The Problem For Piracy

I’m not going to include software in this, just entertainment. The main entertainment forms that are pirated are: movies/television shows, books, and music. (I know, duh, right?)

So I’m thinking about why we have this problem. There is the obvious entitlement people have, but where did this entitlement even come from? I actually believe it came from the entertainment industries themselves (inadvertently), way back before the Internet when it was actually costly and time prohibitive for the average person to share copies of shit they didn’t own the copyright to.

[Editor’s Note: strong language after the jump]


With the film/tv industry there was “local television” (and movies are included in this because SOME movies from the theater eventually got edited for network television.) Local television didn’t cost money. You just had commercials (which most people don’t watch anyway, so they don’t consider that a cost to them). It was drilled into people’s heads that television entertainment is FREE. (Unless you were one of the families who could afford cable… but I really think subscription based free-for-alls still encourage the idea that you are paying for a service, not access to content.)

Now we have Netflix and Hulu which supposedly help reduce piracy but it STILL drills this same message in. Netflix is under $10 a month for all the streaming you want (of what is available that way). I do a lot of Netflix Streaming. It’s legal. I pay for it. But I still don’t see how anyone is being fairly compensated for all I’m watching. Bottom line, even though I pay a monthly fee, I, and probably most other people sort of see Netflix Streaming and Hulu as “free”. And the reason for this is that I get DVD rentals at home, too at this price. So in my head I’m paying for the DVD rentals but not the streaming, because it doesn’t make logical sense HOW I’m really paying for ALL that I’m streaming at that flat fee.


With music we have radio. We are used to listening to music for free. Sure, there are commercials, but we all change the channel, turn the volume down, or ignore it. So we don’t see it as a real “cost”. The only cost we really have with radio is that we don’t get to listen to the song we want when we want to listen to it. But twenty years ago we all solved that problem with our cassette player/radios when we just recorded songs on the radio we liked when they came on. Now, we didn’t set up shop in our basement with bootlegs, but we were getting personal use: free music. So in our heads… music is supposed to be free if we want it.

And finally… books. We have libraries. Borrowing books without paying and reading and enjoying them without paying. There aren’t even commercials here. Just a fine if we don’t get the book back on time. And with public libraries doing digital books as well, the line is REALLY blurring quite a lot for ebooks.

So this, IMO is the problem. It’s not because the economy sucks and everybody is poor. It’s not because it’s so easy to do it. It’s because of entitlement. But the entitlement doesn’t exist because everybody is a jerk. The entitlement exists because in all of these industries we have all been trained by social reinforcement to see entertainment of this nature as “free”. And that was okay before the Internet. Once the Internet got here, people just wanted to continue doing what they were doing, but more conveniently. A lot of folks weren’t paying for TV, music, or books before… why the fuck should they start now?

But by everyone acting on this entitlement, a lot of people who create stuff lose a lot of money and are justifiably pissed off. I think the people who built libraries and the radio stations and the TV people, they just never thought we’d reach a day where the good will fostered through free content could be turned on them in such a drastic way. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

Had people always paid for all books, all TV, and all music, my view is that everyone would have felt it was wrong to steal it when the Internet came along. Most people understand digital downloading without pay is illegal. But deep down many don’t believe it’s wrong. Because they were getting it free before in another way and no one was making money personally off their enjoyment of the entertainment… and it was okay then.


This is a reprint from Zoe WintersWeblog.