With all the outrage over The Pirate Bay going legit, I think it's time to reconsider the merits of illegally media sharing. The world has changed since Napster introduced peer-to-peer file sharing in 1999, and the culture that made the practice seem necessary has transformed.
Global Gaming Factory X, a Swedish company, is in the process of purchasing The Pirate Bay (TPB) for $7.74 million. The company intends to continue to allow file sharing, but legally and by making sure content-owners get paid. It's speculated that it may also try to compete with YouTube in the user-uploaded video market. Regardless, what seems clear is that unchecked illegal downloading will come to a halt on TPB.
In the last five years, The Pirate Bay became the go-to site for finding torrents. Its 20 million users have enjoyed nearly unlimited access to copyrighted movies, music, and software.
File sharing has always been at least partly about sticking it to the man, with users feeling they shouldn't have to pay for access to media owned by monolithic media companies. Times have changed, however, in the decade since the Napster days. Since then, the software and music industries have changed.
The free software movement has gained critical mass. For most applications, there are free variants available. In lieu of Microsoft Office, we have OpenOffice.org. In lieu of Adobe Photoshop, we have the GIMP. With few exceptions, most paid applications have a free alternative. If people want to "stick it to the man" why not support the free software movement rather than pirating copyrighted apps? And if there's still a commercial app that's so essential that you can't accept a free alternative, perhaps that's a sign that you should actually pay the people who worked to create it.
The music industry has also changed. It used to be that for artists to have a chance at gaining an audience, they'd have to sell their souls to some huge label that would then own the rights to their music. People pirating music often fell back on the excuse that the artist only made a few pennies from each $18 CD purchase anyway.
Now, musicians have a myriad of different ways of promoting themselves online. By posting videos on YouTube, creating a musician's page on MySpace, and using other forms of social media, a band can get its music out there without any corporate clout.
Why not support these musicians by actually purchasing their music? Many of them give their music away for free just because they want to be heard. By illegally downloading the work of a self-promoted artist, you're just sticking it to the little guy, and that's just plain jerky.
If you still want access to hundreds of big-name artists, there are always subscription services like Rhapsody and Zune Pass.
Movies and TV might still be in the domain of giant corporations, but with outlets like Netflix and Hulu, there are low-cost and free ways of legally accessing major mainstream content. Sure, you won't get "The Hangover" while it's still in the theater, but I'm sure you'll find a way to get by.
While the current 20 million members of The Pirate Bay might feel victimized by the site's selling out, the world has changed and being deprived of illegal downloads is not the huge loss some people might make it out to be.
Michael Scalisi is an IT manager based in Alameda, California.