Admit it, pirating things can be pretty cool, especially when you’re strapped for cash and don’t want to miss that awesome new movie or video game.
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However, one unfortunate Fallout 4 player raises the question: is it piracy really worth the risk?
Geek.com reported on December 6 that a gamer who used bitcoin mysteriously lost all of his coins and couldn’t figure out why. After going to r/bitcoin on Reddit, he found out the likely source of his missing coins: Fallout 4. This redditor, u/arkanoah, pirated a copy of Fallout 4 on release day, which was suspiciously the date that the bitcoin thief moved arkanoah’s coins out of his wallet. His fellow redditors came to the conclusion that his torrent contained malware that gave the thief access to arkanoah’s private key. Although this hasn’t been 100% confirmed, it seems like a plausible explanation for how someone stole this bitcoiners stash.
One user’s remark that the OP would have saved more money by simply purchasing the game drives home the feeling that, in this case at least, piracy just might not be worth the hazards that come with it. Torrents are risky, they could have all kinds of malware attached to them, programs that could seriously harm your computer or wallet if you let them get installed on your system.
However, on the other hand, there is a line of thought that disagrees with intellectual property (IP) on principle, and see piracy as making an economic and ethical move against IP monopolies. To be fair, the arguments against IP make a compelling case, which creates a dilemma of principle vs. pragmatism; does my hatred of IP justify putting all my bitcoins on the line?
The Economic and Moral Cases Against IP
Property derives from economic scarcity, when two people cannot use the same goods or raw materials at the same time. Take a phone, for example. Two people cannot use the same phone simultaneously. In order for one person to make a call, the other person must give up possession of the phone, rendering him unable to use any of the device’s services. Therefore, due to its physical scarcity, only one person will have the phone at a time, and whoever has it possesses it as property.
Taking this explanation of property into consideration, it doesn’t make much sense to classify ideas or information as property. Information has no scarcity, it exists in an infinitely abundant state, accessible to all without depriving anyone else of its services. Two people can simultaneously listen to a song without taking it away from the other person. Two people can also have the identical idea at two different times, without ever interacting with each other, and both can benefit from that idea without taking away from the other’s welfare. For instance, if two people discover how to make fire, they can both retain that knowledge and draw upon it as much as they want without harming each other.
Thus, from an economic standpoint, IP seems like an unnecessary hindrance to the advancement of human knowledge. To take IP to its logical extreme: what if you got in trouble for learning how to talk after someone else, or if you sang a song that someone else sang the day before?
Libertarian hero and Bitcoin celebrity Jeffrey Tucker used this economic reasoning as the basis for a compelling moral argument. Tucker has elaborated on his moral argument in detail across various platforms, but succinctly summarized it in a 2014 Facebook post:
Here’s the case against IP in sum. Property rights exist due to scarcity, defined as rivalrous consumption of a good or service. When that condition is not met, we achieve utopia of infinite distribution. Any attempt after that to limit consumption or production by law amounts to unjust aggression against property, person, and human liberty itself.
Pragmatism: But is Piracy really worth it?
So, IP might not make economic sense, and it may be morally reprehensible from a libertarian perspective. But, does rationality and moral righteousness justify the pragmatic risks involved with fighting IP through piracy? Take our unfortunate Fallout 4 player, he wasn’t even necessarily fighting some moral battle, he probably just wanted a free game. And he ended up paying over $1000 USD for it. He lost a large sum of money, and for what? Even if he cared about IP monopolies — which probably isn’t the case — it’s doubtful that he made a significant dent in the Bethesda IP machine. The Fallout 4 launch brought in $750 million USD for Bethesda, so they probably didn’t miss this redditor’s measly $60. I bet he sure misses his $1000, though.
The decision of whether or not piracy is worth the risk really depends on the individual. Maybe some people really are so disgusted by IP that they want to attack the beast in any way possible. If that’s the case, more power to them. On the other hand, the people just looking for cheap entertainment might get a better deal just paying for their content up front, and avoid getting robbed by a thief with a malicious torrent.
The bottom line is this: if you’re going to torrent copyrighted content on the same computer you use to store bitcoin, be careful. Pay attention to what you’re downloading, and only torrent from reputable sources. Otherwise, you might end up like this Fallout 4 fan, who probably wishes he could trade his caps for bitcoins right about now.
Is piracy worth risking your bitcoins? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Reddit user mort629g, Bethesda,