Mother 3: When is Piracy Justified?

I happen to love a game released about a decade ago for the SNES called “Earthbound”. I’m sure some of you have played it or heard about it. It has something of a strong cult following, and a still-vibrant (and vocal) fanbase. Unfortunately, Earthbound bombed in the US.
The game was actually second in a trilogy of games written by a man named Shigesato Itoi, though it was the only one released in the US. In Japan, the series was known as Mother. There, the series was a huge hit, with collectible items and special edition bundles and stuff available. The first game in the series was actually translated by Nintendo, and was slated to be released for the NES, but for various reasons, that never happened. The second, Mother 2 (Earthbound in the states) flopped. So Nintendo decided against translating and releasing the third game in the series in the US.
But, as I said earlier, the series has an extremely vibrant fanbase. A few years ago, a fan found a prototype copy of the first game (Mother) for sale, dumped the ROM, and released it on the internet. It’s now pretty easily available (just google Earthbound Zero). In addition, a professional translator has just released a patch that completely translates Mother 3 from Japanese into English. See info here. He encourages people to import copies of the game, and buy official merchandise, but obviously just the existence of the patch encourages piracy.
So here’s the question:
Is piracy of these ROMs justified in these two cases? Maybe one and not the other? Is the only ethical option for me to learn Japanese and play the originals, or is there maybe some middle ground?

You could always import the game and then download a back-up copy worry free, considering you have your physical copy paid for by legitimate means.

As for the question of piracy itself - who can say? It ultimately comes down to a case by case basis. There’s a very decent chance anyone who’s playing Mother 3 would not have played it in its native Japanese.

Nintendo will probably never bring it over. There are reasons, some having to do with the SNES game’s failure (a situation which can at least partly be blamed on Nintendo itself, choosing to market the game with the slogan “This game stinks”). There are others, like the African witch doctor and the Arab shop owner with a small army’s worth of bombs. Or just finding a target audience for a game that essentially jokes about death as if it were the darkest of dark comedies.

So there’s little chance you’ll play the game and suddenly Nintendo of America will announce it for localization.

It’s sad, because that was probably one of the best games released on the SNES platform. I’d love to play the other two.

Ask yourself “does this action make the world a better place, or a worse place?”

Seems fairly neutral, eh? Download the ROM and don’t worry about it.

Why would it be? Assuming it’s wrong to make pirate copies under normal circumstances, then surely it’s still wrong even if you really really want to - which as far as I can tell is all that’s happened here.

I don’t think one has a right to pirate a game just because there’s no other way to get it. It’s not like one has an inalienable right to somehow have access to every game ever made.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I admit I would pirate it. I wouldn’t lie to myself that it was justified, though. Nor would I lose a second of sleep over it either.

It’s more “I really really want to and getting a legit copy would be a royal PITA to obtain something that would ultimately be useless to me.”

I consider piracy to be a very gray area morally. There’s some cases, such as this one, where the product simply doesn’t exist (legally) in a form that’s useful to you. It’s not ‘right’, really, but it’s as close to it as you’ll find. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it, at any rate. If he’s willing to buy the Japanese copy to make himself feel better, he can, and I’d actually encourage it, but it’ll still be useless to him as a game.

I’m not saying he should or should not do it. I’m not even saying that piracy is right or wrong.

All I’m saying is that, having accepted that X is illegal (implied that the OP has accepted this, by the whole question of justification), seeking justification on the grounds of strong personal desire seems really weak.
What would be the point of any rule, law or regulation if really, really wanting to break it were adequate justification for doing so?

Laws have to have a justification as well. Commonly, the justification for copyright is that the author gets to spread the cost of making the first easily copied item over the subsequent opies of that item. There are also arguments that the author has some sort of moral right to control the work, although this is not used in the US as much, being more of a factor in continental Europe.

Laws are justified my morality, or in the case of traffic fines, efficacy. Laws do not justify morality.

As a counter justification, one could say that the author was not intending to exploit the work or sell to obtain compensation in the US, and that therefore the main justification for respecting copyright is not really relevant.

And indeed, perhaps that even makes piracy overtly moral. The world benefits from access to information. Making art/information available that would otherwise be useless to (this part of) the world can be construed as a very moral act.

I don’t think it’s moral at all. You have to decide for yourself if it’s worth doing something immoral to enjoy and appreciate the art.

But why is it immoral?

