On Piracy, the Industry and Bad Practices (2) [Day Against DRM Edition]

This is a follow up to the almost forgotten post: On the Pirate Bay, its trial and The Industry (1). So, today (May 4th, 2011), on the Day Against DRM (Digital Rights Management), I think it will make a nice contribution to the international initiative. Please share, write and express your opinions on this perversion of the Industry. My opinions further down!

Waiting for a final resolution on the case of the Pirate Bay (TPB) has been a long wait. Who would have thought that after loosing the trial, the website would be still up and running to this date. However, the ex-TPB guys stated in the past that they could spend years with appeals on this case. After trials and appeals nothing has changed much, just some modifications on the amount of money the accused have to pay and jail time. There were some developments leading nowhere like some rumors about the acquisition of TPB by companies like Global Gaming Factory, but it led nowhere. Perhaps the most interesting development was that on the 18th of May 2010, a new host for TPB appeared and it was no other than the Swedish Pirate Party!

Extract of the TorrentFreak article of the day:

“Today, on 18 May [2010], the Swedish Pirate Party took over the delivery of bandwidth to The Pirate Bay,” says the Party’s Rick Falkvinge in a statement. “We got tired of Hollywood’s cat and mouse game with the Pirate Bay so we decided to offer the site bandwidth,” he adds. “It is time to take the bull by the horns and stand up for what we believe is a legitimate activity.” The Pirate Party say they will provide bandwidth to the site’s homepage and search engine. The Party adds the attempts at censoring The Pirate Bay “is an attempt to silence one of today’s most important opinion makers in matters of civil liberties and rights on the web,” adding that it is “nothing less than political censorship, and something that any democratic-minded person must reject.”

The previous part of this post promised some of my views on the Industry and piracy. I am going to talk about the industry being in most of the cases the entertainment industry, mostly based on the US. It sometimes can also include other industries, such as the book and publishing industry that also share some of the same bad business practices. I present below a list of some issues of the industry that I think they have a direct (or at least a big) influence on piracy. I believe these to be very important causes of piracy, it is a shame that after more than a decade of a crusade against Internet based piracy, the industry fails to hear/see these arguments. Of course I am not the first one talking about these things. No matter which side you are on, feel free to leave a comment.

Bad Business Models

In order to illustrate bad business models, I pick as an example the business model of Sony with its Playstation Network (PSN). For example, the PSN is available in X number of countries, not all countries. So, the store is not even region but country locked. In order to buy content from a store you need either a credit card or a prepaid card code. The problem is, first with the credit cards: you need a credit card from the same country as the PSN you are trying to buy content from. For example if you trying to buy from the Finnish PSN you need a Finnish credit card. So then, there is a problem with Estonia that doesn’t have a PSN store and you cannot buy from any PSN stores with an Estonian credit card. So then, we have the business practice of not allowing customers to buy products. Thumbs up! Then, the prepaid cards that Sony released in Europe incredibly late, they only work for the intended country, you can imagine the chaos in Europe with so many different currencies. In that sense, Microsoft and Nintendo got it right with a points system… And then, the infamous Downloadable Content (DLC) is sometimes country locked! Estonia is the perfect example why this is so messed up. For example, here we can receive games from the UK, Germany, Norway and Finland, then if you want DLC for one game you have to work some arcane magic to enjoy the full product. So, it seems Sony doesn’t want money from some nations… There are workarounds for these issues, of course. I won’t beat Sony much more, thanks to the configuration of the PSN business model I will not have any issues because of the leaking of information after the PSN hack and blackout, as they didn’t let me use my credit card.

Distributing Companies

Sometimes bad practices seem to be the fault of only part of the Industry, such as the distributors of media. Let’s say a movie is produced by one company but then the distributing rights belong to other company. Problems arrive when the distributing companies insist on knowing the target they have, most of the times underestimating (or overestimating) their needs and wants. So that’s one view on why records or movie stores are so full of garbage and some things are just not available in your country. Some can argue further and say that the industry is the one determining what media products (or artists) should someone consume, so that’s why we have the Justin Biebers or the boy/girl band of the moment. But then, what would be a natural answer to a market over saturated with bad media?

Region Lock Bullshit

Cannot be called in a different way. We have seen region locks on DVDs, Blurays, etc. For the industry, people will be born, grow, multiply and die in the same part of the planet, and they would never buy anything in any other part if they happen to travel. What about international students or people for whatever reason has to move to another country, the Industry doesn’t seem to know this actually happens. Moreover, people in some parts of the world do not deserve to be able to buy some media products.

This content is not available in your location

Similar somehow to the region lock bullshit. How many times have you seen this on YouTube or even in official websites? Internet is not supposed to be World Wide? And then they talk about internationalization, globalization and all that gibberish that it is said to be the norm in this day but it isn’t because of things like that. Why something that is available freely in the US cannot be available in Estonia? Often the official answer is accepted, sound plausible, but I think this shouldn’t be happening. If someone just wants to see something on the Web just to be sure before running to the store and buy it. Why shouldn’t this person be allowed to?

Digital Rights Management (DRM)

DRM provides limitations of access, lifetime of the digital content, region lock, number of copies (or none), number of installs, determines which devices can run or play something, among many other limitations. comes from the fixation of maximizing (or rather squeezing) profit for some digital product. This is wrongly done by limiting the ways you can access or interact with this piece of digital product, on the grounds to prevent piracy. Actually DRM gives the concept of ownership a different more limited dimension. My example is courtesy of PSN again: Capcom has released two games with DRM in the PSN. These games require authentication with some servers every time you run them, even when they have offline components, you can’t play if you don’t have Internet, or if the service is down. The latter is the case with the PSN blackout. In my (and several others) view, the only thing DRM is good for is for crippling user experience and punish paying customers because of the pirates. By the way, the pirate versions of most goods that originally have DRM often offer a better user experience.

A Pirated Copy is equal to a Lost Sale

I save for the last one argument some strongly contend while the industry take it as dogmatic. For the industry, a pirated copy is equal to a lost sale. I think there are so many factors influencing the downloading of a piece of media that to say it is equal to a lost sale is wrong. I don’t think that in all cases where somebody downloading a pirate copy of some content would have bought it if it wasn’t for the pirate option. At least, this direct proportion between a pirated copy and a lost sale is very difficult to prove, if not impossible.

I gave above some factors influencing the download of some pirated media, such as: awful DRM in the original, lack of availability (or non at all) of the legal copy on the market, region locked content, among others. Are these reasons to approve piracy? Of course not. However, it seems the Industry ignores these facts and is just interested in maximum profit and suing everybody who doesn’t comply with their business models. In a very good talk, Larry Lessig stated that currently it is not artists who are being financially compensated with the triumphs of the war on piracy, only lawyers are. And the Industry itself. Is that really what copyright is it for?

There have been different interesting studies proving the Industry wrong. There is a survey of Dutch artists, where the majority don’t think that piracy is hurting them and the artists who really know what DRM is are against it. A very good study was done by a group of academics under the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), showing that the Industry has been better than ever during the era of the P2P war on piracy. Another study concludes that piracy has boosted Anime sales, one animation genre that is so scarcely available in most countries. The last read I can recommend to you is another study made in Norway that concludes that although the Industry has been hurt by piracy, musicians’ income is rising.

I don’t support piracy. However, the Industry should hear the public and the criticisms against it, adapt their business models to the age we live in and really provide quality content with reasonable pricing and availability. Otherwise they could just fade away and be forgotten or the user generated or indie content will someday become mainstream.

P.S.: In Venezuela, a regular music CD costs around 42 US$


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