Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Truth About Online Piracy

You heard them Comrades, better start bookmarking the Pirate Bay

Well I guess its finally time to talk about Piracy. No not the kind currently popular in Somalia's desperate ex-fishermen off the coast of the African Horn -though I could do something about that in the future- I'm talking about the First world type of piracy, the kind that exists on the Cyber Seas. In the I've not been too bothered about this subject. Catch me on the street with a questionnaire and I'd have given you a list of neutral answers. I'm not a fan of big corporate entities and seeing them lose a 0.5% of a profit margin certainly caused me to lose no sleep.

 But recently I began to stumble upon a few interesting pieces of information. Some of it genuinely sickened me. For example the media especially the internet is absolutely full of information decrying the rise of file sharing sites, P2P, torrents and downloads. And yet curiously we can't go a month without Hollywood boasting about breaking all box office records, or the record labels bragging about there latest talent going Platinum and selling worldwide. Logically if Piracy really were the spectre haunting the producing suites and record studios like were constantly told they are, wouldn't we see a decline in profits and markets? Yes we should, and that decline should increase in proportion to the rise of piracy. So why don't we? in fact even during the global recession the entertainment industry is proving quite secure with most of the bankruptcy and downscaling resulting from internal overspend, dodgy accounting corruption and botched mergers and acquisitions.

The inconsistency of the message put out by the entertainment industry kept nagging away at me so I decided to dig a little deeper that's when I started finding some interesting titbits. For a while I had been hearing a counter argument that piracy was either negligible or actually positively increased sales by increasing exposure to a wider audience, some of which might not have originally been interested in the product but where drawn in either because it was free or they were curious over the  back and forth arguments about it being pirated. The former to me is a poor argument for two reasons, one the numbers while not usually large as a overall proportion, they do represent a significant (if only statistically) share. Two even if its true now its only going to be increasingly undermined as time goes on and piracy becomes more normal. And the latter argument just seemed absurd, but I looked into it and started finding some research that backed up the argument.

For example Anime. I'm sure everyone is at least familiar with what this is, Animation made in Japan, and it looks set to be the latest consumer cultural phenomenon to grip Western society for this Decade (though they've been "translating" and importing the stuff since the late 70's). But its still a bit niche at the moment with most of the stuff for sale being lumped into its own section, and still lags behind in terms of mainstream marketing. Of course there are a number of notable exceptions you're probably thinking of things like Pokemon/Digimon and Dragon Ball Z if you grew up in the 80's/90's or something else that's on now (I only really watch the news and films now so  I don't know what children's shows are popular) but those are just the tip of the Ice Berg, Japan and Korea (both of them) have very large animation industries and churn out hundreds of shows per year in addition to being sub contracted to animate the projects of other countries.

Anyway a January 2011 research paper into the effect sharing online had on DVD sales found that the only area being undermined was the DVD rentals not actual sales a number of which seemed to benefit from wide circulation.

"Whether or not illegal copies circulating on the internet reduce the sales of legal products has been a hot issue in the entertainment industries. Though much empirical research has been conducted on the music industry, research on the movie industry has been very limited. This paper examines the effects of the movie sharing site Youtube and file sharing program Winny on DVD sales and rentals of Japanese TV animation programs. Estimated equations of 105 anime episodes show that (1) Youtube viewing does not negatively affect DVD rentals, and it appears to help raise DVD sales; and (2) although Winny file sharing negatively affects DVD rentals, it does not affect DVD sales. Youtube’s effect of boosting DVD sales can be seen after the TV's broadcasting of the series has concluded, which suggests that not just a few people learned about the program via a Youtube viewing. In other words YouTube can be interpreted as a promotion tool for DVD sales."

The rest of report is only available in Japanese a language I neither speak nor read. English language  translations do exist on this paper and other similar reports on third party sites, however they tend to be Not Safe For Work due to content and advertising and I cannot verify how accurate there translations are.

I have also as you can see been sent another Infographic on this subject. The original is here along with the embed code. Again it mostly focuses on the USA but the arguments made on both sides of the issue can be easily applied globally.

You may be thinking this is all very interesting but does any of this matter? Too which I say yes, despite appearances there's a lot more riding on this then an bitter accounting department sulking over small cuts in surplus profit. Record companies and Film associations are trying to stamp out piracy by lobbying governments to create new far reaching laws, with absurdly disproportionate punishments.

As the graphic to the left shows currently the RIAA has been able to sue pirates for $150,000 per song. That's absurd, I'm not in favour of punishing people for sharing at all but if your going to have laws on the books to do that then surely it should be capped at the value of the product shared. If for example I torrented 10 songs which on I-tunes  sell for £1 that should come to £10 pound since that's the value I've taken. In physical theft punishments are higher then value taken due to additional factors, damage, invasion of privacy, distress and intimidation of victim etc. None of which apply to online piracy. Thats why that anti pirate DVD advert a few years ago saying "You wouldn't steal a handbag" was so stupid, it was comparing apples and oranges.

And many of these new legal frameworks groups like the RIAA advocate often give governments and in some proposed legislation a panel of entertainment companies greater power to censor and monitor information on the web. Ever heard of SOPA, PIPA, ACTA or CISPA? those were all "responses" to Online piracy and all of them plus others had gave authorities a lot of power and a very vague remit which is why a lot of people opposed them and still continue to oppose the rebranded initiatives.

There also completely unnecessary, current laws on this subject already give authorities a lot of lee way as it is, any additions is just overkill.

A touch melodramatic perhaps, but I good indicator of how Serious this issue is
 In essence this whole debate is nothing more then a ham fisted attempt by powerful companies to secure there stranglehold on the marketplace using State power, with worrying implications for privacy and freedom of speech. Deplorable and worthy of resistance but this isn't anything out of the ordinary in a system where a few are capable of accruing more and more economic power. In fact we see the same relationships and strategies across the board, what truly sickened me though was a strategy groups like the RIAA would prefer to keep private but thankfully was not.

“Child pornography is great,” those are the words of Johan Schluter part of the Danish Anti-Piracy Group. Thankfully he elaborates
“It is great because politicians understand child pornography. By playing that card, we can get them to act, and start blocking sites. And once they have done that, we can get them to start blocking file sharing sites”.

What he is in effect saying is by pushing for clampdowns on Child Sex trafficking and Paedophile rings they can get politicians to put in place laws that will target there enemies. He is advocating that companies that make films and music can and should indirectly profit from the abuse of children. And before you dismiss this as the ravings on one contemptible  fringe speaker his strategy has already been deployed in Denmark with several other nations being lobbied to adopt similar measures.

Truly despicable, well I hope you've found this informative, especially the info graphic, any thoughts or ideas feel free to put them in the comments section.

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