Little makes me angrier than pirating TV shows. Try this totally hypothetical situation: after an hour of getting last week’s episode of a nominally popular HBO series downloaded via bittorrent, forty-five minutes of which were spent simply because Time Warner has a stranglehold on local cable connections and doesn’t care how good their service isn’t, it ends up being in an mkv format, which would be fine except that the Airplay mirroring between my dinky little computer and my massive, erection-inducing Behemoth Entertainment Screen via the Apple TV connection just doesn’t work, and never has, despite forum after forum after forum of Apple support claiming, “No, you’re wrong, it does work.” So I have to run it through iTunes, but iTunes doesn’t accept mkv, so I need a converter, and most converters only convert a few minutes of video unless you pay forty bucks for their awful little program designed so badly it takes five minutes to find the button that actually starts the conversion. Whatever, I finally find a converter that will convert a whole show, it will just add a watermark to it. Fine, perfect, another forty minutes later I have an mp4 that will play on iTunes so the mirroring to the TV will actually work and I can sit back and enjoy it.
Except it turns out the watermark covers most of the top left quadrant of the screen and has the not very watermark-like quality of being opaque. It’s so awful it takes me a minute to realize that show has Portuguese subtitles, for the benefit of viewers who don’t understand the Spanish dubbing, at which point I give up because I feel a stroke coming on. I hypothetically read the books anyway.
Hashtag first world thief problems, right? Can’t deny it. Yes, millions of children are starving while I rail about not being able to steal a show that will eventually be shown in marathons on public access channels to keep my generation quiet when we hit the nursing homes. But it’s not the fact that I couldn’t get this one show in our hypothetical scenario that hypothetically made me start punching myself in the face. It was the process of wandering through this whole media-juggling desert under constant attack by the fire ants of greed.
I want to be clear: I would hypothetically have paid twenty dollars last night to watch this one show, and not just because I never took an economics class. I hate pirating shows. It is outright theft of other people’s creative work, and I really want to pay those people more. I have a white collar job. I happily pay Apple, Amazon, Netflix AND Hulu for access to whatever it is I watch when I’m too tired or drunk to do anything else. If HBO had a service that sent me a twenty-dollar file that permanently burned out a gigabyte of my hard drive as it played to ensure that it could never be watched again, I would buy a new hard drive every year.
HBO does not. HBO, instead, chooses to maintain its status as the Most Punchable Victim of Piracy because it thinks it won the war everybody else stopped fighting when the world changed a decade ago. They’ve been able to maintain this delusion because of the monies and the fact that they have most of the awesome shows, but they will inevitably lose, because now Netflix has monies and awesome shows that they don’t keep behind bundled paywalls routed through service providers.
The service providers are in no hurry to help HBO out of the dark ages, because HBO supplies them the virgin blood they bathe in to stay young. As the son of an antitrust lawyer, I’m aghast that my sole options for internet connectivity in my corner of Brooklyn are getting Time Warner or stealing my neighbors’ Time Warner. This stranglehold allows them to limit their useful customer service hours to “In a minute, I just got my coffee, let me smoke a J and read the funnies” and “Eh, I just had lunch, let me digest a bit.” I did everything I could think of to find another provider when I discovered that if Time Warner indeed cuts your cable off and you try to rectify it via your mobile device, they do not give you access to the regular payment forms, and you’re limited to two options, both of which have an extra service charge of five dollars. I am the first person in line for any opportunity to waste money on convenience and speed, but even I could not bring myself to give free money to the Cable Provider of Pure Evil. While trying to navigate their labyrinthine phone menus, I finally learned that if I start cursing, a human magically appears on the other end of the line. A business should be embarrassed when their customers have to Samuel L. Jackson their way to decent service.1
But at least they hypothetically give me some bandwidth so I can hypothetically try to access the forbidden gardens of HBO, and download a show that’s probably in another language, because copyright law is still mired in trying to solve problems it can’t when it could be updating to get fair and economically reasonable legislation and treaties to address the problems it might actually be able to deal with. This means a multi-billion dollar foreign market gets the booty without even loading their cannons, while entertainment distributors busy themselves with suing prepubescents for a few million dollars every couple of years. I suppose sending lawyers after children breaks the monotony. You can only set so many puppies on fire before the thrill wears off.
Look, there is no blockbuster movie in theaters right now that I can’t buy for five dollars from the nice Chinese lady who makes the neighborhood rounds every couple of weeks, and I consider that supporting local business. There’s no more protecting the 90/10 profit split dangled in front of hopeful artists, because the distribution channels all went Mad Max before the millennium turned. The only effect of maintaining these business practices is that I have to read my Must See TV in Mandarin, once I manage to translate it from formats so hermetic only the VLC Porn Browser can open them.
It’s true Generation Byte will be remembered as the most larcenous generation of all time, because we learned how to steal digital media at the same age we learned how record companies have been exploiting their clients since records were a thing, and charging us $15.99 for a CD whose production cost almost as little as the royalties that somehow made it back to the original artist. But somebody already figured out a better way: the total cost of the six iDevices in my apartment pales in comparison to the money I’ve wired iTunes just for Joss Whedon movies.
We will pay for quality. We will pay for convenience. Many of us even have the jobs you’re so reluctant to give us, with which to earn the money we want to give you so you can buy more teak oil for your yachts. The digital West Indies only exists because you still think the Empire will recover.
And Apple, seriously: fix your mirroring.
1 After writing this, I was informed HBO does want to sell their stuff outside cable, but cable providers are blackmailing them. Sorry HBO; I have amended my rage fantasies to focus more exclusively on Time Warner.