Pirating on the Cyber-seas

By Jeff Bagdigian



The word ‘pirate’ has been surfacing in the news quite a bit as of late. For those among us near the coastlines and major waterways, fear not. The type of pirate I am referring to is not the peg-legged, one-eyed, unhygienic brute living the life of rum and plunder. The ‘pirate’ I am referring to is the Internet ‘pirate.’ Feel free to take your eyes off the horizon and resume your innocent frolic on the beach. The rowdy sea shanty you hear in the distance is not a raiding party lead by Geoffrey Rush. It’s just some sad college student attempting to relive childhood, if only for an afternoon.


Internet piracy, as any denizen of the digital age knows, is the illegal acquisition of copyrighted material online. As one would expect, the entertainment industry is none too happy with the pirating situation, for they are losing money on a large scale. And as expected, the entertainment industry petitioned the government to put a stop to Internet pirates making off with their oodles of electronic loot. This is how SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), PIPA (Protect IP Act) and ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) came into being. Through an amazing amount of online activism, SOPA and PIPA were dropped and the free Internet won the day (for now).

For those of you unfamiliar with ACTA, I implore you to research the trade agreement; I find it to be far more frightening than both SOPA and PIPA. Anti-piracy legislation is funded by some of the largest companies in the world, and have the money to push their legislation through. Just because SOPA and PIPA were dropped doesn’t mean the battle is over. They will continue. What frightens me about Internet legislation is how much of it threatens an individual’s privacy and what one can or cannot view. I support a free and open Internet and I also support anti-piracy legislation. The two don’t need to be mutually exclusive.

I have written before of how I wish to one day be an author. With eBooks on the rise and already a big market, authors would definitely benefit from a decline in online pirating. It’s their livelihood after all. Pirated music is also the bread and butter of the artist who wrote said music. I’m not particularly fond of any the large entertainment industry tycoons, especially when they attempt to meddle with the free and open Internet, but one needs to remember that the band whose music you enjoy is also a member of the entertainment industry. I buy music because I view it as an investment in the artist. I trade money for music. The artist uses my money to feed him or herself so they can jump back into the studio and make more music for me to enjoy. I get the music, and they continue to eat.

When buying music, which is something I do on a regular basis, I am looking for a product of high quality and reasonable price. I definitely see the appeal of obtaining the movie or album illegally since I can get movies in HD and music that has a higher bit rate (better sound quality) than either iTunes or Amazon, not to mention the fact that I would pay nothing. As a person with a budget, this pirating business sounds good. Still, I would prefer a situation where the artist actually benefits from their product.

Services like Spotify, Pandora and Netflix are interesting because they allow the individual to stream media in high quality legally and on demand. Spotify is especially interesting since you can listen to an unlimited amount of music for free. Granted, there are commercials, but one can avoid these by paying a monthly fee and even download music to their mp3 players and phones depending on the service chosen. For $10 a month, which is the average price I pay per album on Amazon, I can have unlimited commercial-free music. Spotify pretty much had me, except that I had to look into how Spotify compensated the artist for using their songs. A quick Google search later and it turns out that for many artists, especially the truly independent artist, who don’t even belong to an indie label, Spotify pays them next to nothing. Even on legitimate services like Spotify, due to label agreements and contracts, the artist still gets the short end of the stick. The best luck I’ve had when buying music, is buying music directly from the artists themselves. Many band websites now offer their music for sale directly on their website. The price for an album is generally around $10, and some websites even let you pick what type of file you obtain the music as. You can choose to get an album in a file that has better sound quality.

It is a sad time indeed in the entertainment industry, where artists lose money through both legal and illegal acquisition. It is also frightening to view the big tycoons of the entertainment industry sponsoring legislation that threatens the free and open Internet. Ultimately, I believe the solution to the woes of both the artist and the future integrity of the Internet lies in the hands of the consumer. I believe streaming services like Spotify are a step in the right direction: a step away from piracy and towards compensating the artist. It’s a step, but more needs to be done.

Jeff Bagdigian is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]