A movie-piracy moral dilemma

We saw The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey in the cinema when it came out, and with reservations loved it. Today I get notification from Amazon that the DVD is available for pre-order, at £17.20. That seems a bit steep, but it’s definitely a film we’ll watch repeatedly so I might buy it.

Except that Peter Jackson has confirmed that there will be an extended edition (with 20-25 minutes more screen time, and hopefully a shedload of documentaries). So it’s a dead cert that I’ll buy that when it comes out. We love the LotR extended editions.


My question is this: since the regular-edition DVD is a subset of the extended-edition DVD that I’m going to buy, is it morally acceptable to pirate the regular edition when it becomes available, watch that, and then buy the extended DVD?


17 responses to “A movie-piracy moral dilemma

  1. If morals are decided by the majority of society (or should be… many of our governments haven’t realized that yet)… many would say yes.

    But to argue a bit more… what if you wind up not buying the extended edition (never issued after all, priced too high, Amazon won’t sell to you)? Does that suddenly make your piracy immoral, retroactively?

    What about timing? If the extended edition will be released 3 months after the regular edition, does that make piracy more or less moral than if there’s a 2 year gap between editions?

    I don’t have answers, but I’m not desperate to see the regular edition on DVD. I lived my whole life to this point without seeing it, so waiting a little longer for the extended edition doesn’t matter.

  2. Travis Schneeberger

    With a little careful planning these types of dilemmas could be avoided. For example: They could have
    a) allowed users to trade in any standard edition for an extended edition (within a certain time period and with proper product registration
    2) allowed people to preorder the extended edition. Since details would likely not be finalized, Maybe granted those that preorder the extended ed. access to stream the standard edition version or something.

    Either way, piracy is many times a result of consumers being under-served and rights holders wielding their content with a iron fist. Treating consumers with respect and fulfilling demands (according to the market) avoids many cases of piracy IMHO.

    I’m not saying that your example is a particularly egregiousness example but it still seems to fall under the “listen to the market and the market will reward you” mentality.

  3. So.. you’re asking for permission to copy a DVD?
    Dude, I don’t see why you need permission, just get Machiavellian and copy the thing.

    Did the makers of Glee ask for permission when they used Jonathan Coulton’s version of Baby Got Back?
    No. They had no moral qualms about taking his unique arrangement and using it w/o giving credit and w/o even kindly dropping him an email saying “thanks”.

    You want the movie? Copy the movie. I promise I won’t tell anyone. :-)

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  4. Interesting — yet in retrospect, kind of obvious — ideas from Travis. I wonder why no studio is yet attempting anything like this.

  5. I think the morals are fairly clear — it is ‘their content’, and they set up the rules; it is not for you to decide to dishonour their rules or not and call it moral.

    Is it harmful? no, not really.

    Theres three or more at play .. legal, moral, harmful…

    However, there is that question of distortion of the morality over the years; as many say.. music used to be assumed that the second you performed it, it was part of culture.. not your own; that copyright etc is actually stealing from culture. The $$ is for performances, but the concept is nolonger your own.

    But that is not the world we live in now, at least in the UK and Canada and US and so on; in this world, the laws we live in now, are that the content author gets their control, and so on down the chain.

    You can’t go to the grocer and say ‘this apple isn’t as red as I like it, so I’ll pocket it and leave 50c on the table instead of the dolalr they want’. You take it, or leave it, thats the rules that we all understand.

    — that all aside, heavy handed as it is — you’re not hurting anyone by takigtn a _copy_ (nothing is stolen), provided you do pick up the extended; but its all with a bit of humble ‘we all know its wrong, but many do it anyway’.

    ie: DVD Piracy Jaywalking, call it. Or parking in front of the school when your kid is late, so you can dash in and out and take off.. you’re only there for 30 seconds, and you’re not allowed to park there. Its a little thing, and no one really cares. A white-lie.

  6. @Jeff
    I must respectfully suggest that your argument has some flaws. You make a point about how you can’t just pay what you want for an apple, then take it.
    But next you say no one his harmed by making the copy of the DVD, that nothing is stolen. But by the notion of and rules governing “intellectual property”, making a copy of the disk *is* theft. I.e.: that’s one potential sale that the company cannot now make.
    “Don’t copy that floppy”!

