Fearless Digital Pirates Don’t Care About Lawsuits

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The year 2005 saw the first person sentenced to prison for sharing a movie. In 2007, the possibility of being fined huge amounts became a reality as a music sharer snared by the RIAA picks up a $222,000 bill. So presumably file-sharers are in hiding? Hardly. This fearless internet breed never stops sharing.

Once it became clear that the ‘Grokster Decision’ was actually a win for file-sharing and not the golden bullet against sharers that the industry had hoped for, it became increasingly clear – sharing was simply not going to go away. Today, if one visits the Grokster site, you’re greeted by this message:

There are legal services for downloading music and movies.
This service is not one of them.

YOUR IP ADDRESS IS 83.233.168.134 AND HAS BEEN LOGGED.
Don’t think you can’t get caught. You are not anonymous.

Apart from the fact that I am anonymous (the IP is owned by the anonymous Relakks service), this message is typical of the type of useless scare tactics employed by the industry. Time and again the message is “Don’t think you can’t get caught” and “You are not anonymous” or “You can click but you can’t hide”

Millions upon millions of file sharers are responding to these slogans, not with words, but with actions. They ARE clicking and the vast majority simply don’t care about hiding. It’s true that when you use a standard connection on the internet you aren’t anonymous and of course, it’s certainly possible to ‘get caught’. However, as ever more serious headline-grabbing events come and go, file-sharers are getting wise and making their own risk assessments, probably based on: “I’m clicking every day, they never find me. Or any of my friends. Or their friends.”

When Scott McCausland and a handful of other people went to jail for uploading a pre-release movie in 2005, the industry put out the message: You will go to jail for sharing. Well, it’s 2007 now and surprise, surprise – no one else did. It was a special case, it doesn’t apply to 99.99% of file-sharers and it’s useless in the battle against them.

Today in 2007, we hear about Jammie Thomas, the most famous of the 26,000 recipients of legal action at the hands of the RIAA. Sure, she really got hammered with that huge fine and it will deter some from sharing, but the overwhelming majority either haven’t heard about the case or don’t think they’ll be caught – and they could be forgiven for thinking that.

Even if we super over-compensate and say that 100,000 people worldwide had legal action taken against them (it’s nowhere near), this number pales into insignificance when put alongside the conservative estimate of 100 million worldwide file-sharers. Furthermore, take away the legal actions in the United States and the chances of being ‘caught’ edge ever closer to zero. The odds of being ‘caught’ in the rest of the world aren’t quite zero but they’re substantially slimmer than in the States.

Whatever the reality, it’s the perception that really matters and the perception among file-sharers is that while they’re downloading the latest blockbuster movies or millions of TV shows every single week, the chances of being ‘caught’ are close to zero. Therefore the chances of paying a ‘fine’ are close to zero and the chance of going to jail, closer still.

So maybe digital pirates aren’t fearless, brave or even reckless. Maybe they just like to gamble when the odds are hugely – massively – tipped in their favor.

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