Ryan Chartrand

At 10:49 p.m on Dec. 18, 2006, I was forced to become a retired pirate.

When I say “pirate,” I don’t mean that I used to dress up like a hobo with an eyepatch and go screaming “Gyarr!” at people in Pismo Beach.

No, I retired my days of piracy on the Internet. That’s right, I was forced out of a world where everything from DVDs, CDs, video games, Adobe Photoshop CS2 and oh, so much more are literally free.

I sacrificed my ticket to illegal freedom all for an episode of “House” (which I then had to delete) and now must live in this odd, foreign world where apparently people pay for things.

Living without a TV, CD player or DVD player, I decided to see if it’s even possible to survive. Thanks to the online revolution, everything from music to TV shows could soon be entirely online.

As I let go of 99 cents and made my first donation to an artist in seven years by poetically buying “Waiting on the World to Change” by John Mayer, I felt slightly inhuman, but as though it might be safe to come out and actually contribute to the economy.

It’s a concept that has surprisingly drifted away from many consumers thanks to trade groups like the Recording Industry Association of America, which spend more money on lawsuits than solutions.

As their customers run in terror or continue downloading anyway, industry leaders like Apple are desperately trying to save the future of entertainment by pointing industries in the online direction.

Apple has filled my four-month musical void thanks to their iTunes Music Store, which offers albums for $5 to $10 cheaper than a pointless physical version. The system isn’t flawless, however.

Since Sony BMG, Universal, Warner and EMI have all required a “super-secret” digital rights management system (DRM) to be imposed on each of their songs, playing iTunes tracks on any devices other than an iPod is impossible.

On top of that, the DRM system itself is ridiculously flawed as the hackers can crack the codes within a week. Why? The system brilliantly gives them the key to unlock it.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was fed up with using DRM and wrote an article calling for a DRM-free world.

He got his wish.

EMI announced that starting in May, all of their artists’ music, such as Coldplay, Norah Jones and Keith Urban, will be offered DRM-free and in original recording quality on iTunes. Whether the other top three labels will follow suit, however, is yet to be seen.

In the video realm, Apple is also paving the way by selling movies, music videos and TV shows through iTunes. Their movies and TV shows are a step in the right direction but are far from perfect. Each film or show is devoid of any extra features, costs nearly the full price of a physical copy and views in less than DVD quality. Any Apple fanatic will fall for it, but I would advise any sane individual without “iFriends” to avoid these offers.

Watching TV shows without a TV is also suddenly possible thanks to TV networks such as ABC and NBC, which now feature the latest episodes of their top shows on their Web sites. Other networks, however, are very selective in the shows they feature online. Fox, for example, prefers to feature “Bones” online rather than “House” or “American Idol,” the most popular shows on TV.

Aside from being without “House” episodes, it seems as though I can survive without a CD player, DVD player or TV.

What about the rest of the world?

As the entertainment industries slowly make their way online, the real question, however, is whether it will be too late to send a worldwide memo saying, “Hey, sorry about the last decade, but it’s safe to pay for things again.”

Because of the complete disconnect that has developed between the artists and the consumers, the thought that downloading a movie or an album might actually affect someone or is any better than robbing a Best Buy still never passes through a pirate’s head.

It’s a mindset that can’t be changed overnight or through lawsuits that target all the wrong people. To bring about change in the entertainment industry will require a joint effort by every record company, film studio and major software developer to move online where production is cheaper and distribution reaches a global audience instantly.

It will also require trade groups like the RIAA to back off and help move their respective industries online rather than spend time bankrupting all of their customers with lawsuits.

There is hope for a piracy-reduced future, but it shouldn’t take a “Stop downloading ‘House’ episodes” threat to set you down a path of realizing it.

Here’s a thought: If you haven’t paid for music in a decade, go pay 99 cents for a song and start remembering what it means to support an artist. Otherwise, John Mayer and I will have to continue waiting on the world to change for a long time to come.

Ryan Chartrand is a journalism junior, Mustang Daily staff writer and online editor.

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