Posts Tagged ‘piracy’

A story of piracy

14.11.2012 17:16

This week, RIAA’s Vice President, Joshua P. Friedlander, released a blog post as a response to the claim that illegal downloaders are those who also spend more money on legal content (downloadable or otherwise). Of course, his opinion is biased, considering that his paycheck comes from the organization that spends millions (if not billions) fighting all forms of music piracy, no matter how large or small the infringement. No P2P downloading network is safe from becoming a target by his employer.

This same week, there was also a news story saying that the latest strict anti-piracy laws in Japan actually hurt the industry, when they correlated with a significant drop in sales. Supporters of these laws claim the sales drop might have nothing to do with illegal downloading (or attempts at it), but rather a “cultural chance [… because] people don’t feel the need to fill silence as much as they used to”. Personally, I call bullshit on that statement, and on Friedlander’s claim as well.

Let me tell you a little story.

Back in 2008, I came across a video on YouTube called “When Graphic Artists Get Bored” – a slideshow of photos collected from the Worth1000 website. The background music used for this video slideshow: the track “TV Song” by Blue Man Group. I seriously doubt that this music usage was licensed, but it created a spark in me. That same week, I (illegally) downloaded the two Blue Man Group albums that were already out on the market. Later that year, I found out about their “How to be a Megastar World Tour”, and that the closest it would pass by where I live, was in Copenhagen, Denmark, and in late October that year (a couple of months away at the time). Luckily, my city’s airport had direct flights to Copenhagen, so I bought a ticket for that show, and booked a hotel room and flights, making a full vacation week out of the trip (I checked my e-mail archive, and I found that I booked everything in late August). After seeing the concert in Copenhagen, I immediately wanted more, and looked online to see if they had any further tour stops in Denmark, but it was simply too far away on such short notice (I think it was a couple of hours of travel time, by train or bus, from Copenhagen).

Shortly after New Year’s Eve, I found out about the Blue Man Group community, and after a short while, a fan event was announced, which would happen in Orlando (Florida) in July 2009. This was in March, though, so after some analysis of my economy, and some in-depth research on what else to catch while on my first trip to the U.S., I booked flights, hotels, and tickets to see Blue Man Group (along with the fan event in Orlando) in both Las Vegas and Orlando, spending one week at each of the two destinations (of course, catching other sights as well, including a few days at both Universal Studios Orlando and Disney World). On this trip, I made sure to buy the physical and legal versions of the albums I had previously downloaded illegally, and I also attended 3 shows in Las Vegas and 2 shows in Orlando.

In 2010, I found out that Blue Man Group would have shows in Stockholm, Sweden, for a short period of time (October and November), and I made a vacation of this as well. I was there for about a week, and I managed to attend all 7 shows that had been set up for that week. Unintentionally, I was invited for a quick backstage tour after the 6th show that week, and got to see most of everything behind the scenes up close (and seeing first-hand some of the “trade secrets” of the shows, as I had previously only read about in the community forums).

Last year, 2011, I found out about a fan event in New York, the primary home of Blue Man Group, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the company. This triggered another vacation trip to the U.S. for me, and since they were now touring North America with brand new material, I also wanted to catch a show or two with this new material while I was already this far away. The only show I could find at the time within a two-week window was in Winnipeg (Canada), so I made sure to also book a hotel stay (single night), flights and show tickets (two shows in a single day), just to catch this show. Since I was already so close to a magic round number, I decided to keep up attendance, and the show on the day of the fan event actually marked my 20th Blue Man Group show (or concert) over these years.

This year, I wanted to attend another Blue Man Group fan event, and I directed my attention to the annual European fan event, centered around the only regular show in Europe: Berlin, Germany. Considering the fact that the guys who plans the annual fan event in Berlin (and who were also a major part of the planning process for the New York anniversary event the previous year) is based in Netherlands, it was well within reach for me, too. I planned the Berlin trip as my primary vacation for this year, and booked a trip for two weeks this past October (less than a month ago, at the time I’m writing this). I also managed to catch a total of 7 shows spread across these two weeks, just to give me the annual dose of Blue Man Group live shows.

Through the years, I’ve also bought all the other albums from iTunes, and both concerts (“The Complex Rock Tour” and “How to be a Megastar”) on DVD and Blu-ray (only the latter). No pirated versions, but the actual physical (or downloaded, in the case of iTunes), licensed products.

