Piracy – is no longer a Spade!

With an election looming in Australia, I visited the websites of number of political parties in an effort to make my vote more informed.

Instead of becoming more informed I felt a little discouraged, this was a result of the apparent homogeneity between the major parties.

My survey of their online presence felt similar to comparing mobile phone plans. On the surface plans may look different but when you adjust for variations in call rates, data quota, flag fall and cash back offers, they can amount to a very similar monthly commitment.

I stress this observation of sameness is more a sensation, I can see differences between parties but running a country has significantly more variables than a phone plan and the scope that I can examine in one sitting is limited, so the sensation remains.

I have some general ideas as to why, I feel that media, journalism and even our education system are suffering similar kinds of blandness for the similar reasons. Another blog post perhaps.

But it was a visit to the Pirate Party site that presented a new dichotomy of emotions.

First I must shamefully admit to my superficial application of stereotypes to the candidates photos, but after cleaning the judgemental grime from my prejudicial glasses, I headed to their policy section where I was pleasantly surprised. The party were putting up some fairly constrained and in my opinion were addressing warranted reform to intellectual property laws. They weren’t advocating zero rights of ownership, but aiming to reduce extensions to the term of exclusivity and suggesting other methods to curb the abuses of legislation, abuses that can hold back innovation, or make it unnecessarily expensive.

However after my initial pleasant surprise, I paradoxically begun to perceive my growing disappointment that even the Pirate Party could not resist the pull to moderateness.

In my imagination, this party by its namesake should have been championing everyone’s rights to ignore other people’s rights. That it isn’t stealing, it’s sharing or of the afforded democratisation that is assisting artists to take back the power from the large corporate pimp machines of music labels and publishing houses. Plus any of the other catchy excuse that the kids of today herald.

Perhaps I am being judgmental again.

This is where I depart for the time being from my exploration of politics to give more consideration to the topic of this blog entry.

I have in the past found myself using excuses for piracy. My all-time favourite was that of non-consumption, ie I can’t afford to buy this software, thus they wouldn’t have gotten my sale anyway, so really they are not considering me as a customer, therefore I am not cheating anyone of any income – It’s quite an effective argument.

The flip side, if everyone who used the software could be counted upon pay their dues, then quite possibly the price of the software would have reached an affordable range.

This missing income lost to non-consumption is the “cost” that industries quote as a key reason for establishing SOPA and the like. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stop_Online_Piracy_Act

However it is more accurate to recognise it is the poor cobber who pays the full non-disseminated price as the one who will experience the brunt of the costs. If more and more piracy occurs these costs may even become prohibitive for the remaining consumers leading to zero consumption or zero software.

Online music / app stores and the prevalence of devices have more or less proved this to be true. Where the price barrier is low and distribution is in the hands of the creators, direct access by customers makes it simpler and more gratifying to just purchase the content or software.

Ironically this behaviour is less true about the more costly to produce content and software, that being movies, TV and AAA titled games. Additionally it is often the most hard-core fans that are the biggest “sharers” of content, expressing the view “I torrent the episodes, but it’s ok – I buy the box set when it comes out.” This works fine until a favourite show gets pulled from the network and cancelled because it isn’t rating, even though it’s a hot seller in store as DVDs. My example, Firefly.

The traditional feedback device of “viewer survey” by networks is broken by online sharing, and I am sure that there is a significant percentage who torrented but didn’t buy the box set, so even that measure of popularity is broken.

This is the “Zero Sum Game” effect. The system is broken, the expensive process of TV production is not offset by the traditional mechanisms of ad paid for content, or paid access to the content across the networks.

Zero sales – zero income – zero TV

Perhaps this is because those greedy pimp machines are still in the mix and the prices are not as low as they yet should be, or worse that distributors hold back availability in certain territories forcing non-consumption. Groups such as, publishers, networks, and territorial distributors were all required in an offline model but are far less relevant today.

This is just disruption right?

Have not many industries distilled or disappeared because their model of business becomes unsustainable resulting from technology changes.

Does anybody still order ice for their ice cabinet? Or gas for their Car? Ok the second example is premature, but the car did on the large part disrupt the horse.

But unlike ice delivery and more like the petroleum industry, these pimping groups have power and connection that ties up the dissemination of content. So they are more shielded from disruptive forces and their demise is artificially slowed.

I can go some way to agreeing with pirates that fat can be cut from content distribution, but there is a fine line between those who want to pay for well-priced content and those who suggest “sharing” is fine.

Consider sharing with a more traditional flavour; Sharing is only possible when there is enough of something to go around. Sharing cake between 10 people is possible, between 100 requires a larger cake or less share to the eaters. This is economics, the rule is: resources are finite. Now let’s invent a cake copying machine (with 3D printing it probably isn’t too far away), but this fictional cake copying machine is perfect as it derives all required resources from zero point energy meaning more or less that it can copy cakes infinitum. Resources are no longer finite right? Wrong, there was one particular resource that I am most interested in considering, this is the time it took for the first person to invent the recipe and make the cake. Surely we want to protect this person and resource them so they can invent again. This is vitally important because I will certainly bore of eating the same cake.

I’ll leave it to you to amplify the same concept by considering the design and manufacture of a safe and reliable car.

It is important to recognise that in the cake and car scenarios, the baker or car designers are the ones spending resources that need to be distributed across all their customers and recouped, but in both cases cake or car, you keep costs lower if entities in the supply chain are few. Sure we will have to work out what to do with all the unemployed people displaced by disruption, but that is not a new challenge, just ask Detroit.

But is becoming closer to the customer a good thing?

Increasingly I hear from content creators, in particular artists in the music industry, there is a juxtaposition of having less supply chain. Being closer can develop stronger community and as this community are feely sharing the music, the artist’s popularity can quickly grow. However as a generation of fans have now grown up with the expectation that music is free and free to share, selling tickets can become the only sure source of income, leading to exhausted artists who literally sing for their supper every night.

In defense of some fans, I have heard that many recognise this and until we invent the Fictional Copying Machine , they understand artists too need to eat and buy necessities. These fans would love to have more direct ways of getting their contribution to the artist.

What about the movie actor, not specifically talking about the A-list variety, although they should really be the first to take a slight pay cut, but will they have to fall back to live theatre as a means to guarantee less sharing of their hard work?

This is where I think attention needs to be spent, not in changing legislation to protect redundant supply chains, but by installing better mechanisms for customers to directly compensate creative people. These viable alternatives will help these creators to bypass the traditional methods of product distribution.

This would lead to true and justified disruption of supply chains rather than just a symptom of a corrupting society who has lost its ability to respect others, a society who now call the “Stealing” spade a “Sharing” spade.

So before you sit down to an episode of Game of Thrones, or the like, instead spend the time thinking about how you can create new technology or methods that help creative people to put a few dollars in their pocket so they can create the content you enjoy. After that the episodes will be sweeter, I promise.

Regardless of your stance, since moving into further into the content and software business myself, I work very hard to ensure that my company is equipped with legitimately purchased software and that my personally consumed content is acquired through legitimate means. It’s just my policy.

By the way, because of this I haven’t yet watched any Game of Thrones, mainly because it hasn’t reached the legitimate channel for me. That channel being a family member who buys the box set so I can have a lend 😉

Call me an old fogey, but that’s the way I roll.