He didn't get where he is today by stealing somebody else's catchphrase.


I left the world of 56k modems and online squeakiness nearly ten years ago. Liberation came in the form of a 2MB broadband connection and was a turning point for me. As a New Year’s resolution, I got rid of my television and watched stuff online. It was the best thing I ever did, allowing me to watch what I want, when I wanted. In fact when I think about it, I watched less, but the quality got better. How many times have you had a TV on, talking to itself? It seems so wasteful.

Of course, once you have some bandwidth at your disposal other opportunities open up for you. Downloading films, music and other content suddenly becomes a viable option – and that’s exactly what I did. In no time at all, I’d filled up my hard-drive with all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that some of my downloads weren’t entirely legal. I class that time as experimental. Not many media companies had affordable, usable download services and that meant a lot of people resorted to eMule, Limewire and other such shenanigans. Napster created a legacy and people tried all sorts of things, legit or otherwise. I gave Acquisition a go but quickly dropped it - the whole experience left me feeling a bit empty, for reasons I’ll explain later.
Reading some of my earlier posts will quickly reveal to you that I’m a lover of music. However, just because any idiot can stream notes to my ears doesn’t mean that it’s an enjoyable experience - otherwise we’d all be getting our musical rocks off to karaoke and the band down the pub. No, there’s something tangible and physical about the process of listening to music or reading a book. I want the packaging. I want a shiny disk and a book to look at. I want real artwork, lyrics and credits - and this is where stores such as iTunes give such an underwhelming experience. Nothing is physical. Likewise, whilst I’m not an avid reader, I still appreciate books. To me, the Kindle seems so sterile. I want well-thumbed pages, turned corners and crumpled covers. Apart from the fact that it doesn’t need batteries, this is what gives a book character. I only buy online digital content where there is no alternative.
Apart from the desire to possess the physical media item, illegal downloading also brings up the simple argument that it’s just morally wrong. I also like a lovely set of shelves stocked with music. Not alphabetically sorted, mind. I don’t have OCD, thank you.
So I’ll confess that I’ve exchanged some IP packets of contraband, but I view this as an audition. I could’ve sat on the floor of Waterstones and read a chapter, or stood at a listening-post in a Virgin Megastore (remember them?) and had a listen. To “illegally” download is merely a more up-to-date version of the same activity. If I like what I hear/see/read, then I’ll buy the material. Regardless, the download gets deleted anyway. This appeases my conscience to reimburse the artist for their time and effort - and so we should, because without it they won’t produce. That’s not me towing the RIAA/BPI line because I’m some odd case, otherwise I wouldn’t even use the files as an audition. I’d have taken myself outside and given myself a thorough beating. But why should I be punished through a legal purchase with a fucking irritating trailer saying, “You wouldn’t steal an otter…”? Yes, they annoy me as much as the next netizen1 - but not as much as “freetards”.
I once knew someone who was a freetard and it was very hard to rationalise any argument about the morality of piracy with them. I’d ask them if they ever had any intention of purchasing what they’d downloaded. “Why? It’s free!”, they’d say. This annoyed the shit out of me. It was a crap argument that attempted to legitimise theft on the basis that they’d been allowed to do it at zero cost in the comfort of their own homes. Perhaps if I’d had more testicular fortitude I could have argued the point by emptying the contents of their house into landfill, which is also free.
Dog-turds are free. The serviettes in fast-food outlets are free. This doesn’t mean we should fill our house with them.
The girl I knew was a special type of freetard and went to extreme levels. Once a film was downloaded, she’d buy a case for it. She’d print onto the DVD she’d burnt from it and accompany it with a self-printed inlay card. By the time she’d finished, she had something that was a (fairly) close copy of the original and would put it on her shelves.
This just seems so wrong, so very very wrong - to go to such exceptional lengths to pirate some material that you actually spend money on something that’s a fake just seems, well, sad. It also shows what a complete tightarse some people can be, when you could probably buy the movie in question for a couple of quid, a task that would take significantly less effort.
I never did get my head around it – and I probably never will. In a sense the whole move to a digital medium means that we’re losing a lot in the process. I loved vinyl, a format that had a wonderfully warm, rich and analogue sound to it. I remember the wonderful gate-fold album covers and the novelties within. My Dad bought Led Zepplin 3, a wonderful album that also had a picture disc inside the cover which I would spin around and see if I could pick out the faces. I remember singles printed on multicolour vinyl and flexidiscs on magazine covers. I’m sounding such an oldie that I’m boring myself, but you get what I mean. We lost something in the transition from analogue to digital and by the same adage, we’re losing something as we treat media as disposable, faceless and copyable.
There will come a point where our bookshelves will be emptier, our movie and music collection will be digital and magazine racks will cease to exist – in the real world, anyway. Technophile I may be, but I will mourn the day that this happens.

And if you see any freetards along the way, correct them on the error of their ways by slapping them. Repeatedly.

1 - As I said this, a little piece of sick came up. Sorry about that.
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