Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Avast! Bone-Headed Distribution Models Lead to Piracy

Piracy is adorable
The Oatmeal has caused the Internet to explode into a truly lovely brawl over piracy today. My timeline on Twitter is alight with both outrage and "right on, brother" enthusiasm. "Pirates Are Huge Entitled Babies!" is my favorite outrage piece; the article manages to convey no information at all, and yet at the same time be slavishly corporate whore-ish. Bravo. I don't think I have a favorite "right on, brother" piece, but if I did, it'd probably be the discussion my friend Spencer and I had at lunch. It boiled down to this for both of us: "I buy the things they let me buy, and I don't feel bad about pirating the rest."

Ultimately, piracy is not about content. It is about the way content is distributed.

Set the Wayback Machine to 'Back in the Day'
BAM! Thirty second history lesson: Back in the Day, musicians, playwrights, and artists of all kinds worked via patronage. Basically, some rich, influential dude bankrolled people who made various art and then the rich dude got big social credit among his peers for being awesome. Rich dudes trying to out-awesome each other with the art was one of the things that drove the Renaissance in Europe. Part of the whole 'taking the credit' thing was also choosing how to show it off - i.e. distributing the content.

Patronage exists today in various forms. The latest and greatest form of arts patronage is Kickstarter - it puts the ability to fund the arts in the hands of the little guy. The big-ass television studios that produce shows like Game of Thrones are a form of patronage. They expect returns on their investments, but they do gin up the initial revenue to get production rolling. They also decide what sort of distribution model this content is going to get. Will it be on Hulu? When is the DVD release? Will it go to iTunes or Amazon? How about Netflix? All of those rights get ironed out through a variety of contracts as they go along. (Mind you, the artists are not involved in pretty much any of this, it's all the patrons who decide distribution.)

Let's talk about Sherlock, because this is what chapped my ass most recently. I love Sherlock. I am sure you do, too. If you don't, you should start because it's awesome. However, because I'm a filthy American, I can't actually get Sherlock. The only legitimate avenue for me to watch this show that I love is to wait 6 months until the BBC decides to put it on American television (where it'll be chopped to shit because everything on BBCA is defiled by some bizarre-ass censoring algorithm). If I could buy it on iTunes or Amazon or Hulu or Netflix or anything, I would. I want to give them my money. I'm practically begging them to take it. There are multiple interfaces where they could publish this content right now, today. The content distribution infrastructure is there, they have simply declined to use it.

This is where piracy comes in. Now let me be clear that there are two kinds of pirates - those who will never pay for anything and those who will gladly pay if you let them. Nothing will ever change the minds of the first sort; however, The Oatmeal is talking about the second kind of pirate. The kind who, given a legitimate route to take, will happily take it. Steve Jobs knew this, hence the over ten billion downloads sold by iTunes.

Now, as my favorite outrage piece reminds me: They don't owe you this content! You don't deserve it! You can wait until they damn well decide to give it to you for whatever price they please - or never if they choose not to! All fair points and all true. Unfortunately we're not in the 1400s anymore; patrons no longer have exclusive control over the distribution of content. They never did, really, but it's more marked now than ever. It is time for modern-day patrons to understand this simple truth: If you don't include us in your distribution model, we can opt in ourselves via other means. 

And that's the whole point The Oatmeal and people like him are trying to make. We want to buy this stuff. We want to be able to go to any of the many and various interfaces (all DRM'd for fuck's sake) and purchase your content with our dollars or pounds or euros or pesos. People are not pirating this stuff because they can't afford it or don't want to pay for it or because they like talking like a pirate. They're pirating this stuff because you make it fucking ridiculously hard or impossible for us to get it - and someone else doesn't. The answer isn't to yell and scream and sue. The answer is to sell us the fucking product. Seriously. That's it. SELL IT TO US AND WE WILL BUY IT WITH MONEY.

