The Problem of Piracy

Trollface, Pirate, Piracy, Troll Pirate

Problem?

Seems like my topic of the week is piracy, isn’t it?

I suppose it’s not really all that surprising, though. Given how much bad press SOPA’s been getting, it’s something that’s foremost on everyone’s mind. Every single business that’s actually read and understood the bill has refused to support it. Virtually every tech expert on the ‘net feels SOPA’s bad news. Everyone with a lick of common sense knows not to trust the bill.

Apparently, that camp doesn’t include the majority of the attendees to the Congressional hearings. Or the ESA, for that matter.

For the love of god, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter are actually considering a complete blackout to protest the bill! Yet people STILL support it! It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion, and realizing that everybody on that train is cheering for the company that built it.

We’re getting off topic.

The question we’re going to look at today is this: Why is piracy so difficult to deal with? Why are more people pirating games, movies, and music today than ever before? And why, for the love of god, are businesses still trying to regulate something that simply cannot be regulated?

The Perception of Piracy

Intellectual property theft, copyright infringement, stolen intellectual property, content scraping, theft of ideasPlagiarism. That word probably causes the bile to rise in your throat, no? I’ve had a number of my posts plagiarized by content scrapers in the past- it’s not a nice feeling, and everyone I talked to about  it agreed that the people who did this were lazy, talent-less hacks. Scum of the earth. I called them out on it, I made sure everybody knew what they’d done. And you know what?

Everybody agreed that their plagiarism of my work- which can very well be considered copyright infringement- was wrong. 

Jack Sparrow, Pirate, Software Piracy, Pirates of the Carribean

Not that kind of piracy.

Piracy. That’s got completely different connotations, doesn’t it? While most people agree that stealing someone else’s work to claim it as your own is morally reprehensible and irredeemably wrong, these same people, when asked about this form of copyright infringement…well, most of them will just shrug. People just don’t perceive piracy in the same fashion as other forms of copyright infringement. For some reason, it’s simply not as taboo.

Hell, I’ve had acquaintances who are thirty years my senior approach me and ask me how to acquire music. When I informed them that it was illegal, do you know what they said?

“I don’t care. I just don’t want to have to go and buy it.”

Wait, what?

Demonization Of The Corporate World

Conrad Black, Corrupt executive, corrupt corporate executive, executive corruption

You can see the gleam of greed in his eyes.

There are quite a few reasons why our society is so ambivalent about piracy, and most of them lie squarely on the shoulders of corporate executives. The problem with the 21st century is that we love to demonize the corporation. They’re big, mean, scary, faceless entities that only care about profit and love corn-holing consumers across the world if they can make a quick buck.

Funny story- virtually everything we have in modern society, we owe to corporations. Your house? Corporations. Your computer? Corporations. Your food? Corporations. Your clothes? Corporations.

Thing is, we still like to believe they’re the bad guys. And in truth…there are some pretty nasty businesses out there, willing to do some pretty terrible things for money.  And guess what? When they do, that just gives pirates more ammunition against them.  That just gives them further justification for their questionable moral actions.

They’re the reason people don’t like corporations.

It’s for this reason, and this reason alone that the ‘aggressive’ stance many businesses are taking against software pirates essentially involves shooting themselves in the foot. Universal Media, do you honestly believe people are going to want to keep giving you money if you respond to piracy by suing random people who you think might be downloading your intellectual property? Electronic Arts, do you really think invasive DRM that makes your games a pain to install and play will encourage people to purchase them?

Fighting piracy with litigation and restrictive regulation is like fighting fire with gasoline. It does nothing but fan the flames.

Lack of Adaptation

Record Industry Association of America, Recording Industry, out of date ideals, record industry piracy

Pretty much like that

That’s the problem with the Recording and Entertainment industry as a whole right now. They’re pouring millions and millions of dollars into defeating pirates by attacking them, thereby making those pirates feel more justified in what they do. If, instead of supporting bogus legislation, they put that money towards improving their public image and developing better service-if they focused on making customers happy instead of just taking their money- people’s perceptions would gradually start to change.

Eventually, piracy wouldn’t be such a gray area anymore. Eventually, people might even start to look at it as wrong.

The problem is, they don’t want to change. They don’t want to admit that physical media just isn’t as popular anymore, that the strategies they used in the 80s no longer work. They don’t even want to remotely consider adopting a new business model that meshes with new media. Instead, they want to try to force the Internet to conform to their business model. And guess what? In so doing, they’re probably driving even more people to piracy.

Ironic, isn’t it?

How to Truly Combat Piracy

When speaking about how to defeat piracy, one can’t help but look at Gabe Newell, Co-founder of Valve. Want to know how he planned against piracy?

Aside from some extremely non-invasive DRM…he didn’t.

“The way to defeat piracy,” he told journalists, “is to provide a better service than the pirates.” That’s it. No secret adaptations, no over-the-top digital rights management software, no lawsuits, no fake torrents…just…good service. That’s what a lot of businesses fail to understand. If a customer likes a business, if they genuinely feel that the business, artist, or developer is a benevolent person- or organization of persons-rather than some malicious, faceless corporate entity…

They’ll probably feel guilty if they pirate that business’s products.

Aside from a few cases, piracy isn’t a matter of getting things for free. It’s a matter of either convenience or frustration. By providing a more convenient, less expensive means of obtaining their products, a business could very well eliminate both issues in one single swoop.

Piracy Will Never Go Away

Look- we’re never going to eliminate piracy altogether. Just like there are always going to be people who murder and vandalize, there are always going to be a few deviants who decide they’d rather not pay for song X or product Y. Guess what? That’s just something businesses are going to have to accept.

They’ve just gotta make sure they do a good enough job that people are more willing to buy their product than pirate it.

Image Credits: SpreadshirtFakesteve.comCanada.com, Beats and Bombs

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