    The company was planning on charging both for this first DVD *and-also* later charging for the more complete Special Extended. Because the company really, really likes Mike’s money and wants as much of it as it can possibly get.

    So if Mike only buys the Special Extended and does not buy the current version but instead just sort of “acquires” it, then the company feels like it’s losing out. Personally, I think the company should just lump it. And I think copyright law should change and become more flexible. (Although I confess I’m very foggy-minded on just exactly *how* it should change.) No wait, I got it: The company should diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. or something.

    Furry cows moo and decompress.

  7. Oh by no means was I suggesting an air tight argument, but suggesting that..

    – one: morally, I think its fairly clear that we live in a set of rules, and if we’re honouring them and not just picking and choosing whatever is convenient that hour, then we know what is ‘right’ here. (and if you disagree, you lobby to change the rules :)

    – two, no one really cares … and the guys who do care (the RIAA etc).. their employees will sue someone at work, then go home and pirate something from TPB I’m sure when they get home.

    I’m not endorsing or undorsing :), but society is changing, the laws need to change, and its up to Mike to pick his stance now and in the future. (and if he wants ot go nab stuff, at least use a VPN or proxy when he does so :O)

    I’m waiting for Wreck it Ralph and Hobbit Extended to come out; thats an order Amazon can serve well :)


  8. Only if you’re “loaning” it to a “friend”, or if they “loan” it to you. ;)

  9. I’ve never understood why this is such a dilemma for people, or why anyone would be a no-“pirating” absolutist. The moral calculus seems very straightforward. Assume that the digital item was completely unavailable to you other than by purchasing it legitimately. Would you then pay for it? If so, and you “pirate” it, you are stealing, and it is morally wrong. If you would not buy it, then you are doing absolutely no harm to anyone, and is morally acceptable.

  10. It’s like obeying traffic signals at 3 am. You don’t run a red light if a police officer is going to see you, but it’s kind of ridiculous to argue that you have a moral obligation to sit there if the roads for 20 blocks are completely empty because we live in a set of rules, and if you don’t strictly follow all arbitrary rules always everywhere then society will break down, etc etc.

  11. Jeff, in equating “morality” with “following the rules”, you seem to be confusing “legal” with “moral”.

    WyrdWyrd, I tried to watch that video but couldn’t get past 1:18. Oh, and if the company had anything in common with Galadriel then we wouldn’t even have this problem.

    ilyichulanov, I don’t disagree with anything you say, but it’s not clear to me how your principles apply to this particular situation.

  12. You have to figure out for yourself whether in a non-pirating world you would buy the regular edition DVD given that it would be completely pointless to own it when the EE version came out. For instance, say the internet completely went away, and there was a new Sleater-Kinney album coming out. I’d go to the record store in a heartbeat, except there’s no way I’d buy it if two months later another version was coming out with three additional songs. But I’d sure as heck copy a friend’s CD while I waited two months to purchase the extended version.

  13. Actually, take copying out of that situation. There’s still no way I’d buy the first CD when in 2 months I could get the same thing except better.

  14. Is it moral to claim you’ve got a degree before you graduate? Is it moral to do certain things with your significant other before you get married? Is it moral to buy the normal edition now and then pirate the extended later (when it’s at the same price as you paid for the normal)? Is it moral to pirate a newly released game when you know you’re going to buy it the moment it drops to $5?

    You are basically asking if future events make current actions OK. But given that most of us have trouble time traveling at a rate other than +60 sec/min, and give that many things in society are built around the assumption that timing matters, I don’t think that’s the case.

    Paying more to get things sooner is not a strange concept. Perhaps you could consider the cost of buying the normal version now as an “expedited shipping” cost?

  15. Deuteronomy 24:15 comes to mind. Granted, the movie studios aren’t exactly poor, but the concept of payment being due at the time services are rendered rather than at some point in the future still stands.

    My employer has recently changed their policy from paying into my retirement fund in each paycheck to paying into it in one lump sum at the end of the year. Still the same total payment, but something I and my co-workers are quite upset about because the company, instead of us, will be earning interest on that money until the end of the year. Your argument says that my employer’s actions are morally OK. I disagree.

  16. (Much later)

    For the record, I neither bought nor pirated the theatrical edition DVD; I just waited for the extended edition to come out, and bought that.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.