How the movie industry could have stopped piracy before it began

In recent weeks the news has been awash with yet more “statistics” and articles regarding movie piracy, particularly this rather disturbing bit of research that claims that the UK industry could be loosing £120billion per year (films software and music mainly).

How flawed this “statistic” is boggles the mind. They are assuming that every file that is downloaded would have been bought in full every time. This method of analysing the costs of piracy was shown to be more than just a joke, it is a fabrication leading people to the wrong conclusions.

Before I get to the movie industry I want to take you back to the music industry. The internet has come on a long way since the late 80’s early 90’s. For one thing is has got faster every year and it is this speed boost that gave the movie industry the head start it needed. You see, in the days of the slower internet movie piracy was never an option, it could take you weeks and cost considerably more than the price of the film to download it. However music files are much smaller in and were much more in the grasp of the ordinary person. With the onset of the MP3 player people started looking for ways to get more digital content. With an absence of anything official, illegal alternatives such as Napster (now re-opened and legal) popped up. People shared their content there for some time before the music industry got wind of it and had it shut down. But by then the damage was done, people realised the best way to get digital content (in this case music) was to download it.

It took the iTunes store to ever make a dent in that method. Where the iTunes store succeeded was it made music easy to find, readily available, granular and most importantly, sensibility priced. It was a hit and didn’t take long to be a major driving force in the music industry. There was however still one problem, Digital Rights Management (DRM). DRM allows manufactures to lock content to only be  able to do certain things. It can only be played on specific players, on specific machines by a specific number of people. People were also used to being able to download illegal copies without DRM or for more money go get the CD and make DRM free versions of the files. Recently the music industry finally “got this” and started making DRM free tracks available. The online music industry is moving on in leaps and bounds now, OK, there is a lot of catching up to do and some more tweaks to the system are still required, but it works and gives people a viable alternative to piracy.

Now with this firm and clear example ahead of it you would have thought the movie industry would have been more than prepared for the digital revolution to hit its market. Apparently that is expecting a little too much of them…

If you think back some time ago we had the VCR and the cassette that went with it. This had no concept of DRM on it whatsoever, it was a simple device that went from one side to the other. Yes, they put advertisements and notices at the start of the tape back then, but at the very least you could fast forward through them.

With the arrival of the DVD the industry took advantage and ended up not only getting, but abusing the ability to force people to go through content that could not be skipped or fast forwarded. To add insult to injury this content is mainly a lot of anti piracy stuff being targeted at the people who didn’t pirate the film. Not only do they force you to watch adverts etc, they are also big fans of DRM, using it to lock content onto the disk so it can’t be copied easily, locking which screens you can view it on (ever heard of HDCP?) as well as even locking some of the sound out on certain devices.

Now in our ever connected world these restrictions simply cause people further frustration and aggravation. What happens when I have a film on DVD and I want to watch it on some small device I can take on the train like the Archos? The simple answer is it is almost impossible. What happens if I would rather download my films and not have to go to the shop and buy them on disk. What happened to the iTunes concept for the movie industry? Well, the simple answer is they never made it. So, what would I do if I wanted to solve all these issues? In fact the answer is fairly simple, your pirate it. This gives you the content you want DRM with a method of delivery that works for most people instead of paying through the nose for content which doesn’t do what most people want. fact, only the other day did a study come out showing that DRM actually encourages piracy.

So, what is the final step in this picture? Well, in the last year or so content providers are starting to get this, they have realised the way in which films have taken off online and are finally starting to push back with solutions not laws. They are starting to see that the internet could be a very powerful delivery tool, but in my opinion they still missed the boat. They were too busy stopping people pirate they forgot why people did it, they did it because industry never provided the content people wanted in the way they wanted it, they ignored all the evidence and now they are quite literally paying the price for it. These should have been the companies leading the digital revolution, not trying to slow it down.

Yes, there has been change in the right direction, but if this comment by Sony pictures CEO Michael Lynton is anything to go by, they have a long way to go.

One comment

  1. I agree with you but a tip, before the anti-piracy there is usually a language selection. This only affects the piracy ad, if you pick something other than English it doesn’t come up and the film still plays as normal.

    Shouldn’t really happen outside of rental copies but the movie industry are daft.

    Also this was a problem with VHS as well…

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