By Akshay Seth, Daily Film Columnist
Published October 1, 2013
His name is Joe. From the usual vantage points, Joe is like any other schmoe — most of his life revolves around going to school, taking his dog on walks, maintaining some semblance of a social life and, on occasion, trying to make time to watch weekly “Maury” marathons on Lifetime. But there’s something about Joe most people don’t know. Joe, over the course of the past six years, has illegally downloaded 971 movies using file-sharing services such as The Pirate Bay and Torrenthound. That’s the equivalent of approximately 1,700 hours of film, close to 71 days of sitting still and doing nothing but watching a computer screen glow.
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Joe knows he’s not a bad guy, but he has no delusions about the 71 days of his life he has spent breaking the law. So from this sentence on, I won’t hide it behind words like downloading or file-sharing. It’s stealing, plain and simple. So plain, so simple, so where’s the solution?
From a purely monetary standpoint, the legal consequences are debilitating in their severity, or in the form of my brother’s artful elocution, “dat pay be cray.” Any stolen document, whether it be a 30-second MP3 file or an entire Bollywood celebration of song and dance, is punishable with up to $150,000 in fines, necessary adjustments made for first-timers, repeat offenders and people who somehow figure out a way to successfully convince the judge they had no way of knowing they were breaking the law (it might work if you’re Amish or over the age of 60). So to allow my TI-89 calculator to put things into perspective, Joe would be paying somewhere in the ball park of A Shit Ton Of Money, and while doing so, he’d be sitting in the clink for up to five years per file stolen (“A Shit Ton of Years,” said TI-89).
The severity is a scare tactic that fails to scare, simply because the last few years have shown us that the Motion Picture Association of America is unable to enforce their policies, no matter how draconian they may be. People unavoidably get caught, but in a world where it’s harder to be found accountable than it is to get away, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the government has had difficulty finding a starting place. In the face of ever-savvier Internet users and an ever-evolving piracy market, the MPAA has struggled to keep pace. Successes have been had, and for the first time in nearly a decade, piracy has shown signs of stagnancy, neither growing nor shrinking in volume. Yet, it’s still there.
So why not legalize it? The harsh reality is, no matter how many roadblocks we throw up, no matter how many people we try and make an example of, piracy won’t go away. The Internet is simply too big. To put it in terms most geeks would understand, getting rid of file sharers individually would be like playing a game of “Duck Hunt.” Everyone wants to cap those damn ducks, but each time you shoot one down, another is more than willing to take its place, secure behind a shroud of anonymity. There’s no stupid laughing dog to rub it in your face when you inevitably fail, but you get my point.
The question remains: Why not legalize it? Stealing should never be legal, so of course, money would have to exchange hands (and we’d have to stop calling it piracy), but for people like Joe, the ones just looking for an efficient, anonymous means of delivery, virtual access to uploaded files in exchange for a periodical fee is a necessity. Pause, homie. Netflix got dat game on lock.
The streaming service is a step in the right direction, but it only has access to a drop of the vast sea of content out there. The rigmarole of drawing up licensing deals, ironing out distribution quotas and God knows what else with individual studios and production houses is too cumbersome, so why not allow governments to enforce a blanket licensing methodology that requires a small input, say $7, from every citizen?