Piracy

Somewhere along the line piracy, otherwise known as stealing, seems to have lost the stigma that it should have.  People who'd, otherwise, never consider stealing now steal what's considered to be hundreds, or thousands, of dollars worth of products.  But are they really?  More and more people realise they're being ripped off by the system, and all sympathy for playing by the rules flies straight out the window.

It probably really started with the cassette recorder.  It made it very easy for friends to make copies of their records for each other, so they did.  It was quite cheap to do, although not much cheaper than buying the records (as I remember the pricing back then), but it was certainly not as good a quality as the original.

People also copied their records to play music in their cars.  While they really should have bought another copy, you're not going to convince anyone (myself included) that they shouldn't copy something, for themselves, that they've already paid for.

Next on the list of pirate enticing products is probably the photocopier.  It made it dead easy to copy material from books, rather than buy them.  But then who was going to buy a whole book for just a few pages of information?  Probably very few.

There isn't going to be a huge lot of sales to students doing homework (mostly against their will, I might add) for just one or two nights on any particular topic.  But teachers in schools were, and still are, very fond of mass duplicating something for their students to use in lessons, instead of the teacher actually teaching from their own knowledge.

Next would probably by the domestic video cassette recorder.  The other devices could claim that they weren't invented for piracy reasons (more portable personal music, because records certainly weren't; and photocopying business material in the office), but the VCR can't.  They were designed to record broadcast television programs (they've nearly all got timers and tuners built into them), and all broadcast programs are copyrighted.  They were designed to break copyright laws, and it was quite some time before you could rent pre-recorded movies, or buy them at a reasonablish price.

And finally we have personal computers that can create (and, of course, copy) CDs and DVDs.  Computers could have quite easily have used other mediums for mass storage and backup, several of which are far better than these rather unreliable magneto/chemical/optical devices, but they didn't take that path.  Again, it's probably safe to say that the designers and manufacturers of these products were hoping that their piracy potential would make them popular, and they have (their uses as purely data backup and storage devices wasn't really that popular—they're not that good at it, and there wasn't a great need for mass storage backup devices).

Various attempts have been made at making it difficult to pirate material (the quality destroying Macrovision, digital rights management [DRM], etc.), but it's only partially successful, and always introduces problems for those simply using protected material and not copying it.  Greed will always prevail (miserly consumers, unscrupulous pirates, and money grubbing corporations), and ill-conceived plans to prevent it will always fail.

What motivated me to put fingers to keyboard about this, now, was seeing a news story about the latest Star Wars film being pirated within hours of its cinema release, and being available for free or just a few dollars.  And while I think that's unethical, I also think that the studios are unethical in their business practices (as do many), and that's why piracy is not going to go away:  The films cost a fortune to see at the cinemas, and are often only released for a short time.  The films cost far too much to buy legitimately, as do other forms of entertainment (music CDs and books).  Few people have any sympathy for the studios, and many feel that they deserve the problems they suffer from piracy, they consider it a form of natural justice.

When I was a teenager, you could go to your local record shop and buy singles of your favourite music for just fifty cents each.  At that price you could buy everything that you wanted to (I had friends with stacks of singles), the studios certainly made a profit from it, and it was cheaper than pirating music.  But now it costs fifty times as much (somewhere around $25–35 for an album CD, singles are harder to come by, and only slightly cheaper than an album).

The studios have themselves to blame for losings sales over their extreme pricing, made even worse by how little of that money goes back to the musicians, and forcing you to buy whole albums when you only wanted one or two songs (out of my own albums, and friends say the same, we generally only care for a few of the tracks on them).

Thankfully buying pre-recorded movies became a lot cheaper over the years (from around $100 each, down to around $25), and it used to be ages, sometimes years, after a cinema release before you could legally buy a movie.  Now, thanks to pirates, that release time has significantly reduced (this has been one thing where wide-spread piracy has benefited everybody else—they had to reduce their release times to counter it).

But they still need to drastically reduce the release time, even more, and the cost, before they can take on the pirates seriously.  Selling them for $35–50 is just far too expensive.  And the so-called “new release” pricing is outrageous (selling them expensively for a long time, often well past what is a new release time period—I've bought new release discs which had offers and competitions inside them that had expired months ago, and new releases which were of films released years ago).

Movies need to be on sale at the same time as they're on in the cinemas (sell them in the foyer, like you used to be able to buy soundtrack albums).  You'll get the impulse buyer who liked the film, and you'll beat the pirates who'll steal all your customers before your release date.  And they need to be a hell of a lot cheaper than the current pricing (both the cinema prices and the movie sales).  If some backyard pirate can make a profit from selling them for $5–10 then an organised business (the studio system), with the ability to buy and sell with a mass market, ought to be able to price the pirates out of business.

Quite frankly, the system will have as much piracy as it wants, or deserves.  Get rid of its greed, stop abusing the customers, and start providing service.  Release the material promptly, at reasonable prices, and without crap (e.g. only releasing albums that are mostly full of dross instead of releasing albums and cheap singles; compact discs that won't play on some players and actually cause problems to computers they're played in; DVDs that make you sit through several minutes of stuff before you can watch the movie, bastardised video signals that make many television sets flicker and flash at you through the entire movie, discs that can only be played in some regions, and only releasing versions different than the ones you want to see; fragile media [compact discs and DVDs] in unprotective and even destructive packaging).


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