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How ethical is it to download movies and TV using torrents?

I have just completed a Cyberethics course and I was forced to consider this question in depth as part of an assignment. Given that I had to answer a specific question, I couldn't really put forward what I truly feel, so that's what this post is all about.

I have long considered that paying a fair and reasonable price for content delivered in a timely and reasonable manner to be of no issue whatsoever. Let me put that out there for y'all. If I have access to a wide catalogue of TV shows or movies, they're priced reasonably and the available in a timely fashion I see no reason to have take other measures to get the product I want. In researching the essay for this course, I had to read a whole bunch of journal articles and I won't bore you to death with those, nor will I bore you with proper citations.... From this research, the core matters that affect a person's decision to download or pirate digital content appear to be:

  • price
  • availability
  • time to market
  • quality
  • perceived unreasonable behaviour by content producers
and in some cases a simple unwillingness to have to pay for everything (for whatever reason). I'm sure that if you are an Australian, gentle reader, that you will know all too well the Australia Tax. If you aren't an Aussie, then this is a new thing to you. The Australia Tax affects us all down here, particularly back in the day when it was expensive to transport things to our island continent. Nowadays though, it costs very little to transport digital media under the sea and into the country. The tax is applied to Apple and Microsoft software, to hardware, cars, digital content. APC Mag has a list here: It's a bit old, but you can see the overcharge. 

This article started it all: Downloading movies and TV is not a crime from the Sydney Morning Herald. The writer makes some great points and I will echo them here. According to Australian law it's not a crime to download movies or TV per se. It is instead a breach of copyright. The crime of theft can only occur if the owner of a piece of property is permanently deprived of it - and that doesn't work when applied to digital media. The owner still has it, and can still market and sell it. Applying copyright law to try to enforce the preservation of copyright as been spectacularly unsuccessful. I remember as a young chap watching while Napster was sued and the MPAA, RIAA and ARIA started going after downloaders. Universities protected their students, and now even ISPs are protecting their clients, refusing to give data up about the end users. I remember while still at Uni hearing about the people that were being chased and the recording and movie industry wailing at their loss in profits - think of the poor actors! Only getting $10 million a movie when they could get $20 million! Think of our profit margins - oh woe is us! And then seeing them record the largest profits ever. Those poor souls. I really felt for them as I contemplated getting that latest new release from the internets. 

Down under we get a limited catalogue of content available. Netflix, iTunes, etc all only release a subset of their products to us. Why? Some licensing bullshit. Clearly to do with maximising profit margins. What these idiots are failing to recognise is the market in Australia is hungry for content. So hungry we were allegedly the largest downloaders of Game of Thrones last year. While the media morons all shook their heads and bemoaned those evil downloading Australians, they failed to recognised why we were engaged in this behaviour. The reasons above a directly responsible for this. Game of Thrones, as an example, is available only on Pay TV. I personally do not have Pay TV. Why pay $70 a month for something when I hardly have a chance to use it? I would literally only be getting it for GoT. Also, in this attention economy, I resent paying for a service and then having to pay my attention to ads. That's double dipping. More thieving bastardy on the parts of the media moguls. This year, GoT will air completely on Pay TV before it is available on Free to Air. I understand how Free to Air works - I pay with my attention to the ads. That's OK. I'm cool with that. I'm not cool with having to wait those extra months to see my shows though. Can I buy them off iTunes in a timely manner? Can I see it on Netflix? I'm not sure. What I do know, from a mate, is that I could download in high definition a copy of each GoT episode an hour after it airs from torrents. That's how you meet audience demand. Supply the content that's wanted and do it in a timely manner. No geographical restrictions on what you can get to watch or listen to! It's supposed to be a free market and yet it clearly is not. 

I should also note, that the stuff we can occasionally get is up to 400% more expensive than what might be paid for it in USD. Now, not only do we have an increase in price because the Australian Dollar isn't worth a pinch of goat shit, but the bastards gouge the arse out of us anyway. Are we honestly supposed to be happy with that? Do they expect us to toe the line and simply get on with bending over and allowing the media content producers to have their way with us? I don't think so. And the evidence is clear that Australians aren't doing it vis a vis the top downloaders of Game of Thrones. Imagine for one stunning moment there is an executive in these content houses with a semi-functional brain, beyond just wanting enormous profits. This relative genius could see a massive market that is being undersupplied and misunderstood. If GoT was available in a timely manner, reasonably priced - maybe a couple of dollars per episode or something, then imagine the profit difference! I'll just do some maths for you now.

So currently, for arguments sake, 3 million Australians are downloading GoT. That's 3,000,000 times $0 in profit.... which is... just using my calculator here... $0 dollars of profit. Bravo content producers. But here's an amazing thing! If that product was available via iTunes or Netflix or <insert other gouging content provider> for even just $1, then the profit would be... more calculations.... $3,000,000! Holy shitballs Batman! And that's per episode! What an amazing thing! I just fell off my chair! (much of this is sarcasm - I have not literally fallen off my chair, nor do I own a calculator). I would think for a quality TV show like Game of Thrones, I would happily pay up to $5 an episode. But it has to be delivered at the same time as it airs, it has to be in high def and the catalogue I'm choosing from has to be broad. On iTunes, Game of Thrones is $3.49 / episode (10 episodes) or $32.99 for the season. But according to this article Game of Thrones won't be available on Australian iTunes until after the season finishes. Guess what thieving bastards - you're not getting my money then and I'm not waiting that fucking long to see a TV I really like. I'll get it by other means. I'd pay $3.49 an episode if it came day of each episode airing but if think I'm going to wait and then still pay then I suggest you see a neurosurgeon because half your brain is non-functional. It's shit like this that makes an average, happy to pay person like myself say: "Right, time to learn how to use this torrent thing!" and then set up a VPN to another country, wrap it all in encrypted tunnels and show the big middle finger to the establishment. Screw you thieving bastards!

You can probably tell I get a bit cranky about this. Equality for all I say. The only people "suffering" and I use that term in it's most loosely possible way are the execs watching their profits only reach stratospheric heights instead of astronomical heights. 

So is it ethical? Well that's up to you isn't it? 


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