Posted by: tally on Oct 21, 2010
There seems to be an impression among those in the entertainment industry that piracy is a crime driven by scumbags who simply want to get for free what they should rightfully be paying for.
To the studios and labels, piracy is no different from stealing a wallet or a car. Pirates are dark marauders who really should know better. After all, don't the creators of all this wonderful entertainment we enjoy deserve some cash for their hard, hard work?
What they fail to see, in my opinion, is that what they are fighting is not a huddled group of swarthy thieves, or even a small unit of dedicated anarchists. It is a tide of change. The digital age itself.
Sharing is caring
A great academic, Laurence Lessig, speaks often about the concept of Creative Commons. He is careful to state that he does not believe in piracy. But in one of his TED talks he speaks passionately about how the laws, as they stand now, define behaviour that should not be criminal as criminal - the remixing of videos on YouTube, the sharing of newly discovered songs with friends. This isn't some underhanded move to deny the artist due pay, it's human life. It has become human life.
Lessig gives the example of communities where the people used to sing to eachother. Songs were not owned, they were developed by the entire community, into something no one brain could have managed. (This happens to be the idea behind the Creative Commons movement). What Lessig posits is that we are moving towards an age where this becomes the norm again. It is human nature to want to share new discoveries, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the midst of the social-networking boom.
And why should the entertainment industry fight this? Because they lose money? In a recent interview with South African band The Sick Leaves, the manager told me that in her opinion bands lost more money to piracy protection (like digital rights management (DRM) than to piracy. The thing about pirates sharing music is that it's free promotion. Your music can reach audiences it never would have before. After all, it is an accepted adage that word of mouth is the best tool of promotion.
So a friend might give me an album from this band I've never heard of, or introduce me to a TV series I've never seen before. And you know what happens? If I don't like it, it's not like I would have bought it anyway... but if I do like it... if I really love it... I'm going to go and find more, and I'm going to buy it so I can keep it. Even if it doesn't cross my mind to support the artist or producer, I am still more likely to buy something I know is good.
Laziness trumps all
The problem is that distribution has not quite caught up with the market yet. I may really love this thing... but hey it's only available in the CD store across town, or worse, in England (why do so many box sets only ever make it as far as England?).
Now... am I going to bother to organise myself a legal copy, or am I going to take three clicks of a mouse button to get my copy for free?
The whole thing about capitalism is that it works because of supply and demand. If there is a great demand of something, supply should increase to fill this demand. Now if you have a illegal supply, versus a legal lack of supply...
It's like placing a chocolate cake in front of a starving man and telling him to rather walk to the store across town to get one. What do you think is going to happen?
Money trumps even more
Along the same line of supply and demand, stretching my metaphor to the max, say that if the starving man takes your cake it's free, but if he walks across town it's really really expensive?
Again, can you guess what he's going to go for?
Now if the cake across town was a decent price and he could afford it, his morals may come into play. He may think to himself, I know it's wrong to take someone else's cake why don't I take this money that I have and go satisfy my craving? After all, across town isn't really all that far.
Let's break away from our scenario for a second to consider that cake in this universe doesn't cost all that much to make. All ingredients together, bought in bulk by the baker, come to around about R5 max for the cake.
Except the baker charges R150 - R200 per cake.
Yes, he needs to buy the rights to the recipe, and he needs to be paid for his labour. But back to capitalism. Cost x 3 is the magic formula for mark-up. 1 part costs, 1 part profit, and 1 part for the hidden costs like the rights and the electricity and delivery of flour. A R15 cake. R20 if he puts sprinkles on.
Back to our hungry man. Only now see him magically transform into a scrawny teenager, and our cake into a CD of this really cool band he's heard of. The CD, which costs R5 max to make, is sold for R150 at the music store across town. And on his computer at home, right in front of him, well looky here it's completely free!
Come on folks, no brainer, which is he going to choose?
Isn't that stealing?
Our scrawny teenager, who we shall call Bob, has a pretty good moral compass. He would never walk into a store and steal the CD, just as he would never take his mom's money to buy it. But when it comes to piracy... isn't that the same thing?
No, it's not. And I'm not just saying that because I want Bob to get his music conveniently. The key difference comes in with the original item. Bob does not remove this item from existence. He copies it.
The original, paid for, version is still out there somewhere and had been sold. The anti-piracy campaigns make the assumption that if Bob was unable to get it for free, he would have bought it. He would have gone all the way across town to that little music store and handed over all his savings for it, despite the expense and the distance, because gee that's what good folk do.
More likely, he would have gone without.
A new scenario for Bob
But say, for instance, that when good ol' Bob did a Google search for this new band he's heard about, a site came up where he could pay a small amount - a few rands - and download it immediately onto his computer, legally. Imagine if he didn't need to have a credit card, the file was not locked to that specific device and it was affordable, even on his pocket money.
Take this further, what if he subscribed to a service where he would pay a portion of his pocket money per month and have access to as many CDs, movies and series as he wanted?
We get uncapped Internet don't we? Why not uncapped content? With the current technology it would be possible for money from the great pool of subscriptions to be automatically assigned to labels and studios upon the download of a file, for caps to be placed on the amount of content and even for content to expire once you have watched it a few times (so you don't pass it along to your friends, although you are more than welcome to download it new again at no cost if you want.)
Why not a new business model for a new age?
The solution for industry
The old business plan, the old distribution models, they can't work anymore. Piracy is not going to go away just because you hit it hard enough. It's going to continue, as long as people listen to music and watch movies and TV. And you know, it might not be such a band thing.
Yea, of course there will always be selfish people who would never pay for what they can get free. But if it was easier for them to get content legally and cheap enough for it to be worthwhile?
Well who's going to bother setting up bitorrent?