Online piracy, anime, and music.

I already wrote about online piracy in 2013, 2014 and also more or less in 2016, it’s a subject I can’t really discuss freely because I’m not anonymous, even so, I can share some point of views related to file sharing.
The other articles are now dated but for the most part, you should read them if you want the bigger picture on my opinions and background. 

First of all, you should understand that I know quite well the topic I’m going to write about. Just don’t ask me references or proof for obvious reasons.
Second, I’m going to write only about some aspects of online piracy, the ones which are closer to my heart.   

I often say that everyone has seen or heard pirated content when using the internet, remember that fantastic old song someone uploaded to YouTube, well, that’s probably piracy unless the author got paid, same goes for old movies, series, etc. YouTube is beyond any doubt the new overpowered Napster, sadly most people just fail to understand that.

Pirates have many reasons to release content online, among many we got:

  • Status and competition among pirates, “the first to release”, the “best quality”, “the best source”, “the best crack”, the list goes on and on.
  • Economic “greed”, making money from ads, links, etc.
  • Political activism, from free access to culture, to attacking the established system, everything goes. 
  • Collecting and trading rare content because fans will be fans.
  • Lack of knowledge on the matters of copyright. Yes, I knew people who didn’t know they were committing an illegal act when they shared albums online.
  • Criminal acts, like releasing pirated software as disguised bait to gain access to personal information, which then can be used for fraud and other illicit acts.

As for the persons who only consume piracy, we got reasons like:

  • Collecting rare content because fans will be fans.
  • Lack of access to the content, paywalls, etc. If the content is banned by your government and you really want to access it, piracy is the way to go.
  • Lack of monetary income to access paid content, some people just don’t have enough money.
  • “Bragging rights”, because some people are just dumb as fuck.
  • People which are unwilling to pay full price for something they can find very easily for free.

Piracy accordingly to this probably biased report by MUSO didn’t diminish in 2017, even with cheaper streaming services like Netflix, Crunchyroll, Spotify, Tidal, and a growing list of legal content providers piracy just doesn’t go away easily. 

Given the reasons above, it’s easy to see why not, but some piracy could be easily mitigated by better interaction between copyright owners and content providers.

On anime fansubs
Some anime series aren’t licensed globally by Crunchyroll and other services like Funimation, this means that people in Europe and other places who lack better options for accessing legal content are faced with 3 options:

  • Use a paid VPN to watch a paid US service thus increasing the price.
  • Buy the physical copies when nobody is watching anymore, killing most of the social fun of watching anime.
  • Download/stream illegal fansubs.

I think most of us will agree that they’ll watch fansubs. I don’t blame them and would do the same, sure later I would buy the physical format of my favorite anime if (and that’s a big if) I could find it. 

As for people who still preach anime fansubs aren’t piracy, well I think the Japanese studios might disagree with that one.
In the old days, anime fansubs were a niche thing and studios couldn’t care less, with the advent of high-speed internet connections, high-resolution encodes, and a heavier cultural impact on today’s generation, most studios now consider fansubs a menace to their way of doing business, with people who shared anime getting arrested for it, in a not very distant past.

Music and the collector’s niche
Streaming services like Spotify might have everything mainstream under the sun, but for example lack discographies from Japanese artists like “Maaya Sakamoto” or “Yoko Kanno“, and keep in mind these are not niche artists, these are legends at their craft. 

I understand there’s competition between various services to license content and that it would be impossible to have every single artist, series or movie in one place. Sadly when there are no options, people will go the easiest route and that’s piracy.

To help out on the distribution of pirated music we got YouTube, which fests upon illegal content uploaded by its own users, makes money from it but doesn’t pay any type of royalty unless called on it (The European Article 13 addresses this problem, even if a bit of an overkill for amateur content creators).

This is the most insidious type of piracy and everyone and I mean everyone sooner or later will watch or hear it. It’s so imbued in social behavior that people refuse to accept most music content on YouTube is plain piracy.