I don't understand why that hasn't sunken in.
Pin It


  1. Amen, sister. I felt exactly the same way about Sherlock, specifically, and did end up, ah, taking matters into my own hands. Why don't they want my money?

  2. I *saw* Sherlock on Netflix. If they took it off before I got to finish...

    1. They did have season 1. Season 2, however, released in December/January and won't be available in the US until June, and then folded, spindled, and mutilated on BBCA.

    2. That's not as bad, I guess. Especially since I have an instant queue in the triple digits.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Arr.. matey! There be the MPAA off the starboard bow..

    The outrage piece. How do I put this.. Yes.. pirates take stuff.. stealing. Dang them.. Imagine how self entitled those jerks must be! oh wait, the people accusing are in Hollywood? hrm.. People might want to read this: http://torrentfreak.com/the-pirate-bay-slams-pipa-and-sopa-120118/

    Just sayin!

    Pirates will never really identify themselves as doing a lot wrong with Hollywood here. Illegal isn't going to change their morality. The Boston tea party, refusing to pay the British, insurrection from England.. all these things were illegal too. (You note that they like to call us thieves, and pirates like to correspond us to the ones we affectionately call "the good guys"). *And please note, Piracy hurts some industries badly, so this is pretty specific to Hollywood*

    This article is spot on. Producers may have right on their side, as in they don't OWE us anything, but unfortunately that doesn't matter. People can't just act like the internet doesn't exist and their distribution models are fine. Dinosaurs go extinct.

    GOT was paid for by subscribers. In short, they should not be making sales of it afterwards to recoup losses made during production. It was paid for. It's why it's on HBO. It is HBO's cost of doing business and thriving. Oh, they could have spent the $ on other CRAP shows.. but then someone else might have done it and Showtime might be the big boy on the street or Starz. That is just life.. and I said, its paid for.. already covered by intake of subscriptions.

    Now the kicker.. Anyone, (and their mother!) can get HBO free for 3 months. I'm serious. If people can't its because they have not tried. Or they are one of the zombie's in Zombieland (http://www.wisebread.com/want-free-hbo-or-showtime-just-ask)

    3 months.. that includes like 12 weeks.. You could have used that and just said no at the end of it and gotten 10 episodes of Game of Thrones off that.. TIVO'd.

    But hey.. lets forget that.. free notion of getting the content.

    Consider the cost of HBO per month.. lets say I buy it for GOT. $13.95... I'll call that $14, 4 episodes of GOT costs me 3.5 bucks apiece.. TIVO'd ;p

    Now.. how is it, that HBO can call themselves a media company. They have to know that their show.. is going to be on torrent at 1080p or at least 720p within 24 hours after release.

    So how is it, that they can not put it on your site, at $2 an episode to stream it(rent it for 2 days), maybe $4-5 bucks an episode to buy it digitally.. immediately? I mean they must have computer people working for them? It can't be bandwith because they obviously know about this piracy thing right? They know how TORRENTS work right?

    They could even give out a code that those people who buy or rent it can take X bucks off when they buy the "dvd" release X months from now.

    As a group, these publishers do everything possible to make it impossible for their fans to purchase anything from them at a fair price (or even an unfair one, but to be honest, price DOES have an affect on piracy).

    The reason piracy is rampant is EXACTLY as Laurie points out. Piracy has very, very little to do with content, it's how one distributes content.

    If any of us were allowed to grab it for a few bucks an episode just like the subscribed HBO people do, don't you think we'd all like LEGAL and LEGITIMATE ways to get the show?

    (continued below)

    1. But no.. they have to make a nice package and say wait 6 months.. and then pay the same amount as if we had already watched it on HBO (and have it TIVO'd)... and can not grasp the fact that many of us would have it downloaded from them at $5 ($50 for the whole season) and rebuy it on blue ray.. (lets say your digital rental gave our a digital code for $10 off). ...

      Sometimes when I think of these providers... I want to take videotape of shows downloading in the background on my monitor while I set a $50 on fire on the desk and send that to them in liu of payment..