Appropriately, given that it's the spiritual home of free stuff, the internet has plenty of material devoted to the proposition that the best things in life are free.

Some of the things deemed the best in life - smiles, hugs, sleep - are mundane; some - exercise, quiet contemplation - aren't universally appreciated. And it should be pointed out that conversations with strangers don't come with an iron-clad guarantee of a good time.

And perhaps needless to say in this day and age, some are free only because someone, somewhere is being ripped off.

Libraries, for instance. Many an author has been heard to grumble that libraries are little more than state-sanctioned theft: the state buys a few copies of a book so that citizens don't have to.


Authors get some compensation through the Public Lending Right scheme, but this comes with terms and conditions: they have to re-establish their authorship every year and, if they miss the deadline, tough luck.

Furthermore, authors who live abroad are ineligible. You might have written the great New Zealand novel but if, for whatever reason, you live overseas, you won't receive a cent, no matter how many Kiwis get it out of the library.

Then there's copyright. Property can remain in a family's possession indefinitely. The land was there before them and will be there after they've gone, but as long as they want it and can afford to keep it, it's theirs.

However, under copyright law a work of the imagination, unique to its creator, is effectively confiscated from the creator's heirs 50 years after his or her death.

Which brings us to the thousands of lowlifes or opportunists, depending on your point of view, who watched a free, pirated version of last weekend's Joseph Parker-Carlos Takam fight.

As is often the case in these situations, those who did it and/or defended it employed euphemisms for the simple, readily understood term "theft" and trotted out various self-serving justifications.

We were told the pay-per-view price was outrageous. Perhaps it was. Without knowing what it cost Duco to stage the event and Sky to broadcast it, I'm not in a position to know whether $50 was fair or extortionate.

(Not that those insisting the price was too high give a hoot if Duco and Sky lose money on the venture.) Normally the market would determine if the price was right but the illegal streaming distorted that process.

But since when are we entitled to steal what we can't afford? Lots of things seem over-priced to me - foie gras and dental treatment spring to mind - but that's life. You make decisions based on your means and need versus want. Taking it without paying for it is theft.

There's the claim that we shouldn't have to pay to watch the local hero take on the world; it should be ours as of right. Suffice to say there isn't and never has been any such right and to argue otherwise is to advertise your ignorance.

There are several root causes of this behaviour. The first is banal in that it's a factor, often the main factor, in the commission of most crimes: people did it because they could and they thought they'd get away with it.

Secondly, decades of consumerism have dulled our awareness that consumption is the last act in a process. For that process to continue it has to be worthwhile for those whose investment of time, money and resources delivers the finished product to the nearest outlet or our doorsteps.

Thirdly, there's so much free stuff on the internet that it creates an expectation, if not a sense of entitlement, that in cyberspace no one should have to pay for anything.

An entire generation has grown up with this mindset: there must be many young people who've never bought a newspaper or map or cookbook and some who've watched plenty of movies and TV without having set foot in a cinema or owned a television set.

Content providers have made a rod for their own backs by pandering to this mentality.

They now face the difficult task of turning the clock back to a time when people expected to pay for news, analysis, information and entertainment.

We're living in a golden era in which the internet is the gift that keeps on giving. History and logic suggest it can't last: the best things in life may be free but there aren't many of them because there's no such thing as a free lunch.