Government Assasinates Ninjas To Catch Pirates: It’s Not Stealing If It Isn’t Real

Posted: July 29, 2010 in Culture, Technology
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Three years ago I went on a crime spree.

It started with a simple mugging; a cab driver. I pistol whipped him in the head from the backseat of his car and bolted with his money clip.  The police became involved rather quickly and, in order to escape, I shot a couple of officers; young guys, just out doing their job. Staying on foot wasn’t an option; I could hear sirens in the distance. I ran up to a car stopped at a traffic light, pulled the driver side door open, and dragged the poor bastard behind the wheel to the street. Getting into his seat, I kicked him in the jaw to stop his blubbering before slamming the door, gunning the engine and then blowing through the red.

I drove for hours, stopping only to steal gas once from a fat, pedo looking fuck manning a Pump Stop and then, in a fit of blood lust that would make Wyatt Earp nod in approval, I started shooting randomly out my window. BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG.

Reload.

Repeat.

And believe me when I tell you, if any of this had happened in the real world, I would probably feel at least moderately terrible about it. But it didn’t.

This was a general recap of any three hour period playing Grand Theft Auto (any of them) after which I would put down the controller and, maybe, do a little writing, go grocery shopping or engage in any number of perfectly normal and non antisocial activities. You’d never realize, seeing me squeeze tomatoes to test for freshness only to remember I hate tomatoes and throw them violently at a clerk, that I am a part time digital criminal.

In the real world, of course, I’m a pretty tame guy. I have kids, I pay (reluctantly) taxes, I don’t steal, I certainly don’t drive well enough to steer and shoot, and I have about as much blood lust as a toddler in a sugar coma.

But wait, I guess that line about not stealing isn’t technically true. In some circles I’m a regular Dread Pirate Roberts. I download stuff I haven’t paid for. Movies, music, books, comics, porn; you name it, I’ve knicked it.

Up until a few weeks ago I got most of my TV from a website called ninjavideo.net. I still paid for cable, and that’s going to be important in a little bit but the site allowed me a few freedoms, like not having to wait an extra two weeks for the American release of Doctor Who. It was a great website, run by volunteers who maintained their servers on whatever donations were given and who did so because they believed, as I do, that information should be free.

And that makes them, and me, and any of you who have a Limewire or Vuze icon whirring away in your taskbars, dirty, thieving bandit scum. At least according to certain artists and any government that enjoys collecting sales tax.

One of those governments decided that they were going to do something about it and, at the end of June, raided the homes of the administrators of Ninjavideo, as well as the operations of eight other video sharing sites, shutting them down, probably forever.

“The targeted websites… are run by people who have no respect for creativity and innovation.”

The author of that quote, ICE Assistant John Morton was, ironically enough, not referring to the production team of the Sex and the City movies.

But I really take issue with that quote and that kind of characterization. The people who run these sites do so at, apparently, great risk and minimal reward and solely out of sheer enthusiasm for the material and the importance of sharing it. They love TV and film and they firmly believe that everyone should have as much access as possible to as wide a selection as possible. Kind of like librarians are with books but, since literacy is as dead as disco in North America, we’re not going to pay any attention to that parallel.

Now, I understand that the issue with these sites was primarily first run movies, which I was never a big user for. I pretty much just strictly streamed TV shows which, you know, is also kind of frowned on. But, since every TV network offers the same content and pretty much anyone who has an internet connection also has cable, the authorities aren’t so worried about that. PVRs are putting a way bigger dent in the revenues from that market than any website. This was all about lost revenue from movies, so let’s address that.

The argument goes like this. If little Johnny can get a shitty cam version of Toy Story 3 to watch on his 16 inch monitor, then that will completely preclude him from buying a ticket to see it in theatres, and there goes 100 million dollars in revenue.

The problem with this argument is simple. Avatar made a billion dollars.

A BILLION DOLLARS!

Please, right now, fuck off with your whining about the people pouring their hearts and souls into film only to watch their families starve to death because of piracy.

Here’s a list of true things.

