Yes, you read that right – this article is about (sigh) piracy. Again. One of the most discussed themes online is, naturally, those thieving bastards who steadfastly refuse to pay for content, instead illegally streaming it via P2P platforms and robbing artists of their rightful income. I’ve long been a stalwart advocate for piracy being reduced, if not stamped out entirely (genie’s out of the bottle, so to speak), but it appears the entertainment industry is trying to make itself the Big Bad Wolf of our new Digital Age.
We can argue forever about somebody’s right to “own” a product – a DVD or a BluRay is a thing one possesses, while apparently digital files, such as music, photographs and video, are more ephemeral in context, leading to many to argue that possessing a digital file (be it illegally obtained or not) means that the possessor can do with it as they wish, although lawyers might argue otherwise. If I want to lend somebody my BluRay copy of The Dark Knight, for example, I simply hand over the disc and off they go. But if I rip said film to my computer, to save wear-and-tear on the physical media, to quote an oft-used argument, and then give that file to my friend, that’s piracy. Whether the film is on a physical disc or in a file of data on my hard-drive, don’t I own my copy of the film? That, however isn’t the point of this article, but it does show you just how murky and grey all this piracy chatter often becomes.
I have a solution. It’s not a panacea, not a silver bullet, and it most definitely won’t eliminate completely the piracy industry (it feels wrong calling it an industry, but there’s some serious bandwidth allocated to P2P torrent platforms such as Pirate Bay and its ilk). The entertainment industry seems intent on punishing people for not paying for the content they download or rip. Fair enough. Everyone should have to pay for content, but I would argue that it’s the coast of said content that is the main driving factor for people to illegally distribute and pirate content. Followed swiftly by availability.
Considering that almost everything in this world is accessible online instantly (including music, films and television), the predominant factor in piracy is, in my humble opinion, driven by the fact that release windows and broadcast time-slots differ around the globe. Game Of Thrones, for example, became Australia’s 2013 pirate downloaded show of choice, largely because of its surging popularity, and the fact that it’s only available here on pay-television (FOXTEL), which is still a relatively niche market in a small population like ours. I understand that many markets vary in what they want to broadcast, and when, but when people have to wait several weeks, maybe months, before a show is broadcast here in Australia after it debuts elsewhere, it’s little wonder people resort to the internet to get what they want. Call it avoiding spoilers, perhaps. People want to watch a show before it’s spoiled for them by internet news, and delays in broadcast can mean people miss out on the “surprise” of a shows finale, twists or other important events.
I’m not saying this is a legitimate reason for piracy, but it’s a factor in why such piracy exists. Much the same comes with films, whereby staggered release dates for major blockbusters leads to some illegally downloading the film – even in dodgy, handycam format – before it’s ruined by online bloggers, reviews and other methods.
My solution is fairly simple, and I believe it would have a minimal cost to the very folks who claim illegal piracy robs them of millions upon millions of dollars. Most major films, television and music are available online, in a variety of platforms, for people to download legally, right? So, make it more cost effective. Remove the obstacles “preventing” people from purchasing the product legally – cost – by reducing the cost of said product to a manageable level.
Take, for instance, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. A major film, released mid-December in every continent on Earth save for Australia, where it was released on Boxing Day. Two weeks time lag between release in the US and Australia, means two weeks of illegal piracy for the studio and less people willing to go see it in cinemas. Instead, why not have a single platform online for people to purchase the release of the film legally – at a minimal cost, to download the film, at the same time as cinematic release? If somebody wants to see it, and they won’t go see it at a cinema anyway, instead of denying them the opportunity and “making them” download an illegal copy, why not maximize your footprint in the marketplace and allow those same people to pay a couple of bucks to download an HD copy onto their computer and watch it there? Sure, it’s not the box-office figure you might want, but it’s another happy customer. I don’t mean charging them $10 either. Reduce the cost of buying content online, and more people will buy it. The more people buy it, the less people steal it. Am I not making sense? If everyone who saw The Avengers – be it at the cinema, on DVD or illegally on their computer – paid two bucks to watch the film in whatever format, and removed the lure of illegal downloads, surely the film still would have made a profit? Reduce the overall price of purchase, gain more people willing to see it, and thus remain in the black.
The recent ability to download entire seasons of premiere content, such as Netflix’s House Of Cards (which I haven’t seen, but heard it’s great!) is the oncoming tidal wave of The Future of Entertainment. It’s inevitable, as internet speeds become faster, and cheaper, that online downloaded content will be the way forward; if only major studios could realize this, it might save them a world of pain, legal fees and loss of income. Some income is better than none at all, right? Wouldn’t it make sense to capture some of that “illegal download” market back by making it less problematic to download legal content right away, around the globe? Studios seem to think that they can dictate to the world what people can and cannot do with their product, and while I’m hardly inclined to disagree with this from a legal standpoint, surely to goodness humanity has reached a point where the shrinking Earth and our ability to communicate instantly within it means that boundaries, such as staggered cinema release dates and such, are falling away – aren’t we all on the same team here?
Instead of studios telling us what we want, how about they start giving us what we want, in the way we want it? Generate goodwill, instead of consumer annoyance that our brethren in the US or the UK are seeing a film that we want to see, but cannot, for some obscure regional reason…. Perhaps if studios started trying to find a way to work with the system as it is, instead of trying to bend it to their will, things might improve for them.
What say you? Agree or disagree? Think our plan for universal downloadable content is possible? Or are we dreaming too big? Tell us in the comments!!
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