Evan and Gordon Talk: Piracy

EVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, children with surprisingly discerning taste, Gordon and I have managed to look past the weariness of a day of work to bring you a new installment of Evan and Gordon Talk.

Today’s topic: Piracy.

GORDON: That’s right- having not actually received any suggestions on time last E&G Talk, we’ve resorted once again to choosing for ourselves. Let this be a warning to you.

EVAN: This topic arose organically, actually, due to a few posts by Gordon on piracy and my not being able to fully agree with them.

And no, it’s not that kind of piracy, though we did start a new pirate-themed D&D game just this past Sunday.

GORDON: And it shall be awesome- but back to the subject at hand. I’m going to start with some full disclosure:

I am not of the mind that piracy is, in and of itself, a great and noble thing. Any indication or implication of this on my part is usually just in reaction to the mainstream media’s portrayal of piracy as a crime on par with defacing priceless art, grand theft auto, and punching old ladies in the face.

 And in all fairness from my part, I will admit that I’m no saint when it comes to piracy. I stream a plethora of shows for my viewing pleasure, though I have [and this is likely the voice of Justification speaking] sworn off downloading full-length films, music, books, etc.

GORDON: And Evan, I will attest, is not some twisted chaos-worshiping miscreant devoid of honor or humanity, as the major media industries would have you believe. Well, not entirely, anyways.

Now, Evan, one of the justifications I’ve heard you use in the past is that you’re living in Canada. Many- if not all- US shows are simply unavailable outside of the States through any conventional means.

EVAN: This is true. And while I resided in the States for my post-secondary education I made frequent use of the free streaming service Hulu. I even watched, and somewhat enjoyed, the ads.

In Canada we cannot even watch the episodes on the channels’ respective websites [NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.]

GORDON: And you’re certainly not alone in that. The vast majority of the world is in the same boat, forced to choose between piracy or waiting a few years for the DVDs to come out and then pay an exorbitant fee plus crazy shipping costs. Better hope your purchase isn’t damaged en-route.

EVAN: Since we have been so good about being fair, I will point out that there are options- many television episodes are available to buy via Amazon, online. Before you ask why you should pay for something you would otherwise get for free I’d point out that you pay for these shows by watching ads, and that as someone not in the States you would not “otherwise get it for free” to begin with.

GORDON: And that’s something I can actually tolerate. In spite of my muting ads and/or talking back to them while giving the corporate pigs the finger, I’m perfectly willing to subject myself to ’em if it means cheap and convenient access.

EVAN: If I recall our time together in college correctly [which we both know I can, and do], I distinctly remember you blocking said ads with Adblock.

GORDON: Even though it meant the waiting time was ultimately longer.

EVAN: Which is besides the point. But let’s continue onwards: is piracy damaging?

GORDON: The continued existence of Hollywood, as well as the ever increasing budget of films, would seem to indicate otherwise.

There are people out there who might try to argue that piracy hurts new musicians, who can’t afford to lose profits like big businesses can, but that’s a flawed argument. Truth is, musicians only get a sliver of the profits they generate, and wind up losing the rights to their own songs in the process. Working independently with the consumer is generally a safer and more profitable move.

EVAN: I will not argue with what you have said about musicians for a second. The amount they make through selling single tracks on iTunes is deplorable.

What I will point to, however, are the other areas where piracy can [and does] occur. Television series live and die based on their ratings, and buying them does nothing to help what’s perfectly good [if not great] television. Similarly, if only 1,000 people decided to download a new issue of a comic book instead of simply paying the three or four dollars, that could mean the end of that series; titles that dip below 20,000 are typically cancelled soon afterwards.

GORDON: I agree wholeheartedly. But I think that speaks the whole reason piracy exists- not malice, but rather cost and convenience. These people- especially television producers- have got to understand that their old metrics for measuring the popularity of shows are dead.

It’s the equivalent of saying communication isn’t popular because house phones are dying out. No, we’re just turning to new, cheaper, and more convenient methods. Piracy could be dealt a deathblow if these major industries would just step up their game, rather than trying to use lobbies and buy off politicians to keep us dancing to their tunes.

EVAN: The thing is, I think in arguing for “cost and convenience” you run the risk of defending those who just a) want to get quality products for free b) whenever they want.

It’s not just that people want ease in accessing what they love, the truth is that when given the choice between paying and not paying people will always opt for the latter.

GORDON: I agree such people exist.

EVAN: As I stated in your Shame Day post about the internet providers and their lobbying group, if people really love something they should be willing to sacrifice both time and money. Maybe that means working around an 8 pm show if it truly means that much to them, or paying for a copy of Captain Marvel.