I estimate that over these 4 years, I’ve spent a total of almost 3,000 USD just in show tickets, plus somewhere around 17,000 USD in travel costs (flights+hotels only) to see the various shows around the world (rough estimation based on my archived travel confirmations – good thing I have Excel to find out these totals). CDs, downloads, DVD/Blu-ray discs (both for myself and bought as gifts) and official merchandise (mostly T-shirts) comes on top of this. And I keep coming back for more, like most other fans.

All of this sparked by an unlicensed use of a music track in a YouTube video. In return, I’ve gained several friends in the community, a true sense of belonging, and inspiration that I never would have known without Blue Man Group. Because of that video, the Blue Man Group gained at least one more fan.

Basically, my point is, good things can come out of a little piracy. Have you discover something through an act of piracy, even if it was indirectly?

The war on piracy continues

14.06.2012 13:35

Early last month, we were told that the DVD piracy warning was being updated. And not for the better, mind you. Now, consumers are still being called criminals, even before they’ve done anything wrong.

The new FBI anti-piracy warning

With such a warning, I still feel just as violated, and I still have to sit through DVD content I can’t skip past, making the wait even longer before I can actually start watching the film itself. Not only that, from what I understand, you will now have to sit through two warnings; one from the FBI, and one from the National Intellectual Property Center.

The new National Intellectual Property Center warning

Wonderful. Just wonderful.

I understand that piracy is a crime, but I don’t need to be reminded of it every time I want to watch a DVD that I bought through legal channels. I feel like these organizations are basically punishing consumers for doing the legal thing.

Here’s a thought, though:

The illegal version of watching a movie: Download from an pirated source, watch the film immediately.

The legal version of watching a movie: Go buy a DVD and put it in the DVD player, watch the FBI notice, watch the anti-piracy movie (they’ll probably have that, too), watch the previews (trailers for other movies and/or special features, such as a commercial for Blu-ray), get to the DVD menu (wait for it to settle on or show the menu items), hit “play movie”. If you’re lucky, the film starts at this point. If you’re unlucky, you have to sit through yet another warning about piracy and public screenings of the DVD.

I mean, what’s the point? Just let us watch the film, already! When movie pirates copy a DVD, they don’t copy these warnings, they only copy the film itself, without all the extra junk (although, they usually don’t include the special features and extra material that some of us want to see).

I’ve also seen warnings that include street vendors who sell pirated DVDs. I mean, the majority of the movie, music and software piracy “industry” happen online these days. The people who rip a DVD for downloading are usually people who are sick and tired of having their cash flow through an outdated corporate scheme.

Those in the industry claim that piracy is the direct cause of monetary losses, but in my opinion, that’s only half true. If you’re going to account for losses, do they also account for how much money they’re wasting on lawyers, lawsuits against individuals (grandmothers, single mothers, and such) and torrent sites, and various DRM schemes?

I’m not saying they shouldn’t fight piracy, but I’m criticizing their current methods of fightin it. I feel that they should rather fight piracy with awareness campaigns, where they focus on why the legal path is good, and showing why you should support the industry. Plain and simple, make people make good about themselves when they spend their money on a DVD, Blu-ray, CD, legal download, books, merchandise, etc. And on the side, they can keep on with lawsuits against those who make large profits from piracy.

Last time I saw one of the few well-made “anti-piracy” warnings out there, was when I bought and fired up my DVD for The Adjustment Bureau. I had originally downloaded this movie illegally, which I usually do when I’m uncertain about the movie’s quality (in terms of story, directing and acting, that is). After seeing it as a pirated download version, I thought it was so good, I got the real version (I had it on my wishlist, and if I hadn’t gotten it for Christmas, I would’ve bought it myself). I’ve ripped the warning from my DVD here and put it up here (unlisted on YouTube, in case you wanted to go searching for it), just so you can see what I mean:

Short, simple, and it made me feel good about myself for buying the DVD and supporting the people who are in this business. This is the type of anti-piracy warning I want to see. With this, I feel like I’m contributing to the good part of the business, and not feeling like I should expect a lawsuit whenever possible.


Side note: The anti-piracy warning video is probably copyrighted, and I’m assuming Universal Studios has something to do with it, given that they’re the publisher of the DVD I got this from. I copied it from there for illustration purposes; please don’t sue me. If you’re reading this, and own the copyright to this, please either grant me a non-exclusive license to use this, or point me to some existing version of it online, so I can link to or embed it from my blog. I’ll put up a proper copyright notice if you want me to.

Music and movie piracy

29.01.2010 16:35

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.