As people become ever more eager to move away from cable to online streaming for their entertainment, the temptation to get other, less-than-legal programming will likely grow.
You’re already online, after all. And finding the right code, or making an adjustment to your video box, may be all you need to do to get, say, “Game of Thrones” without paying for HBO’s new online service.
It’s been happening already. According to Business Insider, “Game of Thrones” is already the most pirated TV show ever. In 2014, “The Expendables 3” found its way online before it had even arrived in U.S. theaters, and Variety reported the movie was downloaded more than 189,000 times in just 24 hours.
All this comes on the heels of people who bought vinyl bootlegs of unreleased Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen recordings, or downloaded music for free in the Napster era, or picked up that DVD copy of “American Sniper” in their corner store even though the official release was nowhere to be found.
I confess to having made some such purchases. I rationalized them by thinking that the things I bought were not commercially available, so I was not taking away from an official release.
I was still stealing: buying art without compensating the people who made it.
Entertainment theft has become increasingly common – and quite open. In one survey of people using streaming, a sizable portion said they did not stream illegal content simply because they did not know how.
One Beacon Journal reader recently wrote in about a device he bought “at our local home and flower show” with which he could “watch current movies that are in theaters now and I can see TV shows from any broadcast network or cable company just one half hour after it is shown without commercials.”
I’ve heard people who would never dream of stealing a loaf of bread from a grocery store or a ring from a jeweler – but who see no problem in watching pirated movies or retooling their devices to pick up unauthorized signals.
The people stealing don’t even stop to think about viruses or other problems that may come with this enticing material.
And dubious downloading is at the least encouraging an illegal act, and costing companies and people money.
This isn’t just some bold act against powerful corporations. It’s a moral disconnect, an assumption – as was the case during Prohibition – that some illegal acts are OK because, well, we can have more fun by doing them.
At least the guy who bought that box at the garden show asked me if it was getting its material legally. (Answer: no.)
Only there is an economic impact here. While “Expendables 3” was a lousy movie and may not have done well at the box office under any circumstances, the pirating unquestionably kept some customers out of theaters.
OK, you say, so we don’t get “Expendables 4.” No loss. But consider the far more prestigious and admired “Game of Thrones.” Pirating it takes money away from HBO, and by extension from the people making the production.
That means HBO has less money to put into its original works. And while it may be willing to pay to keep “Game of Thrones” going, there may not be the extra change for more of “Silicon Valley” or “Girls” or “True Detective.”
And that would trickle down to the technicians and off-camera folks who might have had jobs on those shows – if you hadn’t killed them by grabbing that illegal download.
In the long term, too, theft adds to the cost more lawful consumers pay. Besides trying to cover the losses from theft, companies have to invest in ways to block thefts, and pay lawyers to go after thieves. They’re not going to eat those costs; they’ll end up attached to the price of the products you buy.
Still, as Malcolm X Abram has observed, the people doing the stealing don’t care any more than the fella buying illegal hooch cared in the 1930s. Yet they should.