Economic Crisis Fuels Will They, Won’t They, Piracy Debate

Opinion

Last weekend, in response to a discussion surrounding a GigaOm article mentioning piracy, TorrentFreak published an opinion piece in which we argued that giving dissenting voices a say enriches debate. Today, Alex Swartsel of the MPAA responded to us and Techdirt (who had a different angle on the same GigaOm story) in a new article posted on the movie industry's blog. Reality, it seems, can be a confusing concept.

Last week GigaOm’s co-editor Janko Roettgers published a piece in which he noted that the economic downturn has the potential to push some movie-buying customers beyond their financial limits. Instead of buying movies and TV shows, Janko mused, they might download them from unauthorized sources instead.

Janko’s observation drew a rebuke from Alex Swartsel at the MPAA, who described it as the “casual promotion of the idea that stealing movies, TV shows and music is a perfectly acceptable way to save money”, and went on to equate copyright infringement to physical theft in conjunction with other common arguments.

Both TorrentFreak and Mike Masnick at Techdirt responded to the MPAA’s comments and although we had very different approaches to the issue, we were in agreement – Janko hadn’t promoted illegal behavior of any kind.

Today, Alex at the MPAA published a response which seemingly for the purposes of debate toys with the idea that that some people may well download content in an economic downturn.

But if we rewind a few years, wasn’t it former MPAA chariman Dan Glickman making the same assertion – and meaning it?

During the December 2008 forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Glickman was expressing concern, according to AFP, that piracy on the streets and online might increase in the near future. But what would drive this phenomenon?

“If you look at the situation, the current economic crisis makes this problem much more serious than before,” he told the forum. “If we don’t protect IPR (intellectual property rights), our economic losses will be far worse.”

Now, just a few years later, similar words from bloggers and journalists draw complaints from the MPAA that piracy is being “casually promoted”.

Getting back to Alex Swartsel’s second post published today, instead of admitting that a link could exist between people’s piracy habits and their financial position, Swartsel continues to argue that people should not be inclined to pirate, ever. “Movie and TV theft is inevitable,” is a statement Alex can’t subscribe to.

“Why? Because it’s easy to steal something that, in physical form, exists only as data, and easy to justify stealing it as a result? Because information wants to be free, no matter the cost it took to produce or its creators’ judgments about how best to disseminate it? Because anything is fair game once it’s on the Internet?”

Alex then goes on to pick Mike up on his point that the MPAA should “adapt and deal with reality.” In basic terms, with a couple of omissions, the “reality” can be found in the quote from Alex above.

The Internet is a great big copying machine and yes, when something exists only as data it is ridiculously easy to copy and yes, some people will do that if they can. Information does want to be free and unfortunately the costs of creating that information, for the purposes of this debate, are simply irrelevant. The cost to the downloader is virtually nil and in the majority of cases, rightly or wrongly, the financial implications study will end right there.

The MPAA obviously feel they have no choice but to try and stamp out piracy, and that is their prerogative, but they are facing a general public, as Mike Masnick points out, who feel that downloading movies and TV shows is socially acceptable.

For this reason file-sharing of one form or another – for good or for ‘evil’ – isn’t going away and will continue to be the method of choice for a large number of Internet users to consume media. This is the “reality” and, to use the word that Alex won’t accept, it is indeed almost inevitable.

However, the “reality” according to Alex is that there are “more options than ever before to get movies and TV shows online safely and legitimately – we have a list on MPAA.org here, and the creative minds in our industry are working on even more as we speak.”

Well that’s good news indeed, since after trying more than a dozen of the provided links with my non-US IP address I couldn’t find a single one which would let me watch anything . The Pirate Bay, however, has no geo-lockout. Another uncomfortable ‘reality’.

“But if what Masnick means is that we need to throw up our hands and look the other way while people who had nothing to do with making a movie or a TV show steal and profit from it, that is a reality to which we do not care to adapt, period,” Alex concludes.

But of course Mike isn’t suggesting that nothing be done, he’s suggesting that what is currently being done to compete with piracy needs much more work. The reality here is that he’s absolutely right.

The reality is that just about every movie and TV show, no matter how old or how new, is available to every internet user almost immediately and the studios don’t provide that service. Until they do piracy will continue, through this economic downturn and the next.

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