One of my first experiences at CSU was an unfortunate week where my access to the Internet was cut off. From what I can remember, I had tried (accidentally) to access someone else’s iTunes playlist. I wasn’t stealing music from them per say, but it was enough for CSU’s anti-piracy software to slam me with a Digital Millenium Copyright Act violation.
Needless to say, I got the problem sorted out. My computer was subjugated to a strip search, and I had to pay a fine, but at least I was allowed back onto the network. But it was my very first introduction to the invisible war between the owners of digital media and those who want to access it; a decades long struggle over access to music, movies, television and video games.
Let me just clarify here that I’m not one to claim that everything should be free no questions asked. Being someone who wants to work in the generation of content, online or otherwise, I know that there are a lot of people who work really hard to produce the content that we all enjoy everyday.
And I’m more than happy to pay for content, but that brings me to the problem with combating online piracy.
The biggest problem that a lot of people have with getting content online is convenience; the ultimate first-world problem, I know. We like our content good, and we like it with as little hassle as possible.
The biggest thing going for streaming TV shows online right now is that it comes a miniscule fraction of the cost of cable TV. It’s a lot cheaper to get Internet access (quality notwithstanding) through someone like CenturyLink and watch your TV through something like Netflix or Hulu than buying cable through Comcast.
Many people just have a few niche shows that they watch consistently, usually centered around a couple of channels. Paying for hundreds of channels that you will likely never touch is a colossal waste of money. Hence, the appeal of streaming sites like Hulu.
But, there’s still a problem here that encourages piracy.
As convenient as Hulu is, it suffers from having sub-par players that are frustrating in the extreme. Everytime I log onto Hulu to watch the latest episode of Castle, for instance, I have to reload the page after every segment of the show because the player unexpectedly crashes.
It’s aggravating, and everytime it happens I wonder why I haven’t just grabbed the episode off of a proxy site where I can just download the whole thing for free and without the technical hassles or five-and-a-half minutes of ads.
And if I, as a consumer, am considering piracy for my entertainment, then the people who offer a legal alternative to piracy have a problem.
It costs me next to nothing to pirate an episode off of a proxy site, provided, of course, that I’m not caught. But if I could get away with it, then I would absolutely be doing it because it’s free and I don’t have to suffer through ads. Piracy offers the better service, and as long as that remains the case people will continue to pirate content.
To quote Wil Wheaton, “As soon as the entertainment industry provides an alternative to BitTorrent — an alternative to piracy — that makes it just as easy for honest people to get access to the programming then the piracy dries up.”
To quote Gabe Newell, founder of the game company Valve, “Piracy is a result of bad service on the part of game companies… People are happy to pay money if they are getting what they perceive as a good product, delivered on their terms.”
The solution is a race to convenience. People, generally, want to pay for their entertainment. So give them something that they want to pay for. Drop the excessive digital right management software, drop the multi-million dollar lawsuits against grandparents and stop trying to force us into your old-school models. In the age of the Internet, where there are a million and a half other ways to get your content besides the way you want us to, trying to annihilate piracy is like trying to kill the hydra: cut off one head, and a million more take its place.
There are already really convenient, and legal, ways to get at content. Music services like Pandora and iTunes allow people to download or listen to the music they want to listen to when they want to listen to it at the expense of little to no money. Steam offers full games that you can buy (and for really cheaply if you happen to catch a sale) and download directly to your computer. Things like this are great examples of what I’m talking about.
Make it easy for us to get content, and we’ll pay for it. It’s as simple as that.
Editorial Editor Caleb Hendrich is a senior political science and journalism double major, and yes he knows that this is a first-world-problem. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.