Hi, my name is Linden, and I’m a pirate. Not the seafaring, swashbuckling, Captain Jack Sparrow sort of pirate but the law-breaking, life-destroying, illegal downloading sort of pirate.
It’s a topic most people tend to brush aside. Admit it—how many of you have actually read through the copyright warning message that pops up at the start of a DVD? But piracy is serious. I wasn’t kidding when I said there were lives at stake.
Our lives are but “a vapour” (James 4:14) and we can’t afford to waste so much time staring at screens.
Law of the land
International treaties have been established to protect the rights of authors of literary, scientific and artistic works.1 Copyright law itself, however, differs from country to country. For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to focus on the law in Australia.
Creative works in Australia are protected under the Copyright Act 1968. This policy protects an author’s right to “control the reproduction of their material and the right to control the communication of that material to the public”.2
The implications of the law are many.3 But in regards to content made available on the internet it’s really quite simple: “uploading, downloading or sharing unauthorised copies of a movie, album or software” is an infringement of copyright law.4 It’s also illegal to “save material from a website onto a hard drive without express or implied permission”.5
Land of pirates
The law is clear. Many Australians, however, don’t seem to care.
A study released in 2011 found “a third of the Australian adult population (aged 18+) is active in some form of movie piracy”.6 Attorney-General George Brandis has even gone as far as declaring Australia the “worst offender of any country in the world when it comes to piracy”.7
Among this group of offenders are Christians, which is disconcerting given the Bible’s explicit instructions to “not steal” (Exodus 20:15) and obey the law of the land (Romans 13:1-2). Ellen White also didn’t mince her words when it came to stealing, saying the eighth commandment “demands strict integrity in the minutest details of the affairs of life”.8
“So it’s against the law but is it really that bad? Who’s getting hurt? Multimillionaire movie stars and musicians? A few illegal downloads wouldn’t even dent their bank accounts.”
It’s a fair argument. Fair, but flawed, for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, stealing is stealing, no matter who the victim is. Is there a difference between stealing from a minister or a mob boss? Is cheating on your taxes any less of a crime than cheating on your tithe? The Bible says “all wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17).
Secondly, Hollywood superstars are not the only victims. In the 12-month period to the third quarter of 2010, movie piracy cost the Australian economy $1.3 billion.9 Approximately 6100 full-time equivalent jobs (a conservative estimate) were also relinquished during that same period, including “nearly 2300 forgone directly by the movie industry and retailers”.10
Who’s getting hurt? Thousands of fathers, mothers and hardworking individuals trying to make an honest living.
Death by sitting
Pirates can count themselves among the victims too.
The average Australian spends more than three hours a day watching television and almost four hours online.11 This sedentary lifestyle is a killer. A study released in June found adults who watch TV for three hours a day “may double their risk of premature death”.12 Physical inactivity has also been linked to a number of ailments, including diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancers.13 Fellas, it also lowers your sperm count.14
With more Australians—particularly the younger generations—choosing to watch their favourite TV shows online, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest illegal downloads are serving as a major contributor to this culture of inactivity. Torrent sites and peer-to-peer sharing have given “screen junkies” unbridled access to hundreds of videos that shouldn’t be freely available. The result: hundreds more reasons to spend hundreds more hours slouched in front of a screen.
Time is of the essence
Stealing TV shows is a crime; stealing time from God is a catastrophe. Our lives are but “a vapour” (James 4:14) and we can’t afford to waste so much time staring at screens.
“Our time belongs to God. Every moment is His, and we are under the most solemn obligation to improve it to His glory. Of no talent He has given will He require a more strict account than of our time . . . The value of time is beyond computation. Christ regarded every moment as precious, and it is thus that we should regard it. Life is too short to be trifled away.”—Ellen White16
Some of you may still regard excessive screen time as nothing to write home about (sorry, doing it anyway). And you’d be right—there’s a whole lot of nothingness going on. But as C S Lewis wrote, “Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.”17
So as a very wise man once asked, “how long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep?” (Proverbs 6:9).
Time to cut back
Contrary to what some of you might think, television is not the problem. Like any other tool it can be used constructively or destructively. The same goes for the internet. We don’t need to go “cold turkey” on our screen time but we could all stand to cut back. Removing all illegally downloaded content from your computer or hard drive is a good place to start. You just might save yourself thousands of dollars in fines in the process.18
Such a step isn’t easy. I know—I did it a few months ago. As far as life’s problems go, deleting a collection of pirated movies and TV shows shouldn’t be that big of a deal. However, as a movie fan, I can honestly say it was difficult. Funny how positive lifestyle changes are like that.
What I thought would be limiting, though, actually turned out to be liberating. Less time in front of the TV has meant more time reading and exercising. Playing the guitar is no longer just a Sabbath afternoon activity either.
Pirates who sail the seas aren’t so different from the ones who slouch in front of screens. Both break the law and destroy lives—behaviour not befitting of a Christian. Thus, “let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labour, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28).
2. Australian Copyright Council, Internet: Copying & Downloading, May 2014.
3. Visit <www.copyright.org.au> to learn more about copyright law in Australia.
4. Australian Copyright Council, Internet: Copying & Downloading, May 2014.
6. Ipsos Media CT, Economic consequences of movie piracy (Australia), 2011.
8. Ellen White, Sons and Daughters of God, page 63 (emphasis added).
9. Ipsos Media CT, Economic consequences of movie piracy (Australia), 2011.
11. McCrindle Research, Australia: The digital media nation, 2013. A study on New Zealanders revealed similar results.
14. Audrey Jane Gaskins, Physical activity and television watching in relation to semen quality in young men, 2012. Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, February 2013.
16. Christ’s Object Lessons, page 342.
17. The Screwtape Letters, page 56.
18. http://www.mpdaa.org.au/customers/mpdaa/mpdaa.nsf/(PDFAnti-Piracy)/AFACT_Consumer_Guides_Movies.pdf/$FILE/AFACT_Consumer_Guides_Movies.pdf. On the spot fines for movie piracy are $1320. Additional penalties can be as high as $60,500 and up to five years in prison.
19. Common phrase of Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise.
Linden Chuang is assistant editor of Adventist Record—digital.