Friday, January 15, 2010

Piracy: The Trend Of The Decade

Lee Gomes has a good article in Forbes, "Piracy: The Trend Of The Decade". He concludes that: "Defenders of digital content might overplay their hands, alienating the few paying customers they have left." Clearly he recognizes that the corporate attack on piracy is becoming counterproductive.

But there is subtle aspect to the whole piracy debate that is being overlooked. When we read about piracy, the emphasis usually tends to be on how the consumer is misbehaving. This concept is then used to demand legal "protection". After all shouldn't we be able to protect our property? What is being discounted in many media articles is that some corporations are busily pirating from each other. As a quick point, it is disingenuous for companies to complain about consumer piracy, while they themselves are busily pirating!

At this point, to be fair, I need to quickly acknowledge that Lee recognizes that the corporations are not the simple innocent victims of abuse that they publicly claim to be. Lee writes: "While a few studios do business with Redbox, others are filing lawsuits and describing Redbox in the sort of predatory terms that were once reserved for, well, Napster. It's a curious way of treating an entirely legal business that seems dedicated to radically expanding the customer base for your product."

Getting back to corporate content piracy, Lee notes that: "Apple's iTunes online music store sells legal copies of songs, and while it is certainly well trafficked, by most estimates it accounts for a tiny percentage of the music loaded onto iPods." The implication, of course, is that a lot of the music loaded by the consumer on their iPod is potentially pirated. (Yes a lot of the music on the iPod could actually be from a legally bought CD, but some even claim that this type of transfer is copyright infringement.)

Well, one of the really good points about Forbes, is that they are willing to expose examples of corporate abuses. A quick, search of Forbes, discloses numerous patent infringement (pirating) articles such as: "Kodak Develops Suit Against Apple, RIM" and "Nokia Slaps Apple With Lawsuit". While these articles clearly exist, they are seldom discussed in terms of the piracy.

Since the lawsuits have not been adjudicated, I cannot actually make any affirmative statement on whether Apple has or has not actually undertaking any piracy. Nonetheless, the fact that lawsuits have been filed highlights that some companies who expect the consumer to respect their so-called "intellectual property" appear quite willing to "borrow" content from other companies. When companies believe that they can "borrow" content at will, it becomes unethical for these companies to demand that the consumer be punished for essentially the same conduct.

In fact, we can go a step further as Lee notes: "Consider the recent jailing on felony charges, later dropped, of a woman for camcordering a few minutes of the hit film New Moon while attending a birthday party at a movie house. " So why does this woman get arrested for "infringement" as a criminal act, but Steve Jobs is not arrested when his company (Apple) infringes? So if you are a consumer, you are guilty of a criminal offense for "infringement" but when you are a company "infringement" is only a civil matter. (Please note that this is not meant to be an anti-Apple post, I am simply using Apple as an example.)

As an interesting conclusionary statement, the Electronic Frontier Foundation writes: "Most Pirated Movie of 2009 ... Makes Heaps of Money". If reports such as this one prove numerous one could "claim" that piracy actually helps product sales rather than hinder them. In fact, Felix Oberholzer-Gee and Koleman Strumpf of the Harvard Business School have written articles discussing the interrelationship of "File-Sharing and Copyright".

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