In the wake of Congress failing to perform anal rape upon the whole of the internet, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the issue of piracy.
I realize I’m a little late to the party here, but the recent debates over SOPA and FUBAR and whatever other idiotic bills were put forth to stop online piracy have kept my brain churning.
Webster’s defines piracy as:
1. practice of a pirate; robbery or illegal violence at sea.
2. the unauthorized reproduction or use of a copyrighted book, recording, television program, patented invention, trademarked product, etc.: The record industry is beset with piracy.
3. Also called stream capture. Geology. diversion of the upper part of one stream by the head ward growth of another.
While I’m sure we’re all in agreement that definition 3 is the sexiest and most exciting definition, let’s look at the first two. It’s no mistake that the idea of infringing upon copyrighted material has purposely been labeled with a word that conjures images of violence, rape, and horrible sea shanties.
I initially assumed this was a tactic of the music industry. Yet, upon further in-depth and difficult research using the most obscure resources (i.e. Wikipedia), I stumbled upon the fact that copyright infringement has been labeled “piracy” for over 400 years.
The British Government, suddenly aware that there were more corporations aside from the East India Tea Company, granted the Stationers Company of London a royal charter in 1557 giving them a monopoly on publication and tasking them with the sole responsibility to enforce said charter. They called anyone who infringed upon their charter “pirates,” equating them with horrid stories of sea brigands that had gripped the imagination of all land lovers at the time and allowing them to gut the dirty SOB’s with impunity.
While pirates have become sanitized and sterile in our imaginations (or target practice for SEAL TEAM SIX), the studios and music companies love to conjure images of how dangerous these pirates really are.
Now, don’t get me wrong. People who steal material from an artist who makes their living from that material are scum, pure and simple. The problem comes with the fact that massive corporations own much of this material and do enough to harm the income of artists on their own. In fact, especially when it comes to movies and television (which was the driving force behind the asinine bills that were just shot down), these corporations actually ENCOURAGE piracy.
How, you ask? Well, first off, the decisions being made at high levels are being made by people who do not understand the internet and don’t understand a generation of people who have grown up using it. The studio system has always been broken by nepotism, being one of the few industries where you can rise to the top WITH ABSOLUTELY NO PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE OR EDUCATION, but now the problem comes when your cousin Sal who always hid behind the couch to crap his pants as a kid and would have eaten paint if he could have figured out how to get the can open is given the power to make wide and sweeping decisions.
And, as a result, the studios missed the boat.
Digital media is not like physical media. The studios needed Blockbuster and Hollywood Video and WalMart to get DVD’s to the masses. They do not need entities like this to get digital material to the public. Ten years ago, they should have capitalized on this fact by creating a system where you could go to Paramount.com and pay $3 directly to Paramount to download POLICE ACADEMY 4: CITIZENS ON PATROL. By doing this, they could have kept control of their content, kept 100% of the profits, set the price point for digital content, and allowed the consumer to have access to virtually unlimited amounts of material.
Instead, they let NetFlix set the standard. NetFlix has gotten people used to being able to pay a ridiculously low sum to watch an unlimited amount of content every month. Combine them with YouTube, Amazon, ITunes, and others, and the studios have virtually no say and no ability to direct the course of online digital media.
Admittedly, TV has done a bit of a better job with this. NBC, ABC, Hulu – there a number of sites that allow you to watch new television. But even then, they fall into a big trap of not making content accessible. Most shows aren’t available online until a few days after they air, sometimes two weeks. SOMETIMES NOT AT ALL. The end result is that people who are excited about these shows pirate them.
And this shows one of the biggest areas where the studios just don’t get it. They think people pirate to get content for free. They’re wrong. They pirate because they’re impatient. We live in an instant gratification society. From fast food to online shopping, we want something and we want it NOW. When a show airs and the network doesn’t make it available to watch online in a reasonable amount of time, that show will be pirated.