1) Movies that are sort of good and look pretty make a billion dollars.

2) Movies that are terrible do not.

3) Except in certain cases (And here I’m looking at you Twil…sigh, fine. And here I’m looking at you Transformers 2) when they do. For no explicable cause.

The point here is an easy one to comprehend. If you want to make stupid amounts of cocaine dealer level money, make a better product. Marmaduke didn’t flop because of the hordes of anxious toddlers downloading DVD screeners hours after the movie hit theatres. It flopped because film audiences aren’t quite that stupid.

I download, but I also buy. And I buy like crazy. To the point where my fiancée slaps me in the face once a week with our budget and asks me where the daycare money is going to come from. But I buy what I like. And, except in the few cases where a movie has universally terrible reviews and I had no enthusiasm for the project in the first place, I prefer to buy by going to the theatre. Which means, the odd time I download something before seeing it in theatres, I wasn’t ever going to be part of the projected audience anyway. Net profit/loss on me? Zero.

I’d also like to point out that this is the only industry in the world, except for prostitution, where I am expected to pay before I receive the goods. If I go to a restaurant, I pay at the end. If I buy a car, I get to test drive it first. Hell, I can sit in a bookstore and read a whole bloody book with nary a dirty look from a teller, and then choose not to purchase it, all without storm troopers kicking down my door.

Anyway, I’m rambling.

This is a crime that has no supportable statistics. The people who are downloading and not also paying for the product in some way, were either not ever going to buy a ticket (not even if there were no internet) or couldn’t afford to. Either way, no money has been lost because of them. If your bottom line is hurting it’s because you have no respect for creativity and innovation, which is why you’re making a terrible, unsellable product in the first place. Yeah, Uwe Boll, I’m talking to you.

I’m going to miss you Ninjavideo. I hope you win your fight because I genuinely feel that the free exchange of information is a noble cause; I have ever since I got my first library card. This will probably be a precedent setting case, so we’ll all be watching. Good luck.

And you know, if this situation is any indicator of things to come, I may just wind up giving up video for books anyway. I mean, nobody in law enforcement is busting into my local library looking for criminals to…

Oh. Right.

Final note: To anyone in law enforcement who might come across this, I was just kidding. This was all just an excercise in irony. You wouldn’t understand. Go get ‘em.

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Comments
  1. […] if you have time, read the very long: http://dearthey.com/2010/07/29/government-assasinates-ninjas-to-catch-pirates-its-not-stealing-if-it… which was my eulogy of sorts for Ninjavideo last […]

  2. Derpper says:

    screenwriterdave makes me want to download movies, just so he would loose some cash. People like you suck man. Mad cause you’re not making a killing??? Then make something worth while. You think file sharing hurts the bizz?? Really?? How about games? I wouldn’t pay $60, unless I’ve tried it. That simple. Take the Black ops epic. Huge commercial power, even made a jeep in it’s glorious image… People bought it like hot cakes, just to find out it played like absolute crap! Didn’t work, wasn’t playable on half the systems. They had to release a patch 2 weeks later (and many after), so people could play a game they paid for… Where is your logic? Is it ok for them to sell us Beta level crap? Do we have the FBI to sick on them and kick in their doors for ripping us off?? No way, we don’t count… So eat a fat one, you don’t count.

    I think file sharing is going to plow over the internet. You can’t stop them. If they like what you have, they will buy it… Once again, like games. Pirate versions can’t go online, can’t update half the time, can’t get the extra content. They try it, like it, buy it. The only thing you said that I can agree with is about creating software for commercial use. If you plan to make a profit from the file you are downloading, of course that’s messed up. We aren’t talking about grabbing the latest AUTOCAD and going into business with it. Just media, like the Library. Oh, speaking of the Library! How can you not condemn them? Do they pay for the books? No, most are donations. They are all protected by copy right! Going to sick the FBI on them? Data is data, get over it.

