Media industry needs new approach to piracy
Editor’s Note: Views expressed in guest columns and letters to the editor reflect the views of the author, not the views of The State News.
Depending on who you ask, online piracy might appear a clear-cut issue.
To the music industry, piracy is theft — a criminal action harmful to both artist and consumer. For its more zealous advocates, piracy is a form of activism — a rebellion against corporate greed and the establishment. And for many consumers of online content, piracy simply is a convenient, cheap means of access.
This great divergence of opinion reveals a more complex situation. Difficulties arise as soon as we attempt to define the term. So, what constitutes piracy?
The Recording Industry Association of America, or RIAA — an opinionated source, to be sure — equates piracy with theft. Then, struggling to give a clear definition, they instead opt to provide several examples. These include downloading MP3s from file-sharing networks, emailing tracks to your friends and distributing home-burned CDs.
These examples are reasonable and clearly violate copyright laws. Most will agree that use of file-sharing sites to acquire protected material is illegal and wrong. But it gets blurry as we approach more marginal examples.
Is viewing copyrighted material on YouTube piracy? How about ripping music from a friend’s CD? Or what about viewing a movie you borrow from the library?
In all of the above, the user gains access to copyright-protected material at no charge. In none of the above does the user sell the material for a profit. So why do some so clearly ring of piracy while others do not?
I do not have a clear definition of piracy for you. One has not yet been agreed upon. The best I can find comes from the dictionary: it defines piracy as the unauthorized use or reproduction of another’s work. That’s pretty good — it is vague enough to be widely applicable, does not directly address questions of legality and comes from an unbiased source.
Other controversial questions surround online copyright infringement. One of the most basic is the one of morality — simple right or wrong. My instinct here is that piracy is wrong. Media isn’t a natural wonder, and consumption isn’t a right.
People work hard — they dedicate their whole lives — in order to create the music we listen to, the movies we watch and the games we play. They deserve compensation.
From the consumer’s end, it makes sense to pay for what we use. This is not a radical concept; it applies to most every other aspect of our economic lives. Why would media be an exception?
Unfortunately, the industries behind these media are approaching their piracy problem in a horrible way.
First off, they see every consumer with an Internet connection as a potential pirate. This is not unreasonable. A recently-released study by the European Commission Joint Research Centre found in 2011, around 73 percent of Internet users clicked to an illegal music site at least once.
Interestingly, the study also found illegal music downloading actually has a small positive impact on music sales.
The industry’s mistake comes in their response to the problem. They have engaged in an escalating war with the pirates, often with bizarre results.
Last year, The Pirate Bay, the self-proclaimed most resilient torrent site of the galaxy, announced a plan to launch low-orbit drones which would host their servers, keeping them out of the reach of any country’s jurisdiction.
The recording companies haven’t been any more reasonable. Last November, they prosecuted a nine-year-old Finnish girl for attempting to torrent a music album.
Treating their customers with distrust and attempting to instill fear with massive penalties and randomly-selected prosecutions is the wrong approach. Consumers generally are willing to pay a higher price for convenience or quality. At the moment, illegal file-sharing sites offer easily-accessed products of the same quality as their legal counterparts — for free.
The media industries cannot compete in terms of product. If these industries are to survive, they need to win the consumer. The focus must shift to building relationships.
This is not impossible to do. Successful models already exist. Steam, a gaming service offered by Valve Corporation, is thriving. Steam offers a library of cheap games frequently on sale. Steam acts as a store, a content aggregator, a social network and a game launcher. This multi-faceted approach is a service which cannot be matched by file-sharing sites.
Taking a different approach, Amazon has had success with its eBooks. eBooks can be viewed on a variety of devices, but Amazon retains a high degree of proprietary control with its’ Kindle device. Further, it is easy to browse a large selection of books, reviews and comments on Amazon’s marketplace. Convenience and control here make for success.
My point is there are ways to turn a profit in this new world of media consumption. Declaring war against your consumer base is not one of them. The media industries need to rethink their response to piracy and their approach to content distribution.
This being said, responsibility falls on the individual consumer as well. Consumers cannot control the tactics of the media companies. They can, however, make them look foolish.
Milan Griffes is a staff writer at The State News and a history junior. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.