I’ve never understood the logic behind this. Rather than control the content and sell ad-space, they push their potential viewers to sneak around and torrent the show from some Swedish site with horrible graphics and bad English like Demi Moore sucking whippets with her curtains closed.
The studios are hurting for money, it’s true. But they’re hurting because they’ve allowed movies to become grossly expensive. Two hundred million dollars for a film? Are you fucking shitting me? I thought all these CG effects and doing post digitally and all that crap was supposed to be cheaper? Why are actors getting so much money for a picture?
And why the hell do they spend so much on marketing? Take trailers. Why do they spend a dime on air time for trailers on TV when everyone and their grandmother watches trailers for free on YouTube and Apple’s site?
Again, because they do not understand how people use the internet.
The other reason they lose money, and surely a reason some folks pirate, is that the theater experience SUCKS A BUCKET OF FETID MONKEY SHIT. Between the crying babies, the chatting teenagers, the people who not only don’t turn their ringer off but actually ANSWER THEIR FUCKING PHONES, the theater experience is not even remotely enjoyable anymore.
This would be an easy thing to fix. Why not have First Class seating in theaters? Play SEX AND THE CITY 3: WHY, GOD, WHY in two theaters at the multiplex. One is a standard theater with standard prices. Children are allowed. Seats are smashed close to one another. People are allowed to be as rude as they currently are and gum stays on the floor as long as normal.
The other is considered First Class seating. The seats are nice, the aisles wider, the floors clean. Cell phones are NOT allowed and all policies are enforced by an usher. Break a rule and you’re out. Tickets cost more but, like First Class on a plane, a lot of people will think it’s worth it.
Sorry to digress…
Back to the matter at hand. (Why did that phrase pop into my head in Snoop Dog’s voice?) Piracy, for most people, is not about cost. Even in this economy, it’s more about avoiding a horrible situation or complete and total impatience.
As an artist, I hate piracy but would much rather have someone pirate and read my work if the only other option was to not read it all. In fact, here is the list of what someone could do in regards to my work, listed in my order of preference.
HIERARCHY OF PREFERENCES
1) Someone buys my work, reads it, and loves it
2) Someone buys my work, reads it, and hates it
3) Someone buys my work and never reads it
4) Someone pirates my work and loves it
5) Someone who pirates my work and hates it
6) Someone pirates my work and never reads it
7) Someone who never obtains a copy of my work
The above list boils down to the fact that I want to make a living from my craft. I’ve worked hard to develop my craft and get these works out there and feel that I should be compensated. After that, as an artist, I just want people reading my work. If the option for someone is reading my work for free or never reading it, I would rather they read it for free. Luckily, that’s not the option for most people.
That’s me as an artist. As a consumer? Well. I have pirated a few things in the past, mostly because they weren’t accessible. HBO missed BOATLOADS of money by not having GAME OF THRONES available online when it aired. They didn’t understand that, in this day and age, that does not drive people to get HBO. What it does is drive people to look for where they can pay to watch it and, when they can’t find it, download. Most of the people I know who watched GAME OF THRONES downloaded it illegally. These are people who TRIED to pay to watch and weren’t allowed to.
This makes me wonder about pirating trends. I have a few theories on how this shapes up. I think people fall into one of the following camps:
-Those who pirate a lot of material and later purchase the material they enjoyed
-Those who pirate material solely because it’s not otherwise accessible
-Those who pirate if they’re not sure whether they want to pay for the material or not
-Those who pirate because they cannot afford to otherwise obtain the material
-Those who pirate everything in some kind of juvenile “thumb their nose at the system” attitude
-Those who never pirate
I’ll end this whole train of thought by asking you to tell me why YOU pirate or what conditions would make you pirate.
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in anthologies alongside Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, George RR Martin, and many more of his literary heroes. For a listing of his literary and film work, please check out his Bibliography at http://brad-hodson.com/bibliography/