    People are fined huge amounts of money and face jail time for a crime they never committed. You don’t pirate if you don’t make a profit (burning and selling,claiming you created it and contracting out the rights to it, etc). Copy rights don’t cover sharing, they cover the right to claim the works. Nothing more. Read a book, ya noob. You’re just making crap up, like copy right cops. Think I’m wrong? If I am, say good bye to public Libraries… If your version is correct, they are indeed in violation, only difference is: one’s run by the city/state, the other can’t even afford a lawyer.

    You stinking nab, maybe you shouldn’t share my internet. After all, this is my text, which I am transferring to this fine internet page. Maybe he doesn’t want you to read this protected information, maybe the act of your browser decoding it, temp loading it and displaying it violates my work…. Maybe, eh?

  3. Simply_Bled says:

    This comment really goes towards screenwriterdave, but applies to others on a lesser degree.

    What are your thoughts on the used market for DVD/games?

    Judging by your comments above (and I apologise if I am mistaken), the distribution or redistribution of IP without recompense to the IP owner is a bad thing. However ebay and the like have a huge market for used media (at the time of writing ebay.co.uk has 720,632 DVDs listed). Even at a small percentage of the high street cover cost, this must represent a loss of earnings to the studios et al.

    I have a frankly massive collection of DVDs & CDs many (most?) of which have been purchased through an online auction site of some description. Does this make me criminal? After all, you and your kind have received nothing in recompense for my entertainment (though having sat through Crank 2 recently I use the term very loosely). I have also used the same sites to sell or re-sell DVDs after I have realised that they will not be taking a permanent place in my home – again the studios made nothing from that sale. Someone else will have been entertained at no profit to the IP holder.

    I suppose the summary to this is, when can the behemoth that is eBay expect a knock on the door? If it happens, chances are it won’t be an early morning raid by police in stab vests.

    One of the video game studios recently called for a percentage of used game sales – primarily through those stores that accept trade-ins. Some provide ‘bonus’ online material to the original purchaser, but not subsequent ones.

    I think I’m starting to ramble now

  4. justme says:

    ok the point is this if i buy a cd then i own that cd to dowith as i wish right?
    if not then the same would go for a car say a ford that i buy but do not own because it says ford on the hood. at what point do you own and do you not own 30 bucks is alot for something i dont own and it i can not loan copy or give away to someone then what is the 30 bucks for is that a rental fee. second point is if it is a crime to copy a cd movie or other media then i can not be held for that cause i did not make the vcr cdr or other copying device. and if that is the case then it should not be made so i can do so right.

  5. ExCess says:

    A nice video that shows a fundamentally different way of thinking:

    This, coupled with “social payment” systems, which are now possible thanks to the Internet, could (and should?) seriously change the way we conceive digital art and its monetary value.

  6. screenwriterdave says:

    I too like to appreciate things that I can’t afford. Sometimes I go to a restaurant and order an expensive meal and then dine and dash because hey, just cause I can’t afford something doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy it right?

    stealing is stealing yo

    • The Walrus says:

      And he’s back. 😀

      I get it, and I do understand where you’re coming from but I disagree.

      If I go into an expensive restaurant and I order food and that food is shit quality, I complain. And, usually, the meal is comped. There’s an equitable adjudication process in place when quality comes into issue. Not so with mass marketed media consumables. Therefore, if the consumer has the opportunity to “appreciate” for free before buying, awesome.

      I fear we’re going around in circles at this point sir.

      • screenwriterdave says:

        If you go to see a movie and the movie is shit you can often get a refund from the theatre manager as well.

        Internet piracy is so easy that any 12 year old can find where to download anything their heart desires. But frankly just because it’s easy to steal doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. I’d wager you wouldn’t even consider going into a blockbuster and stealing a movie from them, but what’s the difference between that and doing it on the internet – 12 cents in material costs and an increased chance of getting caught?

