Piracy on the High Paddling Pool
Piracy is always a fashionable topic in the piss-ridden paddling pools that make up online forums, and the blanket block on the Pirate Bay that came into effect last week sparked a fresh round of flame wars, 'I reckons', and caps lock rants. You can always tell when you're faced with a knotty problem- people will split into two polarized camps before flinging shit at one another, a form of ammunition neither side is ever short of.
The two camps in the piracy issue are equally loathsome. We have the shrill indignant types who tell you piracy will destroy art and media as we know it, and that those who download are stealing from the pockets of producers and genuine consumers alike (bullshit).
Opposing them are the digital freedom fighters, claiming they’re sticking it to The Man and attacking the establishment by watching dodgy copies of The Matrix in their Mum's basement (also bullshit).
As easy as it is to pour scorn on both sides- and in an effort to make this guest rant at least look like an article- I'll have a stab at highlighting the actual issue, and what we can do about it.
Death to the Unskippable Finger-Wag!
The thing we have to accept is that the internet, and technology in general, dashed ahead of society before most of us even noticed, much less adjusted to it. When I was at school, computers were 'the future'; everyone told you they were going to be huge, and everyone nodded sagely, but most people didn't really give it any more credence than any of the other world-changing things you'd see on Tomorrow's World.
Computers were the preserve of weird-looking terminal virgins; noisy, clunky, ugly things more likely to piss you off and end up in the bin rather than take over the world. Twenty years later, we have stuff that makes many SF imaginings look quaint.
As far as piracy goes, this has caused two big changes. Digi-swag is now easier and more convenient to get hold of than going to a shop and buying it legitimately, and the end product is often superior to the legitimate one. Previously, a dodgy copy of a film had to be obtained through a mate in the pub or a car-boot sale, and was usually a grainy mess copied VHS to VHS. That, or filmed from the back of a cinema with a pre-digital camcorder; you couldn't see half of the screen and you still had to suffer the noise of some popcorn-munching halfwit one row behind, asking his girlfriend what was going on every ten minutes.
Now I can download a film quicker than it takes to watch it, in DVD quality, and without the unskippable finger-wagging ad claiming piracy is akin to stealing a tank and driving it through an orphanage.
I find myself downloading cracked copies of games I've paid for legitimately because they'll work without the soon to be scratched up/lost/indefinitely borrowed CD. Other times I've downloaded stuff I couldn't afford to buy, and would have just borrowed off a mate anyway. It's not that I don't want to support the people that make the products I love; I just don't want to use antiquated, demonstrably inferior means of acquiring them.
The Future Arrives in Micro-Payments
Many in the gaming industry have demonstrated it is possible to embrace this new technology and still get paid. Turbine, responsible for Dungeons and Dragons online, was looking at shutting shop on the RPG a few years ago due to lack of customers. In a final attempt to keep things going, they switched from the traditional monthly subscription model to a free-to-play one. Essentially, they gave the bulk of the game away, and made cash through 'micro payments', where people could unlock game features quicker than they could through play. How? By throwing cash in Turbine's direction.
The end result was a 500% increase in profits, and a player base that doesn't exclude people who can't afford it. This model can't be applied to all forms of media (or even all genres of games), but it does suggest the problem lies more with our increasingly out of date business models, rather than a desire to get something for nothing.
Another example is 'Barely Political', which started out as one chap and a few mates posting parody pop songs and comedy sketches on You Tube – now they have a budget, access to studios and still maintain complete control over what they do. No TV contract or DVD sales required (though they do sell T-shirts and other tat if that's your thing).
Down Sails, Up Periscope.
While I don't have all the answers as to what these new models will be, the one thing we can say for sure is a lot of people in-between the producers of media and their audience will no longer be required. I can't help but suspect this is the real reason for resistance to abandoning the old ways of doing things.
It's no different from any other industry that's become obsolete, and while I don't relish the idea of putting people out of a job (most of them, anyway), if we can put more control in the hands of people actually creating the stuff we like- and make distribution cheaper, more convenient and less demanding on resources- shouldn't we give it a go?
As for Pirate Bay, the unsinkable ship has become a submarine, and a quick search on Google will show you how to circumvent the block with about as much tech know-how as it took you to log on in the first place, a fact that has seen Pirate Bay's number of users increase since the ban. If that doesn't make you think we need to find new ways of doing things, well... you probably manufacture and distribute DVDs for a living.