Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Second Look at Software Piracy, and digital content delivery through Amazon.com, Netflix, iTunes, etc...

 Just yesterday, a friend of mine was talking about this blog and he made reference to my post on illegal downloading and the ethics of piracy, here. He talked about how my article made him think about media piracy and that the debate affected his feelings about his own actions. This got me thinking. Did my last article on the subject really reflect my attitude or behavior on the subject?

It is important to me to be genuine to the people who spend a part of their day reading the things I put here, and sometimes it is difficult to do that without violating one of the rules I have crafted for myself on the internet. The most important one is: “Don't be a dick.” A large component of that rule means that I conduct myself online largely the way I would if I were at a large party with strangers. Quickest way to piss people off at a party? Talk about your religious beliefs (or lack thereof) or your politics. I made the mistake of arguing both in my early years on the internet, and then I saw the religious and political debates on social media sites and in forums. I thought about how those debates made me feel about my friends, family and acquaintances. No one ever really gained any points with me in those flamewars, but some people lost a few. I don't want to “play to the middle”, disguising who I am for appeal to a wide audience, but I also refuse to be a dick online.

See also: "The Greater Internet Dickwad Theory", Google it, now.

Talking about piracy drifts really close to politics for my tastes, so I think that I automatically filter myself when taking on a subject like this. Time for some honesty. There are times where I'm going to pirate something even if I hold to my belief that piracy isn't OK. If a mainstream property is unavailable using a convenient delivery system, at a price that is reasonable for the value provided to me, and the primary entity deprived of compensation is a large corporation, I am likely to pirate. I'm pretty sure that this isn't at all clear with the opinions I presented in that last article. I understand I may take (and deserve) some heat for this, but if this makes you mad, ask yourself a question. If there was no such thing as a public library, would it be possible today to open one, or would it be shut down by Big Content as a “state sponsored copyright infringement center?”

Now, if there is a method of getting that same content that is relatively inexpensive, easy to use, free of intrusive DRM, adds some value and provides compensation directly to content creators, or some combination of the above, I jump at it. Steam for video games, Netflix streaming for TV and movies, various services for music that don't start with “i” or end with “Tunes”, not only do I pay for media despite being out of a job, but I pimp those services without any monetary compensation. Comic Book Publishers and Ebook publishers take notice. THIS IS WHAT YOUR CONSUMER WANTS.

Also, this. If fan art and sales figures are to be believed, your consumer wants this.

The lawsuits and blatant misuse of copyright law as a weapon (most people don't even know that the purpose of copyright law was originally to keep big companies from stealing the little guy's idea and selling it, not to sue college students and grandmothers for unlawful copying of media for personal use) all sickens me. It is destructive and utterly ineffective in putting the genie back in the bottle. My favorite analogy in big content's war on piracy is that of a sinking warship desperately trying to save itself the only way it knows how: by firing its cannons at the ocean. New business models will make some people and companies wealthy, and others obsolete. No amount of poorly-written legislation or frivolous litigation will change that.

Companies that understand and adapt to new business models and consumer wishes can make a lot of money (and some are.) In general, people are willing to pay for delivery systems, but hate paying for content, and will tolerate advertising to subsidize prices until ads intrude on content. Netflix understands this, as do gaming companies that offer free content updates to legit customers or subscribers, and this model has had a lot of success. If a service offers convenience, but overprices digital goods, such as iTunes or Amazon, they can make a lot of money, and anger a customer base that is willing to jump ship to the first viable alternative that presents itself. This, of course, also factors into the “ethical calculations” people do when deciding whether or not to pirate.

I want one of these bad. Almost up to "would punch a baby" bad... but only if the baby was a jerk, talking about religion and politics.

On the subject of Amazon, it has been noted that I profile an awful lot of products that are for sale on Amazon, and many bloggers have made a few dollars from referrals, but I haven't done this. This is not an ethical “line in the sand” that I've refused to cross. I live in the city of Chicago, state of Illinois, and our state government instituted an internet sales tax, which caused Amazon to refuse to do business in this state. This locks that possibility away from this site. I actually really like a few things Amazon has done to push their business model into new directions, and I think the Kindle is really cool (though I don't own one yet.) The notion of a partially ad-subsidized Kindle to bring the device price down (as lampooned here by Penny Arcade) is the kind of innovation I applaud. I feel the same way about Amazon as I do about Apple. Great devices, overpriced and terrible content delivery, $15+ for an ebook is obscene, and the issues with iTunes and why geeks hate it is a whole other article.

I've started to roll out a few changes to this site, the first of which is the Facebook page for this blog (hit “Like” in the column on the right), where I'll host a few polls and other site-related extra content (maybe contests?) as I develop it. I also may work on the layout, so if things look a little stranger than usual, I am tinkering. Future possibilities include moving to a new domain name (a ways off) and adding the code to be able to reply to comments directly (probably soon). In addition to any comments about piracy and digital goods/content you might have, if there are things you like or dislike about the blog or its layout... sound off!
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7 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Nothing wrong with your blog, I enjoy the diversity and your opinion, carry on.

Alpha said...

I think I can handle a healthy debate concerning religion/politics without turning into a ranting man-child, myself.

G said...

I agree with Lurker...carry on it's all good stuff and always an interesting read here

Jay said...

you have some interesting points. :)

Moobeat said...

pretty cool.

Stare Dad said...

nice changes btw :)

Living cheap said...

some interesting points you make. like stare dad i like the changes

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