Blog: Are You A Pirate?

Lagrange asks some difficult questions   22-Apr-14

Blog: Are You A Pirate?

Blogger Lagrange Audio Writes:

"Are you a pirate...?"

Let's face it you probably have been at one stage or another in your digital life. For younger readers was the temptation just too great, peer pressure perhaps? For older ones your digital life probably started a long time ago and so the law of averages states over that time period you probably were at least confronted with the opportunity.

If you were to push me on this, my standard answer has always been, yes I tried marijuana in college, but I never inhaled. One of the common misconceptions these days is to assume that software or media piracy is a recent phenomenon. Nothing could be further from the truth. From the very day that tech-savy consumers were confronted with something that could be duplicated the game was on. And it's not just in the realm of copying the contents of one floppy disk to another.

How many times did you record TV shows on your VHS recorder? How many mix tapes did you make to play on your compact cassette player? All of that was illegal, in legalise it "infringed" on someone's copyright or was "unauthorised". I remember my parents buying our first VHS machine and from the moment we pressed record for the first time we were as complicit as everyone else, that was 33 years ago.

The point I am opening with here is right from the get go the massive disconnect that still exists between consumers and industry was created in earnest. Using the VHS example once more it was standard industry practice in its very early days to display a legal statement before a broadcast. They gave up on that tactic very quickly because it just became a pointless exercise. The only time you see it now is for major TV events where significant commercial partners are involved. It was plastered all over the London 2012 Olympic broadcasts for example.

Now I will ask you another question based on the assumption that you were quietly honest enough to admit to yourself that at some point you were confronted with the opportunity to use an unauthorised copy of a product. I use that word deliberately as it is at the core of the definition of software and media piracy. Interestingly enough 'authorised' doesn't necessarily mean 'paid for'. Conversely that becomes an important point today in the realm of a number of web sites that charge for what is clearly an illegal download. In this scenario the creator gets nothing for their efforts.

So the next question I ask you is "Are you a criminal?" I would expect a resounding "No" from the majority and it is tempting to dismiss this response were it not for a further analysis of the reasons why, for example:

1) I downloaded it but wasn't interested in it, I did not like it so I deleted it immediately

2) I am really interested in it but it's way too expensive

3) I couldn't get access to it any other way

4) Well, I'm not using it commercially so that's OK right?

5) I just wanted to learn how to use it

6) I'm just a little guy so no big deal

7) I'm just a hobbyist or enthusiast

8) No-one is getting hurt here, the creator is still making reasonable coin

9) Isn't me just downloading it and listening, watching or using it just free marketing for the creator?

10) Everything on the Internet should be free!!

11) I already pay for my Internet service and computing device so why should I pay again?

12) My employer bought a copy so I use it at home as well

And the list goes on. Now my next challenge to set you is to rate, in your opinion, the validity of each of the above. I am reasonably confident that beyond #1 (the instant dismissal) you would rate #2, #3, #5, #6, #7 and #8 pretty highly, which brings me to my next observation. I maintain as an individual that has had access to a computer since 1984 that the vast majority in their daily lives are in fact good law abiding citizens. You don't speed in your car, you pay your bills on time, you treat people around you courteously and with respect, you do volunteer work and help out in some way in your local community and so on.

The fact is that even with this solid moral and ethical grounding that we have, we are still able to justify in some way an unauthorised download. This then leads on to another conclusion which is that in any category of criminal activity the truly and deliberately malicious will always be there somewhere. It's what I loosely refer to as the 'criminal threshold' and it has always been in the minority.

Is it too simplistic therefore to assume that in the illegal download arena the real criminals are also in the minority, you decide. To use a drug trade analogy we recognised long ago that going after users isn't going to solve the many social problems caused by drugs, that's why we go for the dealers. In fact in many jurisdictions now we are de-criminalising the use of soft drugs because the effort required to maintain those aspects of the legal code are simply too high. What we are seeing, which I think will be mirrored in the piracy debate, is that the users are no longer considered criminals. Again back to our assertion comparing other criminal activities, the real criminals are clearly in the minority.

So assuming then that rest of us are not criminals wouldn't it be fair to understand the various reasons why we download a little more? I'm going to use my country, Australia, to highlight (not necessarily condone) why some of the reasons above are considered valid by many people and hopefully explain some of the things that the underlying industries involved need to consider. I choose Australia quite deliberately as it is an interesting microcosm that can be used for this debate.

It is high-tech, it has one of the highest pro-rata rates of Internet access, device usage, illegal downloads and VPN tunneling anywhere in the world. It is also a country that is considered by many to be at the mercy of the so called "Australia Tax" which adds something like 30% to 50% on the price of products purchased online here compared to other countries like the US for example. So contentious is this issue that last year our Federal Government commissioned a Senate inquiry to explore the reasons why.

