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Secrets of an illegal downloader

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'Excuse me, but where were you all when piracy started to decimate the music industry? Why didn't you take a stand against that? Those free records felt good, huh?' - Duff McKagan, former Guns N' Roses bassist in a January 2012 blog post for Seattle Weekly on proposed PIPA/SOPA anti-piracy legislation. Plans to draft the bill were postponed following widespread opposition claiming threats to free speech and innovation. 

At the time SOPA and PIPA were being discussed and protested, the U.S. Justice Department shut down file-hosting/sharing site MegaUpload, just over a year after nailing peer-to-peer file sharing program Limewire. Despite government intervention, internet piracy is alive and thriving as hundreds, if not thousands of similar sites remain active. According to 2011 research from NPD Group, about 9 percent of internet users admit to regularly utilizing the services of peer-to-peer sites (networks of connected computers capable of sharing designated files including the illegal download of copyrighted material), down from 14 percent in 2007.

For this Maine Edge 'secrets' column, I interviewed an active illegal downloader who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. Ryan (not his real name) is 27 and works for a delivery company in the Bangor area.

Over the last eight years, Ryan has downloaded 10,989 copyrighted songs and 207 copyrighted movies along with assorted software via peer-to-peer sites with a combined estimated value of $16,500.

I wanted to find out why he does it. I assumed the obvious answer would be, 'Why pay for it when you can get it for free?' but wondered if it went deeper than that.

Dow: What do you download and how do you do it?

Ryan: I use one site to download the torrent and another to process it. I've downloaded everything from Nirvana to Whitney Houston to Charlie Daniels to Alan Jackson to Frank Sinatra whatever whim I have on the day I'm looking for something. I tend to stick to the 'greatest hits.' For movies, I usually go for comedies, dramas and documentaries. I've also downloaded software that way, including Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and anti-virus programs.

Dow: Are you concerned that you'll get caught and sued by entities that protect copyrighted material, like the R.I.A.A. (Recording Industry Association of America) or other organizations?

Ryan: I've heard of it happening to other people, but from the research I've done, torrent downloading is safer than downloading from some sort of direct 'rapid share' site like Limewire. You're downloading bits and pieces of the file from potentially hundreds of people called 'seeders' people who keep the file open on their computer to allow other people to connect to it. I don't 'seed.' Once I've downloaded it, I delete the torrent off my computer so that other people can't connect with me to download it.

Dow: The people who own the copyright on that material look at it as if you're stealing from them. You're taking the material that they have recorded or produced and offered for sale and are paying nothing for it. How do you respond to that? Do you see it as stealing?

Ryan: I see it as I'm one person out there. In a best-case scenario, it would be nice to pay 99 cents for their song, but if there's a way for me to get it for free and not be caught then I really don't see a reason to spend money on it. The corporations are sticking it to the artists anyway, so this is my way of sticking it to the corporations.

Dow: What if the RIAA or the movie industry association subpoenas your ISP to give them a list of everyone using the site you use and your name comes up?

Ryan: Then, I guess I would stop immediately. The great thing is, at this point, nobody can tell. As far as I know.

Dow: So you're only doing it because you haven't been caught.

Ryan: That's right. The thing is, there are so many places online where you can access free things. Right click, download, it's yours. If you need an alternative to Microsoft Office Suite, you can get it. I know what I'm doing isn't legal, but there is a feeling of 'search enough and you can find what you're looking for free.'

Dow: You're a delivery guy. You deliver packages to - I'm guessing - residences and businesses. What if someone devises a system to deliver packages for free, which would essentially put your employer out of business leaving you without a job?

Ryan: Well, I guess that would hit home. I'm so insignificant in the big picture. I'm just one person. I'm not using this stuff to make money. I'm just using it for myself. I'm only one.

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Catch up with him at www.Facebook.com/MikeandMike and www.MikeDow.net.

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