Morality in the Digital World

I was talking to a lay preacher the other day, I’ll leave out the particular denomination as that’s not the point of the story.   Anyway we were talking about football and related stuff in particular the cost of actually watching out favorite Premiership teams on the TV.

It’s something I have given up the escalating costs of being able to watch football on the TV had started to become a little bit hard to justify for me.  My subscription costs to various TV and satellite services was getting close to £100 ($80) a month which is an awful lot of money to pay just for watching a few games of football on the TV.  So I bit the bullet and cancelled the lot which was surprisingly less painful than I thought.

It turns out you can listen on the radio for free and watch highlights after the game on TV too, for those ‘must see’ matches there’s always a bar somewhere you can go and watch it on.    So for me, it wasn’t a big deal and certainly not worth all the money I was paying out every month.  However my preacher friend had a similar thought but ended up taking a different, slightly surprising route than I did.

What he did was buy a media streamer pre-installed with something called Kodi, which is an open source video player which started it’s life on the Xbox.   The interesting thing about Kodi however is that supports hundreds of add-ons which can effectively stream copyrighted material directly from the internet.  So you can buy a box with Kodi pre-installed and configured which allows access to all of Sky, Virgin and BT’s subscription channels absolutely free.

I have to say I was shocked, a very religious and moral man was effectively stealing these channels without paying for them.  It was hardly crime of the century but I wondered if he had considered that it even was theft?   It turns out that he didn’t, or at least conveniently pretended he didn’t understand it was theft.    After all he’d bought the media box and was simply using it’s facilities to download the programmes that he used to pay for.

This is our world, the digital world where perhaps our morales can be a little more elastic than in the real world.  After all would my friend break in to an electronics shop and steal a Sky box, or mug a passer by for money to pay the subscription?   Of course he never would even consider doing this.   Yet literally millions of law abiding people are using this and similar methods everywhere to download things that they haven’t bought.  It doesn’t stop here of course, if there’s a line where is it drawn – is the ex-pat using a VPN to watch iPlayer in Australia a criminal too?   It’s much too simple to just consider that theft just involves physical objects – my preacher friend was effectively defrauding SKY of hundreds of pounds a year.

I guess it’s a very subjective issue, copyright infringement could be thought of as a criminal offence or just blurring the rules slightly.  It would be harsh to consider all those people who miss British TV and want to watch BBC iPlayer in Ireland or use a Proxy for Netflix access as hard core criminals but it’s easier perhaps to convince yourself no crime is being committed.   I think though it’s worth considering the legal and practical implications of finding yourself in court for ‘digital fraud’ or ‘obtaining goods and services by deception’ before using these extremely tempting technical options!

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