There are hundreds of millions of pirates online every month, each with their own reasons for obtaining content without paying for it.
For this reason alone, attempting to generalize the feelings and motivations of these vast swathes of individuals into a convenient soundbite is a somewhat futile exercise. Quite literally, every single pirate is an individual, with their own personal reasons for doing what they do.
Calling all pirates ‘thieves’, for example, discredits the large volumes of money spent by many ‘part-time’ pirates on services such as Netflix, Spotify, iTunes, and even their home TV packages. On the other hand, there are plenty of pirates who won’t pay a single penny for any media, for reasons as diverse as restrictive DRM, poor content availability, or simply not having the funds to do so.
That being said, there are still some interesting observations to be made, including the tendency among more experienced pirates to treat their activities as a serious hobby, one that is governed by written and unwritten rules and regulations that have developed organically over the years.
Many pirates have invested years learning the technology, nurturing connections and developing friendships within pirate communities, all while observing the etiquette of their own subculture. However, interesting complications can arise when adhering to those rules presents a clash with similar standards laid down in civil and criminal law.
For example, piracy release groups like to take credit for leaking or releasing movies, TV shows, or software by adding their own text (or tag) to a release name to identify them as the source. For decades, this has been seen as a badge of honor and it ensures recognition among peer groups for putting the content online. The more quality releases under a certain group name, the greater the respect received from fellow pirates.
However, hundreds of conversations over the years have centered on the cardinal sin of torrent site release groups relabeling releases first made by other groups by adding their own ‘tag’ to those releases. While some pirates are oblivious that this even happens, the act is considered the height of bad manners in many piracy circles and something that flies in the face of the unwritten and often complex etiquette observed by countless purists.
Many commenters vigorously attack such relabeling of pirate releases, painting it as an unforgivable insult to the original release groups who put “so much time and effort” into placing the content online. While completely understandable to most piracy veterans, it is not hard to spot the glaring double standard here.
If we take a step back just for a moment, it appears that while it’s never acceptable for pirates to plagiarize or wrongfully claim the work of other pirates, there doesn’t appear to be a problem with copying, sharing, distributing or otherwise handling copyrighted content created by entertainment companies. This is content that’s protected under official law, no less, rather than the largely unwritten ‘regulations’ of the piracy subculture.
As highlighted earlier, it can be difficult to explain why one set of people find relabeling more offensive than breaking copyright law, since there is likely to be as many combinations of reasons as there are users. However, it cannot be denied that many piracy groups have become heroes in their own right, with many seen as doing more for the regular Joe than the majority of “greedy entertainment companies” who “place profits over respect for their customers”.
It could be argued, therefore, that the anger at those taking credit for another group’s releases is based in the perception that this is a direct insult to the reputation of people who are highly respected in piracy circles. Everyone has their own heroes and some are completely off-limits, it seems.
A similar conversation was spotted recently in a Kodi add-on community forum, which centered on the heavy criticism of an add-on distributor that had been spreading add-ons without obtaining the proper permission from their respective developers.
It was interesting to note that the add-ons in question seemed designed for the purposes of providing access to copyright-infringing content, which of course is distributed online without the proper permission of copyright holders. There’s the apparent double standard once again, but that’s not really a surprise.
Through seemingly endless litigation (against both users and sites) and restrictions such as web-blocking and filtering (Article 13, for example) a strong culture of “them and us” has been brewing online for many years. As a result, pirates often feel like an oppressed group that should be seen to stand together, in order to show a united front against perceived oppression.
In other words, by sticking together and not committing ‘wrongs’ against each other, pirates are able to maintain some sort of order in respect of things they have some control over. When certain groups breach those rules or display a lack of respect for accepted etiquette or trusted releasers, another ‘enemy’ appears from within to undermine the cause.
This muddying of the battle lines is typical of certain aspects of regular culture, where it’s somewhat frictionless for many to commit a wrong against a stranger but absolutely taboo to do the same to a close friend or relative. Again, this is also a type of double standard but when viewed through the prism of close alliances and human nature, it’s one that’s entirely understandable.
Perhaps the big take-home message for content companies from this type of internal conflict is to become much closer to their customers, so that pirate consumers end up feeling a similar kind of loyalty towards them as they do pirate release groups, app makers, add-on developers, and site operators.
It may take years to do so but underneath everything is a genuine will among all people (hardcore pirates included) to stand up for those who have really earned their respect. Once that is achieved, a big part of the puzzle is in place.