Quitting Pirating Music, TV Shows, & Movies Isn't As Hard As You Think

To start off, I want to say very explicitly that I won’t be doing any scolding or making too many explicit moral claims in this article. You won’t be hearing any “piracy is the devil”, or anything else along those lines here.

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I will however, share my own motivations for quitting piracy, and how to do it without the process being too painful.

In early 2013, I felt convicted (based on my personal christian beliefs) that I needed to mostly stop torrenting. This was an issue that I had wrestled with for a long time, because anyone who’s actually spent some time with the issue knows that it isn’t as simple as “piracy is stealing”.

Piracy ISN’T Stealing

I agree with the above statement, but I also disagree with it. I’ll use an analogy to explain.

John has a banana, and I want that banana (because I’m so hungry for tasty, tasty bananas). I say to John “Hey! Give me that banana!”

John says back to me “Sure, you can have my banana, but it’s going to cost you a dollar”. My reply of course, because I would never pay a dollar for a banana, is “actually I would rather just shove your banana in my banana duplicator machine, and have my own banana”. So I duplicate John’s banana, and now there are 2 bananas.

Now did I steal John’s banana? Of course not, as John still has a banana. But now imagine that John invented bananas, was running the only banana stand in the world, and he made his living off of selling bananas.

Now if everyone starts using John’s bananas to duplicate them, John starts having a real problem with his business. His own original idea for bananas has been reappropriated for all of these other people, but he’s not really making any money off of it.

Does John deserve any of that money? I mean, without his original banana, we wouldn’t have anything to duplicate in the first place. But it’s not like we’re actually STEALING his original bananas, we’re just using them!

Does it make us thieves? The answer is no…

…but it does make us DICKS. 

Imagine if John was actually your friend. Would you refuse to pay him for his hard work just because you can duplicate it for free? You may not be stealing, but it really is a slap in the face to that person that in the end; a slap in the fact that I was unable to justify.

I'll cue the Jeff Bridges meme from The Big Lebowski for this one:

You may disagree with me, which you can feel free to do because my goal is not to convince anyone of this, but rather to show someone who is genuinely wrestling with this issue a perspective that might solve their dilemma. My conclusion is a matter of good faith, in wanting to treat people around the world as if they were my friend.

really excellent piece on this was written by the creator of the popular indie game, Super Meat Boy. He explains why companies should do their best to make us (consumers) view them as friends, thus wanting them to have our money.

The bottom line is that someone made something with the intention that I would pay for it, so as a good neighbour I should abide by such a reasonable condition (there are "unreasonable" conditions that I deal with later in this article).

I’m really not intending to do any preaching here. If you disagree on the issue, I’m not going to waste a breath arguing you on it, especially because of this next point.

Piracy Is Good For The World

Since piracy has been invented, artists have had more of a chance to flourish. Many record labels, and other giant media associations and corporations have suffered, thus leading to a rise in independent artist success. I attribute at least a portion of this to internet piracy, and I see it as a good thing. 

Rather than just a few major rockstars who are making it huge, now more and more “little guys” can make a living off of music if they have a great sound, and are willing to work their butt's off. 

Internet piracy has largely contributed to the rise of crowd-funding, pay-what-you-want album options, and has been praised by many musicians as helping the music industry in a big way.

I think piracy is good for the world. But with my previous statement about just taking something that the creator INTENDED me to pay for, I still can’t involve myself in it.

When Torrenting Is Okay For Me

There are still a few circumstances where I feel that torrenting is quite alright though. For example, if I’m trying to get a hold of a piece of software that the developer no longer sells (usually because it’s 20 years old), then I think it’s fine to torrent that.

As well, if I’ve already purchased some software, but something silly about it doesn’t work (say the disc breaks, or the software file is corrupt), then it’s perfectly fine for me to download that considering I already paid for the right to use that software.

If the only versions of a piece of software online are collector's editions, and I can’t get a reasonably priced version, then torrenting can sometimes be the only way to get that file. For example, if you want to get Age of Empires 2 for mac, you’ll find that this 15 year old game costs over $120. That’s absurd for a game that costs $9.99 for the windows version (also, I already bought the windows version several times in my lifetime). 

With the collector's editions, it’s clear that the sellers of this item aren’t buying it to play, but to collect. I don’t really fit into that demographic of people, so it doesn’t make sense for me to pay that. 