  7. justme says:

    i waz just thinking who owns the number 1 and the number 0 because that is what you are buying right when you buy a cd or dvd right and i have looked but i never found a patend for them by anyone. so if no one owns the then i am giving 30 buck for some plastice right and the ones and zeros are public property right
    just a thought

    • The Walrus says:

      See, there I think you’ve taken it a little far. Movies, music, books etc. aren’t the mediums they’re presented in. They are whole products in their own right. The point that I’m trying to make is that digital distribution means that consumers don’t have to pay before evaluating a product.

      I don’t think anyone is arguing that, just because something’s digital, it has no worth. The medium just gives us an option to review before purchasing or appreciate if we can’t afford to purchase.

  8. ExCess says:

    Beautifully written, very nice!
    I like this one a lot.
    I like it so much that i dare say:

    You, sir, seriously need a flattr Button!

  9. jubri says:

    thanks for an interesting and entertaining read! it’s nice to see people acknowledge what ninja did for us ❤
    you had to wait two weeks for the US airing of Doctor Who? try living in Germany and waiting months before you get a German dubbed version on TV :/
    now, everybody who has benefited from ninjavideo go and do two things: buy your latest fav movie on dvd and then donate a $ or two to ninja, if you want to show your support, now would be the time! we are happy about every cent and every nice comment! http://www.ninjavideoforum.net/viewtopic.php?pid=585800#p585800

  10. Mat says:

    Compelling piece and argument in the comments section. It’s hard to disagree with either point of view but I truly believe the free (and legal) distribution of software, movies, etc. is in our future.

    I obviously don’t have market research or any form of data to prove my theory, but I believe that free online distribution provides W.O.M. and exposure at unimaginable speeds to products that could otherwise be ignored. Nowadays, if your product is good, you make money. Simple as that. The rule is: Don’t make a crappy product. The model is controlled by the masses, and thus this model naturally weeds out products/software that isn’t up to par. Every product out there, no matter its origin, MUST be good in order to make money. It has absolutely nothing to do with people downloading them illegally. As a filmmaker, I have never heard of a film cast/crew with their backs against the wall financially because too many people are downloading their movie. If anything, free access to products enables more Word-of-Mouth and in this information-sharing generation, it’s a great way to get published on blogs, digg, reddit etc. which in turn exposes your products to people who might buy it.

    Like the writer of this piece said, Marmaduke shit the bed at the box office because it’s a terribly idiotic movie, not because too many people are downloading it.

    Let me use Video Co-pilot as an example; Andrew Kramer is a well-established visual effects editor who creates stock footage and plug-ins and sells them on his website. There are several torrents out there that contain his “blood, sweat, and tears” and people are downloading them and only some are commenting that they are going to “purchase the product after trying it out”. However, his site is still flourishing, and he’s making a good amount of money. My theory is that it’s merely because what he’s selling is worth buying. With more exposure, you sell more. Even if the exposure is through people illegally downloading your stuff for free, it’s exposure nonetheless. Even if your product is used by hundreds of thousands with a majority illegally downloaded, a certain percentage will still buy it – no matter what. Without free downloads, a GREAT product could be used by a couple thousand people, and 100% of that number will have bought your product, but you still only get as much exposure as the people that use it. It’s less exposure and less ability to sell more. It’s simple marketing. You want more people to hear about and be exposed to your product so you have a higher possibility of selling your product. In the end, exposure wins. Even if, in the rare case, you make a GREAT product and NOBODY buys it and 99% of your users have illegally downloaded it, you’ll have a huge number of people using your product and that can be leveraged to make money as well. Nobody can take away the fact that you created this great product, and with that power and fame, you can make a fortune, too. However, I highly doubt this scenario will ever occur.

    That’s just my two cents. I really hope to attain data about this one day.

  11. screenwriterdave says:

    and fwiw in my Rexall example, they are not out all of their investment if someone steals the data as well – they will be selling the product as well as their competitor, difference being the competitor can sell it for much cheaper since they did not invest in the R&D. Movie makers also aren’t out all of their money because of piracy, but for the piracy they aren’t compensated for the product they created. The two situations aren’t totally identical I agree, but I think a comparison can be made.

