I remember when Napster first came on the scene. Downloading music for free was now possible. I didn't care enough about music to have it, but when the option to download it for free was made available I did it (even though it was illegal). Then after it came other services for downloading movies, TV shows, games, and software. All of sudden, I now had access to whatever I wanted when I wanted it. I was only limited by my internet connection speed.
Yep, I was a Digital Thief. And if you didn't know, a digital thief is also an actual thief. But, everybody else was Stealing so what's the harm in me participating? Plus, I'm not physically harming anyone so why the big outrage?
If you were born in the seventies or later, its almost certain you've digitally stolen music, TV, movies or games during your life. According to this article, eighty-two percent of people have download something illegally. It's easy to do and there are little to no consequences for doing it.
Three Types Of People
Without the risk of getting caught and facing consequences us humans are willing to do shady things. I met a consultant who worked with major gas station chains to help them improve their systems. The thing he told me that stuck with me to this day revolved around stealing. He said there are three groups of people in this world. Twenty percent of people will Steal from you no matter what you do or how well you prevent it from happening. On the flip-side, there is twenty percent of people who wouldn't steal even if they were guaranteed to get away with it. The remaining sixty percent of people could steal if they thought they could get away with it, but would not even try if there was a good system preventing them from doing so. Ultimately, his goal with these gas stations was to set up a solid system that would prevent the sixty percent of people from stealing and have good mechanisms in place to find and quickly get rid of the twenty percent who would always find a way to steal. That was the reality, and he managed it.
There Are No Excuses
This explains why even when we have the money, but we don't want to pay for something, we'll choose to pirate it. Pirates will find plenty of ways to justify the behavior by explaining why it has to be this way or why the company we're stealing from "made me do it" by not offering it for free or in a better format.
A good recent example of this is major sports streaming. For years sports companies failed at providing a good way for younger digital oriented people to watch their favorite teams. But, fans simply justified illegal game streams by blaming the sports leagues for not providing a good service they could pay for and use. And while I get that argument and companies should adapt, it still doesn’t justify illegal broadcasting or receiving of these streams. This same justification has been made for TV, movies, software, and music.
The good thing about innovation is we no longer have these excuses. With both paid and legit free options to access media, we either choose to pay or we choose to steal. And unfortunately, pirating is still a huge enterprise.
Changing This Bad Habit
If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. - Ephesians 4:28 NLT
By God's grace and my action, its been at least five years since I've consumed anything through illegal means. It can be harder, more expensive, and slower to do what’s right when it’s so easy and seems fruitful to do what’s wrong. But, disciplining ourselves not to take the short-term gain and sacrifice our character leads to a more fulfilling life and just society.
So why do I write this? I don’t think this post alone is going to change your behavior, but I think there are some who are caught up in the middle of it and know it’s time to stop. You're in the middle sixty percent and you've gotten away with stealing, but you know it's not right. My encouragement to you is to listen to that voice and take the bold step to walk away from this practice.
Whether your doing it to prop up your struggling business, minimize the cost you spend on personal media, or your doing it as a way to stick it to big companies, don't sacrifice your character and future for something as trivial as free media. In the long run, you won't regret it and you'll find a more fulfilling life outside of it.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash