Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Swashbuckling Scoundrels

OK it's been a while since I've had a rant so please indulge me. There's a lot of news buzzing around about piracy and Intellectual Property legislation at the moment. I'm not really going to argue the ethics and philosophical elements of both sides of the debate. What I'm interested in the reality of the situation as it stands.

That is; The pirates have a better product!

It’s already entirely possible for a person with average computer literacy to never watch free to air TV again. It's all there available to be delivered over your net connection! There are legal streaming services running right now that make it possible to catch all your favorite shows with just a little organistation.

Some of these services are facing backlash from the established media industries which may result in a contraction of the sphere of available contentThe thing is, this path, the streaming service path, is a great solution to the media industries concerns. You see those services make it easy for people to get their content legally. Remember how if you make something easy, more people will do it!?

What the content creators are failing to grasp, is that users with sufficient technical sophistication are  able to locate and acquire any content they desire. That's the simple reality. This is the market they're finding themselves in and they're not liking it at all! The "pirates" have a better product.

If you want to legally watch a movie in the comfort of you own home you need to wait until that movie is released in a format you can consume, these releases come months or years after the theatrical release. The pirates don't have to wait at all. They can watch the latest block buster movie when it's still in theaters. The quality is often poor, but it's important to note that people are willing to suffer low quality just to experience the new content in their homes, that says a lot for making the content easier to access. Doesn't it?

If you want to legally watch a movie or TV show that has gone out of print you've got to scour the bargain bins or spend time looking for second hand DVDs and we all know what old DVDs add to the movie viewing experience don't we? It's not a positive contribution either is it? So while you're polishing scratches out of your optical disks. The pirate types the film title into a search box and starts microwaving his pop corn!

If you want to legally watch a DVD in a developing country you need to pay a substantially greater proportion of your income than you would in a first world country. There's been an excellent report produced on this that is well worth a look. it's free if you live in a developing country... $8 if you don't.

Part of the problem is a lot of people in the content creation Industries lack technical sophistication. They may see the online world as a new channel for distribution but not much more than that. They've heavily invested in traditional scarcity based economics and this blinds them to the obvious reality that the game of content distribution has changed forever. Have a look at this poor Canadian Rock band. They thought they'd experienced massive loses due to piracy, turns out they'd been fooled by a clever script on an advertising site and no one was listening to their music, pirated or not! 

Attempts to legislate in order to protect old scarcity based business models may create problems for innovators in the future. Not to mention the fact that there may not be enough money in the world to cover damage claims in some cases based on the existing laws! 

The reality is the pirates have a better product. Users who are willing to ignore IP law are already able to watch whatever they want whenever they want. Attacking streaming services that can legally come close to that level of convenience seems misguided and a step in the wrong direction. Legislating to bring scarcity economics to the Internet where abundance was the fundamental key to it's success risks stifling innovation and even worse is likely to drive more customers into the arms of the pirate community.

If you want to beat the pirates you must make a better product! Over the past 2 decades the current value proposition from established content industries has been casually undermined by groups of loosely orgainised enthusiasts who just want to enjoy their media content on their own terms. This isn't an attack of the Media industries it's just society evolving and making use of the new technologies in order to entertain themselves.

The challenge for the content creators is to set a price point so that for the majority of consumers the value proposition of legal content outweighs the effort required to acquire free content.

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