A Solution to Digital Piracy, if we Really Want One.
Piracy in all its forms is something that we think about a lot today, especially with the rise of cheap Internet access everywhere, and people downloading lots of stuff illegally over the Internet. Is this really something we need to worry about, or is it simply a new way for people to access content, that will survive and coexist with other ways of doing so throughout the next years?
Increasingly sophisticated piracy
To me, it seems obvious that this is not something that we could in any way limit in the future. Digital communication gets more sophisticated every year, encryption works better each time and services like VPN servers, proxies, the Tor network and others make it harder than ever to track down illegal downloaders. It is very difficult to fight the tendency of people to illegally download things.
Why the current media landscape gave birth to such widespread use of piracy
However, many content providers today trying to fight piracy give the pirates their reason for existing in the first place. How so? As European citizen, I can tell you that the American entertainment economy, especially the companies producing movies and TV series, makes it very enticing for people to turn to piracy, because there are no legitimate means to access specific types of contents in any other way. For example, even though Europeans can see trailers of the newest movies on YouTube, they cannot access them legally, because in many cases, the content gets released in Europe only weeks to months after the official release in the US. For fans of that particular TV series or movie, this is frustrating, and turning to an HD version downloaded illegally is a lot easier than waiting for the content to be released overseas, too.
Of course no one can claim the right to see a movie sooner than on the official release date. There is no inherent human right to seeing the movie produced by a company. However, these companies built their success upon word-of-mouth promotion and marketing, and the effects of this marketing can be felt in Europe and Asia and other parts of the world immediately due to the Internet.
Delayed release dates are just not acceptable in a globalised economy. Often times, the site from the release date is later than the official release in the country of origin, many media contents also should prove difficult to buy at all even off the release, because countries have different licensing issues. For example, a special edition of music album maybe only available in a certain country, but never released in another country. Digital music stores often memorize these licensing issues, even though you could theoretically download the file without regards to Borders, they were official artificial limits imposed upon your downloading. Why should the resident of a particular country accept to not be able to pay for an album he wants because that version is not being released in his country, and then not even turn to illegal downloading to get that particular version of the album of he is a fan of the artist? These demands from the entertainment economy are just not realistic, no matter how much they want them to be.
No human in their right mind and with the knowledge of how to download files illegally, would accept to be left out of certain digital products, if he knows that it is just 3 or 4 clicks of his mouse away. That is just not happening. Likewise, brick and mortar stores who are carrying DVDs of a movie may not carry the Blu-ray version or an HD version of the specific movie the customer wants to buy, or he may not own the Blu-ray player. Why should he not download the file in HD and look at it on his computer without the need to buy a Blu-ray player? Digital downloading is just more convenient and thus makes more sense in many cases. Some obscure or unpopular movies can not be found in DVD stores, but they are available for download on the Internet. Thus the illegal file-sharing networks prolong the lifetime of media and artworks.
The solution for this particular problem? Open the borders, stop with the licensing bullshit and work as a global economy. Make buying a movie on the Internet more pleasurable and easy than downloading it illegally. That is the success recipe of the iTunes music store and it is the only way to win this battle.
The actual damage inflicted by piracy is lower than generally thought.
After looking at the reasons why people pirate digital goods, we can also think about how much actual damage this does to the economy. Pirating digital materials is not exactly the same as stealing, because in many cases stealing is something dangerous that you would only do for something you really want to use. Downloading is different. Downloading is so easy that many people, for example movie or music junkies, downloads thousands of things that they will never watch or listen to. Downloading 200 movies does not equal stealing 200 movies and benefitting from these stolen goods. If you never watch the actual movies, you have not actually consumed the good. Furthermore, it is clear that If you decide to downloads 20 movies, even if you watch all of them, this does not mean that you would have otherwise bought these 20 movies. The ease of downloading movies or music make you download more than you actually want. Thus you may download movies that you would not have regarded as valuable enough to exchange money for. So we can widen our horizon because we would not have picked these movies up in the store, but we do download them. Take eBooks. They are small in file size and easy to share even via e-mail, but do you really think that downloading a torrent containing 2000 ebooks, where each e-book takes 7 hours to read, is equal to the downloader breaking into a library, stealing 2000 books and spending the next 583 days reading 24 hours a day and consuming all these books? If you are sure he doesn’t read all of these books – in fact I’d bet the probability for him even reading two of the 2000 of them is low in most cases – then how bad can it really be that he has them somewhere on hos hard drive collecting dust?
Piracy may actually strengthen the entertainment industry.
It has been pointed out multiple times that according to new studies, people downloading digital products illegally are actually also those who are the biggest customers of legitimate music and videos distribution businesses. It makes sense to think that a real movie junkie develops more easily if he has access to a wide library of movies he can look at for free instead of forcing him to only consume products his socioeconomic status allows him access to. Many people would not buy movies or TV series DVD boxes and thus never see a movie if they had to consciously decide to buy it. If they can download it for free however, they more easily decide on watching a movie.
A utopic and bold proposal for a solution
One idea comes to mind regarding the legitimate consumption of digital media. How about a subscription model or, in countries where the governments is supposed to protect the arts, a tax for the arts? Citizens who regularly consume movies TV series or music could choose to pay a tax or subscription to the government for all the content that they consume. They would receive a unique identifier that they would have to enter each time they consume something. At the end of the month the amount they paid would be equally divided among the content producers or, if the citizen deems it necessary to individually control the percentages of his subscription that go to a particular artist, he could choose to do so on a webpage and thus rate the different artworks to indicate their worth to him after having seen them, unlike right now where you pay for a book or movie before you watched it, thus making low-quality but popular content producers rich.