Then we got collector’s sharing illegal content, be it high-resolution vinyl rips made by some Russian audiophiles, (something I totally support because in a way they protect music for future generations) or plain digital files in lossless.
These days, lossless is a bit of a niche thing, most people are more than happy with Mp3s and other lossy formats, so lossless is truly a collectors/fan thing and like I said before there are many reasons for that kind piracy.

Online file sharing will continue, even if the legal system provides an aggressive means of taking down piracy.
Because even if the mainstream user just wants a way of getting free stuff or bragging rights, for many others, it’s their only way of accessing the cultural content they love or the entertainment they collect. 

Some would say people these days feel entitled to free stuff, I think people are entitled to culture because many of them will later give back to society, but that’s my naive side, deep down people just want free stuff.

6 thoughts on “Online piracy, anime, and music.

Add yours

  1. Nice post, Rafael. Piracy and copyright is a topic close to my heart as I work in publishing (music, digital and physical) as a day job. I can’t help but add my two cents. Your conclusion that piracy often boils down to availability is a good one. Technology has spread across the planet faster than either secure distribution platforms or ethical/legal understanding of copyrights.

    Looking back at the legal foundations of copyright law (Statute of Anne in UK, US Constitution, Berne Convention), rights have moved continuously in the direction of passing ownership to authors. The idea was/is that creators need some financial incentive to create and so protecting the right to reproduce a work gives creators an exclusive means of monetization. Technology, like copyright, has moved in the direction of empowering creators through distribution platforms that are universally accessible (YouTube, WordPress, etc).

    However, ethics and regulation have not kept pace with technology and so we see continuous violations of copyrights without practical mechanisms for authors to address them. Education is lacking; users often have no idea they are violating someone else’s rights. There is also the question of consumer access to legal channels where digital services or payment standards are not present. Both of these are practical drivers of pirated content that might eventually be solved with better services and updated laws (which really lag behind considering the pace of technology and the average age of legislative representatives).

    In the USA, the SCOTUS uses four general factors when weighing copyright/fair use cases: the purpose and character of the use, the nature of the underlying copyrighted work, the amount used in relation to the whole, and the effect of use on the market for the work. It is this last point that is most salient. Where pirated content is available and legal content is not, it is hard to blame the ‘pirate’ even if they are technically breaking the law. Pleading ignorance is an understandable excuse, though maybe the platforms benefiting from the content and traffic should be held to a higher standard when it comes to copyright education.

    On the other hand, there is the ethical argument that piracy preserves culture. This is a common theme, but it hides some logical missteps. At the most basic, copyright covers expression, not the underlying idea. Culture is not a library or repertoire (expression), it is a collective understanding of the world (idea). Copyright therefore does not seek to regulate culture.

    Dissolving copyrights as a legal/financial mechanism and declaring artistic works public domain implies that culture and monetization are mutually exclusive. While there should be some frank discussion with regards to duration, for current and future works the idea ignores reality. Public domain cornerstones like Beethoven, Mozart, da Vinci, or Shakespeare would not have existed or endured to be appreciated today without the contemporary financial support of patrons (monetization). Predictable and protected incentives, not just spontaneous generosity, are required to liberate the creative spirit.

    Most worryingly, the piracy-for-culture argument assumes that no better solution to the current situation can be had. In that way, piracy may stand in the way of commercial/civil services that could serve the same public function without violating the rights of original creators (a win-win). Personally, I’m happy to see more subscription-streaming services become available; I believe they’re a step in the right direction. While I empathize with the cultural viewpoint, it ignores too much economic context and history to hold up under the scrutiny of real life. Consuming culture should be a two-way transaction, just as creating it is a two-way process.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all, thank you for taking the time to comment, it’s highly appreciated.
      In fact both you and my mate hyp0xia29 bring great things to the table, my little article is without a doubt more complete now. Obrigado.

      I understand your point of view regarding consuming culture, it’s without a doubt a two way transaction, because if we don’t help creators we love, no one will.

