Why Piracy is Not the Antichrist

With electronic communication and piracy at the focus of the Euro capital, it isn’t a bad idea to consider the matter of piracy from a European’s perspective, and a human perspective.

Most pirates do not belong to the group of organized bootlegging warehouses where music CDs and DVDs get copied; most pirates are the people who send their friend a song, the people who watch an episode of Prison Break on a lonely, rainy evening).

Piracy has developed with breakthroughs in technology which have allowed for it to be a possibility, and conditions of goods and services and the markets which allow for it to thrive.

As piracy is technology dependent, it is more accessibly, and dare-I-say understandable to youths. There are many youths who don’t take drugs, a few even stay away from legal drugs (cigarettes)- but the percentage of youths with access to a computer and internet who haven’t or will not break copyright laws before they’re of voting age is approximately equal to zero.

Even as you go into the 18 to 35 age group this statistic still approximates zero. In older age groups this probably tends to increase to around 30%- but over time this will also creep down. By obvious association, we are all not good people.

What’s on every (pirate’s) mind is “how can we expect the European legislators to understand any of this; they are too old to know what an MP3 is.” Surely young pirates they may not understand as well as you, but they do have knowledge enough. Most of them have had some sort of song sent to them, movie, episode of TV series, or why not have seen their favourite video clip on youtube. If not they themselves personally, their kids have forced it on them by saying “daddy, mummy, listen to this song… or come watch this really nice movie with me, I’ve set it up on the 54 inch screen in the living room!” The problem young pirates, is that these European legislators are obviously under tremendous pressure to defend economic interests. And a healthy economy is key to… well everything- so their duty is in fact to choose right over wrong and not popular over unpopular.

The main questions that should be asked about this subject are:

a) What is the real economic effect of piracy at national and international levels

b) Why has piracy penetrated our societies to such an extent, and

c) What should be done about this and how


What is the real economic effect of piracy at national and international levels?

Starting with the ever-important economic effect of piracy, I’ll be brief and not go into what a devastating effect it has on various entertainment markets and industries, including advertising. The reason I won’t go into it is because it’s a bunch of… inaccuracies.

Studies on the economic effect on the industries take the route most effective in PR campaigns, and measure how much money would be generated if all the pirated material all over the world was purchased legally instead of illegally. Well that’s just useless. A 16 year-old who has after a couple of months downloaded 850 movies (many of which he’ll never watch), 98 full television series (likewise), and 6349 full music albums (5900 of which he’ll never listen to, and 250 of which he’ll only listen to once) is obviously not costing the industries €842,000. A sixteen year old is probably costing the industry around €5,000 in the course of his lifetime. The figure of €842,000 would also increase 100-fold in his lifetime. So that brings us to a ratio of… Some decimal you get when you divide 5 thousand by 842 billion. This is clearly hyperbole, but the aim is to show the paradox of blaming a teen for hundreds of thousands of industry losses when he could probably not afford to spend more than a couple of hundred in a year (if he saved up and didn’t have many other hobbies).

And seriously- the money that the little guy (or girl) didn’t spend on going to the movies was spent going ice-skating, bowling, or why not on a new Sony PSP. So to point out the obvious, the industry is suffering, but money does not disappear, it gets spent ELSEWHERE! So yes; the industries will have to readapt, and from a more macro perspective there is a shift between industries (for example people will spend less on going to the movies or buying CDs, but more on electronic goods, or why not on locally produced goods and services). In the short term some industries suffer, and some boom. Economically speaking – this is what happens anyway; the predictability of piracy should make the transitions easier and less hurtful. And well, if you do a little soul-searching, you might not mind that Brad Pitt gets paid a little less for his next movie, or Michael Jackson has to sell off his ranch worth millions. Yes it’s not great that less actors and musicians will make less money, but the man serving ice-cream down the street might get a tip. The youth might choose to get a Live Strong bracelet instead. The money won’t disapeer; back into the economy it will go. Even leaving this line of rationale for a second… are people ignoring the fact that 2007 set a new box-office record?

Why has piracy penetrated our societies to such an extent?

Surely there’s scientific explanations, ranging from economic to sociological, to psychological needs to break the law. My personal opinion is that there are three factors:

Ease of control of pirated content. The content can be played, stopped, and manipulated at will. Copy, paste, structure folders in accessible manner for easy retrieval later. Subscriber services have now made it easier to buy songs, movies and episodes of TV series, but none compare to the ease of a simple file you can locate and move around. A file you can play on any program you choose, with whatever player you can squeeze it into or out of.

Easy-going time schedule. Missed the Oscars? Download them from notorious sites like the pirate bay the next morning and you haven’t missed a thing. Want to listen to Frank Sinatra? Can’t find the CD? Is it scratched? Search your MP3s and make it happen, or play a copy youtube hasn’t located and removed yet. It doesn’t matter what’s on TV- because you can just watch it in your bed with your laptop rather than in your living room. Want to see the new James Bond? Are you a hard-working senior member of a European political party who is simply too busy to spend time driving to the movies, finding a rare parking spot and waiting in queues for a ticket? Stream-it, download it, or just ask a friend who works in the Commission or the Parliament (they have GREAT internet connections there).

No Ads! Everybody watches TV from time to time- especially for the football matches, or during the Olympics which happen to take place on a different continent. And it is at these times that we remember how much we hate not being able to control what we want and don’t want to watch. People don’t want to be sold stuff when they are eager to see whether Dr. House manages to cure the man who was allergic to water. People just want to see what happened!

The fact of the matter is that if people only consumed pirated music, series, movies, software, the companies making it couldn’t afford to pay the bills, and the industries would die, leaving consumers with nothing to consume.

One could argue however that free music trade means more fans for the artists- leading to more tickets sold at concerts. Sure it will mean a significant paycut for Madonna- but I’d rather have 10 popular artists with free music trade than 1 popular artist with people paying for music, even if it mean a significant income reduction (we’re still talking at least six figures a year here- don’t get upset) in that one record selling star.

One could argue that spending $100 million on a movie is kind of a waste, and that there’s clearly better things to do with the money. Also- in a world where free content distribution was legal and easily monitored, product placement could compensate for advertising revenue lost.

Software can also be fixed, but non-paying customers seeing small post-stamp sized advertisements on the top of their Microsoft Word.

What should be done about this and how?

Clearly from my writing it appears that I am pro-piracy. Well I can’t help it, it’s like a primal instinct. That doesn’t however mean that I don’t recognize that I’m wrong in feeling this way. If something is wrong, we need to fix it, or re-assess whether it is in fact wrong. Although I was determined to write about how we should take steps to change the way people perceive piracy so they don’t do it, I’m finding it increasingly hard to think this way after reading over this text.
What we should do is think long and hard before we start sending kids to jail for passing songs to their friends (or indeed Political personalities for watching a pirated movie on the plane). Yes, I’m sure that it’s not right for everybody to be a pirate, but I’m also sure that I’d rather everyone was a pirate and the streets be clean of drugs and violence than having resources devoted to stopping piracy. Support the industries to transform into entities that can initially be sustainable, and later thrive on piracy.

Dream on young pirates, dream on…

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