I've downloaded a few things illegally over the years. I'd like to tell you that my heart was pure every time - I was sampling music that I intended to buy, or saving time because it's quicker to download a movie converted to play on an iPod than it is to convert a movie I own, or that I was given no choice because my CDs and DVDs are scratched, because our local CD store closed, because $1 is too much to pay for a song that I don't own.
Unlike others, I've never tried to justify what I've done as righteous by blaming music companies for their monopolies or ripping off artists, or movie companies for their unreasonable DRM and B.S. previews and security warnings. I'm no fanatic who believes everything should be open source, because at the end of the day I know that somebody has to produce the content that we enjoy and that costs money. I happen to work in an industry that's being destroyed because people value what we do but don't want to pay for it online.
That said, I'm trying to go legit. I've paid iTunes outrageous prices for movies (far more than I would have paid for the DVD), and I'm in the process of trying to go 100 per cent legit with my music collection.
I have several reasons for doing this. The first is that I'll feel a lot better when I'm not a potential target for a lawsuit or arrest. The second is that stealing stuff sucks - ISPs are now throttling torrent and P2P traffic, and in the end you never know what you're going to get. Sometimes it's a handy-cam inside a Serbian movie theatre, other times the audio doesn't line up with the video. In music, bit rates and equalizer settings are all over the map and the difference in volume and fidelity between two songs can be jarring, to say the least.
But the main reason is the fact that the days of illegal downloading are coming to an end anyway. My prediction is that one year from now all or most of the torrent sites out there will be shut down, as well as all the companies making torrent software. Or they will install filters that make content hard or impossible to find.
Limewire just went the way of Napster in the face of a billion dollar lawsuit, and other P2P services are slowly pulling down the shutters - the truth is they can't even afford their legal bills, much less the penalties they face.
ISPs in Canada now legally throttle traffic and meter Internet usage, and three bills are currently being considered that would allow unfettered snooping on ISP users and ISP traffic. Bill C-32 will amend the Copyright Act. Canada is also a signatory of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which would synthesize copyright law across possibly dozens of countries and make it legal to search travellers for stolen media. If you get stopped an airport with an illegally downloaded song on your phone you could be fined on the spot or even arrested.
These are only a few of the reasons I believe that illegal downloading is at death's door.
Another is the fact that media companies are finally catching up to the technology, and it's not long before they'll come up with credible industry-wide DRM and lock systems that don't compromise your computer security. As more people download music digitally, that only makes it easier to monitor and control the situation.
The recording industry is also not backing off in the slightest when it comes to suing downloaders and file sharers, and the movie industry is getting more litigious as well.
But the biggest reason I believe that downloading is coming to an end is what's happening in the porn industry. Never underestimate what this industry can do. Porn was the reason that VHS beat Beta. Porn is one of the reasons that home computers and the web spread so far and so fast. And right now the porn industry is taking its most aggressive stand yet, with a single lawyer issuing 16,800 lawsuits against illegal downloaders using torrent sites. According to Ars Technica, the industry is hoping to completely put an end to online piracy by 2012, using a combination of tracking technology, digital rights management technology, agreements with online providers and legal actions against P2Ps, torrent sites, streaming sites and downloaders.
And if porn can lead the way in practically every technological shift in the past three decades, then you can bet that other companies making mainstream media are going to follow suit.
It's taken a decade for the entertainment industry to get to the point where they're building walls instead of easily crossed lines in the sand, but I think they are at last at a point where they can methodically shut down the illegal trade in copyrighted materials, from ebooks to music to movies to software. They have the support of software makers, hardware makers, ISPs, governments, industry associations, creative associations and a large number of artists. That doesn't prevent bands like Radiohead from tying to do something different in the future, and it still doesn't address issues of fair use - like whether you can use a clip of music for a slideshow or make copies of the music you purchased legally - but it does change the playing field once again.
Given claims that piracy has cost the entertainment industry tens of billions of dollars over the years, you can bet that the companies most affected are taking the issue a lot more seriously than the people downloading copyrighted material who imagine they're sticking it to the man. The Wild West that was the World Wide Web is at last being tamed.