Not to bring it back to comic books [who am I kidding, it’s what I do], but you putting down a few dollars means that a talented writer or artist is able to keep on doing what they do: providing you with high-quality stuff. That’s an actual case where piracy can severely jeopardize both artists and their art.

GORDON: Again, I agree. I do believe in paying for what I love. My record collection stands as a testament to this, as does my choice to spend a few extra bucks buying beer produced by one of the few ethical companies on this blighted earth.

Tell me this- you like the show New Girl, right?

EVAN: Immensely.

GORDON: Would you pay fifty bucks American to watch the show at 4:12 (and ONLY at 4:12) in the afternoon?

EVAN: I would not.

GORDON: How ’bout ten cents to watch it whenever you so desire?

EVAN: Yes indeed.

GORDON: You and millions others, am I right? Ten cents for a crisp, working copy rather than some choppy, blurry pirated version where the sound and video are out sync?

EVAN: Oh, I stream at only the highest quality.

GORDON: That’s my point, I guess. Yeah, there will always be people out there who don’t want to pay the ten cents, but overwhelmingly, that kind of price and convenience will make such a minority negligible.

I assert again that piracy doesn’t exist because millions of people are art-hating maniacs, but because the business plans of these networks and companies are painfully obsolete and short-sighted, especially in regards to the international market. Heck, I’d say such changes could ultimately lead to these companies turning a healthy profit- especially if they just included some advertising à la early Hulu.

EVAN: Here’s the thing, the US already has a working model of what you just said. As I mentioned you can purchase episodes of stuff on Amazon, and I’m talking $2 an episode. That is reasonable. I don’t think your average American would look at that price and think, “There’s no way in Hades I am spending two dollars on a 45-minute episode of television that I can keep forever.”

Yet in spite of that, people in America still download TV shows all the time. If it doesn’t work for them, what makes you think they can extend something like that to the rest of the world?

GORDON: Firstly, I disagree that 2 bucks is reasonable for an episode. That’s the cost of an entire dinner right there. How much more so is that going to be true for the rest of the world, who have even less?

I mean, we’re not talking about a book or a record which goes through an intensive manufacturing process for each copy- we’re talking digital here. Every man, woman, and child on Earth could be given every book, movie, song, and piece of art on earth if the masters so chose…

EVAN: Gordon. It’s two dollars. The average American does not spend that much on a full meal, they spend that much on stuff they don’t need, like gum or coffee or inane tabloids. As a country America is more than able to pay that paltry amount and yet they do not. My point stands.

I’d further argue that since it’s digital that ease of access adds, not detracts, from its value. You can watch it whenever and wherever you want.

GORDON: What I mean about it being digital is that it doesn’t cost money (anything noticeable) to reproduce it, unlike hard copies of things such as books or art. With that mind, charging two bucks an episode seems to me to be unreasonable. I’d cite the fact that for 20 dollars you can get a season of a show with (at least) 20 episodes as proof of this. The cost can, and should, be lowered for great consumption.

EVAN: Like I said, we’re adding availability as a variable. Sure, you can pay 20$ for a full season of a show, but that’s waiting a year or however long it takes for it to come out. People are also paying for the availability of getting it when or soon after it airs.

GORDON: That’s gonna be different from company to company, but for the most part, that’s true. But I’d jump back to my complaint about how little the actual artists get in all this. If anyone- anyone– is gonna set a price, let it be the ones producing the work.

EVAN: Honestly, though, that’s an entirely different argument.

The fact of the matter is that if a writer/artist wanted to print their own comic book there’s no way they’d be able to do it on any significant scale on their own, the cost of printing alone would wreck them.

Different industries pay those who work in them different amounts, and it’s not the topic of our conversation this week.

GORDON: Again, my issue isn’t with the fact that we must pay; we can all get behind this. My issue is with the terms and conditions we’re subjected to- especially when big companies start throwing their weight around to slow progress.

If piracy is the rampant issue that they say it is- and I seriously contest that- then I submit that the fault is on their part for adopting inconvenient, pricey, and exclusionary policies. Let me put it this way:  If you say apples can only be purchased by people who’ve climbed Mount Everest, you’re gonna create a lot of apple thieves.

EVAN: We’ve left you a lot to think about, even if you’re not someone who refreshes a website over and over waiting for a new episode of 2 Broke Girls to pop up [did you know I review that show?].

