Piracy, Lawsuits are Not the Solution

I read an interesting article today on New Times News about internet pirating and a new strategy that’s being used to combat it. Lawyers log into torrenting swarms, record the IP addresses of everyone sharing in said swarm, and then file a lawsuit against all of them, using a Judge’s subpoena to gain their identities from Internet Service Providers.

The article was discussing the new strategy’s pros and cons, and including interviews of several people who had been swept into the nets accidentally, through leaving their wireless networks unlocked. I don’t want to repeat the entire article, you should go read it. But what interested me the most was at the very end.

Indeed, virtually everyone interviewed for this story agrees that the only real solution to piracy is to make more movies available online for an affordable price. As long as it remains difficult for people to access the most popular types of content from their home computer, illegal downloading will continue unabated. Services like Netflix, Hulu, and iTunes have made momentous strides in this regard, but industry observers—and frustrated movie viewers—still say that Hollywood has been too reluctant to embrace new technology.  [Source]

I’d agree with this, and additionally want to point out a few issues that I haven’t seen anyone talking about. To begin with, here are my basic premises.

  1. Loyalty is stronger than greed. If a company makes something great and isn’t a jerk, people would rather buy their product than pirate it.
  2. Convenience is stronger than loyalty. Compact Disks, even in the BluRay format that holds 50GB, are bulky and hard to carry around. A single 2TB external HDD can store over 350 high-def movies pirated from the internet.
  3. People would rather buy than rent. If a movie is good, people want to have their own permanent copy.

The first is my opinion, from myself and from talking with friends and co-workers. Accepting it as true, then with everything else equal, any company that gains my approval is going to get my money, even if there is a free version out there. The problem is, everything else isn’t equal. Which brings us to the second point.

This isn’t opinion, it’s math. The typical format for torrented HD films is MKV. It’s compressed, which makes a full length film approximately 5 GB. This means that you can store 350 of them on a 2TB external hard drive, at the size of 2 DVD cases back to back. Compare that to 350 BluRay disks each in its original case. Which is easier to store and transport? Additionally, with MKV the movie is a single video file, but it can still have multiple audio language tracks, as well as subtitles. It’s much more convenient, and in today’s world convenience in king. It trumps even brand loyalty 9 times out of 10.

The third point is about buying vs renting. I believe that if a person enjoys a movie, said person would rather own a copy of their own than rent it when they want to watch it. So while we have streaming services such as Hulu that bring huge libraries of content to users, those services will never replace torrenting. It’s a different market.

Torrenting, as well as other forms of pirating, aren’t going away, despite the increase in lawsuits. What we need to do here is to appeal to human nature rather than the threat of law. People want convenience, give it to them. They want companies they can respect and be loyal to, so companies need to stop trying to screw customers over to wring out every drop. (The new educate and warn policy that the RIAA and MPAA are enacting is a good start).

My solution: Sell movies over the internet. Do it using the exact same format that pirates are using, because it removes the different in convenience from the equation, and brand loyalty along with cost become the deciding factors. Find out what the cost of manufacturing a BluRay disk is, subtract that from the normal 20 dollar price, and use that as the starting price. Possibly even lower the price. The will appeal to customers’ senses of fairness, because it won’t seem like the companies are trying to rip users off. Streaming services like Hulu Plus could offer accumulating credits as well. For every month you buy their service, you could download one movie to keep, perhaps. This allows Hulu users to keep their favorites while still paying for the monthly streaming.

Would something like this kill pirating? Nope, not at all. What it would do is mitigate it, hopefully to a large degree. Pirating has almost become socially acceptable. People read stories about lawyers fishing for settlements and public opinion shifts to consider the large film corporations to be the bad guys. By offering legal alternatives with no downsides, companies can start bringing average Joe back away from pirating. There will always be hard cases who pirate just to do it, but it won’t be the problem we have today.

Learn more the author of this post:

Andy Mercer
Andy Mercer is an undergraduate Civil Engineering student at Purdue University. Currently employed by ITaP (Information Technology at Purdue), he is interested in web design and programming. In his spare time he enjoys killing zombies and playing his 360.