I've been a pirate since I was 12 years old. Growing up with the Internet in the 90s, there were no guidelines for appropriate digital behavior; everything was pretty much fair game. After discovering the then ripe world of anonymous FTP servers, I quickly amassed thousands of mp3s, cracked copies of all the latest software, and plenty of malware that fortunately I never got too carried away with... (I also hate to think how much I unwittingly acquired.)
Come to think of it, much of my early computer knowledge was learned from pirated software. My first (albeit terrible) websites were made with cracked copies of Photoshop 5, and Dreamweaver (*cough* and Net Objects Fusion).
As I ventured through my later teen years and into adulthood, the concept of "pirating" just did not exist for me. It was content I needed, it was there for the taking, so I downloaded it. I never thought of it as "stealing". It was almost like it was mine already, since in a way I viewed the web as an extension of my own machine.
It wasn't until recently that my view of digital content and the web began to shift. Oddly enough, it did not begin with SOPA, PIPA, or any of the other piracy issues that have been raised. It began with music.
I have always loved music. Thanks to those early unprotected FTPs, peer-to-peer services like Napster and Kazaa, and most recently BitTorrent, I've listened to a lot of it. I've even purchased some of it (note: sarcasm).
Over the past few years, however, I have begun to love music less. I began to notice this slowly at first, but it has become increasingly obvious, that I do not listen to as much music as I used to, and when I do, I don't appreciate it as much. There is so much of it, and while I know there are plenty of great artists out there waiting to be discovered, I think that having such a limitless collection at my fingertips has become overwhelming. I've also wondered if maybe I don't appreciate it because I haven't attached any real value to it.
Years ago, out of some twisted moralism, I decided to "go legit" with all of my software (i.e., shell out thousands of dollars) because it is my livelihood, and somehow I reasoned that it would be wrong to profit from software that I hadn't paid for. More recently, however, it has begun to sink in that all bits do actually matter.
The thing about SOPA (and friends), is that there really is an underlying issue here. Obviously, tightening down on the web is not the answer. The Internet is a vital part of our tradition of democracy and free speech, and to preserve these freedoms, we must take the good with the bad. But I'll be the first to admit that demanding my freedom with BitTorrent running in the background makes me a pretty big hypocrite.
I don't believe that any of this legislation is truly about stopping piracy, but the fact remains that piracy really is wrong, and we can't effectively fight bills like SOPA with one hand in the cookie jar. In order to truly stop piracy, perceptions about piracy need to change. That can only happen through responsibility and respect for all property.
Today I am taking responsibility for my own part of the problem, and am formatting several terabytes worth of content that I never really needed in the first place. While I don't feel this is too large a sacrifice for me, it's something that I have been putting off. Today seemed like a good day for it.