Monday, November 2, 2009

On Pirates and Piracy

I like pirates.

Movie characters like Jack Sparrow and Rhett Butler are sexy as hell. There are some pretty memorable pirate/heroes in romance novels, too. I can also get on board with pirates as literary villains. Who can forget the infamous Long John Silver from "Treasure Island"?

However, I have nothing but loathing for the latest incarnation of pirates, the Internet Pirates. These pirates upload eBooks or music to their sites then offer free downloads to anyone with Internet access.

Beware, mateys! Those tempting downloads are illegal!

In the last couple of years, the FBI has begun to crack down on these sites, covering them under the blanket of Internet theft. A person found guilty of downloading a pirated eBook or song can be given "up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000." That's per occurrence -- which should make those "free" downloads look a little less appealing.

Unfortunately, the threat of fines and prison doesn't stop the flow. The owners of these sites claim they aren't responsible, they didn't upload the eBooks or tunes themselves. Users did. Some of the sites may even post vague warnings about copyright infringements. But none of the sites monitor what's uploaded or remove it unless directly confronted by the owner of the copyright.

So the piracy continues, because a large majority of the downloads are done by teens and others, who don't read the fine print. Or they think, if it's offered on the Internet, it must be okay since there was no warning posting on the website about downloading being illegal. It just said that uploading copyrighted items without permission is a crime. Besides, what's the harm in one little download?

Well, it could earn you a five year vacation in a Federal penitentiary and a quarter million dollar fine. Harsh you say?

Consider this, in a single day those free sites (I won't give them credence by naming them) give away hundreds of copies of a single eBook title that some author has spent long hours sweating over to bring to life. These downloads can easily surpass in a single day what the authors will be paid for a month's worth of downloads from their publishers' legitimate sites. Would you like it if you worked a whole month but only got paid for a day's worth?

Those illegal downloads rob the authors (or artists in the case of music downloads) of the legitimate commissions they are due for their hard work and talent. If that amount exceeds $500, it's called a felony! Those commissions are their paychecks, folks, and anyone who downloads a pirated eBook or tune is stealing. Why else would they be called "pirate sites"?

So, while others may be shocked over the courts recently fining a Minnesota woman $222,000 for pirated music she made available to others for downloads, I stand up and cheer. I say keep up the good work, FBI. Go after more of these pirates and the users, too, because the sites wouldn't exist if there were no users.

This might sound harsh, but the subject is one on which I take a firm stand. It's personal to me since I have so many friends who are authors of eBooks and are being robbed each and every day by pirate sites. These are everyday folks not millionaires living in big mansions and driving luxury cards. And even if they were, it would still be a crime!

There's another more invidious side of Internet piracy that worries me, too. It's hurting our kids! In our techno world, kids are online all the time. Piracy is blurring the line between right and wrong for them. It's delivering a message that it's okay for people to help themselves to whatever they want, and that they aren't culpable, because they didn't actually steal the song or book from a store, all they did was download it!

Is that the message we want to give the next generation?

Parents need to discuss piracy with their kids. Drive it home to them that these downloads are a crime. Monitor the stuff their kids download on their computers. If they find pirated music or videos, make the kids delete it. Block the pirate sites. Another way to make kids realize the seriousness of the crime is put in terms they understand. Talk to them about adult wages then have your child figure out how many years it would take at the various wages to repay a quarter of a million dollar fine. If they get an allowance, tell them you will fine them the full retail price of any download they make.

Do whatever it takes. If your child gets mad at you, too bad. Parenting isn't a popularity contest.

Schools can help, too, by stressing in computer classes that piracy is a crime, and those songs the kids may be sharing with their friends could result in jail terms and fines.

It's not a message that can be delivered once then forgotten. Not when the temptation is always lurking out there.

Okay, I'll get off my soapbox now.

Talk to you soon,
~ Stephanie

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