Being a Pirate is OK, But Being a Cheapskate Sucks

Opinion

Casual digital piracy seems socially acceptable these days but how many people can honestly say that receiving a counterfeit gift from a loved one this Christmas wouldn't be somewhat of a disappointment? Don't we all have an aversion to fakes and piracy in the right circumstances?

There can be few Internet-savvy people around who haven’t, on occasion, downloaded an MP3 or two. Among those people’s parents, find a person who has never listened to a copied CD or cassette-taped LP and i’ll show you the bar where Bigfoot buys the Loch Ness Monster a beer on Friday nights.

These days piracy is somewhat socially acceptable, to the point that a little can fly alongside the average moral compass without upsetting it too much. This upsets the entertainment industries no end, however.

Times are changing though, there can be little doubt about that. Piracy is just as omnipresent now as it ever was, but educational and awareness schemes are at least giving pirates and potential pirates thoughts of what it might be like to be a more permanent fixture among the paying classes.

This awareness, coupled with better offerings of course, may eventually bring about steady change, but there is one area of IP infringement that the younger generation need little encouragement to understand.

Counterfeit items – whether clothing, sportswear, designer fragrances, watches or computer accessories – can be bought in just about every country of the world. By free-riding the brand awareness built by their trademarked namesakes they also tend to be massively cheaper in comparison.

This accessibility on pricing means that fakes always seem to sell well, which is particularly interesting since they’re a product with near zero street cred in the West. While some might not care about the stigma, kids – the so-called pirate generation – definitely do.

Those who can’t afford a pair of Nike sneakers quietly hope that their peers don’t notice that they’re wearing Mike. And dare to accuse a teen of communicating via a fake iPhone and expect rage to be the response. It’s as if by casting aspersions on their ability to own the genuine item you’ve somehow criticized their entire character.

That said, kids and teens do not generally feel the same way about digital piracy. While Pirate Bay’d MP3s (especially unreleased ones) can at times be the pinnacle of cool, the wearing of Peats By Drei earphones is treated like a four letter outburst in church.

Adults aren’t immune to counterfeit aversion either. Earlier this year my trusty HTC One found itself being upgraded to a shiny new Samsung S5 courtesy of a third off retail eBay auction. While waiting for it to arrive I inadvertently read about some S5 Chinese copies going around and how side by side they’re difficult to tell apart from the real deal. Some, functionally, are apparently very good indeed.

That knowledge developed into a little panic followed by creeping annoyance that I might have been scammed. This led to my questioning whether having a functionally identical but fake product would make any difference to my enjoyment of it, much like listening to a genuine and ‘pirate’ MP3 side by side. Would it really matter?

Damn right it would – I paid for the real thing, I wanted the real thing. Screw fakes and ready my PayPal chargeback. Fortunately it was a genuine Samsung device and I went back to feeling content with my purchase and happy I wouldn’t have to cover up being some kind of cheapskate down the pub.

That feel good, confident feeling, of having the real thing, is difficult to put one’s finger on. Kids and teens understand it, and in the right circumstances adults do too. That Gucci perfume? It smells good, for longer too. And just look at the quality stitching on that Prada handbag.

People might indeed be watching plenty of downloaded movies over the holidays, but they won’t generally be buying their loved ones counterfeit gifts this Christmas, will they?

How the entertainment industries bottle this emotional response to generally overpriced items and apply it to their own products is anyone’s guess, but especially among the younger generation there’s definitely something there to tap into.

Just don’t presume the big entertainment companies are going to get designer prices for whatever they come up with as those days are well and truly over. Everyone has limits on what they’ll pay for the real thing, as the thriving counterfeit market shows.

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