Is movie piracy ethical? What you should know when pirating films


Noah Dawley, Staff Writer

BANG! BANG! BANG! That’s the sound of the police knocking at your door, all because The Office got taken off of Netflix, and you just had to binge-watch it. Naturally, you decided to pirate it, a felony crime that is accompanied by up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Of course, this is an exaggeration for most people, but in any scenario, is this justified? How unethical is piracy, if at all?

We currently live in a world where all the information you could ever want is at the tip of your finger. Need a binder for school? Shop on Amazon. Need to research for your civics paper? Google. Need to watch a movie? Well, there are places for that too. This is commonly known as pirating. Merriam-Webster defines piracy as “the unauthorized use of another’s production, invention, or conception, especially in infringement of a copyright.” For movies specifically, piracy is the act of illegally distributing films without proper permission or licenses. This leads us to the question, is movie piracy ethical?

First, I figured I would talk about the grey area of movie piracy. Technically, according to the definition of movie piracy, watching pirated movies online isn’t illegal. This is further stated in the article When is streaming illegal? Here’s what you need to know about pirated content by Allconnect. 

“If you’re simply watching a stream of unlicensed content, you’re not technically breaking the law,”  said Joe Supan, a senior writer at Allconnect. “Where it becomes a crime is if you download the movie or show, or host a stream yourself. The PLSA law is going after the big fish – the services that stream pirated content.” 

We’ve established that watching movies online isn’t illegal, but distributing them is. Let’s look at both sides of the argument.

Cons of piracy:

According to DataProt, the global movie industry loses between $40 to $97.1 billion every year due to piracy. That is a lot of money that is stolen from the people who created the film. This ultimately caused the government to make the iconic, “You wouldn’t download a car” videos. These anti-piracy ads didn’t help very much, considering film/TV piracy rose 33% during the Covid-19 lockdown. This, in turn, created groups of people who now know how to pirate films and are okay with doing so. So don’t expect those numbers to go down anytime soon. Another disadvantage to pirating films off the internet is you leave yourself exposed to viruses. Pirating sites are notorious for being easy to find viruses. This is because when you are downloading large movie files, it’s easy for someone to slip something in there unbeknownst to the downloader. Lastly, pirating doesn’t exactly come with a user manual, so you are going to have to figure it out yourself based on information from sites like YouTube.

Pros of piracy:

On the other hand, piracy has opened the door for so many people around the world to have access to movies that they may not have been able to otherwise. In an article done by The Guardian, they make a great point about piracy of different media. “People in the poor world don’t pay for software, games, music, and movies because these goods cost too much,” said Joe Karaganis in his thesis about worldwide piracy. “Whereas a DVD here might cost you an hour’s wage, the same DVD in a poor country could cost a day’s work, or a week’s, or even more.” Karaganis went on to talk about how different media companies have completely ignored these statistics, reasoning that these countries just have a “culture of piracy.” Yet this could be used as proof that piracy isn’t done by people who want to do it, they need to do it. One could even argue that this money isn’t being stolen from large media companies because they wouldn’t have gotten it either way. Also, some movies aren’t easily accessible online, making pirating the only reasonable way to get the experience. At the end of the day, why should a person’s library of available films be dictated by their economic status?

As the old saying goes, there are two sides to every story. There’s no right or wrong way to think of this. Now that we have enough factual information, let’s go see what the people at FVHS feel about the ethics of movie piracy.

“I think people spend too much time and money on films not to get rewarded,” said Annie Meyers, a sophomore writer at Fuquay. “They worked too hard getting it made for you to not support them by at least watching it on a streaming platform. Stealing isn’t the solution to a bigger problem.”

I think it’s an interesting take. At the end of the day, pirating doesn’t help anybody but the people running these sites, and yourself. Rather than looking at the issue in a strictly “It’s either bad or good” way, you lose the bigger picture.

“If it’s offered to me,” exclaimed Devan Langlois, a freshman at FVHS, “and there are no consequences on my side, then why not?”

On the other hand, most people who pirate movies aren’t gonna be brought to justice. Since this law isn’t going to affect most of the world, then why not pirate movies?

It’s not illegal to watch pirated films online. As far as the ethics of it, I think it’s up to the person to decide whether or not they’re okay with it. In some situations, it allows the less fortunate people to get the same experience as everybody else. But at the same time, some movies are severely impacted by losses from pirating, especially if it’s not from a big blockbuster studio. I lean more towards it being ethical. If anything, this is honestly one of the most two-sided arguments I’ve ever thought of.

So maybe next time you’re pirating a movie, think about it twice.