Raid after raid has been done by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Optical Media Board (OMB) to catch pirates sailing about with goods of Enrique Gil’s new kilig movie, Sheldon and Amy’s most recent awkward quirks, the latest adventures of Bilbo Baggins, or Jessie J’s latest work of pop.
Despite all the efforts of authorities to catch all pirates, we can still see them taking over the two lanes of MMDA foot bridges selling DVDs or on the bridges themselves like they own the place. Over the years, some pirates shifted directions and ships; now, all they need is a laptop and a stable internet connection. Let The Menagerie take you to the torrent of torrents.
Down the rabbit hole
If you managed to walk around in DLSU, chances are, you’ve seen a student work on their laptops while looking at sites with the words ‘Pirate’ or ‘EZ’ on them. These sites aren’t the weird part of the Internet – they’re a part of the growing online community of torrents. Torrent, in this context, is not defined as the strong or fast-moving flow of water; it is defined as a file that is consistently moving across a large network or platform, usually shared or downloaded.
When your friend asks you if you want the third season of The Walking Dead or a “copy” of the new Jessica Chastain/Lawrence movie, what comes to mind? Is it the DVD version of these movies that you can physically touch and have legally bought? Or is it the kind you got from your good ol’ pal Piratebay or YIFY? Indeed, more and more people worldwide have engaged in torrent downloads. Last December 8, it’s been estimated that a total of 101.5 million unique Internet addresses were engaged in downloading online; the average, as of November 8, is 99.9 million IP addresses.
An avid torrent downloader, Jan (V, BS-Psych) is part of that overwhelming number of users who torrent regularly. “In a week, probably four days out of seven,” Jan shares how often she usually torrents. “It depends on what I’m downloading. If it’s a series, it really will take long. If it’s just a film, probably five films in a day is my quota then I’m done downloading.” Jan continues to elaborate on the habit of torrenting. For Patrick (III, MKT), he attests to doing it less often. “Once or twice a week,” he states. On the contrary, Ronn (V, ECM-APC) says that he’s not updated with anything new or hot in the media today. “Almost never. I’m not really that inclined to be updated on such kinds of media, and I’m not following any series. If I can remember correctly, I haven’t downloaded anything for this year,” he states.
Why is piracy illegal?
Step 1: Type in address bar: “piratebay.com”
Step 2: Type in search bar: “Gone Girl 2014”
Step 3: Click at the Torrent magnet with 12,702 seeders and 4,273 seeders.
Step 4: Launch Application? Launch Application.
Step 5: Now, you wait.
That’s it. That’s how you download a file using torrents and how easy it is to get your hands on a film or TV series. Besides online copyright infringement and trafficking of counterfeit goods, the existence of the US’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA), and the Philippines’ very own Cybercrime Law and Anti-Online Piracy Act of 2012 all circle around the sole purpose of stopping everyone from doing these 5 steps.
Why is piracy even illegal? All media content may be given a copyright which makes the producer the one and only legal owner of their song, episode, novel, or movie. Torrents do not have any respect to this kind of legal bond.
“With the tremendous expansion of the Internet, it has regrettably become a cash-cow for the criminals and organized crime cartels that profit from digital piracy,” Cong. Irwin Tieng, one of the makers of the Anti-Online Piracy Act, has said.
Torrents are a copy of the original thing, and once downloaders click that download button, a copy of the copy accumulates in the long run. In this process, producers are left without a cent even though their works are being consumed and downloaded every minute. This is one of the main reasons why SOPA and the Cybercrime law surfaced and why Taylor Swift’s songs were removed from Spotify.
Although international and local laws exist to cater to anti-online piracy movements like blocking famous Torrent and direct download websites (Rest in peace, isoHunt, Megaupload, Kickass PH, among others), this does not easily stop uploaders, who usually just create a different domain name for their initially blocked websites.
“Ako kasi, reason ko is for art’s sake. What if ‘yun (online download) na lang ‘yung only way mo para ma-access ‘yung bagay na yun? Like 1920s films?” Tricia (IV, AB-CAM) shares about why she regularly downloads movies and television series. There are a lot of files that can only be available online because of their lack of distribution in the Philippines. For example, movies from festivals like the Sundance festival are rarely given any commercial attention in the United States, so how will these movies even reach the Philippines? For every Boyhood and Little Miss Sunshine, there are hundreds of movies that won’t be screened here, either out of lack of interest or distributors. For many interested Filipinos, torrents may be the only answer.
“If art is kept secret, then we’re better off dead. I agree that the only way to see stuff that are rare even in the market (like Amazon) is by downloading. And if it feeds their imagination, then nothing is wrong with that,” says Jan, agreeing with Tricia that art and imagination being the main priority of pirates when downloading.
Part of the Filipino’s way of feeding this imagination, in Ronn’s opinion, is looking for ways to do just that. “Nasa nature na talaga ng mga Pilipino yung ‘dumiskarte’—regardless of legality,” says Ronn, regarding the torrent culture of Filipinos. When asked if he’s willing to torrent movies or shows, he says, “If my life’s on the line, yes I would. Otherwise, no; I’d rather exhaust all legal options first.”
Tricia quotes Breaking Bad’s Jesse Pinkman: “When it comes down to it, are we in the meth business, or the money business?” This can also be asked of the current music, film, television, and literary producers of our time. Tricia adds, “Well, sa akin, are you in the art business or in the money business? Kung ikaw yung producer ng films, ano mas gusto mo—mapanood ka ng tao or kumita? ‘Yun talaga, for me, ang conflict ng torrents.”
As with all users of the Internet, downloaders have different reasons why they download and scour the shady parts of the ‘Net to find what they download. Some, like Tricia, download for the sake of appreciating the novel, music, movie or television series. Some download but pay for as much for merchandise (so the producers still earn). Some download for the sake of not hurting one’s wallet. And some choose to not become online pirates at all. But it does not discount the fact that people, like in every issue plaguing today’s society, are still divided on the issue. “I know it isn’t legal, but if you know why people do it, you’ll appreciate file sharing more. Not everyone can access stuff like some of us can,” Jan states as she defends her stance on torrenting and its purpose.
Nowadays, more companies, both local and foreign, are offering streaming their content for a price. Providers like Netflix and networks like ABS-CBN are gaining traction for their provision of streaming content. Matt says, “If they can provide it at a lower price then, yes, I think streaming has the potential to be big here. People need more incentives to choose streaming over downloading or streaming.” On the other hand, Matt ends on a somewhat dim note. “Whether the Philippines becomes an online piracy-free country in the long run or not, one thing is for sure: sharing is inevitable.”