Avast, Ye Scurvy Pirates!

Piracy” is such an ugly word, but it seems more romantic than “stealing“. The fact is illegal copies of electronic information — audio CDs, DVDs, and computer software — are churned out by the millions every year. I’m the first to admit that not every recipient of an illegal copy would pay the full price for the products if they couldn’t get them cheap or for free, but that still doesn’t justify theft. (It’s like someone saying “I can’t afford to pay for the gasoline for my car, so I’ll just take it.”) On The Personal Computer Show that I co-host on Wednesday evenings (also available as a podcast), we recently had a caller who wanted help getting his new CD of Beatle songs to play on something other than his computer. When he said it was a CD that he bought at a flea market for $12 and that it contained every Beatle album every released, I asked him “Just what makes you think that this is a legal copy?”

Now Microsoft has announced that the new Vista operating system will shut down most of its functions if it thinks it’s an illegal copy. China has undertaken attempts to crack down on the rampant piracy of software and DVDs that is commonplace there. And now the Motion Picture Association of America has shown that anti-piracy is going to the dogs. They have trained two Labrador Retrievers to sniff out the polycarbonate used in CDs and DVDs. The dogs can’t tell the difference between legit and bogus copies, but they can alert customs officials to shipments that may contain more discs than were declared.

According to an MPAA press release, piracy cost the motion picture industry $18.2 billion last year. While some may view these as being enormous companies that can afford to lose this much money, the fact remains that these losses are covered by increasing the retail price. In my opinion, we all need to be smart consumers, and do what we can to prevent the theft of copyrighted material in all its forms. This is in our own best interest in the long run, as the performers and others involved in producing content will only do continue their work if they feel that they are appropriately compensated. In short, we need to be sure to pay the piper.