Making the legal alternative easier

Back in 2010, when I was in college, piracy was rampant. Pirated movies and music were what most people in my circles consumed. Today, that situation couldn’t be more different.

It isn’t that we all had a moral awakening in the interim. Streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify make it easy for people to stream content legally – even easier than downloading pirated content. For years, governments fought against piracy but always found themselves playing whack-a-mole with servers being hosted outside their geographical boundaries and VPNs allowing people to access their forbidden contents. But none of their policing had the effect that changing the system did.

Appealing to people’s morals is hard. People are excellent at justifying and rationalizing their actions when they consume pirated content (like I did back in college). It is much easier to fight corruption by making the legal alternative easier. And technology gives us the power to introduce new paradigms – to create new worlds where legal behaviour is easier. Examples can range from the complex – to host all the music people need on the cloud, to the simple – installing automated gates at subway stations to prevent people from travelling without tickets.

To free a society from corruption is to change the culture. Cultures are hard to change, especially by appealing to people’s moral sense. An easier alternative is to design better systems. This would mean less moralizing and more creative solutions to the problems that we face.

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