Tuesday, January 15, 2008

My take on some of the effects of piracy.

This is my opinion on piracy: in the grand scheme of things it's a good thing.
There are many forms of piracy: but it all comes down to making a copy of intellectual property, IP.
Those who sell that intellectual property, be it as a book or a CD, a movie, or as software will claim that copying that IP is stealing. What are you stealing? You are stealing the opportunity to pay them for the IP. They will claim that you benefit from that IP without compensating them for it. Odd that they aren't apt to compensate people for their time when the IP turns out to be a waste of the audience's time.
Here's the thing, there's are two assumptions that content sellers are trying to sell: people who pirate content would have purchased the IP had they not pirated it, and sales are from people who do not pirate content. There is a third group, those who pirate and purchase content.
There are two extremes. On the one hand you have people who exclusively pirate who take content. They will never ever pay for content. Consider them the same as those who books, music, and movies from the library and will use freeware alternatives to commercial software. They aren't going to buy content no matter what.
On the other extreme you have the people who will buy content at every opportunity. Take a look around my inlaws house and you'll see a mess of books, cds, and dvds, all legally purchased. Oh, BTW, they won't load any of those DVDs onto their iPods because the content sellers say it's piracy and my in laws comply.
Between those two groups is everybody else. We all "pirate" content in one way or another. We borrow books and CDs from each other. We lend a DVD to a friend. We load MP3s onto iPods etc. There are even some of us who will download software, movies, books, and music. There are opportunities for purchase that pirating takes away. I borrowed a DVD, or downloaded it, and therefore I choose not to buy it for myself. There are also opportunities for purchase that are created also. I borrowed a DVD that I really like, or I downloaded it, and I want to add that to my collection.
It is difficult to measure how these groups affect each other. It is a complicated issue.
What I see in content sellers is that they are doing two things to try and stop piracy: they try to make examples of pirates in court, and they try to make piracy difficult.
Both of these approaches are damaging. Legal bullying is a wellspring of bad PR. Having trade group lawyers argue that things that most people feel is fair use, e.g. putting music from CDs on an iPod is illegal, is not going to win any sympathy towards content sellers.
The second tact of trying to make piracy difficult is also counter productive in a similar vein. Most of the so called piracy safe guards makes the legitimate use of purchased content more difficult. That is, those who pay for the content are experiencing a lesser experience than those who just pirate the content.
Pirates will filter the safeguards and take only the content.
The content sellers, especially the music industry really treat their customers like criminals. Look at what Sony did with the root kits that they snuck into some of their CDs back in 2005. What they did was install software onto their customers' computers that allowed people at Sony to look at the content of the customers' computers. They had free reign to do what they want. If I did this to you, I could go to jail. I'm not sure why Sony hasn't faced any legal problems.
I see piracy as a market force. It is impossible to stop it.
What I would like to see is a paradigm shift in the way that IP is sold that embraces piracy, i.e. it uses the force of piracy as a way to benefit those who sell content. The first people to do that, will benefit immensely. The important question is how?
If I may, I think I'll infringe on some IP by saying, "ay, there's the rub"

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