Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Rewarding the Pirates: News and Commentary by James Berardinelli...

I read the following written piece this morning.  I love James' website Reelviews.  I have recently, for the first time, been downloading a lot of movies and burning them to DVD to watch on my TV in the den.  It is more comfortable there than sitting in front of my computer.   I saw this piece and read with interest.  Am I part of the problem or the solution?  It's interesting.  I could never afford to buy all these movies so I try to justify my piracy by saying the MPAA is not losing any money by me downloading and watching.  I just don't have any money.  A conundrum and I want to watch movies lately for the first time in years.   My new found attention span and mental wellness allows me to do so.  What do you think?  Am I wrong to think such a way?

The following applies specifically to the MPAA and the computer game industry, but it wouldn't take much imagination to extend it to the RIAA as well...

If we're going to face reality, which is something the MPAA religiously fails to do, it's necessary to acknowledge that piracy is here to stay. Someone likened going after piracy sites (like The Pirate Bay) to playing a game of "whack-a-mole" - when you knock one down, two will pop up in different places. Yet the MPAA doggedly continues to pursue the impossible-to-succeed "stamp out piracy" approach rather than trying something different, like changing their revenue model to reduce the appeal of obtaining pirated material. Why? Because such an approach flies in the face of the MPAA's current greed-above-all mantra.

I've presented this statistic before but it's worth repeating. The average cost (manufacturing, royalties, etc.) of one DVD is about $2. It's higher for some titles and lower for others, but all are in that range. So if it costs $2, why does a heavily discounted disc sell for around $17? The retailer purchases it from the distributor at about 50% of list price. So if a DVD lists at $25, Amazon.com is getting it for $12.50. If they sell it at 30% off, the consumer is paying $17.50 and Amazon is getting $5. The studio, however, is picking up about $10 in pure profit. Per disc. This isn't capitalism; it's highway robbery.

One obvious approach to making a dent in piracy (not wiping it out - that simply won't happen) is to stop looking at DVDs as opportunities to fleece movie-lovers. There's no reason a DVD can't be sold for $10. With that price, the studio and Amazon.com would both collect about $4 each. Or, when it comes to downloads with the middle man eliminated, $6 is reasonable. But we don't live in a world where "reasonable" is in the vocabulary of those who have been blinded by green. "Greed is good," said Gordon Gecko, and he was right - until that greed results in short-sighted decisions that lead down the road to potential ruination.

But price isn't even the most insidious thing at work here. If I buy a DVD, that's all I have - a DVD. It's in nice case so I can display it on a shelf alongside my other DVDs. But I get one copy and one copy only. What happens if I lose the disc in a move or if I take it with me on an airplane and it is damaged as a result of today's "security measures" (which apparently involve 400-pound guerillas jumping up and down on suitcases)? Tough luck. The disc is copy protected so I can't make a backup copy. If it's lost or damaged and I still want it in my library, I have to fork out another $17.

If, however, I download the same movie illegally via BitTorrent, I have a clean copy on my hard drive. I can copy it to a DVD and watch it on my TV or my laptop. I can make copies whenever I want. There are no restrictions. If my DVD is somehow destroyed, no problem - just burn another one. There are a lot of benefits to this kind of freedom, even if I'm not considering giving a copy to anyone else.

So here's the situation. If I steal the movie, complete freedom is conferred upon me. But if I do the right thing and buy it, I'm stuck with a single copy that I have to guard carefully lest it become lost or stolen and I'd have to re-purchase it at the same price. Is there something wrong with this picture? Am I missing something? How is it that the legitimate customer is being penalized but the pirate is being rewarded? The MPAA would smugly answer, "That's why we have to stamp out piracy" without thinking that the real solution might be to remove the copy protection and allow DVD buyers to make copies of their movies.

The argument against this used to be that copy protection was necessary to discourage piracy. That's actually funny when you think about it. All pirates have sophisticated equipment that makes a mockery of even the most complex anti-copy software. So what's the point? The only ones being penalized by copy protection are those who don't invest in illegal anti-copy software. Once again, the law abiding citizens are the ones being punished. And the pirates keep laughing.

It's a similar situation with computer gaming. I'm one of those straight arrows who pays the going rate for a game I like because I want to support the men and women who invested their time and effort into creating something I enjoy. But the distributors have thrown in an annoying wrinkle. Although I have spent $40 on the game and have loaded it onto my hard drive, I still have to put a damn disc in the DVD drive every time I want to play it. So what happens when I move and I can't locate the original disc? (It's in that one box way up in the attic that didn't get unpacked.) I now can't play a game I legitimately purchased. This has become so ubiquitous in the industry that when I find a user-friendly game like GALACTIC CIVILIZATION that allows me to play without inserting a disc that I want to jump for joy.

However, if I go on-line and pirate a game, I don't have to worry about these restrictions. I can play the game without having to hunt for the disc and stick it in my DVD drive (which isn't working consistently to begin with - it's a six-year old drive on a six-year old computer). There are times when I get so mad at some of these companies that I can understand why some people would steal from them. But not with the makers of GALACTIC CIVILIZATION. For their simple act of friendliness, they can have my money whenever they come out with something new.

