Is Piracy the Last Hope of Preservation?

Remember the PSA “Don’t Copy That Floppy!”? Thanks to those that did, we still have access to tens of thousands of games and applications from the past that we may never have seen again. That isn’t where it ends …

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Since the beginning of the home video gaming revolution in the 1970s and 1980s — there has been a war being fought every single day.

The war between content owners and pirates.

This war spans decades and platforms — from computers to consoles — from VHS tapes to 4k UHD discs; if it could be copied and distributed, it has.

The content holders explain that this is theft. If you partake of apps|games|media|other you didn’t pay for, you are stealing revenue from them — like if you were stealing a car, a purse or any other property.

Are they wrong?

The pirates (those that crack protection schemes — be it off software or digital movie discs — as well as distribute it) will tell you that these are not lost profits at all since most pirates wouldn’t be buying the content ANYWAY. That media is too expensive. That these greedy companies make too much money as it is. They also claim that they are in the preservation business — allowing users to make backups of their precious purchases as well as enabling them to use the content as they see fit.

Are they wrong?

We could argue the majority of piracy justifications ad nauseam all day long. But there is a nugget of truth to be had here. A nugget that will eventually benefit every single person reading this article.


Nothing Is Forever

Magnetic media is fragile. Disc media pit and rot. Batteries leak and destroy motherboards in arcade games and computers. Streaming services come and go (hey Ultraviolet, how’s it hangin’?). Digital lockers shut down. Copy protection stops you from making backups of content you actually paid for.

Truth is — nothing is forever.

We count on technology to keep the things we love alive. Our favorite movies, music, video games, TV shows — even our own precious memories of home videos and photos — we entrust that The Big Machine(tm) will make sure we can always consume the media we want and play the games we desire now and forever.

The truth also is — you cannot depend on The Big Machine(tm) to do this. After all, the big machine is about making money and keeping the stockholders happy. If the consumers benefit from this? Great. If not? 20th Century Fox has no interest in making sure you can watch Herman’s Head in 2020 (or any other year after it aired for that matter).

There are also little matters of rights, ownership and distribution nonsense to throw into the mix.

They’ve Never Made The Jump

For we the Gen’Xers — we’ve seen a lot. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, “on demand” was called “summer reruns”. If you wanted to see that K.I.T.T. vs Goliath episode of Knight Rider again, all you could do is hope to see it when it re-aired sometime in August. If your family was rich as hell, you might have had an early Betamax or even VHS machine to record shows on — that was the best you could do back then.

VHS hit the mainstream and you could rent movies for $5 a night — but to own them cost (for some reason) $109.99. Luckily, video tape rental stores would often sell “used tapes” for $10-$20 so you could actually build a collection to own.

When VHS gave way to DVD, you couldn’t wait to purchase your favorite movies on this cool DIGITAL format (Tombstone, Blade and Lost in Space were three of my first).

But some of your favorites never made the jump to DVD.

Once you got rid of those “nasty, space-taking” VHS tapes (most of them anyway) and converted to DVD, it was time for HD video to get you repurchasing your films again on Blu Ray (or HD-DVD for those of us who backed the wrong horse).

But some of your favorites never made the jump to Blu ray.

4K UHD promises HDR and the crispest picture you’ve ever seen. Film nuts like me started to replace our remaining DVDs and Blus with UHD.

But some of your favorites never made the jump to 4k UHD.

Ah but what about Netflix, Hulu, Amazon … all those monthly services you traded your “expensive” cable bill for. Surely …

But some of your favorites never made the jump to streaming.

So if your favorites don’t exist on streaming, Blu ray or even DVD — what then?

Piracy. Those who did have VHS machines when Hart to Hart was on TV? They have copies of the show. They digitized them and put them on the Internet. They may be terrible second-gen copies from Betamax — but they are copies all the same.

Games of Christmas Past

Did you spend your allowance in the video game arcade in the early ‘80s? Bet your ass I did. Every week you would go in and see what new games there would be to play. You would fall in love with one — only to see it get removed a few weeks later, making room for something bigger and better.

Thanks to preservation projects like MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator) 99.9% of all these classic arcade games can be played on almost any modern device such as a PC, phone, tablet or a Raspberry Pi plugged into your TV.

Of course, it’s all illegal. Piracy.

Maybe you were a computer geek or console nerd in the 1980s. There is a thriving market for retro games these days — with people on eBay selling games and systems for top dollar on cartridge or disc.

But even with the reach of the mighty Internet, not everything you grew up loving is available for purchase at any price. I spent 20 years trying to buy a copy of the terminal software I used on the Commodore 64; Sixth Sense.

Of course — with a simple Google search, I was able to get my hands on a pirated copy.

That would be a crime, though.

That’s Not How I Remember It!

Ever watch a movie or TV show on a streaming service and say to yourself, “Something is wrong here …”?

Content is edited — sometimes there are cuts you saw on TV or at the theater that aren’t what you see on Netflix or Hulu. Sometimes when you buy a disc set of a TV show, they strip all the music out and replace it with crap you don’t know.

This is common — even if you don’t always see it — it is happening. Sometimes, a pirated copy is the only way to see it as it originally was.

Disney+ is the newest big streaming service (since Disney owns everything, they have a lot of stuff). But Disney is censoring your content. Even removing episodes from big name TV shows like The Simpsons.

It seems no service nor content is safe anymore.

True Preservation Through Piracy

Do you like Seth McFarlane’s new show, The Orville? Me too. LOVE it. Love it so much, in fact — I want to own it on Blu ray.

Not possible.

Wait, what? How can that be? The show is on the air right now, it’s popular and shot and run in high definition. What do you mean you can’t buy it on Blu ray.

That is correct. This show is not available on Blu ray. Only DVD. Old ass, low definition Digital Video Disc format.

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However a quick trip to your favorite torrent site or other pirate bay on the internet and you can pick up this season of Captain Mercer’s adventures in true high definition — that looks just as good as a Blu ray and you can play it on any device that can play MP4 (which by the way, is pretty much all of them).

Piracy is the only way to “own” this show in a format you desire.

Streaming services are no solution either. Those shows come and go at a whim — and even “digital purchases” aren’t guaranteed. Some stuff just isn’t there — and isn’t likely to be any time soon.

In 20 years, The Orville may only be available as a download off an illegal website; just like Herman’s Head.

What now?

Pirates go on pirating. Content providers keep twisting the thumbscrews down — coming up with new protection schemes, shortchanging the consumer on choice and selection — crying how piracy is killing their business.

Preservation continues — illegally a lot of the time, but the circle of life moves forward.

It wouldn’t hurt us to think about helping ourselves; to preserve the things we love for the future.

When my son was younger, I wanted to read books to him that I’d read as a child. A lot of those books are out of print, unavailable or are on eBay for hundreds of dollars.

As he grows up, I want to show him television and film that I grew up with and remember fondly. I’m fortunate to be a physical media guy and have access to a lot of it from my personal library — but I think about others that may not have access to those resources.

But everyone has internet access. Preservation through piracy still exists.

Don’t assume that what you love will always be available. Nobody wants to hoard large media collections or keep hard drives full of content. But Google Photos may not be there in 10 years. Netflix has already gone through a lot of changes since they started. Spotify isn’t promised to be around forever, either.

Take steps to preserve what you care about. Otherwise in 20 years? Piracy may be the only solution you have of remembering what you loved.

Written by

I write, blog, record and review anything that interests me — including humanity, parenting, gizmos & gadgets, video games and media.

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