of maturing is being able to admit you are wrong – and I was. No amount of justifying it makes it right.

    That settles that.

    You know where I stand on this issue, and why I didn’t bring it up here.

    I’ll add this, though – I didn’t know who ‘James R. Rummel’ was before, but after reading the previous thread I now know he’s an extremely poor judge of character. You were rather diplomatic there – personally I felt like kicking that guy’s teeth out.

  5. Suppose your favorite show is produced by a brutal dictatorship, which depends on foreign currency to maintain its control. Wouldn’t it be your moral duty to use a P2P network to download the show, thereby not only denying revenue to this dictatorship, but also making it easier for others to do likewise?

    Now suppose your show isn’t produced by a dictatorship, but by powerful conglomerates that support left-wing dictatorships, encourage terrorists and murderers through action and selective inaction, whose leaders & stars pollute the earth through excessive consumption and they use their media/money power to subvert the law. Would it be your moral duty to actively work against these conglomerates? Especially if you can do it in a relatively easy, safe and harmless way as downloading/uploading some movies?

  6. Shad – not any ad hominem, just stating facts. You bringing a horrible crime against humanity to a conversation about the legality and ethics of watching a simple TV show is, like I said, insane. I didn’t say you are insane, as you mistakenly seem to think.
    You decided to use the old debate trick of comparing a very minor illegal act to one of enormous proportions, then say that you are not comparing or making the two equivalent. I learned that one in junior high debate.

  7. Dan,

    I knew you were clever enough to get to the right conclusion. I think Anonymous comment

    an honest question that is not immediately apparent as black and white, although it actually is.

    is actually quite pertinent. Part of our Lockean heritage is to question the authority of tradition. And sometimes traditional ways of doing things no longer makes sense as circumstances change. But these old rules actually derive from some substantial experience and many make more and more sense as one gains more experience that validate them. Whether circumstances have really changed is the question that needs to be faced more squarely and is often avoided for convenience sake. I believe this is one of those cases.

    Ease of copying is one of two major challenges the digital age has brought upon us. The other is the return of the dominance of the image over text. Both represent real existential threats to intellectual activity.

  8. It seems to me that a person who, like Dan here, engages in extended public reflection about the rightness or wrongness of something that he has done, and then decides to stop doing it because it’s marginally wrong or even morally uncertain, is most likely a very honest person for whom doing the right thing is important. This is consistent with everything that I know about Dan.

  9. According to a recent study western press may embolden terrorists. In the Netherlands the press engaged/engages in widespread demonization of Pim Fortuyn and now Geerts Wilders (both demagogues, but certainly no worse than the various socialist politicians we have over here). To the limited extend that their contents interest me, I’d rather get it for free.

Comments are closed.