Basically, if there is a very reasonable motivation to do it, and I’m not just obviously trying to get something for free (that I really should be paying for), then it’s generally alright.

Would I be willing to pay for this if it was reasonably priced?

So if you’re like me, and you’ve decided that you want to wean yourself off of pirating online, how can you make it easier? Well there are already lots of services out there to help you replace some of this stuff without costing you too much.

The Fear Of Quitting

Whatever you decide to do, I just want you to know that quitting piracy really is not as scary as it seems at the beginning, but it does take a little bit of work. I was very frightened at the thought of it when I first started though:

  • “What if I can’t play music anymore because I can’t afford it?”
  • “I NEED that music to listen to. Music is a huge part of my life!”
  • “How am I supposed to record a great album without all these expensive VST plugins?”
  • “I watch movies and TV shows all the time. I don’t even have cable, so what the heck am I going to do?”
  • “This is going to cost me a ton of money”

Those were some of the thoughts that ran through my head.

Replacing Movies & TV

Netflix. Everyone already knows about Netflix, but there’s a few tips I can give you to get way more shows on Netflix.

If you live in Canada (like me), then you’ll know that the selection of shows on Netflix is quite poor. How do you fix it? Get the “Hola Unblocker” plugin for Google Chrome or Firefox, and it will allow you to watch Netflix, Hulu, and tons of other similar services as though you were in the US or any other country.

I find that the US has the most shows, but Canada and the UK have some shows that even the US doesn’t have. For example, the Canadian Netflix has all the seasons of “Community” on it, while the US Netflix doesn’t even have the show available.

Another example is that while Breaking Bad was still airing, both Canada and US were missing the latest episodes, but the UK Netflix would have every new episode of Breaking Bad available only an hour after it had aired. I was able to watch the season finale at almost the same time as everyone else (only an hour later) even though I didn’t have cable or torrents.

“Hola Unblocker” allows you to switch between countries as you please. I find it to be far superior to it’s competitor, Media Hint. And it’s free.

I don’t see it as a moral issue to change your IP address (as that’s all these programs do), so I see this as a perfectly suitable option. We both know Netflix doesn’t mind, as they would offer us every show imaginable if it were up to them.

The fact is, some shows just aren’t available in all countries because the movie studios are acting like weiners, and I won’t put up with that, or allow them to trick me into making a morale decision because they created some corporately-influenced law.

If it’s not a moral issue for you though, the none of that matters so you can ignore my little rant.

Replacing Music

I tried quite a few different internet radio services (such as rhapsody, spotify, songza, and a few others) but none of these compared to the great service that “Rdio” had to offer.

Rdio has a pretty immense music library (similar to what Rhapsody offered), but the interface and options that it has are just so superior to every other service that I couldn’t ignore it. I’m not going to go into some full review or anything, but here’s what really impressed the pants off of me about it:

  1. It has a huge library. Only about 10 of the artists I had to replace was missing from it. They occasionally are missing out on some albums I really like, but I can buy those ones if I need to (you really should buy albums if they’re your favourite to support them).
  2. The mobile app works great, and runs on most smartphones. You can even use your phone as a remote control for your computer if you have the app running in both places at once. If you want, you can sync albums to your phone so that you don’t use your data when on the run.
  3. High-quality compression. Most of the songs sound really good, which is impressive considering how fast every song loads.
  4. You can create a music library to replicate your old iTunes library. You always choose what you listen to (instead of some random cycling of songs). I personally hate not being in control of what I’m listening to, because I specifically want to listen to certain full albums; that’s just how I listen to music. Rdio meets this need for me.
  5. Price. At only $10/month, it easily competes with other internet radio programs. You can even get a “computer-only” version (no phone) that’s only $5/month.

There’s a 6 month free trial that you can use too if you aren’t certain.

The one thing I find frustrating is that I have an iPhone 4, which has quite a slow processor. I find that the mobile version can be a bit slow on there, but too be fair most other programs are quite slow too (I’m looking at you Facebook). They've done occasional updates to help with the performance, but even with my slow phone I find that the app is still quite reasonable.