      Let me just try to show a little detail regarding cultural assets. In the 80s’ and 90s’ one of the two ways fans had access to current anime was via fansubs.
      Some of the pirates of that time would later work in jobs related with that medium and other Japanese cultural aspects.
      There were no transactions but the community and to some degree a little part of the Japanese culture were spread via those fansubs. Looking at the global reach anime has, you can see that it now makes a lot of money (could make even more with better platforms) to the studios and distributors.

      For example when I say I agree with piracy of vinyl in very high-resolution (the old vinyl not the new releases), I’m defending the safeguarding of those creative moments. I doubt those rips will ever be mainstream.
      Piracy for the sole intent of making money from bootlegs is wrong beyond words, believe it or not but anime soundtrack bootlegs are a thing. :-/

      It’s a very complex topic full of legal nuances which to be sincere are beyond my knowledge on the topic, so I’m very happy you shared your comment with everyone who reads this.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. De nada:)

        “Piracy for the sole intent of making money from bootlegs is wrong beyond words…”

        I agree. I’d also add that we should consider the effect of piracy that doesn’t make money on the market for the underlying works. Using the example of high-res rips of old vinyl, it could be argued that pirated high resolution vinyl rips affect the demand for new high quality pressings/files. This might block a new commercial business that would generate royalties for the original artists. Claiming the old vinyl is unique would require proving in a court of law that old high-resolution rips are meaningfully distinct from modern masters. Not an easy task even among audiophiles 🙂

        I’m not intending to argue, by the way, this is just how messy and complicated copyright law gets. In the end, I think there will always be a gray area, especially when it comes to availability issues. One thing that not many understand is that there are no black and white guidelines or rules as to what is and isn’t considered fair use of copyrighted content (in the USA). It is up to courts to decide on a case by case basis.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Based on my observations, piracy has decreased substantially compared to just a few years ago. BitTorrent traffic is WAY down at least and everyone I know seems to be using a handful of streaming services. I know I certainly pirate a lot less content now than in the past. Steam has been a big help there. I started using Steam in 2013 and, thanks to the fair prices ($60+ for a game is just ridiculous), the only games I prate now are either games in which the built-in DRM is so crippling that the DRM-free pirate copy runs way better or games that are exclusive to a specific ecosystem like the Microsoft Store that I just refuse to use because it’ll be the death of PC gaming as we know it.

    When it comes to emulating older games for SNES or other consoles, Nintendo can kiss my ass. I’m not paying $500 for a physical copy of a game from 20+ years ago to run on aging hardware that could fail at any moment. In my mind, their window for making money from those titles closed long ago.

    One of my main reasons for downloading pirated content is my less than mainstream taste in movies. Every since Amazon Prime Video and Netflix started taking on a lot of East Asian cinema because the licensing fees are probably really cheap for foreign (i.e., non-Hollywood) films, I haven’t been downloading nearly as many pirate copies of movies. When I do download pirate copies of movies, it’s in response to a serious distribution issue resulting in that particular film being unavailable literally anywhere else, at which point I don’t consider it piracy at all since no legal avenues exist.

    When I decide I like the movie and want to own a copy however, things get problematic, as so many of the films I enjoy have not seen a physical release in my country. If I’m lucky, I can import a region-compatible physical copy from abroad at great expense, but, in so many instances, downloading a pirate copy is the only option to ensure that I always maintain access to that film when the streaming service(s) decide to stop paying the licensing fee.

    Music is still the biggest problem. Sure, I can hear just about anything in my collection on one streaming service or another, but that’s not good enough. I demand lossless. Anything less feels like being cheated. Firstly, Tidal is far from cheap as your post implied. It’s actually insanely expensive; furthermore, the selection is limited. I literally cannot hear Tool on Tidal the last time I checked. Being my second favorite band and a massively popular one at that, that’s a problem. If you want lossless, you have to purchase, which means Bandcamp, HDtracks, Onkyo Music, or purchasing the physical CD, bearing in mind that Onkyo Music and especially HDtracks are really expensive. In many cases, you still won’t be able to find a lossless copy from any of these sources. The CD might be out of print or there never was a CD release. In those cases, piracy is the only option.

