Opinion

Confessions of a Reluctant Pirate

Or, why I illegally download television shows.

Zach Galifianakis in "Baskets."
FX

I am a pirate.

Not in the Johnny Depp or Captain Hook sense of the word, and definitely not the kind that took Tom Hanks hostage in “Captain Phillips.” I have never had my timbers shivered and I prefer Jack Daniel’s bourbon over Caribbean Jack rum.

Yet, if you ask law-enforcement officials anywhere in the world whether I am guilty of piracy, you’ll get an overwhelming “Aye, matey!”

In my defense, however, I am a reluctant pirate; I have been forced into piracy by circumstances, geography and the fact that when I log onto the internet, I have an Israeli IP address.

Let me explain: I illegally download television shows and I watch them in my home. And, to be perfectly frank, I feel fine with that. I am sick of being told that “the content you are trying to access is not available in your region.” Wasn’t the internet supposed to turn the world into a global village, to shorten distances and bring cultures together? Instead, a new discrimination has been born. It’s all well and good that “America First” is the mantra for 2017, but “nobody second” seems a little harsh.

Even when companies make their content available to the “rest of the world,” there are limitations. The Netflix catalog in the United States has thousands more titles than are available to Israeli subscribers, and music-streaming services often inform me that a song is not available in my country.

When I can, I will pay for content.

I have subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime and more than one music-streaming service. I buy albums from iTunes and from artists’ websites. I paid $15 to download “Blue & Lonesome,” a new album of classic blues tracks by the Rolling Stones. And I even pay The Guardian newspaper a monthly fee to read its content without ads. I also purchased all 10 episodes of Louis C.K.’s “Horace and Pete” – a barroom drama with an all-star cast (Alan Alda gave a masterful valedictory performance as the foul-mouthed barkeep) and a wickedly downbeat sense of humor.

C.K. – who is very much in the vanguard of modern distribution methods for his comedy – lets fans download the show from his website for just a few dollars each. Tens of thousands did just that, allowing the creator to cover the approximately $5 million he reportedly spent producing the series.

In this respect, the music and movie industries are light years ahead of television. Thanks to iTunes, Netflix and countless other streaming services, anyone who feels bad about illegally downloading content has a relatively inexpensive and convenient alternative.

Of course, the phenomenon still exists. In 2016, according to MusicWatch, 57 million Americans got music from unlicensed sources, including file-sharing websites and stream ripping. But for those of us with a conscience, who want to pay for quality content, the rise of on-demand entertainment is a godsend. And as someone who works for a newspaper that locks nonsubscribers out of much of its content, I could hardly embrace the free-for-all of wholesale downloading.

Among the shows I download, most are simply unavailable to me by any other method. Some have never been aired in Israel and are unlikely ever to be. The only way I can get to watch them is by breaking the law. Others have been brought to my screen legally but tardily by Israeli cable and satellite companies. In some cases, they arrived so late as to have become irrelevant. Watching “Veep,” for example, months after the original aired in the United States would have been almost as depressing as watching “real” political news.

Surreal and dark

Even when one of the local television companies does decide to import a hit show from America, there’s no guarantee it will be available to me.

Take, for example, “Baskets,” the offbeat Zach Galifianakis comedy (also, as it happens, produced by C.K.) that airs on the FX network. Now in its second season, “Baskets” is the story of twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, both played by Galifianakis. Chip is a train wreck of a character: He flunked out of clown school in Paris, returned to Bakersfield, California, with his French wife (who tells him candidly that she doesn’t love him and only married him for a Green Card) and now plies his trade as a rodeo clown. Dale, on the other hand, is a reincarnation of some of the characters Galifianakis has portrayed in other shows: an excruciatingly uptight square with absolutely no redeeming qualities. Watch out, too, for a stellar performance from Louie Anderson as Chip and Dale’s mother.

“Baskets” is surreal and dark; it is the kind of comedy that doesn’t provide many laughs. You’re more likely to shed a tear of compassion for the hapless protagonist than tears of laughter.

The first season of this wonderfully poignant series aired for local audiences on Yes, and season two starts this week (Wednesday, Yes Oh, 22:30). But I am a subscriber to the rival cable company Hot, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to pay for both of them.

To their credit, Yes and Hot have been surprisingly quick to provide customers with many of the leading U.S. television shows. We get John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” the day after it is broadcast on HBO in the United States (Mondays, HOT Plus HBO, 00:00) and “Game of Thrones” is always shown here (Sundays, HOT Plus HBO, 23:00) a few hours after the United States. The hard-working translators even manage to put together a passable set of subtitles for anyone who doesn’t speak fluent Dothraki (or English).

Another new series that has been imported in a timely manner to these shores is “Imposters” – a comic drama starring Israeli-American actress Inbar Lavi. It appears on our screens (Mondays, HOT 3, 20:45) almost simultaneously as it is aired by the American Bravo cable network. This, however, is the equivalent of Israeli sports channels always airing overseas games involving Israeli athletes; it’s parochial to the point of being insulting.

Until I am forced to walk the plank by the copyright police, I will continue to download anything that is not legally available to me by other means. I will also continue to make purchases from worthy sources. But I will not allow geography and technology to restrict my access to certain content. Landlubbers be damned!