I have not had cable television since I was living in the dorms at college, it was free. I never really could afford cable and I often only watched a hand full of shows and I just pirated them through bit torrent, IRC, or UseNet. For a period I pirated everything I could. As technology pushed forward, it became less necessary. The bulk of my pirating ways happened in the mid to late-2000’s during that awkward time when media companies were fighting the inevitable internet download ecosystem It was a time when no one was really doing digital correctly, when experiments were happening everywhere, and when sites and stores were popping up (and being shut down) repeatedly. Essentially, if you wanted to go digital, nobody was making it easy for you. There was a point not that long ago when you couldn’t rent a movie online and watch it on a TV. Music downloads fluctuated In short, you had to jump through a lot of hoops. If you wanted to download software or games, you had to do it on the faith it’d actually run because nobody offered refunds. So, I’d pirate a game or software, see if it worked on my aging computer, and then never actually buy it. 98% of my music piracy was just downloading albums because I feel the artist are getting screwed by the labels and I tend to purchase albums directly from the artist. If I couldn’t buy directly from them my philosophy was to stick it to the labels I will just download it.
Basically, the lack of a consistent shopping ecosystem or any type of trial service made digital downloads a risk. Sure, shareware, demos, and 30 second samples existed, but they were rarely helpful. It was just easier to pirate something than it was to get it legitimately.
When digital downloads first started to catch on, media companies were quick to try all types of DRM. A lot of this DRM put absurd restrictions on the devices you could use, or worse, locked it onto one specific piece of hardware or software. This meant if you wanted to jump between devices, your content was stuck on old hardware. It wasn’t (and still isn’t) a good practice. Worse was the fact that even digitizing your physical media was illegal in some cases. It’s still not legal to rip a DVD you own, which means if you want a legal digital copy of Indiana Jones you’re out of luck. It’s 2013. That’s absurd. The other problem here was the basic usability of anything you downloaded. Nobody wanted to watch movies on their computer, but with strict DRM everything was stuck there. Until set top boxes came along, the very idea of downloading and watching a movie wasn’t a pleasant experience. It was a lot easier to just pirate something.
Why I have made a switch. The main reason I stopped pirating is that now, piracy takes too many steps. It’s now a better experience to download something from a legitimate source than it is to pirate it. In fact, I hardly even noticed that I’d stopped pirating—it just kind of happened. I stopped needing everything immediately… Don’t want to pay $60 for a game? Wait a few months. Don’t feel like buying a movie? Wait for it to come out on Netflix Streaming or Amazon Prime. With the ecosystem we have now, it’s a lot easier to stream or download legitimately than it is to pirate.
Music: Streaming services like Spotify and Rdio make it easy to sample albums for free. Then, stores like iTunes, Google, and Amazon make it simple to purchase and download. Plus, sites like Bandcamp make it so I can pay a band directly for an album if I don’t feel like supporting a record label.
Movies: Movie companies haven’t quite caught up to the rest of the industry with their services and they still have restrictive DRM on just about everything. If you buy a video on iTunes, it’s only playable on certain devices. If you purchase something on Amazon, you have to play it in an Amazon player (though the Amazon player is available on a lot these days). It’s ridiculous, and if you want to download videos to watch when you don’t have an internet connection, piracy is still the best route to take. Netflix has made a bit of a jump here but a lot of newer movies take a while to make it to the instant watch section.
TV: content providers jumped pretty quickly at getting easy to access digital content. Most of the time you can go to the network’s website and watch the recently aired episodes strait from their site. There is also HULU and HULU Plus that allow you to watch TV shows from most devices that support a HULU app. YouTube can also provide hours of entertainment.
Software and Games: With Steam, Xbox Live or PSN you can download pretty much any game you want right away. Steam, makes it’s easier to pay for software/games than it is to pirate it. Steam also has their Steam sales which offer huge and ridiculous discounts. Of course, some game companies (ahem, EA) are notorious for messing with DRM to the point where their games become unplayable. My solution? Don’t buy from that company. That’s a loss I’m willing to take. But pirating is certainly another way.
Piracy is no longer free for most of us. If you use Usenet, you’re paying around $5-$15 a month for access. With Bit Torrent, these days, you absolutely have to have a VPN or proxy to avoid the Copyright Alert System. That’s also usually around $5-$15 a month. From there, you have to find what you’re looking for, download it, piece together the download, and cross your fingers it’s not a laden with virus or corrupted. So, if you’re getting music from Spotify for free (or $5 a month to cut the ads), and you’re paying around $7 a month for Amazon Prime (which you also get free shipping with) or Netflix, you’re not saving that much money by torrenting unless you watch a ton a movies. If you consume media like me, the legal services actually end up being about the same price with half the headache.
DRM is still frustrating as hell, and it certainly took a while to break my habit of needing to own everything. But I’m happy I did.