    Anyway I’m heading out but it’s been fun arguing this anyhow ;p

  12. screenwriterdave says:

    Avatar provided people an experience in the theatres that the viewers could not have received at home watching it on their computer and/or TV – that is a large part of the reason it did so well (at least IMO). It earned it’s money by being a massively appealing product, particularly in theatres, and therefore it did very well in the marketplace.

    Many people surely pirated Avatar upon release, and I expect some of those people went to see it in theatre when they would not have without pirating it (yay bonus money for James Cameron). Other people downloaded it, viewed it and received the entertainment that most people paid $11 dollars or so for, because that’s the price the marketplace deemed it was worth. Those people stole from the producers of the movie. I would wager of the torrenting/newsgroup scene there are many more people in the second category than the first. I’m not saying everyone who does this is a ‘bad person’ or whatever, I’ve certainly been guilty of piracy in the past, but at the bottomline it is theft to whatever degree you choose to give it.

    I’m by no means a fan of the RCIA (sp?) trying to sue people for absurd sums of money for having a few hundred pirated songs. I really think the damaged parties should basically ignore the problem since there is no reasonable way to enforce internet piracy. But, as someone who hopes to someday make some money off of my creations I do hope that people in general will think twice before stealing a product that people put their work into, whether they exist just in data form or not.

  13. screenwriterdave says:

    eh i posted too fast, I meant to say “copying bytes of information from them” not “taking” and compensation not recompensation 🙂

    • The Walrus says:

      Heh, no worries.

      The thing is, the only reason I write a piece is to provoke discussion. I’m not advocating the complete rape and pillage of intellectual property, anymore than in my last post I was really threatening to kick the Premier of Alberta in the balls. I’m simply pointing out that these are not black and white issues that should just be swallowed at face value.

      Nobody stops to think about why every government on the planet is suddenly so adamant to protect these properties when, for most of human history, if an artist got fucked over the typical response was, meh. It’s because they realize how much money they are losing on sales taxes. That’s it. This isn’t about securing the rights of artists, this is, at a legal level, about taxes. And since I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in my belief that sales tax is immoral (and in some countries like mine illegal) double dipping, no, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. Especially when 9 times out of ten I wind up buying the dvd anyway.

      😀

  14. screenwriterdave says:

    But hey, do what you want of course – just don’t lie to yourself about it. If you’re stealing but you think it’s for the right reasons, just keep in mind that there are infact people out there whom you are stealing from, even if you are only taking some bytes of data from them. Obviously internet piracy isn’t going anywhere and will continue to grow – but I do think it’s kind of gross for someone who presumably will someday hope to receive some sort of recompensation for their bytes of data, to so blithely ignore the harm that copyright infringement does to legitimate business and people.

    • The Walrus says:

      See, you want the parallel to be drawn between an end product that is already in distribution and the kind of intellectual theft that copyright law is designed to protect against.

      You say:

      Rexall does research to make a drug. Someone steals that research and makes the drug themselves, thus denying Rexall the fruits of their labor.
      =
      I download a DVD rip of a movie online. A movie that is already in distribution and is making money based on the quality of it’s reviews and the word of mouth of cinemagoers.

      Do you not see the difference?

      If someone hacks my computer, steals my book and publishes it before I get a chance to; yeah that’s theft. They’re denying me the chance to earn a living on my hard work. If someone BUYS my book, scans it and uploads it, however, that’s a different case. Now I have an end product in distribution, the reviews are out and I’ve clearly sold at least one copy. Now it becomes a matter of did I create a product worth buying or not. If so the public will buy it. Again, Avatar made a billion dollars, despite downloads being available within hours of its release. If not, then I won’t make any money. Which means I’m subject to the same kind of consumer appraisal process that any other product is subject to.

      Which you still haven’t argued against being a fair correction.

  15. screenwriterdave says:

    Remember, that book you wrote, or that movie that someone made, or that piece of software that someone built, or that research that Rexall did, or anything else on the internet is the same – it’s all just bytes of data put together in the right order. If it’s OK to steal any one kind of these things from people who put time and effort and decided they were worth a certain price, it’s surely OK to steal any of them, right?