All in all, it was the perfect choice to replace all of my pirated music because I listen to music in the car all the time, as well as on my computer while I’m working. For example, right now I’m listening to Brian Eno’s “Slow water”, all on my internet radio. I wouldn’t even listen to Brian Eno if I didn’t have the internet radio, because I wouldn’t have bothered to download it.

Rdio helps to get you to listen to things you wouldn't normally take the time to listen to, and you know that I advocate that heavily here.

Replacing Software

I’m sad to say that there are not really any “one size fits all” options for software. Chances are you have some software on your computer that may be rather expensive, especially if you’re like me and have lots of Adobe products and DAW’s.

This is where the majority of your cost of switching is actually going to come from, but these are the guys who really need your money the most anyways.

Think about it like this, if you torrent someone’s music, you can still go to their show and pay for that. You can pay for their merch, or you can just spread the word about it. Album sales are not the peak of profits for music.

But when it comes to software, that’s all there is: a sale. There are no software concerts (though I suppose there are conventions). Without sales, a company like Adobe dies, and we can no longer have Photoshop Battles.

You actually get lucky with Adobe, because you can get all of their products for $50/month in their Adobe Creative Cloud, which is rad considering you always will have the latest version. 

There are some other expensive programs such as Reason or Pro Tools that can be a bit of a bummer to buy, not to mention all the VST’s that you might have. I was able to pick up Reason 7 for only $269 on Amazon.com, though I doubt it’s that cheap anymore (I think there was a deal on at the time). I’m sorry I don’t have a better option for you than just “buy the software!”, but that’s really what it comes down to.

If you're a gamer though, I would highly recommend heavily using "Steam" for your games, which is a game platform for PC (and coming to consoles) created by Valve, the makers of Half-life, Portal, Left 4 Dead, and other games.

Not only does Steam have several huge sales across the year (resulting in sometimes 90% off video games), you can also participate in the Humble Indie Bundle Sale, which allows you to pay what you want for a bunch of games (new games every week!). On top of that, there's also the indie gala bundle, which is like a crappier indue humble bundle (but is still useful).

If you shop cheap and wait for sales, you can often get anything for much cheaper than it originally lists for. 

Unfortunately for you, that means you need to develop a bit of patience, and learn the character skill of "doing what you can with what you have". It's actually a very valuable skill, so start to learn the value in it.

The Cost To Quit

In the end, my decision definitely did cost me money, but not as much as I thought. The biggest expense was actually getting all of my adobe products (such as photoshop and illustrator), which is $50/month. 

That, plus another $10 for internet radio, and $8 for Netflix, costs me about $70/month for all these services, plus around another $800 for things like Windows 7 (legit version), Logic Pro X, Microsoft office, Screenflow (for screen recordings), and a few other various things. Not too shabby considering I’m replacing a lifetime worth of pirating.

If I had tried to actually buy all the music I had pirated, it would have cost me well over $6000, so the internet radio thing uh, ya know, paid for itself...

What with using Rdio, I was finding 500mb wasn’t enough, and I want to be able to listen to tunes on the go as often as I want. So I ended up raising my data plan on my phone from 500mb/month all the way up to 3 gigabytes, and negotiated my cell phone bill from $60/mo down to $50, so I actually saved a good $120/year there. 

In the end, I found that the hardest part of quitting piracy was missing my music programs such as Reason or Logic. Now within a month or two I already had saved up for Reason 7, so I actually ended up doing better than I would have before (I was using Reason 5 before), and that was a great blessing for me. 

At the time though, I thought I would never get enough money to make that happen so quickly, but God ended up providing, so I'm glad I took the plunge.

I hardly found the movies and music to be a hassle at all. My internet Rdio syncs with my phone, so I can still listen to whatever I want in the car, and Netflix has even IMPROVED my movie/TV watching experience, because they often have movies on there that I never would have thought to watch. That part of it really was painless.

I’ve covered all that I can cover on this subject by now though, so let’s turn it over to you. What are your thoughts on pirating? Do you think it’s right or wrong? Have you quit it? Am I just completely full of crap here?

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About The Writer

My name is Andrew Muller. I love creative art, music, television shows, movies, video games, and a good story.

If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham.

Among my friends, it's a "Muller Classic Move" to eat Mcdonald's at 2am because it's cheap and open 24/7. The joke here is that I'm an idiot. 

I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.