There is no doubt that consumers here are asking questions. Any media that is purchased on iTunes for example costs about 40% more than purchased from the US store, which explains the very high rates of VPN tunneling and illegal downloads. In one absurd example it was shown that the boxed version of Adobe Photoshop (before they changed their pricing policy) could be purchased cheaper in LA by hopping on a plane from Sydney than buying it from a local reseller. So price was an important factor raised by this inquiry.

The industry's response to this when challenged was that prices reflected the additional cost of doing business here in terms of marketing, physical stores and so on. The inquiry's response to this was pretty much 'bollocks' when online purchasing alone was considered. In fact they asked why should the cost of a digital download, beyond currency exchange factors and local tariffs, be so markedly different and it was interesting to note that the final price is set by vendors, not by government in our situation.

The other issue highlighted was availability and that really came to the fore this week with the premiere of the latest season of a popular US TV series featuring swords, dragons, some violence, harsh language and some measure of nudity. No prizes for guessing what we are talking about here. However, due to an exclusive deal between our only Pay-TV provider whose subscriptions are very much in the minority, and the producers of the show, all other paid services are locked out until the season concludes. To say this raised the ire, of once again, largely law abiding people would be an understatement. It is also no surprise to suggest that while the Pay-TV channel concerned claimed 315,0000 viewings over two showings of the first episode that likely illegal downloads exceeded this figure. For the record I have no way of knowing for sure. One clear message was heard however from non-subscribers, I want to buy it, why can't I now or when I want?

Source: Mashable

So how can we summarise of all this? Well, assuming that our previous statement that the vast majority are not criminals, what is clear is that people are prepared to pay and want to pay IF the price is reasonable and comparable, AND the product is available.

I struggle to understand why industry in general has a problem with this. If the ecosystem in general is represented by a Venn diagram I suspect there is very little cultural overlap between the two entities involved. Also in any contentious debate surrounding an issue it is always about understanding and compromise. Assuming industry at large comes to the party, as a consumer, if you want it and can pay, you should pay.

What also occurs to me as the world in general continues to come to grips with this debate is the fact that the music tech industry specifically is generally leading the way. In terms of price and availability I cannot think of many operators out there that do not tick these boxes. When was the last time a music tech software vendor geo-blocked a release or charged hugely disparate prices depending on where you live? In the vast majority of cases the products are powerful, attractive, reasonably and comparably priced and immediately available on release. It has been the one sector that was the first to back away from the idea of putting up the barricades and instead focused on giving people what they want, when they want it and at the right price. The rest of the music and broadcast industry could learn a lot from this.

The goal is to lower the rate of illegal downloads as close as possible to the criminal threshold with the strategies above then use a completely different approach to target those below the threshold. Unfortunately industry to date has taken a blunt instrument as an alternative to working with their customers both currently paying and those that want to pay in the right environment. The worst part being that even those who are paying now are being punished with the same blunt instrument.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of a personal contributor and may not reflect those of

Jason Durbin (aka Lagrange Audio) has been a synth and music tech enthusiast for 30 years since getting his hands on his first synth in 1983 at the tender age of 16. He hasn't earned a single Aussie dollar from music but the journey has been nothing short of incredible and he has met and interacted with some amazing people along the way. Jason is a true enthusiast doing it for nothing more than the pure love of it.

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31 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

brianfromusa    Said...

"11) I already pay for my Internet service and computing device so why should I pay again?"

This one fascinates me. There's no doubt that computer mfrs and internet providers make big money out of the "content should be free" mantra. Noone is storming the Apple store demanding free laptops.It's just that after spending $1000 on a computer and $100 or more a month for your net access, you can't afford to pay for any content so you steal it.

BTW in the USA, recording TV shows for private viewing was declared legal by the courts decades ago.

22-Apr-14 06:31 AM

stu    Said...

why should i pay ,,they pay johnny depp more money then a nurse who saves dying babies ,,untill they adress this ,i will pay for nothing,its ridiculuos all he does is talk into a cam ,he doesnt save anybody

22-Apr-14 06:44 AM

Ea2nG    Said...

Many years ago, long after my Squire Strat had been entombed in its dusty hard case, I felt the urge to explore the world of music once again.

I was pretty much broke, although I did own a slightly outdated PC, a gladly appreciated hand-me-down from a technologically superior benefactor.

Somewhere along the lines I managed to acquire a 'cracked' copy of Propellerhead Reason, and as I recall it was stored on some kind of quaint optical media, Napster wasn't even in nappies at the time.

But I digress... That disc opened up a new world for me. A rich new paradigm of modular synthesis that my impoverished bank account would have otherwise obfuscated.

Years later, and I'm a fully paid-up owner of Reason 7.1, Balance and several rack extensions. I'm doubtful however - that I'd be so committed had it not been for those days of free, unlimited albeit piratical usage.

