I’m not sure if it’s old age, having regular income, or what, but I’ve made the decision to stop pirating media.
And maybe, just maybe, none of us have an excuse to anymore.
I’ll never forget the first time I used Napster. A literal universe of music accessible at my fingertips. Type in a song, an artist – and BOOM! – a wealth of audio riches descended upon me. And it was so easy, and on my cousin’s Cable internet connection, incredibly fast.
I’d be lying if I said that Napster wasn’t a key part of a teenaged-me’s argument to his parents about why we needed to upgrade from Erol’s dialup to the new, blazing fast Comcast cable internet.
As soon as we had it, I was hooked, downloading Weezer b-sides and rare demos alongside the cool weird songs I saw videos for on MTV 2 (Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song”, “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz, “Hellbent” by Kenna). I was very much a product of my time – and soon enough, seeking out songs and listening to MP3s was my favorite hobby.
Napster begat Audiogalaxy, with its amazing recommendation engine (I still miss it so!). When Audiogalaxy died, we moved to Kazaa, with its countless mislabeled songs and surprise porn. From there, SoulSeek and eventually torrents. And once we had torrents – the veil was off.
Pirating music? That was easy.
Bring on the DVD-rips of movies, cams of things yet to hit home, renamed ZIP and RAR files containing fresh JPEGs of every comic that just hit the shelves, cracked software downloads (because I just needed the full Adobe suite.) My iPod (which cost me a pretty penny in the early 2000s) was chock full of pirated albums. I burnt DVD-Rs, and made copies for my friends. All those super elite, double-hush-hush torrent sites? You bet I have logins.
But what I noticed all along was I was closing myself in on two sides.
I thought myself an “ethical” pirate – I tried to make an effort to buy the things that I had tried and loved. This lead to owning hundreds of DVDs and Blu-Rays, buying CD’s which I’d just re-rip and add back to iTunes, stacks upon stacks of comic book trades which I’d crack open briefly, to realize – “Oh yeah…” – I had read that.
All the while the stacks of properly purchased goods grew, so too did the gigs and gigs of pirated content. It was less that I sat down and watched, read and enjoyed – it was more a hit-list filling up my hard drive. Did I have it? Did I not have it? Had to pick it up. Had to queue the download. Had to be ahead of the tide.
Something in the past year changed for me.
Maybe it was turning 30. Maybe it was reading that damn KonMari book and realizing that I was just cluttering up my life with things I’d eventually get to enjoying, while not properly supporting those who made it in the first place. Maybe it was working for three different software companies in my career and realizing how much every purchase effects people.
Or maybe it was the realization of how much we all have accessible at our fingertips, at a fraction of the cost of what it used to be.
The early days of piracy for me were an extension of an angsty teen wanting to have access to the things he wanted to enjoy.
I have regular, easy, broadband, HD, crystal-clear access to the things I want to enjoy – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it’s an embarrassment of riches.
Apple Music gives me all the songs I’ve ever loved and the new ones that grab my ear for $15 a month. (I share a family plan with my wife.)
Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime bring me most of the TV shows and movies I could ever want to see for less than $10 a month each. If I didn’t already have HBO Go through my Internet deal, I could just nab HBO Now for $15 a month to get those shows and movies, too. And I probably will, when Verizon FiOS inevitably betrays me.
I track the movies I want to see and haven’t via Letterboxd, and those I can’t find on Hulu, Netflix or Amazon, I can rent digitally for less than the cost of a movie ticket via iTunes (yeah, I’m an Apple guy through and through). And I don’t need the disc – how often do I really re-watch them anyway?
The only sticky part? Comics. Marvel has its Marvel Unlimited plan (which I really need to sign back up for – even if the comics are on a 6 month delay), which is great for someone who wants to read everything – or nearly everything.
Sadly, DC Comics and Image Comics don’t have anything similar (yet?). But if there’s stuff I really love? There’s Comixology, or an entire universe of incredible retailers that can help me find what I miss out on, now that I’m not downloading every book this week every week.
But I feel good about paying for the content I love. I try to create content myself these days – sure, most of it is free on YouTube or iTunes, but we ask people to pay for live shows…and there’s really nothing quite like realizing that people want to support your work with their hard-earned dollar.
Maybe that’s the greatest realization I’ve had – and why I never balk when an iOS developer asks for $5 for a new software update, or an independent movie producer politely asks fans to not pirate their work.
Every exchange we make with our dollar is a vote for more of this – all the blogs and the tweets in the world will never hold more sway than that.
I’m Marty Day, I’m (almost) 31 years old, and I’m not a pirate anymore.
You can do it too. You’ll feel better. Promise.