Here There Be Pirates

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“Jesus said to them, ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ And they marveled at him.” – Mark 12:17

This is a simple question, yet what remains behind it is incredibly complex.

Call me arcane, but there’s something about the act of “file sharing” that makes me feel like I need to wash my hands. Granted, I’ve been culpable of burning CDs, sharing CDs, downloading videos. But is the actual act of torrenting music/movies illegal?

Image pirated from Emilie Richards.
Image pirated from Emilie Richards.

Yes. In the sense that not only are you culpable in reinforcing what the uploader did, you also have sneaked around the law of the land. As the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

If the law of the land indicates that torrenting or downloading torrents is illegal then that makes this question a no-brainer right? “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” thanks Jesus.

Who can forget the classic eighth commandment: “you shall not steal?” Thanks God.

Comparatively, a writer for TorrentFreak writes,

“According to all four Gospels, Jesus himself once took five small barley loaves and two small fishes and multiplied them using a kind of biblical BitTorrent swarm to enable the feeding of 5,000 people. They weren’t starving people, it just wasn’t convenient for them to get food where they were at that moment in time. While they all got to eat a very nice meal it could be argued that local fisherman and bakers wouldn’t have appreciated the slump in business, but there again they could have adapted more quickly and followed the demand.”

I think this misses a big point. This is really more an issue of hospitality, which is later used as a graphic illustration later in John 6. The fact of the matter is that we live under an old system. Who really uses cable anymore? Who buys physical CDs (besides hipsters)? Arcane systems are still being used to try and make a profit when the digital age has opened a whole new spectrum of how we interact with media.

Graph pirated from
Graph pirated from

Netflix and Hulu have made it easier to watch movies and television shows; Spotify and Pandora have allowed us to enjoy free tunes everywhere we go. These subscriptions are incredibly cheap (essentially destroying the “poor college student” argument) and justification against using them in favor of torrents can be seen as asinine.

Back in 2004, the Barna Group surveyed over 1,400 teens on the idea of file sharing and found that,

“Active church attendees (78%) were just as likely as non-attendees (81%) to engage in piracy; born again Christians (77%) were just as likely as non-born again Christians (81%).”

In an article written by Jason Mick for Daily Tech, he writes,

“In the study authored by American Assembly VP Joe Karaganis and Dutch freelancer/Ph.D researcher Lennart Renkema, it is revealed that 45 percent of U.S. citizens and 46 percent of German citizens actively pirate media. Those rates jump to nearly 70 percent when looking at younger demographics.”

This isn’t a question of unbelievers vs. believers anymore.

Yet surprisingly, people who “pirate” media are more likely to buy related media. Does it then become immoral for me to download an episode of True Detective, love the episode so much, and then buy the entire season on Blu-ray? This brings us back to the words of Christ at the beginning of this blog. Even if I help out the media producers when I torrent something they create later on down the line, isn’t the initial act itself illegal, even if it is placed inside of an old system?

Or really am I helping to promote the media I “pirate” as I’m more likely to buy their other merchandise (i.e. Game of Thrones)?

Maybe this has made the idea of “piracy” more of a gray area than we would like to think.

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