Sorry, But You’re Still a Thief

I am an avid consumer of content — as much as anyone and as far back as I can remember.

As a child, I was born into a generation that had more than a half-dozen channels of colour television in my home and then shortly thereafter, cable television. I devoured books and even more comics, loved music and I admit to listening for my favourite new song on the radio in hopes that I could capture on a cassette tape.

During those years, I also came to discover the joy in making. I realized that all of the content that I enjoyed was created by teams of creative professionals, and in the rarest of cases by a single person!

During my high school years I created a cable television show, an alternative music radio program, published short stories and self-published a comic. I knew I had things to say and was trying desperately to find my voice through my exploration of different mediums.

As the years went by I was drawn to content creation, from my years working in the comic industry to the many years that followed working on commercial content for the web, print and email campaigns.

I love to create content and I know that joy that comes from having it, sharing it, or introducing it to others.

This digital age has made more tools available than ever for a person to pursue their dream of creating things. Whether it is a simple meme that is no more than a sarcastic statement over a photo, distributing your favourite images over social media, recording and distributing a song or even making a film and posting it up to thousands of views of Youtube.

It is a great time to be a creator and the access to entry has never been so accessible.

However, the digital age makes it easier than ever to copy or use a professional-grade version of a song, video game, movie or application.

And there are so many people that justify it.

I know someone who was enjoying their escape to a cabin and bringing a collection of current downloaded movies (current, like still in theatres). The justification was they had young children so they couldn’t go to the movies — waiting for it to become available for rent would be another six months and they wanted to see it now — and their need and the ease of access made it justifiable to them.

I had an exchange with a friend of a friend who wanted to get a cracked copy of Photoshop to do their creative work (and I can point at dozens of real-life examples of this over the years). They felt that because the software was expensive and creating a copy of it didn’t take it from an actual inventory that their decision was justified. Of course, there are more economical solutions than the “Cadillac” of photo editing that they weren’t willing to consider and, of course, they were still going to charge their clients for the work they did with the stolen software.

Aside from the most lecherous of individuals, I can’t imagine a person who started a house painting business and every day got up and borrowed his neighbour’s van and painting tools without his permission every day and built a business around it.

It has never been so easy to covet then steal something as with digital products… but it’s still stealing.

I have witnessed retired people putting a USB drive in their computer and watching a movie that their grandchild burned for them, or someone getting an MP3 player from someone with a collection of a thousand songs on it.

People work hard to create content. If it is valuable you should pay for it.

We heard the argument for years, that the big companies were fleecing us, another justification to steal this thing (“they were trying to rob us first”), or the lack of accessibility justified taking it in this (free) format because the owner won’t make it available.

The industries and models have changed though — music streaming services offer almost any (and all) music imaginable for less than 10 bucks a month, on demand. Movies are available to buy within months (sometimes weeks or at the same time) of the time they are released for a few bucks, on demand. Netflix and television streaming services provide inexpensive on-demand services to offer satisfaction to almost any viewer. Most popular software applications have made free and inexpensive rental options available to anyone, on demand.

The industry responded, but it still isn’t enough. People still find their reasons to justify their stealing. These creations have value to these thieves, but not enough to make sure the people responsible for creating them get value in return.

At the end of the day, it comes down to more people realizing that many of their favourite creators put an enormous up front investment of time and effort in exchange for an opportunity to make a living to continue to do more of the same.

It is a moral question, really. If something has value and you circumvent paying the person for that value can you accept the fact that even if it was simple to acquire it, you are still stealing?

Whether you can or not, you’re still a thief in my book.