So with that ladies, gentlemen, and genius babies, we bid you a happy Wednesday. We came up with this week’s topic, but you can decide if next week we talk about . . . um . . . Dungeons & Dragons. How we’ve chosen to play it and why we think it works [better?].

GORDON: Alternatively, you may vote that we discuss the role of religion in our (relatively) secular society.

EVAN: Thank you, as always, for reading, and please vote!


8 responses to “Evan and Gordon Talk: Piracy

  1. I have to say that Gordon’s argument regarding music is deeply flawed. Yes, musicians only get a minuscule portion from their record sales, but this isn’t the whole picture. The majority of what musicians make is from live performances, and their ability to book these performances is tied into their record sales. If their sales are higher, they get more shows, or they get more opportunities to tour with more popular bands and increase their notoriety. This is why many bands still come out and castigate piracy. Their profit IS damaged by piracy, just indirectly.

    • I’d say that notoriety is caused by mass awareness- and the crazy cost of music hurts that, rather than improves it. Easy and cheap access to music means you’re more likely to find someone you like and THEN buy a ticket to their concert.

      Yes, the powers that be are only gonna give the time of day to musicians who make ’em money via record sales, but that speaks worse of the record industries more than anyone else. “You do 90% of the work, make me 90% of the profit and I’ll kick you 10%”? That’s exploitation.

      • I can agree that it speaks to flaws in the industry, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is how it currently works. Whether we like it or not, piracy still hurts our favorite musicians in their pockets. Short-changing them doesn’t strike me as a viable means of changing the system.

        Another thing worth considering: regardless of who gets the majority of the revenue from record sales, the fact remains that buying music is more convenient and often cheaper now than it’s ever been. For example, every month on Amazon there’s a new list of 100 albums available for $5, and I can usually find at least one album I’ve been wanting to buy in each set. If a person’s not willing to put down $5 for an album, that’s just sad.

  2. Great article. One of the biggest reason I pirate movies is because they just aren’t being released here. I actually prefer my movies on DVD, since you don’t need to worry about things like an internet connection, hard drive space, or media compatibility (if you’re watching it on a TV, for example). Hell, you can even watch them during a power outage if you have enough battery on your laptop. My favorite director released a new movie, Kotoko, in 2011, which still doesn’t even have a US release announced (even though it played at festivals here). I’d gladly pay full price (or more) for it if I actually could. Also, two other issues. Anime DVDs are insanely expensive (you can easily pay over $100 for a relatively new and popular 12 episode series, which generally have to be purchased as individual DVDs with 3-4 episodes on each), and even people who want to pay often can’t afford that. And what about pirating movies or music that’re out of print? I’m not going to spend $100 on a used copy of a movie where absolutely none of the money is going to get to anyone involved with the movie.

  3. Dang it, Gordon, you misspelled “comparatively” in the poll.

  4. Pingback: A Vindication of Piracy | Culture War Reporters

  5. I think the root of the issue lies in convenience. Not just “aw man, that show is only on at 8pm? How inconvenient” but “I can never watch this movie/play this game. Ever.”

    I commented before about how I started pirating because my European DVDs, which I had paid a lot of good money for, were suddenly worthless when I moved to the US. Movies which I owned were stolen from me because I crossed a border. That kind of restriction only hurts the consumer and that’s one kind of inconvenience that leads to piracy.

    When it comes to video games there’s an entirely different issue with piracy. I am literally ashamed of how many video games I pirated while in college and I have since deleted all my illicit copies and paid several hundred dollars to buy the games legally. But here’s the thing about buying games legally. Most games today have DRM or some sort of anti-piracy protection or program built in. The problem there is that DRM can often make your computer unable to run the game. The game you may have just paid sixty-effing-dollars for. An example from my own experience is Fallout 3. On my Lenovo R61 I was able to run my pirated copy of Fallout 3 with ease. But once I bought it legally and my legal copy had DRM running with the game it would crash on start up every time. I had now paid money for a game I could not play. Not only that, but I had paid money for a game that I could have played if I had pirated it. I was literally punished for not pirating.

    This is the problem with how things are set up right now. Until corporations stop handicapping the consumer people will continue to pirate to get around unreasonable restrictions.

    • I like what you had to say about DVD regions, and it definitely is a problem. It’s not a big deal on computers, but you can only change a DVD player’s region a finite number of times.

      As for video games you are not “literally being punished for not pirating”; that’s flawed logic. It’s definitely the studio/publisher’s responsibility to provide you with a product that works free of problems, and you should take that up with them, but that is not them chastising you for obtaining their product legally. That’s not an unreasonable restriction, that’s clearly a bug of some sort.

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