Pirates everywhere are striking the Jolly Roger. But they aren't doing it out of fear for the authorities -- nor any moral obligation to do the right thing. Nope. Any respectable scallywag would abandon ship when there's a better vessel ripe for the boarding.

The pirates aren't downloading as many movies anymore -- because the legal alternatives can finally boast a better user experience than Captain Ripoff's Bit-torrent Bonanza.

The symptoms
According to entertainment research firm Music Ally, 26% of British teenagers now admit to sharing or downloading music files online -- down from 42% only a year earlier. A whopping 65% of all those teens listen to streaming music on a regular basis, from sources like Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) video sharing site YouTube or off of News Corp's (NYSE:NWS) MySpace member pages.

Not all of the old file-sharing traffic moved to legit channels, of course. The report notes that swapping music over Bluetooth short-range wireless networking links is on the rise, and people are burning CD copies for each other as well. But the evidence seems clear enough: music piracy is falling out of fashion in Britain.

The problem
So why are the Brits moving out of Pirate Bay right now? Because the more acceptable options are so darned easy to use. Allow me to demonstrate:

Let's say you're yearning for the sweet sounds of Captain and Tennille's Muskrat Love. The torrential route to satisfaction would go something like this:

  • Find a good torrent search site that won't flood your screen with pop-up windows and blush-inducing advertising.
  • Use that site to find the object of your affections. No luck? Try another site. Lather, rinse, repeat.
  • Download the torrent file. Open it in your favorite bittorrent client program.
  • Pray that the files you're downloading won't infect your computer with spyware and viruses.
  • Wait for the files to download.
  • Sift through the loot to play the one song you wanted to hear.

Hardly a simple, stress-free procedure, even if you disregard the fact that you're breaking copyright laws left and right. So why not try the YouTube method instead?

  • Go to YouTube and search for "muskrat love."
  • Take your pick from several thumbnailed and reviewed clips. Click, listen, and bask in the glories of Captain's gargling-muskrat solo.

It's instant gratification with no risk of accidental embarrassment or virus infestations, and a good many music videos were placed on YouTube by the artists or record companies themselves. General Electric (NYSE:GE) subsidiary Universal Music Group hosts 9,742 music videos on YouTube right now -- in return for a cut of Google's ad revenue from those video viewings. Lots of fans seem willing to put up with the videos as long as the music is playing.

The cure
The phenomenon can't be unique to Britain -- or to music.

These days, you can stream feature-length movies from Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) or Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN). Amazon charges a couple of bucks per film while Netflix opted for an all-you-can-eat approach with flat monthly rental fees. Hulu is working wonders for the legal online distribution of television content. TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) has partnered with several of these content aggregators to stream films straight to your set-top box, and that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone practically screams "Entertain me!" with its expansive screen and high-quality audio components.

And I'd imagine that the British trends would resonate even more strongly with Americans. Many of the finest pirate-bashing services simply don't work outside our borders, including the streams from Pandora, Hulu, and Netflix. So, if YouTube is good enough for British entertainment seekers, I can only imagine the magnetic power of our own plethora of streaming services.

The end
The last pirate hasn't walked the plank just yet, but the bearded, rum-tinged migration has surely begun. Music and video streams have the power to kill entertainment piracy, if only the content owners can get along with the technology people long enough to hammer out a deal.

Sample some swashbuckling Foolery:

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.