Today, I tell ye a tale of plunder and riches, of defiance and victory! Of betraying the prettiest wenches and their cold men for...okay, I'm done.
What I wanted to talk about was piracy. As in, "intellectual property" piracy, not the kind done on the high seas.
This issue has been a very personal one for me. Mainly because I find myself surrounded by people on both sides of the fence everyday. On one side are my friends and family, who see nothing wrong with fetching a few songs/films/TV episodes for free off some clearly evil and abominable website, and entertainers, who I admire and love and who fill my life with joy and meaning with all their cute little 140-characters-or-less Twitter update. And then something called SOPA or "The Six Strikes Law" comes about and I become aware of this chasm between us. This thing that makes it so much harder for all of us to get along. This thing called "copyright".
Because that's what piracy basically is, a copyright violation. Most artists release their work under copyright, and most also reserve all rights to publish, reproduce, distribute and get paid from their work. I am in agreement with this law, with the exception of the "reproduce and distribute" and even, to an extent, the "getting paid" bits. Because claiming monopoly over all distribution channels and dictating whatever prices you want may seem like a natural and inalienable right to many copyright-holders, but experience and observation have proven them wrong time and again.
In the beginning there were theaters for films. Then, video storage came along, and film producers were threatened. Some claimed VCRs could kill their industry, that their "needs" should have been taken into account before allowing video companies to roam free with their products. And I think that was a time when the producers were no longer in full control of how their content was to be distributed.
Now, I don't know if the anti-piracy movement took off there and then, with producers screaming "Watch our film in theaters only, or you're a thief!", but I do understand why to many buying VCRs was a much better option. A lower price than a theater ticket, and the ability to watch it from the comfort of their homes was clearly more appealing to them than traveling considerable distances and paying up quite a bit more cash to get the theatrical experience. In short, the people wanted lower prices, and greater accessibility, which is why VCR sales took off. Fortunately, enough people were smart enough to go with the tide, and hence they began offering us "genuine" VCRs and VCDs. In other words, they were trying to take control of the video storage market, so that their sources of income could be maintained. "Genuine" products were actively promoted, and bootleggers were demonized as....I don't need to go into that.
And sure enough, buying genuine stuff did have its advantages. Bootleggers could no longer get away with poor camcorder rips of the movies they sold. Genuine manufacturers had quality standards which had to be met in order to give the best viewing experience. So, people might be paying more but they were paying for the better. And they didn't want to hurt their favorite actor's feelings by stealing from him, did they?
Now, let's get to music. My earliest memories are from the time we used to have cassette tape recorders, and since I was but a little kid, we just listened to whatever we picked up. And it was on a cassette cover that I read the words- "Save Music, Kill Piracy". Once my Mom explained to me what piracy meant, I'd pretty much resolved to stand against it. But it didn't take long for me to unwittingly break this very promise.
For starters, we lived in a hill station, where access to genuine stuff was negligible. Most places happily sold pirated music CDs and most of the films we watched at a friends were also a product of dealings we had with an unauthorized supplier. Heck, even our PC supplier happily put up free songs on the computer for us. Much of my early exposure to video games has also been thanks to piracy.
So why did I end up using the services of pirates when I'd just decided they were the bad guys? Because they beat the copyright holders on two things once again- accessibility and pricing.
These two factors have always been the reason why pirates flourish to this day. With the coming of the internet, the scene has become even more disruptive. Entire movies, TV seasons and loads of music can be downloaded for free, with often negligible compromises on quality. (Heck, I paid for my VCD of Twilight which my brother had already gotten a BluRay rip of. And just so you know, the film released a full year late in India, so I did attempt to watch the BluRay rip for myself too. And I will never buy a BluRay if their prices remain this exorbitant. HD files on a USB flash drive wouldn't even require changing my player). So, what's the lesson here? If you can't beat 'em, join them.
Copyright holders often lose out because of flaws in existing business models and distribution channels, and then they claim legal rights and appeal to our conscience to not side with the "thieves". But the fact is, these "thieves" have frequently done a better job than you of distributing your own work. Why not download songs for free? Why not get a DVD rip of a movie you doubt will even get released in your country? Because we're robbing you? Ruining your lives? Hard to imagine if you've been featured on The Fab Life and MTV Cribs.
And here, too, a tragic irony surfaces. The not-so-rich people who have far more to lose because of piracy, suffer from far greater problems in circulating their content. And since they often don't have much of a fan-base, they can't count on fan loyalty to make them the massive profits their more popular counterparts still make with ease. Their low visibility and struggle to keep up with the efficiency of pirates is pretty much rubbing salt on an open wound. The ones who might really suffer from the piracy phenomenon are the ones you've probably never heard of.
The pirates themselves are also part of the problem, if they're making money off other people's copyrighted works. What both sides should do is get together and work out a solution that serves all the stakeholders properly. In my layman's opinion, that would mean something along the lines of a profit-sharing arrangement, where copyright holders can get a cut out of all the money a "pirate" makes from distribution of said work. Of course, paid models like the CD, and iTunes should continue, because people like to pay the artists for their work, if they feel it's worth the price, like I recently did for three Justin Timberlake songs (one of which was in the N'Sync era). And all these messy international rights issues need to be sorted out. And censored broadcasts of stuff should stop. And HBO GO should be available outside the US because I watch that channel here in India. And movies should be released without massive gaps in release dates across countries. And producers should cut back on extravagant budgets. And I shouldn't have to pay $50 to download 12-year old video games. How much more do you all want to hear?
There needs to be much, much more flexibility, and a drastic decline in judgement and animosity between the copyright holders and the pirates, because the consumer is always sitting the fence, and will usually choose the option that best fits him. Stop arguing about what's right and what's wrong, because a far as this issue goes, to an extent we're all in the wrong. And if anybody has a problem with this way of changing things, they can sit back, enjoy the status quo and stop complaining.