Fighting Piracy

Piracy has been the content creator’s boogeyman since Napster. We’ve been told time and again that piracy will destroy musicians, authors, and movie makers even though all three groups are raking in more money now than ever. This is because consumers are willing to pay for content. The fatal flaw in previous efforts to fight piracy has been a reliance on legal strategies. But you can’t sue people into behaving a desired way. You can, however, make them a better offer:

Online entertainment services such as YouTube and Netflix have already taken away a large chunk of BitTorrent’s “market share” in North America and the trend is carrying over to Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.


This doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s less torrent traffic, as overall bandwidth use may have doubled in the same period as well. However, other online entertainment services are gaining ground during peak hours.

With 21% YouTube currently accounts for most traffic and Netflix is also on the rise, even though it’s only available in a few countries. In the UK and Ireland Netflix is already good for 10% of peak downstream traffic.

Services such as Netflix and Spotify can succeed in fighting piracy where lawsuits cannot. This is because they rely on providing consumers a convenient service for a price they seem to find fair (judging by the fact both services have a ton of users). For me, as an Apple Music user, paying $10 per month to have easy access to almost all of the music I want to listen to without having to manually manage anything is worthwhile. With BitTorrent I have to search for the music I want, hope there’s a copy in a format I can use, hope there’s enough people seeding it to make the download take minutes instead of days, and finally manually add it to my music libraries (which span across several computers and mobile devices). My time is valuable enough to me that $10 per month is worth not having to do all that dicking around. Apple Music has effectively stopped me from pirating music (not that I ever have because it would be foolish to admit to such a thing on a public page).

Motivations for piracy are often looked at in only dollars. People assume pirates are simply too cheap to pay for content. The calculation isn’t so simple. Pirates steal content for a multitude of reasons including official sources not providing a format they want, the time needed to pirate the content is less than the time needed to acquire it through official sources, or the strings attached to official sources (such as DRM) being too draconian. If content producers want to fight piracy they need to learn why piracy is occurring and offer a solution that addresses those reasons.

5 thoughts on “Fighting Piracy”

  1. But you can sue people into behaving a desired way. You can, however, make them a better offer…

    Did you mean you CAN’T sue people into behaving in a desired way? Seems to fit the flow better.

    Piracy is a bit of a hot button for me. I absolutely loathe and despise people like Stephan Kinsella who argue as follows: Look! Here’s an example of someone who didn’t claim copyright protection, and he/she succeeded anyway. And here’s another! And one more over here! Therefore, nobody needs copyright protection. The people who were ripped off till they went broke? Not counted, not interested. This is akin to saying, There are soldiers crossing a mine field, and we could give them protection at some cost, but look! Here’s a soldier who made it across without dying. Here’s another! Therefore nobody needs protection.

    In Kinsella’s fantasy of a perfect world, the moment Steven Spielberg releases a new blockbuster movie he’s spent $500 million on, and people manage to videotape it in theaters without being detected, those people are free to sell copies of the movie for a penny apiece. On the street-corner just outside Spielberg’s gate, if they like.

    I contrast copyright with patents: the latter protect “ideas” that anybody else might derive independently, while copyright protects only specific implementations of ideas. If I write and market a spreadsheet program, nothing stops you from writing another with the same features. This is fair in my book.

    ON THE OTHER HAND, you are correct to point out that piracy, the small-scale kind of individuals sharing works for fun rather than profit, is best combatted by tempting them to pay a reasonable price for convenient access. Legal actions are best reserved for larger-scale and for-profit piracy.

    1. Did you mean you CAN’T sue people into behaving in a desired way?

      That is exactly what I meant. Thanks for the catch.

      I’m actually in agreement with Kinsella as far as my opposition to intellectual property. Although I tend to believe a return to a world where intellectual property is nonexistent will require and adjustment in business models for content creators.

      One possible avenue is the Kickstarter model. Namely content creators can ask for the funding up front and get what they want from the work before releasing it. This does require releasing content beforehand for pretty much but that’s nothing new for content creators trying to establish themselves. Once you have an audience you can say things like, “Hey, I need at least $100,000 to make releasing the next book in my series worthwhile.” If the content creator has enough fans to fund the effort he can create the work, otherwise he can move on to other things.

      This is a model more similar to how art used to be produced. The lack of something like Kickstarter meant artists were usually funded exclusively by a single wealthy patron but their words were usually paid for up front, or at least partly up front, and then delivered.

      It’s a model that doesn’t rely on the state’s capacity for violence to enforce and gives consumers a great deal of freedom to directly fun what they’re interested in. The problem of discovery still exists but that has always existed regardless of intellectual property laws.

      Either way, content creators will need to adjust their business model to reflect the new world where information can be infinitely recreated for almost nothing. Netflix and Spotify have shown a method of doing that with movies and music. Literature will probably take longer since publishers are notorious for refusing to change anything.

  2. Literature will take forever with “the big five” but we’re already seeing massive improvements on the “indie” side of things, similar to how it changed with music. There are plenty of good and great authors who are selling their ebooks on their own websites and/or Amazon and/or various independent online “publishing” companies.

    1. Amazon has been experimenting with a subscription book service for the Kindle. Unfortunately a lot of titles aren’t available for it yet because the publishers are still behind the times. Eventually authors will find a way to provide their good in a way that’s appeal to consumers and therefore beneficial to themselves.

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