Music and movie piracy

Earlier this week, it became clear that RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) wants to settle in the lawsuit against Jammie Thomas for $25,000. This is after the judge in that lawsuit had decreased the original $2 million “fine” (actually closer to $1.92) to $54,000 only a few days before. Not surprisingly, Thomas declined because they wanted her to accept it “without me knowing what I’m agreeing to”.

I would agree with Thomas here. I’d fight the ridiculously high demand to my very last breath. Not because I don’t want to pay for the music I have, but because I disagree with the methods these trade organizations (RIAA, IFPI, BSA and MPAA being the major offenders here) are using to battle content piracy (“content” being music, films, software and whatnot — I’m counting games under the “software” umbrella here, btw).

I admit, I download music, films and TV shows illegally on a semi-regular basis. But, I buy a lot of it legally as well.

Once the most recent episode of Heroes or CSI (just to mention a few) hit the pirate networks after being aired in the U.S. a few hours earlier, I download it (or, at the very least, later that same week, depending on when I remember to check in). I don’t want to wait until the one of the local TV networks decide to air it, mainly because they are constantly one or two seasons behind the U.S. broadcasts. And some of those TV shows are even available on the pirate networks in both standard definition and HD. For the sake of simplicity (and storage space), though, I usually go for the standard definition ones. That’s not to say I’m not willing to pay for it. Heck, I’d gladly pay a monthly subscription fee if I could get all of my favorite TV shows legally, and the second they are available from the respective production companies. The only services I’ve heard/read that do this, are only available to customers inside the U.S., which is a shame to me, as a customer in Norway. Sure, I can use a proxy service to mask my IP address as if I was in the U.S., but why go through all that trouble, when I can get the same episode from a pirate network for “free” – and keep the episode afterwards?

I’ve pirated a few movies as well. Whenever I’m very uncertain about whether the movie is worth the DVD price and/or shelf space, I usually download it from a pirate network first. If the movie was bad or disappointing, I’d leave it at that. If the movie was great or absolutely worth my money, I later go out and buy it on DVD. The latter has happened to me on several occasions; Chicken Little, Cloverfield, Jumper (the latter two being surprisingly underrated), just to mention a few.

I’ve also bought (or gotten as a present from my wishlist) Heroes (season 1 and 2), CSI (seasons 1 through 7) and Stargate SG-1 (all 10 seasons and the two movies following the series) on DVD as a result of downloading these illegally first.

The same goes for my music collection. I have roughly 30-40 music CDs (maybe even up to 50, I don’t have the exact count), but close to 60-70 GB of music on MP3 (roughly 13-14,000 songs), all of various quality (128-320 kbps). I don’t add to my collection as frequently as I did before, but I still get new music, roughly a half of a CD album’s worth once or twice a month. Some I get from pirate websites, of the AllofMP3 type, some I get from genuine online music stores (DRM-free).

The current count of DVD units (TV series seasons and movies) at the time of this post was close to 940, all purchased or gifted 100% legally, so in a way, I consider myself a good customer of the movie and TV industry. Yet, when I pop a DVD into my DVD player, I feel intruded upon whenever the usual video regarding piracy comes up (the one with “You wouldn’t steal a car…” etc). I can’t skip it (“next” or “menu” on my DVD remote), even though I’ve literally seen it thousands of times before. I feel like I’m being stamped as a criminal even though I’ve bought the movie myself. Besides, those who pirate this DVD is not likely to include that short video when they distribute it anyway. It has no purpose.

The only positive anti-piracy campaign I’ve seen, was a pamphlet included inside the cover of one of the DVDs I bought from (UK-based, which means region 2 encoded DVDs, suitable for all of Europe – for you Americans, they also have an American division for those region 1 DVDs). I don’t remember the exact words on this pamphlet, but it basically said that by buying this film legally, I support the creators and producers of the film, and encourage them to make more. Now, that’s the type of spirit I want to see.

No matter what these trade organizations do, they won’t be able to shut down piracy completely. If you shut down services like The Pirate Bay, a few weeks up to a month later, a new website just like it will pop up (either from the same creators or from some other part of the world) and become the most popular piracy website instead.

And yes, there are people who have the ideal of “everything should be free”, even if that applies to software, music, movies, TV shows or other performing arts.

I’m not saying they should just give up, I’m saying they need to reconsider their current business and earning model. They count each instance of illegally copying a song or movie file as a lost sale due to piracy. Trouble is, what if that person who illegally downloaded wasn’t going to buy that song or movie if he/she could afford it? What if that person wasn’t willing to spend money on something he/she had never heard of or seen before, or on something that has gotten very mixed reviews? A file is just a file, much like a piece of paper.

They treat each of these “lost sales” as a physical copy, even though they are not. Comparing movie piracy (through downloads) to the theft of a car is like comparing Apple and Orange. It just doesn’t work that way. Movie piracy is more like borrowing a book at the local library, scanning every page of that book into your computer, and then returning the book afterwards. Those scans are then given away to anyone who asks for it. The original physical copy is still intact as ever, but did the publishing company and/or author actually lose sales over it?

When portraying their current and potential customers as potential criminals (as they do with the today’s continuing campaigns), they are only going to deter the most skittish of pirates, while the piracy bigwigs won’t even flinch by these campaigns. Instead, they should rather promote the positive effects of paying for movies, music and software — like helping artists, producers, designers (and all others involved in the production process) to continue their work and make more.

Second, instead of fighting sites like AllofMP3 and The Pirate Bay with lawsuits and sanctions, they should rather look into why they are popular and see the business opportunities in the distribution and pricing models (of the type used in AllofMP3) used.

Also, when I’ve tried to watch a certain music video or try to access certain types of music/video content (non-porn, for those who try to insinuate something), I’ve been countered with the message that my country is not allowed to see that content. There are no real country borders on the Internet, and the rights owners should realize this by now. When there are things I want to access, but can’t do it legally only because of where I live (considering the content itself is not against any laws or regulations in my country), I’m more likely to obtain the same content illegally.

Also of note: first of all, the fines and outcomes of those close-to-frivolous lawsuits (by my standards) are not going to the actual artists whose rights have been stepped on. They more or less line the pockets of the executives and the executive branch of the industry. The artists and composers down the line are not compensated, as I’ve understood it.

Second, take a look at some of the targets of these lawsuits and/or fining campaigns (the latter being offering the target to settle the case for a single fine rather than going to court); single mothers, young students, grandmothers, children, computer novices and even dead people. This seems more like hunting for humpback whales with a BB gun and a butterfly net (terrible analogy, I know, but I’m just trying to project an image of futility here — btw, the bigwig pirates would be the “humpback whales” in this particular analogy).

There, I just had to get it off my chest.