Right to electronic piracy?

Dinidu de Alwis speaks to a few youngsters on their views of online priracy

On screen, the progress bar reaches 100%. The latest Hollywood production has completed downloading. It hasn't even premiered in Asia, but the boy in glasses in front of the screen sits down with a pack of chips and drinks to watch it.

A compilation DVD with several software suites can be bought for a mere couple of hundred rupees. Do the math for the prices of the software in it, and the savings can add up to several hundreds of thousands.

Another small set of progress bars reach the 100% mark, which signals the completion of the download of the hit singles. Complete with comprehensive artist and track information, this now makes its way to your iPod for listening, and to your phone to make a hip ring tone.

Any of this sounds familiar? All these are different instances of electronic piracy which happens – all the time. We spoke to a couple of young people to find out what they thought about the world of downloading music, movies and software.

Ruvan (20) also downloads from the internet. "I guess from an ethical standpoint, it's wrong. But I download movies because I can get the latest stuff before it hits the market. And it's easy to get music tracks." He downloads in moderation however, when compared to the next person we spoke to.

Asitha (23) is a heavy downloader. "Whenever my computer is online on a broadband connection, be it work or home, I'm downloading something." He downloads everything, including TV series. "Some programmes likes House MD air in Sri Lanka almost a year after their original air dates. And programmes like South Park are not aired at all." He uses software which automatically checks for new episodes of these, and downloads them for him.

And there are the people who do not download videos off the internet for legal reasons. Some are worried that if the law enforcement authorities do start tracking the users who download media off the internet, they will face the threat of legal action. However, they continue to purchase pirated media in the form of CDs and DVDs. An argument that is out there in favour of file sharing, is that artists who worry about users and fans sharing files, are not particularly in the industry for their love of art, but to merely make money. This school of thought follows the argument that artists can make money from merchandise and concerts, and that the losses of income that they incur are marginal. The fact that artists continue to produce records that pass the million mark in terms of sales, also supports this argument. Local band HollowPoint Halo for example, is planning on putting up their new album online for fans to download.

Ethically though, it's a question of respecting the creative rights of other people. And there seems to be a perception about how "small" the crime is. For example, you would not walk into a car showroom and drive away in a new car. You would not walk into a mobile phone showroom, pick one out, and simply walk out. This was the subject of a satirical public serve announcement made by musician Kid Rock, in his advert titled "Steal Everything."

As one person who did not wish to be named put it, "I'd rather watch the movie on the big screen, because it's not only the movie, but the whole experience of it"; which is probably what it boils down to.

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