The least honest, most selfish, things a person can say these days are that information “wants” to be free and that online piracy does more good than harm as it concerns copyrighted material. These are items we most definitely want to believe are true but exist just outside that realm of possibility. Information in and of itself has aims that are as clear and discernible as the aims rocks have, and the biggest contribution of online piracy is the option of bringing to awareness, through experience, a consumer’s actual opinion of a copyrighted item – which, mind you, does not necessarily translate into sales.
It is time to stop romanticizing our free love for free access to products and look at this more objectively. Consumers who pirate copyrighted goods are not bastions of a future free world. By and large they are parasites on the system of consumer goods. This is a horrible position to be in because these are entertainment goods, far from necessities. The drive to obtain these items is based on want. That want is actually created by the entertainment industry itself through their marketing departments.
It is no wonder that the entertainment industry is so upset by the state of digital piracy today. It’s no wonder that they created SOPA and PIPA to tighten the reigns on what can be posted online. Granted, their response to the situation is pretty horrible. Claiming that the bills were shot down as a result of a grassroots misinformation from the “copyleft” is a far cry from the reality – a strong reaction to a bill that gave an already powerful industry more control in the ill-defined but currently open world of the internet.
To an extent, though, the entertainment industry is right. People are clamoring for access to products they distribute. Piracy of this content is a big issue because clearly the copyright infringers haven’t a leg to stand on legally. The copyright holders think that the solution is to attack the public that wants their work. That’s not the solution. After all, what sense does it make to sue someone for thousands of dollars over the online distribution of a $14 CD or a $20 DVD? This just results in the development of more clandestine file sharing. Which then results in more severe punishments. Which then results in more secret operations. Which results in…you get the picture.
There are reasonable solutions that can be easily reached within the next decade if level, less greedy heads were in control. The entertainment industry needs only to perform three actions to decrease piracy:
- Minimize production costs. Driving up the sale price of most media are the production values behind them. While there are definitely audio- and cinephiles who love the results of high-cost productions, the majority of the audience consists of casuals who do not notice and high-brows who understand that the overall end production (including actual writing and performances, not just tech) is what matters. People watch low-production works all the time and are constantly rediscovering old works that, production value-wise, do not hold up today. Ask any old Star Trek and Doctor Who fan what really matters. Go on. Ask.
- Reduce price for consumers. If asked, the average consumer will admit to not buying as many consumer goods as they want because, “They cost too damn much.” It’s true. Everything is overpriced. Movie ticket prices were purposely overpriced after movie attendance spiked. Many movies that clearly made their money back in the theater are sold for $20-$40 on various forms of home media, despite the bulk cost of manufacturing a disc and box being fairly low per copy. (Someone will no doubt bring up box art, disc art, menu design, etc. Taking a movie’s poster and slapping it onto an insert can be done in 5 minutes, and producing disc menus is becoming easier every year. And, more importantly, the average consumer doesn’t care so long as selecting “Play Movie” works.) Television series that run full season have already made their money back in ad sales, so why does a box set cost $30+? Then we come to CDs, which generally cost $14+. There is no reason why a 10 song album should cost $14 when it runs for only $9.90 on iTunes and Amazon when purchased song-by-song. When unit prices are reduced drastically, people are less inclined to steal and more inclined to purchase in greater volume. If the average movie cost just over $5 to see in the theatre, how many would you see in a month versus how many you see now? If the average movie cost $10 or less to purchase for home use, how many would you purchase versus how many you purchase now? How about CDs? If video games (which I didn’t mention) cost $30 max, how many would you purchase versus how many you purchase now?
- Provide valuable free content. This is an odd one, I admit. What is valuable free content? The video game industry has known about this for years. Most systems offer free downloadable demos of games so players can try them out and see if they are suitable for purchase. When this is offered, there isn’t much need for piracy. Players get to actually experience what they would be purchasing. Bookstores let readers actively browse through books before purchasing them, so the consumer becomes well informed before paying money – and potentially becomes more willing to spend the money. The movie industry attempts to do this but often fails. Movie trailers are amazing at showing viewers how exciting a movie is without actually showing viewers what the movie actually is. Sometimes, though, a production will release a preview of several consecutive minutes so that viewers can make an educated decision about whether or not they want to support the movie. The Dark Knight and Dark Knight Rising both offered previews before a couple of blockbuster films so that fans could gauge the mood. (These were obviously advertising ploys that drove up the viewership of the movies to which they were attached, but let’s ignore that obviousness for now.) The film The FP released 12 minutes of the film online to goad viewers into locating one of its limited screenings, if they like the insanity of the film. Let consumers discover the mood of a piece. Webisodes are a way of engaging fans of television shows. Digital previews work for comics. Free downloads work for music albums. Even an augmented reality game can work, provided that it provides the actual mood and experience. (That’s the hard part.)
It means taking chances and putting forth more effort. This is a change to the supposedly well-oiled machine of the entertainment industry, but that is more than necessary given that there are new cogs with which to work.
The consumer with new power in the internet is that new cog, and there are some things we can do to help push the entertainment industry in the direction we want:
- Buy new, but purchase at the price point you prefer. Buying new items is key. While used items aren’t considered piracy (just parasitic in their own right), their sales numbers are meaningless to the bigwigs. New items are key sales statistics. However, do not settle for any price point. Buy products at the price you think not only they but all similar items should be worth. This may mean not getting items as soon as possible. This is fine. The only items in life that you actually need ASAP are air, food, and water. Entertainment properties can, and should, wait. Especially when you’re trying to make a point. Imagine the point this would drive home if the DVD and Blu-Ray releases of The Artist saw sparse sales until stores dropped the price down to $10. This will not happen, but imagine this ideal situation.
- Watch less mainstream content. Nothing will excite the tides of change more than paying less attention to an industry that pointedly pays to get your attention. Just because you own a TV doesn’t mean you have to have the television on at all times. It doesn’t mean that is the only content you can receive. The truth is that the media industry is fighting tooth and nail for your hours of attention, even if you can only spare two hours a day. Have you ever considered cutting cable? (I’ll be cutting mine this summer. Stay tuned.) Have you ever considered focusing on content from the internet? There are a number of free entertainment sources on the internet, and it’s up to you to find and support them. There are webseries based on most interests, and they can be really groundbreaking considering the fact that they do not have to go through the standards and practices of televised content. If you like talk shows, try finding a podcast focusing on topics you like. There is content out there, and the more their viewer/listener numbers rise the more nervous the entertainment industry gets. When they’re nervous, they take more chances and can produce what we want.
- Stop wanting to consume everything. The reason the industry can take advantage of consumers like it has is because the advertising arm has turned people into consumer gluttons. We want everything for no other reason than because they exist. Wanting leads to uneducated purchases, and uneducated purchases lead to Michael Bay’s Transformers films becoming sales leaders. Just understand that the coolest, most popular thing right now is fleeting. Understand that the one movie you didn’t watch will not negatively impact your life. How many are life changers anyway? Don’t waste your money trying to see them; don’t waste your bandwidth and time downloading them. Don’t become a number supporting their claims that they’re losing out. Become a number showing them that sometimes people just don’t care about their content.
All this really means is that we don’t need it. It’s not that important. Every time we pirate and every time we complain about how they handle piracy validates what they do. This media, as fleeting as most of it is, holds this great importance to everyone. And the worst part is that people are complaining simply about its existence and not its actual content! Some content should hold that weight, but at this point all of it is considered equal – which takes away from the quality of content. This greatly impacts the landmark releases and the possibility that they will be recognized as such.
And for another look at copyright and such, check out Rob Reid’s TED talk: