On Sunday, Governor Brown signed a bill cracking down on large plants that illegally duplicate CDs and DVDs. While perhaps the only immediate effect of this legislation will be fewer people trying to sell you bootleg copies of The Smurfs at Chipotle, it's a step in the right direction.
But the much larger problem — folks who steal music with their computers — shows no sign of being addressed anytime soon. (I'll focus on music, here, as folks I know generally don't have the savvy or hard drive space to rip movies.)
Why is there no law with teeth against stealing music? It's not very clear to me. I've talked with a lot of people about it, and it apparently has something to do with third-party protection laws, or a lack of existing enforcement technology, or something.
So I've given up hoping for a government solution to a problem that is decimating not just the music industry, but plenty of ancillary industries, including music writing. (Weird how everyone's Blender subscriptions ended simultaneously two years ago, no?) Instead, I've decided that it's time to start swearing at people.
People who pirate music are assholes.
In his column that comes out Thursday, Henry Rollins addresses this issue. “I get letters from young people telling me that they are broke and download my albums for free,” he writes. “They ask me what I think about that. I now have a standard line. I tell them I would rather be heard than paid.” He nonetheless goes on to lament the fact that piracy degrades the efforts of artists.
While it's considerate of Rollins not to call his file-sharing fans jerks, I don't feel the need to be so restrained. Because folks who download songs and albums for free are jerks. In fact, they're helping fuck up a whole generation's music. Because, who good is going to continue to record if they can't get paid?
It's not that I have such a big problem with stealing. In my younger days I even used to advocate shoplifting from Walmart, to help bring down the man or whatever. So, I suppose I wouldn't whine too much if you took the new Coldplay album. (I can also understand why musicians who have been getting ripped off by the big labels for years are glad to see them share the pain.)
But the fact is that music piraters don't discriminate; they take whatever they want. The most insincere of them promise to “support” the bands they're ripping off in other ways, by going to see them live or buying their t-shirts. Yet concert sales remain flat, so you do the math.
Other ass(hole) pirates think of themselves as special-case scenarios, folks whose love of music is so overwhelming, whose knowledge is so acute or fandom so special that they deserve to have free music. In fact, they couldn't survive without it, akin to a starving eight year old in a Latin American slum who must nick cans of beans from the grocery store.
Everyone else who jacks music probably does so because no one complains. In fact, bizarrely, public opinion remains firmly on the side of the stealers; those who call piracy uncool are mocked, or called dinosaurs.
It's time to stem the tide of this nonsense. Not that it will be easy. In fact, it will be extremely difficult to convince folks to do this because, like voting, it's a collective action problem, ie unclear how one's small sacrifice will benefit the greater good. The fact is, however, most people who steal music can afford to buy it. Particularly those of you reading this article, and particularly at a time when many new digital releases can be had for less than the proverbial pumpkin spice latte.
But, you're probably thinking, since the law is not going to stop you, your friends aren't going to make fun of you, and the repercussions aren't always clear, what incentive is there, really, for you to stop?
Tell tell you the truth, I'm not really sure either, other than this: I will no longer consider you an asshole.