That’s an interesting view, and what you say makes a lot of sense when considered at this scale - concerning individual acts.
It’s pretty difficult to see how a fluid system of justification could be made workable on a large scale though.

In this case, the main reason for the law in question does not apply–copyright is to ensure that creators benefit from their work financially, but the option to buy the game in English isn’t there. There is no sale to be made, so there is no sale to be lost.

I’d be wary of saying that that’s the only justification… After all, you’re not using your car in the day - why not let me take it out for a spin and I’ll leave it back where I found it fully topped up with gas?

Ownership and the concept of owning copyright can be a powerful justification in itself, although it’s more commonly thought of in cases of artists not wanting their works to appear on toilet paper. If you accept that man should own the fruits of their labour, and that literary work are the intangible fruits of a man’s labour, you may well accept that a man should have the right to control whether a work should appear in English.

Precisely my argument, Tabby. If the author wished it to come out in english, and the company was preventing it, say, pirating the game might be justified.
Or, say, if you already owned a copy of the game, but the system it played on no longer functioned? Sure, do it. Harming no-one.
But if you don’t own a copy and you pirate, it’s not justified.

Not saying I havn’t done it, I’m saying that when I have done it, I have felt that I was doing a less than ethical thing.

Piracy is bad because you’re stealing from someone.

Who are you stealing from by downloading those ROMs? Nobody anywhere loses anything, since the games are not available for sale anywhere. This is 180 degrees from pirating commercially available games.

Well, there are two ways of looking at copyright law.

[li]Copyright protects an inalienable right that authors have to control their works.[/li][li]Copyright is a temporary monopoly that exists to encourage the production of intellectual property.[/li][/ol]

So your view of this is going to depend on which view you subscribe to. I subscribe to the second view. I think it is necessary to provide a financial incentive to encourage people to create intellectual property.

But I also believe that no intellectual property exists in a vacuum. It comes from the intellectual property that existed before and will affect what exists after. We all benefit from having access to intellectual property and a lively world of information is essential to a healthy society. The only way to have full control of your work is to keep it private. Once you let it loose it becomes a part of the world and people are going to steal from it, think about it, change it, wack off to it, etc.

I have a very real problem with manufacturers failing to use a particular distribution channel because it would decrease profits for them. But I also have a problem applying this reasoning across the board to all products that might be pirated, in order to assert some kind of “right to piracy.” If a manufacturer refuses to release a product in a particular geographic region, then it is hard to see what loss is incurred by piracy by people in those regions. If you plainly intend to never make a dime off Americans (or Chinese or whomever), then it should not disappoint you to not be making a dime off Americans who pirate your product.

For reasons that are surely particular to each product type, piracy is available when manufacturers do not utilize a distribution channel that would satisfy at least some of their customers. Some of these concerns might be legit, but I’ve not heard them yet. (Note: I don’t think it is the duty of a manufacturer to explain every move they make. But if manufacturers wish to claim real loss due to piracy, it is then incumbent to explain how they are possibly losing money through a distribution channel they plainly do not intend to support.)

Generally, I don’t think piracy is ever really justified, but I think exceptions could be found. What manufacturers need to realize, however, is that even if people are rationalizing their decision to pirate, they’re still engaging in piracy. I may claim a law that cars are supposed to yield to pedestrians but this does not remove my own responsibility to look both ways: laws don’t stop the laws of physics from operating. It is amazing that someone could consider it cheaper to fight pirates than to just accept the fact that the market just moved under your feet, and it is time to go with the flow or be swept away.

What is the justification for copyright and other intellectual property laws?

To advance the useful arts and sciences.

To the extent that copyright laws advance the useful arts and sciences then they are ethically justified. When copyright laws don’t advance the useful arts and sciences then they are pernicious.

The argument that piracy is morally wrong because it is illegal is simply begging the question. It’s illegal to do all sorts of things that aren’t immoral. Some of those laws are justified in the name of standards…we have to pick one side of the road to drive on. It doesn’t matter whether that side is the right side or the left side, but if you live in place where driving on the right side is the standard, you’ll get in trouble for driving on the left side, and rightfully so. Not because driving on the left side is immoral, but because driving on the side that isn’t the standard is immoral.

But if you’re on a desert highway and pull over into the left lane for a few minutes, and there’s no oncoming traffic for hundreds of miles, have you done something immoral? No, because the only reason it’s immoral to drive on the wrong side is because otherwise you could cause a wreck.