Sunday, June 26, 2011

Piracy in a digital world.

As long as content has been available for sale and there has been a means to reproduce that content cheaply piracy has existed. When audio cassettes became popular, people began dubbing music and passing it along to their friends, and then bootleggers began selling copies like these on the streets. When VCRs became readily available the same thing happened with movies.

Now that computers and the internet make copying and distributing content practically free, and quickly the threat of piracy to industries that rely on the income from the sale of content have even more to lose than ever before.

The music industry was the first industry to feel the pressure of the evolving technology, beginning with Napster and the invention of file sharing programs. When these technologies arrived on the scene bandwidth and storage space was still fairly limited, so the only thing that most people were pirating and sharing freely were music files and entire albums. The music industry fought back, and eventually embraced this new form of distribution which eventually led to companies such as iTunes, and Amazon to sell music in digital format making it easy for consumers to access the content that they were seeking in the format that they wanted to consume this media on.

Now that broadband speeds have increased, and are only going to increase, and the cost of storage space (hard drives, optical media, etc) has dropped and will continue to drop much of the piracy going on now is targeted towards the movie industry.

An entire generation has grown up on Youtube, and other similar sites where piracy is a way of life. Many of the younger generation growing up today have been conditioned to expect content for free, and many people cry censorship when an industry, or law enforcement tries to enforce the rights of the copy-write holder and protect their intellectual property. Most of the people who use this argument that they are being censored feel that it is their right to consume this media with out compensating the content creators.

The movie industry is fighting a huge uphill battle. They continue to work with law enforcement to attempt to get pirated content distribution sources shut down, such as seizing domain registrations, and going after consumers who share their media on file sharing or torrent sites. Yet I can only see the piracy problems worsening as time goes on unless something is done that will benefit both the consumer and the industry.

If the movie industry continues to lose this battle, many jobs and peoples incomes will be in jeopardy. People only tend to put their focus on the movie company executives, and high salary actors, but the entertainment industry goes far beyond just these people. Unlike the music industry which can recoup some losses from file sharing by offsetting some of these loses with increased concert ticket sales and merchandise, the movie industry does not have a similar ability to increase revenue from elsewhere. Many people work behind the scenes to produce the content that we have come accustom to from Hollywood. If piracy continues unchecked eventually producing major Hollywood blockbusters will become unsustainable and the quality of the content will eventually suffer, then we are all losers.

The movie industry needs to work quickly on coming up with a viable solution to this problem. The current methods of villainizing and criminally prosecuting consumers of pirated content makes the public view them as the evil big bad corporations. And when the government steps in to enforce the anti-piracy laws they appear to many people in the public to be censoring free speech. Some sort of compromise needs to be met. People want to view content on their terms. What the movie industry needs to do is work on coming up with some form of digital content distribution hub, similar to what iTunes has done for the music industry.

Sure there is Hulu and Netflix, and these are great starts, BUT the fact of the matter is both of these content distribution sources are extremely lacking.

The introduction of Bluray is only a temporary fix to this problem. Many people do not care for, nor want another physical medium. Also, there is really no sense in paying full price for a movie that you are likely only going to view once or just a handful of times.

I do not have all of the answers to resolve this problem, but I would start with either working with existing digital content distribution sources, such as Netflix, Hulu and iTunes to get more content available in high quality digital content. Hulu's business model is great from a consumer standpoint, many people do not mind to have to sit thru commercial advertisements to view content for free. Netflix business model is also good for consumers, providing a monthly fee for unlimited access.

Until a decent solution has been made available to the public to view content on their terms piracy is only going to continue to be a growing problem.

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