“Art is art. That’s how it is in our household. No way would any of us ever download free music or films. Absolutely no way!”

It was an emphatic response to the question I’d put to the crowd at coffee last Friday: “How would you feel if your children were downloading films or music illegally?”

Admittedly, the answer came from Maureen, a music-junkie friend who has spent the last two months chasing Prince up and down the country, and knows more about where his latest gig is going to be than Channel 4 news.

The reason for my question is that earlier in the week my 13-year-old daughter had come home in a huff because one of her friends had proudly recommended a film that she had watched online the previous evening on a file-sharing website.

“I’m so angry. I told her my Dad has to work away from his family for months and months and wake up at five in the morning and not get home till after 8 pm or later. I told her that is she keeps doing that my Dad and lots of other people might not have a job and films might not exist anymore?”

Though proud of her principles and her passion, I have to admit I was a little startled by the emotion in my daughter’s voice. Perhaps I haven’t sufficiently acknowledged what an impact her Dad being away so often, working on films, has had on her short life.

Instead of acknowledging this, I ask if the parents’ know, or if she [her friend] even knows what she is doing could be illegal.

“I don’t know but everybody is doing it [downloading free music and videos]. Everybody thinks music and videos should be free. At school they talk about why we shouldn’t join gangs but nobody at my school is going to join a gang. Why don’t they talk to us about piracy?”

 A need for more education?

Back in 2010, when I was researching my book Is Your Child Safe Online? many parents said that if their children were downloading illegal music or films that would be the least of their worries. Many teenagers also believed that music and films should be free. It seems not a lot has changed since then.

Another friend at coffee last week asked: “Is watching films on YouTube illegal? Anne is always watching things on YouTube. And I think she watches lots of Disney films online too?”

It’s not that she doesn’t care and on Friday after the school run I’m invited back for tea. “Maybe you can ask Anne about the sites she is using. It would really help me to know,” my friend said.

Though Anne, a bright, kind and engaging 16-year-old, looks slightly uneasy about my line of questioning, she doesn’t seem to think it’s illegal. And, in fact, this is a bit of a grey area. While peer-to-peer file sharing isn’t illegal per se, copyright infringement is.

“It can’t be that bad because everybody is doing it and they are doing it more than me. I don’t download music for free because I think that’s wrong. I only watch a film once but I listen to songs loads of times,” she told me.

Although Anne only uses Putlocker, she says others also use something called Vodly and Megashare, and lots of people are downloading music using YouTube Converter. She doesn’t mention Pirate Bay which, despite several attempts to shut it down, has been around since 2003. Things move quickly.

A bigger issue

In the evening I take a quick look at the new movies available on Putlocker. Before I can get to view any of those, I’m offered a ‘date with somebody wanting to flirt with me in my city’, an advert for scantily clad ‘Moms wanting to get laid’ and also one from Ladbrokes encouraging me to place my World Cup bets. I also take a quick look at Vodly and Megashare, which lead me to equally dodgy looking websites.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the British Board of Film Classification finds that one in five children and teens have been disturbed by content they have watched via illegal sites. But I have to wonder though if many teenagers even see these pop-ups; Anne doesn’t mention it.

In the few minutes I spend researching, my computer also suggests I download Mackeeper which is described by Apple’s support community as ‘highly invasive malware that can destablise your operating system’. A quick Google and I find out that Putlocker’s .bz domain was recently closed down and it’s now hosted on a third-party server in Iceland – apparently the destination for many dodgy sites.

Earlier Anne had told me that she doesn’t download anything to her computer. “I just watch it once online and then move on. Somebody’s cousin got into trouble because they were actually downloading the films. The police arrived at his house and put a lock on the computer to slow it down.”

It’s true the UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has started to up their game, which is probably why Putlocker was suspended in the UK.

Adding another dimension to the discussion, Anne, like many others, also sometimes downloads films that she has already watched at the cinema or on DVD. In fact some, like the writer in this Wired story, argue that maybe piracy isn’t a bad thing after all.  ‘Many of the most-pirated films [in 2013] were also some of the highest grossing, which may also indicate that people are downloading movies they’ve already paid to see in theaters’.

But that’s an argument that carries no weight with FACT, the Federation Against Copyright Theft, which says piracy puts jobs in the entertainment industry at risk and prevents future investment.

You only have to wait for the credits to roll up in any film to see that the industry supports countless jobs from technicians to seamstresses, builders, caterers, craftspeople, painters, musicians, electricians – people who often work long hours, and contrary to popular belief, not all of them well paid.

To put more concrete numbers to it, in the UK, the creative industries employed 1.68 million in 2012 contributing £71.4bn to the UK economy. And in the US alone, piracy is estimated to cost the music industry around $12.5bn (£7.4bn) and film industry $20.5bn.

But it’s not just in the UK and US. While researching this story I came across an interview with the Nigerian filmmaker: Tunde Kulani. The headline: Pirates have made Moviemakers Paupers. Within 48 hours of his film Maami being released on DVD it had been pirated. In a country where broadband penetration is around 6%, people still pirate DVDs rather download them online. But the impact is similar and Kulani has taken a decision: “I won’t be releasing my movies in Nigeria again…there is no future for movie producers in this part of the world.”

That makes me sad.

So aside from putting the fear of God into teenagers with…’it’s only a matter of time before the police turn up’…perhaps there is an ethical debate to be had too.

When I told Anne how worried my daughter is about her Dad’s job, she looked distraught.

“Oh, I didn’t know. I’m never going to watch a film on those sites again. It’s just that I well…I only did because our DVD player was broken and I just love movies so much.”

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