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Oct 3, 2012

Piracy in the Free Market

Anyone remember those Microsoft Windows jokes about if the highway system were like software? “Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car” was one of the listed gripes. The response from sensitive software engineers was something like “A computer is an interactive piece of machinery that evolves; it’s not passive like popping in a movie.”
I recently discovered a legitimately purchased movie won’t play on my less-than-four-month-old Blu-Ray player. I lose audio after 20 minutes because “Cinavia” believes my device is not licensed to show the content. Explanations: 1 - the media is a pirated forgery; 2 – my player doesn’t have the latest firmware upgrade to decrypt the DRM; or 3 - the audio track is corrupted just perfectly to throw off the watermarked echo.
This is a royal pain because sometimes I buy movies from the bargain bin. I might not take the cellophane off for months. By the time I discover it’s a counterfeit, I can’t recall if I got it from BestBuy, Target or my favorite roadside back-of-the-Cadillac dealer. And I certainly don’t have the receipt.
Now, if it is my younger than 120 days Blu-Ray player that is to blame, then re-read paragraph one. Seriously, it should have the latest encryptions built in, but what happens next year? Do I have to maintain my laser disc player and keep it up to date? Should that be the total cost of ownership? Should it HAVE to be plugged into the World Wide Web, just to playback a disc?
Earnestly, I actually enjoy keeping up with technology and understanding what advantages I get from the latest updates, but it is annoying even for me. I can’t imagine the frustration the non-geek must go through…or they just give up and go drop another 150 bucks for a new player because most people just want to drop in the disc and watch the movie. But sometimes we have to wait ten minutes for the device to update itself first, then if something goes wrong, restore to factory defaults and reapply the patch, blah, blah, blah…meanwhile, the rest of the family has left the house to do something actually entertaining.
But the “give up and go spend more money” statement is my point. If even one time the legitimate DRM process fails and only mildly inconveniences me, then I am not apt to be friendly towards it because of the amount of money I’ve spent to be hassle-free. In fact, this (although counter-intuitive at first) is exactly why the piracy business thrives.
If a hypothetical person (I don't dare claim I would do this) spends $800 on a player and updating his movie library, and a year later one of the $30 discs won’t play properly, he is going to be quite upset. However, if the $1 illegal download is bad, he shrugs it off, finds another bit torrent and it is no big deal. For many people, it’s not about quality, but rather all about the value-to-dollar ratio. And the pirates give a better ratio even if it’s sometimes a lower quality. And the industry doesn't understand this and views the motives about piracy quite skewed from the real reasons why people actually do it.
The MPAA (like their power-mad sister, the RIAA) is spending money to compete with the pirates. They use technology, Intellectual Property law, copyright law, etc. to compete because they don't want a fair market and fear losing control of their industry and their profits. They are not looking for true competition; they want a monopoly with which they can smash anyone who won’t conform to their government-backed regulations. The media greed makes Wall Street look like philanthropy. At least Wall Street doesn't mind if others get in the game because an industrious newcomer is a good thing for investors. Perhaps we should “Occupy Hollywood.”
Why do the Blu-Rays cost so much? Is it supply and demand? Well, a little bit, but also because you are threatened with a $10,000 fine per incident or jail time if you don’t buy it their way. Remember, SOPA would have put a person in jail for five years for illegally downloading a Michael Jackson song; however, actually killing him only gets you four.
Let’s not forget that all this DRM research, like “Cinavia” costs money, which gets passed on to the consumer. Impressing every Blu-Ray device manufacturer to conform to the DRM standards requires a lot of money in what amounts to essentially legal kickbacks. Who pays for it? The consumer.
I could go on and on. This topic is full of examples, dating back to the original time-shifting ruling in the Betamax case. The industry’s revenge against the public’s fair usage has been vicious, albeit subtle, ever since. The industry is no longer satisfied with the monies generated from levies on recordable media in response to alarmist claims that piracy would destroy the music back in 1972. The collective is still being paid this tax money as compensation for potential piracy atop all their DRM efforts, lawsuits and price-fixing. Meanwhile, Singer doesn't pay Christian Dior a portion of their sewing machine sales because no one worries that home sewing is killing fashion.
I’ve said this for years about the RIAA, and now I apply it to the MPAA and associates. If they really wanted to stop piracy, then they would be competitive with the pirate. Make it not profitable for the pirate to run his business. But this would mean dropping all the DRM silliness, cutting out the kickbacks, and lowering the end price. And we know the industry won’t do that because too many people who don’t do anything would lose their money and have to get real jobs. Why do that when they can keep on exploiting the public?
So, this begs the question – who are the Blu-Ray pirates anyway? Perhaps the MPAA will next hire some linguists to come up with another translation of the Bible and profit from the copyright of that too…don’t even get me started on that one, Zondervan.


  1. Name-dropping with the Christian Dior... NICE! :-)

    And LMAO on the Michael Jackson paragraph!

  2. Good stuff. You're likely being mentioned on the podcast this week.
    I do have to say, though, that your sewing analogy is flawed. It takes a certain amount of skill to sew clothes. Downloading or ripping a movie just requires the right software. But I get your point.

    1. Well, skill is a relative word when it comes to technology. To the trained person, it seems like "just software" but to many, it's still "greek" to have the correct video codecs and the latest media player requires skill to rip a DVD too. The industry exploits that ignorance, lack of skill, whatever you want to call it; further, they deliberately obfuscate and complicate things then cry foul when people learn how to "digitally sew."

    2. Oh, and I'd be honored to be mentioned. Thanks.