Recently, Scott Adams ((creator of
Dilbert)) has begun to raise the issue of online
piracy, and generally seems to be against piracy ((
Here’s why. Intellectual Property is a funny thing. Not funny ha-ha, but funny
in the sense that it’s hard for people to think of ownership over an idea.
This problem comes from the ease at which an idea can be transferred much more
quickly, through duplication. The creator of the idea hasn’t lost the idea,
they still have it, but suddenly they have a competitor that has had no
initial production costs, only duplication costs, which are extremely low
thanks to the internet and the ease at which digital copies can be made.
That’s not to say we should reduce the ease at which digital copies can be
made, or shut down the internet. Let’s say there are two stores next to each
other. One sells pirated material and the other sells licensed material, with
a portion of the profits going to the original artist. The shop that sells
pirated material is able to sell it at a lower cost because their costs per
copy are so low. In this case the products are identical. If there was no laws
against piracy, the pirated store would clearly be in a better position. Only
consumers that are genuinely concerned about the original artist, or who are
frightened of pirates are likely to purchase the legitimate copy. Little or no
profit makes it back to the artist, so they stop producing the material and
get a boring desk job. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent that there is no money
in the industry and therefore everything shuts down.
Before attacking this scenario, I admit that I have assumed that the only
source of income for the artist is through the sales, which isn’t necessarily
always the case, but that doesn’t mean that we can say that the artist isn’t
entitled to this source of income. It’s also not supposed to be a real
scenario, but simply a tool to show the extreme case of piracy and how it can
clearly be detrimental to the original artist.
Some say that licensed material is overpriced. However the price is set by the
market and competition needs to come from other artists, not from someone who
has no initial production costs. Some would say that the prices are fixed and
that collusion between production companies is keeping the price of this
material high. It doesn’t change the fact that if you want the material, you
need to pay the asking price.Let’s look at this from a different angle. DVDs
have compulsory copyright screens and ads that can’t always be skipped to get
to the content. As someone who has paid to watch the content, this can get
frustrating, especially when the copyright messages are then shown in about a
dozen languages. Pirated DVDs are not forced to have these screens. Suddenly
pirates are able to produce what is to the end-consumer a better product than
that able to be purchased legitimately. As Scott
Adams has commented, it is impossible to
compete with something that’s free. Surely it must be harder to compete with
something that is free and less annoying.
The Internet has torn down the traditional national borders for information.
In this context, pirates operate without competition from the original artist.
A consumer, eager to see the artist’s latest work may not be able to access it
within their country legally, so instead seek out pirates, more than willing
to provide the service. In this case, a market exists which is being ignored.
Prior to the internet, distributing media worldwide would be costly and stock
would often sit in an inventory unsold. With the internet and broadband
capabilities, it is now possible to set up a world-wide store without the
costs that have been involved previously.
Maybe the author of the original material should have the right to make people
in different geographic regions wait. Perhaps this discrimination is okay.
However, people are impatient and they will seek out alternatives if they feel
they have to.
Whilst I don’t think it should be necessary to compete with pirates on price,
it makes business sense to at least compete with them on product functionality
and geographic availability. People will continue to get material from
pirates, but at least you’ll provide consumers and opportunity to do the right
thing, while quenching their information lust.