So a single act of piracy by a person who could not afford to pay up initially, ultimately resulted in a long term - paying customer. And I doubt that I serve as a sole example.

Does piracy harm industries? To some extent yes, although I'd argue that it's more harmful to smaller companies, independent entities and start-ups.

Piracy almost certainly isn't always a bad thing though. And when companies choose invasive DRM measures - the already muddied waters simply coagulate into a tar pit full of dinosaur corpses. [apologies for that stretch of an already dubious metaphor]

Isn't it funny that so many 'legit' DVDs force you to sit through advertisements and copyright warnings, yet a High Definition, ad-free version is only a 60 second torrent away. Extend that example into the varied and murky world of DRM and you have to ask yourself; who is really encouraging piracy in this seemingly never-ending war of attrition?

22-Apr-14 06:48 AM

Stalin    Said...

@ Stu

You're right; we should ban the vagaries of art, don our state provided, utilitarian coveralls and all work in socialist harmony to further the greatness of Mother Russia.

22-Apr-14 07:07 AM

Daniel M.    Said...

So Sonic State is fine with a group pirating a mercahnt ship full of, say, Korg gear? And then sell them, black market style?

Because that's "piracy".

Oh, by the way, I just removed your website from all the music schools' systems that I admin.

Tell your advertisers (Korg e.t.c.) that it is their loss that you support piracy.

22-Apr-14 07:37 AM

Daniel    Said...

Sonic State supports piracy?

Did you tell that to your advertisers or you hope that they won't find out through AdSense?

I just removed your website from all the music schools' systems I admin for.

22-Apr-14 07:38 AM

Nick B    Said...

Thats an interesting take on an article Daniel. As far as I understand, we are not condoning piracy here, just discussing it, is that something we should not do?

And for the record, no we don't support piracy.

22-Apr-14 08:09 AM

stu    Said...

if you think paying an actor more money then a nurse is ok,i feel sorry for you,and it has nothing to do with russia,,people should get paid for the work they do,,and currently politicians and film hoes get paid more then a nurse who saves your dying baby,,get real people mgm ,emi ,paramount are just con merchants trying to milk for every penny they can ...f*** them and there corporate nightmares ,,,you know im right er nurse taking care of your dying mum or some film twat ,who should be paid more,its a no brainer ,long live piratebay or any other site that provides the free stuff,,if caveman had copywritten the wheel where would man be now then smart allec???????????????

22-Apr-14 08:30 AM

LagrangeAudio    Said...

Hi Daniel, I think the disclaimer attached to the article is pretty self explanatory:

"The opinions expressed in this blog are those of a personal contributor and may not reflect those of"

For the record: as the author of the article I do not support piracy either. The article explains some of the issues associated with piracy and potentially what a different approach could do to substantially reduce it.

22-Apr-14 08:32 AM

stu    Said...

its a simple question who should get paid paid more,johnny depp or a firemen who saves burning babies?

22-Apr-14 08:46 AM

Leo    Said...

So you suggest Mr. Depp should leave the money on the table for the production companies, just because your government doesn't pay nurses and firemen properly? Why is it Mr. Depp's fault that firemen are not paid properly? Did he ever run a firefighting business? Did he ever say "don't pay firemen"? Surely you have taken action about this injustice. Show us what you have done for firemen in your country. Did you run a fundraiser, did you complain to your politicians? No? You pirate music and movies and music software because "firemen are not paid well"? Oh, and about Sonic State "not supporting piracy": Where is the input from PRS? You didn't bother to ask, did you? How professional of you! Oh, the journalism!

22-Apr-14 09:26 AM

reader since the 90s    Said...

It is difficult to write articles *against* piracy when your website is paid by Google. You feel the need to support Google's tyranny. Poor bloggers. Imagine having to support the musicians for once. Have a look at what your main page top banner says when you get a chance.

22-Apr-14 09:30 AM

stu    Said...

i am taking action against this injustice im downloading free,and im voicing my opinion on the world wide web ,which is global as far as im aware,,and if depp gets paid a million how much goes on to the cost of a dvd ,just pay him less and dont charge as much for the film ,,same as cinemas way overpriced,,if they really want to reduce piracy ,they need to stop ripping us all off

22-Apr-14 09:49 AM

Savage Trees    Said...

"2) I am really interested in it but it's way too expensive 3) I couldn't get access to it any other way"

In many countries, including mine (Peru) the legitimate access to cultura is limited to small rich elites...In poor countries piracy democratize culture. Vice recently made a short documentary on this.

22-Apr-14 11:04 AM

fight mp3    Said...