This is the way it is. The MPAA, the computer gaming industry, and the RIAA are so out of touch with reality that they don't realize how badly they're screwing the consumers they're trying to keep from running to The Pirate Bay. Yes, a new revenue approach will make a big difference, but here's another suggestion: consumer friendliness. The idea is to make the customer like not only the product but the producer (rather than like the product and hate the producer). Do that, and the desire to pirate will decline. It's only one step but it's an important one. But, cynic that I am, I doubt it will happen any time soon.

I eagerly await the next GALACTIC CIVILIZATION expansion pack.


Anonymous said...

I think it's time you grew up dude. STOP STEALING.

I can't afford to go see Avatar, yet you have already stolen it. Maybe your wealthy parents could take you to see it instead.

When and if the MPAA reads your posts and subpoeanas Google and your ISP to release your IP, you'll learn all about the judicial system the hard way.

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are wrong, stop it

Anonymous said...

P.S. I love, love, love Maggie!

Andrew said...

But what if you let a friend borrow a CD or DVD? Most of us have no misgivings or second thoughts about doing this. You didn't pay for it, but you watched or listened to it. Is is not the same thing? Copyright infringement? There is a serious double standard going on here. Just last week, my uncle gave me a Steve Forbert album. I didn't pay for it. He had already made mp3s out of it and gave it to me. This is still copyright infringement, but many and I would dare say most have done this at one point or another. Why the double standard for downloading off the Internet? Instead of borrowing the CD from my uncle, I am borrowing bits and pieces of a CD from hundreds of people to make a whole CD. There is a very grey area here that is not so black or white or cut and dry.

Andrew said...

Oh, about Avatar. It is a sweeping and magnificent film yet I saw a poor quality "screener" copy. You bet I will go out and buy it on DVD now that I have seen it and will want to see the lush green rain forest and the blue Na'vi in beautiful rich colors and not the washed out version I obtained. Maybe if you quit paying the grossly overpriced $20 bucks for a DVD that costs $2 dollars to produce then the price would drop and you could afford to see it!

Andrew said...

"The Homeless Guy" has recently started a campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and his blog for people to mail him their unused and already viewed DVDs and CDs for Christmas. Is this not the same thing as downloading them? People are using the postal service to give them to him instead of using the Internet to send them digitally. The paranoid schizophrenic side of me says he is selling them at pawn shops. But what if he is viewing and listening to them on his laptop and sharing them with his recently unhomeless friends? Is this copyright infringement? And there is a big difference between stealing and mere copywrite infringement. Notice the word infringement.

What about books? Mom gave me six books yesterday that she bought and already had read. Is this copywrite infringement as well? Most people give no second thought as to sharing a good book with a family member or friend. It gets complicated quickly. Shades of grey is the key phrase here.

BigDummy said...

Even a book, DVD or CD--if you loan it or sell it or give it away, it can only be used one time at a time. One person can read (or more, if they look over your shoulder), the discs can only play in one player at a time. This all changes when copies are made.
True even though the cost of the medium is $2 or whatever, it's the "intellectual Property" rights that copyright laws are protecting. And how do they put a price on that (I believe it's way too much)? But is breaking copyright laws the way to change them? I don't have the answers, but a lot of questions, like you.
If you use the "I can't afford it" excuse, can I use that with a car, or food? Steal it if I can't afford it.
BTW, can you shut off the embedded MP3 thing? I'll download it if you make it available and I want it!

Joy Heather said...

It is a very difficult one this...i hate stealing, but i personally think the price some of these folk charge for DVD's is Total 'Daylight Robbery' in itself, I do believe that if they were sold at a more reasonable price no one would obviously need to copy them..if you buy blank dvd's in this country (u.k.)...you get them at 'silly prices' especially if you buy them in multi packs of 10 or more..So the huge companies that deal with retail sales of Dvd's..must get them for almost nothing....the true theivs in my opinion are THESE people..they are leaving folk who have very little money and can not afford to buy at their hugely inflated,ridiculously high prices, with very little option....so copying becomes a great temptation...Theft is a strong word for such an action....i do try & buy original dvd's when they are sold at a reasonable price, but can understand anyone copying when an item is sold at hundreds of percent profit..by SOME of the fat cats who produce these things.

Andrew said...

Gah, it's all such a slippery slope! I think I will just go get mom to buy me some Movie Gallery gift cards and rent them. That would be a much safer alternative than having the MPAA beating down my door with lawsuits!

Anonymous said...

If you have to justify it, its wrong. Plain and simple.

PipeTobacco said...


In the greater scheme of things, I do not think it matters a whole lot. You said that your films are rough cuts, or or poor quality. These are not the same as pure pirates that are actual copies of released DVDs.

Probably a middle of the road stance is the best bet. If there is a must see that you cannot wait for, perhaps an occasional use is minimally problematic. For other, older films, buy used DVDs or rent them. I would suspect your parents would be ok with setting up an account at the local rental place for a certain number per week.


Andrew said...

Pipe the Wise! Thank you sir for the suggestions. I don't think it matters anymore now that I have a legitimate ITunes account. I can now download movies legally. I just downloaded a movie and am going to watch tonight on my computer. I would hate to get embroiled in a lawsuit for doing something illegal.

Cheryl said...

Interesting conversation. There are so many shades of gray here, but like you said, you don't want to get caught doing something that is, right or wrong, illegial.

skinny minny said...

I would highly reccommend going to the theatre to see AVATAR on the big screen and even spending the extra $$ to see it 3D. It is awesome in 2d and I intend to go back and see it 3D soon. It is shades of gray but my philosophy is to try to stay out of the gray.