Warner Bros: Pirates Show Us What Consumers Want

Major content companies are beginning to acknowledge that "pirates" aren't necessarily all evil, but actually lead the way to future business models. Movie studio Warner Bros. is among those who are starting to interpret piracy as a market signal. "We view piracy as a proxy of consumer demand," Warner Bros. anti-piracy chief David Kaplan notes, adding that the company adjusts its legal offerings to better compete with piracy.

warnerThis week many of the world’s top content producers will gather in Los Angeles at the Anti-Piracy and Content Protection Summit.

In line with previous years there will be a strong focus on enforcement and legal initiatives that are needed to secure better copyright protection.

However, there is also a newer trend where pirates are viewed not so much as a problem, but as a challenge and an opportunity to improve legal offerings. David Kaplan, Chief of Anti-Piracy Operations at Warner Bros., explains this line of thought in a teaser for this week’s summit.

“Generally speaking, we view piracy as a proxy of consumer demand,” Kaplan notes.

“Accordingly, enforcement related efforts are balanced with looking at ways to adjust or develop business models to take advantage of that demand by offering fans what they are looking for when they are looking for it.”

The above shows that Warner Bros. has started to treat movie pirates as a market signal and an indication that legal offerings are not yet up to par. Or to put it differently, the movie studio believes that they can beat piracy by competing with it and providing a better user experience.

Kaplan further says that Warner Bros. and its parent company Time Warner are turning a blind eye to some forms of copyright infringement. This means, for example, that the company won’t clamp down on fan-art that offers no commercial threat.

“We give a wide berth to ‘fan use’ and permit fans to use and interact with our content in ways that might technically still constitute copyright infringement, but do not directly substitute for the full length feature, episode or game,” Kaplan notes.

“Freedom of expression is key to our businesses, and any actions pursued on the enforcement side are taken with that in mind,” he adds.

Despite this liberal view on piracy, Warner Bros. continues to target commercial copyright infringers who stand to make a profit from copying their work.

To streamline these enforcement actions the movie studio has structurally integrated the anti-piracy department with other business units. Aside from targeting commercial pirates, there is also a strong focus on educating the public.

“I think our top priority would be to remove the financial incentives from those who would profit by building businesses based on the unauthorized exploitation of our intellectual property. A close second would be educating consumers about the importance of IP protection and the availability of legitimate alternatives to piracy,” Kaplan notes.

All in all it is positive to see a company such as Warner Bros. moving away from the narrow “piracy is plain theft” mantra.

The company appears to realize that a lot of progress can be made through innovation, and trying to understand why people pirate is a huge step forward.

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