In that particular scenario, however, Inman was looking to buy. Things get a little trickier if you want to rent something, especially when that something is a motion picture made before roughly 2003. So let me explain why I will be illegally downloading Criterion's Anatomy of a Murder later tonight.
I started out as a Netflix subscriber. (By "started out," I'm talking about only a couple of years ago, actually, after I moved to California. From 1992-2009, when I lived in New York, I watched almost nothing on video, as there was always something to see at one of the city's numerous museums and rep houses.) Loved me the Netflix for about eight months. Then my dad gave me a Blu-ray player for my birthday, which instantly killed my ability to watch conventional DVDs, as they now look like VHS to my eyes. Netflix has a healthy Blu library, and I dove right in...but as I started paying attention to new releases in the format, it gradually became clear that they weren't buying catalog titles on Blu anymore. As in, none at all. And while I hope to one day be satisfied with the quality of HD streaming via my basic Time Warner connection, that day has not yet arrived.
So when Netflix had its gargantuan pooch-screw late last summer, splitting its DVD and streaming services, I jumped ship to Blockbuster-By-Mail, after checking their site and discovering that they were still acquiring pretty much every title released on Blu, including the more obscure Criterion releases that Netflix had never bothered with. And that honeymoon lasted, oh, about four months, I think. Then I found that when I added a given week's new releases to my queue, they would all show up as "On Order." Which would almost always metamorphose into "Unavailable" a few weeks later. And now they're not even pretending anymore—when you search for a title that just came out, you'll either get the old DVD copy or no result at all. They've evidently decided that their business model doesn't justify purchasing those discs for the tiny handful of folks like me who want them.
And as far as I can determine, there is no other rent-by-mail service that's buying catalog Blu-ray titles on a consistent basis. [UPDATED: See below.] Unless you live near a much hipper brick-and-mortar video store than any of those within reasonable driving distance of my house, you simply cannot rent these films.
So I download them. And I don't feel the slightest bit guilty about it, frankly. When I was given the opportunity to pay a reasonable fee to rent, I happily did so, and was more than willing to kick in the Blu-ray surcharge that both sites imposed. Now that that option has been withdrawn, my non-piracy choices are (a) spend $30 or so to purchase a movie I don't (in most cases) wish to permanently own, or (b) not watch the movie. Neither of those is acceptable to me. Furthermore, I can't see how my downloading these films is depriving anybody of income, since I delete those I don't love immediately after viewing them and buy physical copies of those I do love—or, if I can't afford them right this second, add them to a wishlist. Either way, I watch the file and then nuke it. The only films that I've downloaded illegally and then burned to disc are The Arbor and Godard's A Married Woman, and that's only because there's no Region 1 Blu-ray of those two titles. (I don't have a region-free player.)
I don't pirate movies out of some sorry sense of entitlement. I pirate movies because at the present moment I know of no other means of watching a high-definition copy of an older film without buying it outright. And that's ridiculous.
(By the way, I already own a DVD of Anatomy of a Murder, the next film I plan to "steal." Bought it years ago. Which is true of a large percentage of the films I download. And I'll probably wind up buying the Blu after I revisit it this week, assuming I still dig it. But I don't want to spend $39.95 and have a Leaving Las Vegas experience, where I suddenly realize an old favorite is actually a well-acted piece of shit.)
UPDATE: Scott Nye (@railoftomorrow) pointed me to ClassicFlix, which does appear to have an excellent selection of catalog titles on Blu, including some very recent releases. No sign of the Criterion World on a Wire, though.
UPDATED AGAIN: Now that I look more closely, ClassicFlix doesn't stock anything made after 1969, which explains the missing Fassbinder. But they're also missing a bunch of foreign pre-'70 titles, including Smiles From a Summer Night, Last Year at Marienbad, Le Beau Serge, etc.
AND ANOTHER UPDATE: Got into a debate on Twitter with someone at Masters Of Cinema (basically the U.K. Criterion). Understandably, they take a hard anti-piracy line: It's stealing, period. So I asked them what they suggest I do, and their answer—I swear I am not making this up—was that I should purchase every single film I want to watch, and then resell the ones I don't want to keep (the vast majority) on eBay or Amazon or whatever. "You'll hardly end up spending anything," they hilariously claimed. That's the mindset we're dealing with here.