    I don’t really worry about piracy as an issue. True artists will continue to create great content because that’s what true artists do and it’s important to realize that the biggest consumers of pirated content out there are oftentimes also the biggest purchasers of legal content. I’m one of them. My media library is quite large in an age when people are just streaming everything. I double-dip and triple-dip when a remastered or higher resolution or limited edition copy comes out. When I “pirate” a movie and don’t enjoy it, I feel no guilt about not paying for it. If it’s good though, I do what I can to get my hands on a legit copy.

    Piracy is a distribution issue, it’s a quality issue, and it’s a trust issue. You cannot trust your content to always remain available, accessible, and in print. I download pirate copies of movies I already own both to have a backup copy and because sometimes I only own the DVD when an HD rip from some foreign Blu-ray is available but the Blu-ray itself is either not region compatible or already out of print. In some cases, the legal copy of a film might be an abridged or censored cut of the film, which, as a consumer, I find completely unacceptable.

    Then there’s the fact that my wife is Vietnamese and her English isn’t particularly good, so how do we watch films together when NO ONE puts Vietnamese subtitles on any Blu-ray or DVD release? Well, then I need to download a pirate copy of the film and add some Vietnamese fan subs into the Matroska container. If that’s not a legitimate use of pirated content I probably own legally anyway, I cannot imagine what is.

    It’s a complex and many-layered issue with different variables to understand for each form of content. At no point do I feel that the way I approach pirated content is criminal, even if a court of law might see things differently. The irony is that the people who so often point fingers at so-called pirates and label them as petty thieves are the people who don’t know know how or why people pirate content. Sure, some of them just want free shit, but I’d venture to say most of them have some pretty good reasons, if not at least understandable ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also think piracy is decreasing, but some biased reports point out that it’s growing in the developing countries, which can be true, given the fact many of those persons are now experiencing the internet for the first time and being exposed to piracy.

      Desktop videogame piracy got an immense slash with Steam, but piracy might be rising on mobile from the feedback I’m getting. As for ROMs, the idea of buying collector items for epic prices is out of the table, companies can always release some game compilations, I still have one from Sega for my Sony PSP, it’s worth it just for Comix Zone.

      I think Tidal is not that expensive even on their $20 tier, after all, you get access to their massive music library, but yea for most people it’s kinda crazy to pay that much money when they can have similar quality on Spotify or Tidal Premium.
      I use Bandcamp and Qobuz for some of my lossless purchases, good services.
      Sadly, I don’t have any way of buying some old anime soundtrack releases -_- in lossless digital or in physical, and I refuse to buy bootlegs.

      The trust issue is a good point, I should have remembered that one.
      Archival is a sensible subject, but if I have the physical medium you can be darn sure I’ll have the digital, and for me, that’s not piracy at all.
      The Vietnamese subs on pirated content, are fair game and also an interesting point of view.

      “it’s important to realize that the biggest consumers of pirated content out there are oftentimes also the biggest purchasers of legal content.” I still share your point of view but with some reservations, I think the old school of piracy does, in fact, buy a lot of content, but the new mainstream piracy consumers just don’t want to pay, some even troll people who buy stuff.

      Btw, tks for the really great comment, it means a lot to have feedback.
      I think most people consume pirated content because they don’t have more options, given the chance most people would pay a fair price without the fear of having to deal with the law.

      Also as a curiosity I know 2 persons you got served by the law, one was a teenager who sold pirated CD’s in the 90s’, all his hardware was confiscated and he was lucky because he was underage at the time. The other got served by a legal letter from a distributor because he shared some series via torrent, he had to pay a “fine” or they would drag his ass to court.

      Liked by 1 person

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