The other day I was listening to the local NPR station (I’m being purposely vague, simply because I don’t want this to come across as a schpritz against the individuals or the institution. The points I wish to raise are generic.)
Moving right along. So the generic local events host was chatting with the generic local movie reviewer and he was recommending to her a DVD TV series that had just been released (apparently there a new Dr. Who emerged from The Tardis.) And he just happens to mention how he had ‘loved it since he first saw it last year.’ Which the show host thought was odd because—get this, the movie reviewer is quite fond of mentioning that he disdains ownership of a TV (trés Seattle.) So, she happens to wonder… how does the guy watch the show a year before it’s released on DVD? Bittorent of course. And what was intriguing is how off-handed he was about it. If the generic show host hadn’t mentioned it (delicately of course–one never wants to be judgmental on public radio!) it woulda been a complete fly-by. But this is how wrong becomes right. People tolerate bullshit, either because they want to be ‘open-minded’ or because they just don’t care all that much and eventually? It becomes normative.
But to her credit the generic host did exercise some journalism skills and did stop and probe a bit— or maybe she just needed to fill an extra 90 seconds before the next Day Sponsor Message, who knows. In any event, the generic movie reviewer immediately backpedalled into a mellow, yet defensive posture; first by insisting on establishing his bona fides as a ‘complete supporter of copyright for artists’ but then rationalising his behaviour with the following line.
Well, I’ve decided that if it’s something that I intend to buy, that it’s OK to download. After all, so long as I know in my own mind that I am going to pay for it, it seems reasonable. And especially in this case, where the production company delayed releasing the DVDs. That meant I would’ve had to wait another year to watch this great show and what can I say? I just love it too much to wait that long!
He then went on for another five minutes on the history of Dr. Who and it’s deep moral and ethical relevance to the problems of the modern world.
Wow I Dunno Where To Begin
The first thought that went through my mind while listening to him was that this is the left-wing version of those ‘sovereign’ morons who feel justified in not paying taxes using the kind of convoluted pseudo-logic you can only get by reading too much Ayn Rand. On the internet. While watching Billy Jack.
But in this case, I guess the idea is that, hey if I know in my heart, that I will pay for something eventually, it’s cool to take it home now. I’m thinking of trying that tomorrow at Sears because I’m totally buying a Samsung 46″ Plasma TV. For Christmas.
Again, I think a lot of what muddles this guys ethics (and again, I think he has likely become more the rule than the exception) is that music and video are ‘soft’; which makes even (supposedly) honest people a bit more confused about the whole ‘stealing’ thing.
But the thing that really gets my bits all dis-assembled is that the editor at the radio station provided no oversight. It clearly never occurred to the station that it might not exactly be ethical to air a story where their reviewer was acknowledging and condoning his own violation of copyright law. In other words, by giving this guy a voice, they furthered basic theft as just another ‘alternative point of view.’
Won’t Get Fooled Again
As a middle-aged guy, I get it. My generation got totally hosed when CDs were invented—having to re-buy all our ‘records’ at three times the price and then listen to all the recording engineers bitching about how vinyl and ‘analog’ still sound better. We’re finally getting to a ‘cloud-based’ world of convenient and ubiquitous data access (my refrigerator displays my recipes!) We’re only too happy to give our data to ‘the cloud’. And the younguns ain’t known anything else, but ‘streaming’. So young or old, every one of us has a good rationale for not thinking of ‘intellectual property’ as being ‘real’. It’s like air, right? You can’t see it, right? You don’t pay for air right? And I get my music through my wi-fi iPod which is kinda like going through the air right? (They didn’t name it EtherNet for nothing, now did they?)
But I guess hearing a guy, close to my age, in a position as a reviewer of a commercial product for a University, just blurt out—without agenda or pretense, that he’s completely cool with illegal downloads blew my mind for some reason. It was like this for me: I know some of my oldest friends are racists. They just are. As are some of yours, of course. They don’t think they are, but they are, and I accept it because there’s nothing to be done about it. But still, if I actually hear them say ‘nigger’? It still breaks my heart. It’s a truth I kinda always knew, but just didn’t wanna accept. And what really hurts is that if you stop and look at them about it, they’d look right back with a genuinely puzzled look. What? Why so uptight, man?
What that interview said to me was this: In the culture we live in now, it’s hip to ‘download’. So long as you intend to buy. Someday. So don’t be such a square, you preachy so and so. In fact, note the Orwellian shorthand of the word ‘download.’ The word itself has been reduced and re-purposed from ‘illegal download’ to the much more concise newspeak. Because the adjective is now as unnecessary as my appendix.