If you’ve had the misfortune of using the internet (specifically twitter) for the last few months you’ve probably seen a few anti-piracy whingers on your timeline. This demographic, which mainly consists of terminally horny Nintendo fans have a bone to pick with anyone who even dares to pirate a video game (or anything else for that matter) and they refuse to stop posting about it. This group, infuriated by a kid’s fighting game going up online early seem to think that by downloading a video game without shelling out eighty euros you’re personally firing employees, forcing corporations to add lootboxes into another mediocre battle royale and murdering babies. Now admittedly I do believe in oppressing all gamers but I also believe it’s fun to dunk on them first. So here’s a ramble about why piracy is one of the best aspects of the current internet.
When the internet first came around we all had a song and dance about how democratic it was going to be. Regardless of your race, gender, sexuality or class you were going to be able to learn new things, stay informed, email Bill Clinton and escape the real world on this brand new information superhighway. It was supposed to be this great equalizer, something that’d make us all realize how similar we all are. Now it’s fairly obvious that none of this was really true; Facebook ruined your family, Twitter ruined having opinions, YouTube ruined being a mediocre straight guy and 4chan ruined ironic humour. It was quickly realized that everyone being equal wasn’t profitable for business so over time the internet became more sanitized, centralized, contained and corporate. Content started being paywalled and geoblocked. Everything vaguely edgy or counter-culture was scrubbed from the face of the world and replaced with Jomny Sun tweets. Advertisers suddenly knew your every single movement. We all started pretending that Hamilton was good.
Piracy is the main remnant of the democratic internet. As long as you have a computer or phone, an internet connection, an adblocker and basic googling skills you basically have equal access to nearly anything you can think of regardless of your background. Do you want to read an obscure 80s book on psychedelics? Libgen’s got you covered. Do you want to watch a niche sitcom that never aired outside of the UK? It’s probably on Usenet somewhere. Do you want to learn how to use professional editing software despite being broke and living thousands of miles away from Hollywood? Check The Pirate Bay. For some people, it’s the only way to get content in their country and for more it’s the only way they can afford it. Without piracy, a majority of content online would only be available to upper-middle class Americans and Europeans who have the disposable income to throw at their screens. Art, software and basically everything should be equally accessible to all people regardless of their skin colour, income and country of birth. Pirate websites are 24/7 public libraries on steroids, open to all people at all times. Due to this, being against piracy is really just being against accessibility and equality. There’s a reason why most anti-piracy whingers are middle-class white dudes.
Anti-Pirates base their arguments on four myths – that piracy is theft, that developers and artists are directly harmed by it, that pirates were going to buy the product in the first place and that consumerism works. Firstly, let’s just get the mandatory “copying is not theft” explanation out of the way. As Nina Paley put it in her earworm of a song named after the argument “Stealing a thing leaves one less left, copying it makes one thing more”. Anti-Pirates will usually respond to this by claiming that illegal downloads count as lost sales, ignoring the fact that a majority of the people who pirate would probably just go without the product if they couldn’t pirate it. They might also bring up that they think that piracy directly harms those who worked on the product ignoring the fact that BitTorrent doesn’t fire the workers, their boss does. This thought process is a strain of consumerism, the belief that what you buy can have a major impact on companies. In reality, consumerism barely does anything. After all, if we stopped buying plastic straws would climate change just evaporate overnight? Most people who can afford the product will probably pay for it out of convenience, fear of getting a virus or just to save time. The only way consumerism can really do anything would be if literally everyone stopped buying the product and that’s pretty much impossible. However, they do have one vaguely valid argument.
Indie artists deserve your money (if you have it). You’re not automatically a piece of shit for pirating their work, but if you’re in a position where you do have enough disposable income to throw at art you should try and give the smaller artists you enjoy some form of financial compensation. We all know how shit our current economic system is for small artists (well I hope so anyway) but while we’re waiting for something better to come into fashion it’s important that we give support to smaller artists. Nina Paley’s model of monetizing her art is a great example of how a small artist can flourish through piracy. Nina releases her animated films online in the public domain. She makes money through donations, selling physical copies and selling merch. When you’re buying her film on DVD you’re not buying the film, you’re buying the casing. The LeftTuber and musician Eric Taxxon aptly described it as similar to buying bottled water. The water’s freely available, you’re paying for the bottle. Another interesting way around this problem is the pay-what-you-want model of pricing popularized online by Bandcamp. However, it’s important to note that these are temporary solutions while we wait for a more artist and worker-friendly economic system to take shape.
Now, this is where I drop a hot take. So we understand that piracy of digital objects (or 2d piracy) is okay, but what about 3d piracy? 3d Piracy is a term I’m going to use to describe replica (or counterfeit, depending on who you ask) products. So basically, think of your fake clothes, fake shoes, fake AirPods (ugh) and fake watches. Depending on your social circles there’s probably a fair amount of stigma around wearing fake clothes. Whether you like replicas or not they seem like the democratic response to the rise of high-fashion streetwear. Brands like Supreme or Off-White now mainly cater towards rich, upper-middle-class kids who want to flex with their da’s credit card. The only streets these brands now represent are populated with country clubs. The prices of the top 10% of clothes has been skyrocketing constantly throughout the last few years while the prices of the remaining 90% are stagnating at around the same price. Over time streetwear entered the mainstream and as a result enthusiasts generally can’t afford to pick up pieces so it’s not really that surprising that replicas blew up. Now people who are against replicas will bring up the sub-human working conditions those who make replicas have to work in and I actually agree that this is a major problem. However, you’d be silly to think that the labour that makes retail clothes is any less exploitative. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Retail brands may try to hide their exploitative nature but it’s still there. It’s something we need to tear down in the future and something we need to understand. This reaction against people wearing replicas is very interesting to me as it seems openly elitist. It seems as if the outrage is less about the brand missing out on money or the worker being exploited in a sweatshop and more just the fact that a “poor” person can wear something that a rich person is wearing. Some hypebeasts really just want their clothes to be a sign of their wealth, so if a poor person even dares to wear a similar design they lash out.
To summarize this dumb ramble of a blog post, piracy was never the cause of your problems. Pirates didn’t invent lootboxes, companies did. Pirates didn’t open sweatshops, companies did. uTorrent didn’t lay off those workers, companies did. Now piracy is clearly not the long-term solution to inequality (I’m not that much of a radlib) but it does piss off straight dudes online so I can confirm that wearing fake yeezys while downloading a photoshop crack on a hackintosh is pretty cool. As Kanye West put it, “Fuck all this dick swinging content. We all gon be dead in 100 Years. Let the kids have the music”.