    • The Walrus says:

      Again, the difference is the distribution model. Downloading is an equalizer that corrects an imbalance in the original model. It’s clearly not all the same but it would sure make it easier to moralize on this level if it were, right?

      Cheers

  16. screenwriterdave says:

    Ok, so how about this comparison then? I work thousands of hours on a piece of software. This software will revolutionize the way X profession does it’s business. I determine I will market this piece of software at $Y, which I deem to be a fair amount of money for the service my software will provide.

    If you steal this software from me (in this case via illegal download) I haven’t “lost” anything. But you have gained something which will earn you money, or provide you with entertainment, for which you haven’t paid. If everyone decides to pirate my piece of software I will receive no income for the thousands of hours of work I have put into my product. Intellectual property IS property and should be treated with the same respect as that candy bar that I do not steal every time I walk into my 7-11. Property.

    A movie is the same thing – it is a source of entertainment that hundreds of people spent their time and money producing. If you illegally download it, even if you never would have paid for it in the first place, you are receiving entertainment which the company that produced it has chosen to sell for $Z. You are stealing just as surely as if you walked into that 7-11 and just helped yourself when the clerk was not looking.

    If the sole basis of your argument is that books are free in the library (for borrowing of course, rather than for the permanent theft that is taking place whenever you illegally download someone else’s product) and therefore all other distributable forms of information should be equivalent to books then we simply will be arguing past each other.

    However if information should be as freely distributable as you think then where is the impetus for that software engineer to make a product that he knows will help many people if he also knows that his product will simply be stolen electronically and used for free? Where is the impetus for a drug company to spend hundreds of millions of dollars developing new drugs, if the information behind that research can be stolen and the results reproduced?

    We have laws in place to protect intellectual property for these very reasons. Information IS property. Stealing information IS theft. Stealing is not borrowing, which is what you are doing at a library.

    • The Walrus says:

      The core of my argument isn’t that; libraries are just one way to look at the free exchange of copyrighted information. But I do think we’re getting close to talking past each other.

      If I’m any indicator (and most of the sales stats support this theory, as well as anecdotal evidence collected from conversations in my larger social circle) then most people who download and have the means, also purchase what they’ve downloaded: if they liked it.

      If the product is shit, I delete it without sharing it with anyone else and I certainly don’t then turn around and pay for it. By deleting it I am, in effect, returning it to the library.

      The biggest difference between a movie and your example of software that you’ve worked on is that, much like any other property, a piece of software typically has an evaluation means attached to it. For anything I purchase outside of the copyright materials world (books, movies, most cds etc.) I have the opportunity to make an informed decision as to whether I want to pay for a product or not. Software is no exception. Almost all reputable firms allow you a trial period to determine if the software meets your requirements. In the case of most copyright material, that hasn’t been possible up until the downloading age. So now, with movies and music and the occasional book, I get to do what I would with any other product; try it before I buy it. But, because this is a dramatic shift in how these products have traditionally been consumed, the action is criminal? By that definition. representing a product to be one thing, taking money for that product and then delivering something else would be considered prosecutable fraud. But isn’t that what most weak movies do through the trailer process?

      The day the courts will allow me a legal recourse for being defrauded by advertisement for a copyrighted material, I’ll come around to your view; until then I see no reason why these types of downloads should be considered illegal.

  17. screenwriterdave says:

    this kind of disrespect for intellectual property from someone who considers himself a writer is pretty disgusting fyi

    • The Walrus says:

      It’s not disrespect for the property. It’s disrespect to the reaction. I wouldn’t steal a book, make photocopies and then distribute them. But, since a library has already bought the book, there’s no issue with thousands of people borrowing it and reading for free.

      I don’t see the distinction between that and downloading a movie, especially if its a DVD rip which someone else has already paid for. Care to explain it to me? If you can make a convincing case that either explains why librarians should be arrested or how any other copyrighted piece of material should somehow be granted special considerations that books aren’t, I’ll happily print a retraction.

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