Piracy is a crime. Don’t pirate things. They’re serious about it. I’m not just being uncool, there’s real reasons beyond “big music corps are people too”.
Why are the fines so steep?
Piracy seems victimless. In reality, the victims are just barely affected with each instance, up until the cumulative effect pushes them out of creation. Art has a price, and if folks aren’t willing to pay it, art disappears. Not all of it, of course, but the art that was made for you disappears. Art that wasn’t made with at least some profit in mind goes out the window.
Fines are a strong motivator for many people – their main goal is to make piracy so undesirable that nobody does it for fear of the fines, not for the fear of being a thief (or ‘thief’, depending on how you define copyright violation). Many people don’t see anything actually wrong with stealing content from big name artists. They aren’t really wrong, but they’re not right – they won’t be affecting that artist very much by themselves, and the amount missing from their art consumption is maaaybe a couple of pennies.
For example, Pharell only made something like $2,000 on Spotify when he was #1 on the top 40. Pirating that song would cost him maybe a twentieth of a cent, more if you were intending to buy it on iTunes but went to LimeWire instead. It’s like littering: if everyone left their trash at the park, the park would close for cleanup. One person is just an inconvenience to the groundskeeper. One plastic bottle won’t ruin the park’s water, but dozens will, and the rangers only need to catch one to get some of the others to stop. Fines keep litterers and minor pirates alike in check. If everyone thinks ‘my trash won’t hurt’, you get a trashed park. If every pirate thinks ‘my pirating won’t hurt’, you get musicians and moviemakers on strike.
Besides, fines for piracy are massive. Up to $250,000, and possible jail time!
Who are you Actually going to hurt?
Small artists who get ripped off with copyright breaches and stolen songs are the people on the cutting edge of new. New music, new tech, new art – the small artists create things that you won’t find in Bed, Bath and Beyond, or on the Top 40. Cost these people money, and you’re destroying a complicated ecosystem of inspiration and passion-projects that the Top 40 is not looking to recreate. Layer Ariana Grande songs over each other, and you’ll discover patterns you didn’t notice before. The producers definitely did, and they went down a checklist to get that song out and on the charts.
Small bands don’t have the same resources. When something sounds good, it’s because they made it sound good by themselves – you’re rewarding individual talent by not pirating. Tame Impala didn’t have access to a recording studio for their first album. He wrote the songs himself. He mixed it, himself. The same goes for Billie Eilish, and any other number of bedroom musicians (musicians who record their music in their bedroom). No disrespect to Ariana Grande, but she can’t make albums with the creative freedom that a bedroom band can. The people who invested in her can’t afford to have a flop, so she always gets breathy, poppy, peppy songs with high notes. It’s her strength, so it’s all she gets to release. She has creative input, but not a lot of control.
Pirating wouldn’t directly affect her unless everybody started pirating. It would take significantly less to accidentally crush something like early (early!!!) Tame Impala, or early Billie Eilish, and you might not hear anything like them ever again.
Don’t pirate the music if you want more of it!
Movies: More Serious
Movies are more serious to pirate. The theater runs on a tight margin to keep the tickets cheap. This is why a cup of popcorn is six dollars, that’s where the operating cost goes – the ticket is just paying for the movie’s rental of the reel. The ticket money goes to the studio!
The studio puts its money towards making back the budget of the film, and if the film does well enough, there may be a sequel. Trolls, for example, did well enough for studios to invest in Trolls: World Tour. The same goes for Tenet, and for Sonic. They made enough money back that the studio wants to keep the gravy train running. Not all sequels are good – and some may say that money shouldn’t be running art – but the world we live in has these rules. More money = more creation. Artists literally cannot afford to create art full-time if they aren’t being paid for it.
However, assume pirating eats into the profit. One guy copies the file and sends it out and around, and a bunch of people see the pirated version on disc or download. They don’t want to spend money to see it again. Pirating takes the movie off the watchlist of hundreds or thousands without actually funding the movie.
Pirating can happen at the theater too! You think you’re watching a legitimate copy of Fast and Furious 8, but the owner had pirated it from a connection he had who got it early for review. That theater makes blockbuster movie money, and the studio sees none of it. Stuff like that is why the fines are so huge, that guy would gladly do it again for a $2,000 fine. Illegitimate rental places were also a real problem. BlockBuster franchises (and small locally-owned rental stores) making illegal copies of recent hits was a profit-killer. The fines are enormous because of these guys.
Remember, the goal is always more. It has to make more than the last movie did. If Trolls World Tour made less than Trolls, they’d never consider a third, even if it made profit. If it didn’t make more, the studio has to assume the worst will happen – they’ll break even or suffer a loss.
And as small bands suffer more than big bands, so too do small movie studios. Some of the wildest, most creative movies ever pushed to the big screen come out of small studios. The group that made Coraline, for example, is relatively small compared to Disney or Pixar. Pirating a newly released movie en masse could seriously dampen their funding for the next movie even if it wouldn’t make a dent for Disney.
By making an example out of people like the movie theater owner, they’re protecting the small artists along with the big ones. Some guy burning a disc for one other friend isn’t going to ruin a studio – but if everyone did that, we’d be back at square one. Pirating is a crime. No matter how you see it morally or ethically, the rules are in place to keep artists funded for their work. Whether you think that work is overvalued or not doesn’t change the end goal of the laws.
It’s cumulative. They won’t catch everyone who pirates… but they’ll get enough to be a deterrent. Good art comes from protecting the artists who made it!