Verne’s right (not that it matters much). Illegal downloading is stealing. There’s nothing morally ambiguous about taking someone’s intellectual property without compensating them. The problem is that when there’s almost zero chance of getting caught one’s conscience tends to take a nap (see Napster).
But I think this problem is self-correcting as we speak.
For most folks downloading illegally is a real pain in the ass. Torrents take time to set up and download. You find one or a dozen and none of them work. A full length film can take hours to download. There are a zillion streaming sites, but I wouldn’t give my credit card number to any of them unless you want your next statement to show that you purchased a Big Mac in Latvia. There are free live streaming sites, but the quality is absolute crap because they were filmed with a handheld and you’re missing half the dialogue because someone is yelling, “Shut the fuck up!” in Russian off screen.
Illegal downloading will end when the price of a legal downloaded film is less than the hassle of stealing it. And that day is coming fast courtesy of Apple and iTunes. Almost everyone will pay $2.99 to see a movie right away rather than get who knows what, who knows when for free.
The lesson here seems to be that morality is often governed by expediency. That’s both sad and oddly comforting all at the same time. Sad that human beings can’t or won’t make a conscious choice to be moral. Comforting that even when they abdicate their moral choices, the power of convenience makes the right choice for them.