"How many times did you record TV shows on your VHS recorder? How many mix tapes did you make to play on your compact cassette player? All of that was illegal, in legalise it "infringed" on someone's copyright or was "unauthorised". I remember my parents buying our first VHS machine and from the moment we pressed record for the first time we were as complicit as everyone else, that was 33 years ago. " This is total bullshit!!! Recording a TV show making or a copy of a record etc. for personal use was never and still isn't illegal. The distrubution is!

22-Apr-14 02:30 PM

WorknMan    Said...

I don't pirate myself, but will happily share and use cracks for anything I purchase that uses overly aggressive DRM.

22-Apr-14 09:18 PM

The Guvnor    Said...

I don't mind paying for music/video/software. What p*sses me off is when i have to pay to download it again if I lose it. Its not like its physical media or anything like that.

22-Apr-14 11:16 PM

LagrangeAudio    Said...

I guess to put this into some sort of perspective the ideal situation we all want to have here is a fair and equitable marketplace which has three principle characteristics i.e. the products on offer are fairly and reasonably priced, are available to anyone who wants them and are of a reasonable quality. By definition this marketplace cannot exist where it has one without the other two, or two without the other one. We all have a shared responsibility to this, both consumers and producers.

23-Apr-14 04:23 AM

brianfromusa    Said...


If you think actors are overpaid, then stop watching movies.

23-Apr-14 06:13 AM

Stu    Said...


23-Apr-14 06:27 AM

Gentle breeze    Said...

Thanks for the link Savage Trees :)

23-Apr-14 06:30 AM

Peter    Said...

So, tell me, Sonic State editors: According to "LagrangeAudio", I can go and pirate a couple of Korg keyboards, since I can't afford them and they are not currently for sale in my country...

23-Apr-14 09:15 AM

gridsleep    Said...

Hardware will be pirateable when 3D printing becomes high resolution. Read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. On another paradigm, is no one paying attention to crowd sourcing? If an idea even seems good however outlandish, it can garner several times its requested startup value in a matter of hours. Funding by plebiscite. The democracy of economics and investment. Companies who survive into the future will do so through crowd sourcing, not private investment and advertising and marketing. That was the old way. The new way requires some trust.

23-Apr-14 09:49 AM

gridsleep    Said...

As well as complete honesty, I might add.

23-Apr-14 09:51 AM

gridsleep    Said...

Oh and STU, what about all the people who make a living working on Johnny Depp movies, who feed and clothe their childred because of the work? Thousands of lives enriched because of a single endeavor. That doesn't count for anything? In the great film Circle of Iron, the blind man says, "A fish saved my life once." Cord the seeker asks, "Really? How?" "I at it."

23-Apr-14 10:01 AM

gridsleep    Said...

"I ate it." Stupid bloody typos.

23-Apr-14 10:02 AM

That Guy    Said...

Option 13) (Audio)

I purchase goods (T-shirts etc....) directly from bands at their concerts so they actually make some profit. Dl their material online...

23-Apr-14 12:27 PM

rotten    Said...

Something is forgotten here: The Problem is not some or a lot of People downloading something illegal: The Problem are the People who make this possible and earn money with it. The digital Industry did one big mistake: She treat the Person who could be a Custommer like a Pirate and create stupid user and Customunfriendly Gadgets like DRM and Ilok. Oh how i love my ilok and DRM. There are some Prommusicmakers out there who buy the orginal Version for legal rights but use the cracked Version cause it is more easy to use. I do not pirate, but i would never buy a Ilok. Anyway: i highly recommend to watch what Jean Michel Jarre has to say to this topic in the following Vid. The Problem is not the User. The Problem are the People who run the big sites and making money with content other people create. This is piracy. On the other Hand we have the big Internetdealers like Google and the Product youtube who fuck all the time Coyprights. Youtube pay nothing for the songs somebody load up and are not uploaded by the artist. Youtube argue: The Artist can be happy you can consume his Art there and pay no roylitys... So like Jarre say in the Vid: You can't turn back time, it is in the flesh of people that digital content is free and so the Creators must find a way to find a conclusion with Google and all those others who use theire Content. Also Content is the wrong word, we talk here about Creations which make Youtube, Google, Pirate Bay and all those others invaluable..without this "content" nobody would visit this sites... and the creators of the Creations should get paid...

24-Apr-14 02:41 AM

Danny    Said...

Why do you support neonazis?

24-Apr-14 07:33 AM

C.Simmons - CA USA    Said...

Hard to take seriously an author who can't use his/her real name as an author. Generally pirates go by fake names more than the honest folk do. Just sayin.

25-Apr-14 03:11 PM

Nanners1    Said...


Made you look! Bunch of monkeys playing king of the hill. You people take yourselves waaaaayyyyy to seriously, seriously. 1. Shouldn't you be practicing? 2. Nobody is listening any way.

27-Apr-14 07:13 PM

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