Entering the new age of piracy

By: Dylan Nelson

Photo by Lyric Otto
Photo by Lyric Otto


During the Golden Age of Piracy (1680-1725) famous figures like Edward “Blackbeard” Thatch, Henry Morgan, William “Captain” Kidd, Bartholomew “Black Bart” Roberts and many others plundered the Caribbean sea preying on merchant and military ships alike.

This legendary age of plunder was made possible by the creation of rapidly growing trade routes from the old world to the new, which was caused by western civilization beginning to colonize, and fight over, the New World.

Since these trade routes were new they lacked protection, and enterprising individuals such as the pirates that would make history seized the opportunity in front of them. With some effort, they began to take whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted.

Decades later the European nations would crack down bit by bit on piracy, killing many pirates and convincing many more to give up their criminal lifestyle. While the era did end, the men and women involved in it made history.

History is repeating itself today, albeit with much less killing, explosions and scurvy. Digital piracy continues to be a growing problem for media companies such as Time Warner Inc., HBO, Disney, DreamWorks and dozens of entertainment companies.

The internet has become the shipping lanes of this century, and much like the goods that were taken via ship from the recently discovered New World back to Europe in the late 1600s, companies and consumers have been sending and sharing digital media with every corner of the world through the internet as of roughly 20 years ago.

However, some familiar problems have arisen from the creation of this new medium in which digital goods can be shared. While the ability to send a digital product around the globe is can be utilized by media companies, they do not have the ability to protect these goods from online piracy.

I will never admit to pirating anything. However, I do know how to do so and it is alarmingly easy.

If I find a movie that I have not seen, I can go to my favorite torrenting site, find a link that has an appropriate amount of seeders (the more people seeding the file, the faster it downloads) and open it through a program called Utorrent. I then use a program such as Peerblock to hide my activity from Comcast, who has been contracted by companies like Time Warner Inc. to catch people torrenting.

A high definition Blu-ray version of a week-old movie can take as little as 10 minutes to download.

The response to today’s piracy issues obviously cannot include hangings, cannon fire or pardons from the king of whichever country the pirate offended. However they have included massive lawsuits against single individuals that were stealing digital goods.

I think that until a new technology is created that wholly prevents people from pirating online media, the approach to the situation needs to be one of acceptance from media companies.

According to a recent Forbes article, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series recently broke a piracy world record. “Everyone wanted to see what all the fuss was about at the royal wedding (no spoilers here), and as such, the episode was downloaded by 1.5 million people in the first day. The record? That 193,418 were sharing a single file of the episode simultaneously. The previous record was 171,572 people,” Forbes contributor Paul Tassi wrote.

The fact that in just one day 1.5 million people saw an episode without paying for it may be cause for alarm for some, but as Jeff Bewekes, CEO of Time Warner Inc. which owns HBO, said in an interview with Boy Genius Report, online piracy has actually benefitted HBO’s income.

“Basically, we’ve been dealing with this issue for years with HBO, literally 20, 30 years, where people have always been running wires down on the back of apartment buildings and sharing with their neighbors,” he said. “Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, ‘Game of Thrones’ is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.”

Another take on the pirating issue that media companies might not understand is that stopping piracy might not result in a profit. Just because people are stealing movies does not mean that they would have paid to see it if pirating was not an option.

Take “The Expendables” for example. I saw the trailer for that and thought it was going to be a bad movie. Fun and hilarious to watch with a ton of inside jokes from 80s and 90s actions movies, but not a good enough movie for me to spend my own money on. A friend gave me a pirated copy of it and I watched it and was entertained. Once I finished watching it I still had the same conclusion about not wanting to spend money on it. Had my friend not given me a copy of the movie,, Millennium Films, Nu Image and Lionsgate would not have gotten my money anyway.

There is a flip side to this revelation. According to an article published by The Guardian, research has shown that people who pirate movies, and movies only, are more likely to also go to a movie theater to see movies.

I am a living example of this. I saw a movie that looked like the kind I would like, “Godzilla,” and went with some friends to see it in theaters this weekend. This goes to show that people who have the knowhow to pirate movies may choose not to if they actually feel that the movie is worth paying for.

In the end, the response to piracy is all about making money. It is not financially sensible to try and financially destroy individuals that pirate online media. And until there is some happy medium that is reached or until a technology is created that makes pirating impossible, media companies can embrace piracy like HBO has, or fight the sources of the pirated material instead of its consumers.


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