A Vindication of Piracy

A while ago (and with great reluctance from Evan), I posted a defense of piracy.

Understanding how much Evan and I differ on the subject, I wouldn’t have written anything more about it- had the BBC not just put forth an article kinda vindicating my entire position.

Oh, you better believe I’m gonna be cocky about this…

Let’s start from the top.

Netflix, it is reported, has just announced that it has been tracking trends in movie and television piracy to help it decide which shows to obtain. The article cites, “Netflix’s chief executive, Reed Hastings, had previously told the site that he believed his video-on-demand product might discourage people from using BitTorrent piracy sites because it was easier to use.”

Because it’s easier to use.

Now what did I write back in 2012?

Oh yeah:

Some people- plenty of people- will part with their cash to see Avatar in 3D, rather than watching some grainy, laggy version taken on a hand-held video camera in Thailand.

There exists, I argued, a portion of the population who will always prefer the quality, speed, and user-friendliness of mainstream sources, even with a price attached. In fact, the article states that “In Canada BitTorrent is down by 50% since Netflix launched three years ago.”

Half. Half of all Canadian piracy gone in 3 years due to easier access…

Hmm- what else did  I say?

And while we’re talking about the industry shooting itself in the foot, let’s not forget the fact that preventing access to one film will very often lead to prevention of access to another. Quite simply, a person who doesn’t see The Godfather is not likely to go see the sequel, whereas someone who has seen The Godfather has a far better probability of winding up trying to see the sequel, either legitimately or through piracy.

Again, this statement is bulwarked by the article, citing comments made by hit show Breaking Bad‘s creator, Vince Gilligan. In an interview with British entertainment magazine Digital Spy, Gilligan was asked if he believed that piracy had played a role in his show’s success. His response was as follows:

They probably did, if I’m being honest… it got the word out in regards to Breaking Bad. For a long time, before Netflix really had its advent, it was the only way folks around the world could catch up with the show at all. And being aware of that, there has to be a bit of gratitude on my part for that having happened.

Heck, the CEO of Time Warner himself came out in (tenative) support of piracy. Commenting on how subsidiary company HBO’s Game of Thrones had become the most pirated series in history, he stated:

“Our experience [of piracy] is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying [subscriptions] and more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising.

“I think you’re right, that Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Now that’s better than an Emmy.”

Oh, and remember when the entertainment industry got so worked up about the supposed billions it was losing in profits that it attempted to get SOPA passed? You remember SOPA, right? The law effectively destroying the internet as we know it and giving copyright holders (not the artists, mind you, the copyright holders) carte blanche on prosecuting and heavily fining anyone they believed was using their “intellectual property.” Had it passed, this blog could’ve been shut down for me simply having used this GIF below:

Wesley was the Dread Pirate Roberts for a while, so it’s still technically within the theme of this post…

Yeah, in spite of their protestations that the very core of the movie and music industry was being eaten away by piracy, SOPA was knocked back and the lobbyists crawled off to lick their wounds. While they did swear revenge, the fact that 2013 has seen the greatest movie profits in history (with profits in excess of 10.8 billion dollars) would seem to hammer the last nail in the coffin of the whole “I’m just a poor, little multinational corporation- doesn’t anyone care about me?” spiel.

That said, this shouldn’t be interpreted to be the end of the issue of piracy- not by a long shot. I fully acknowledge that this doesn’t address the issue of the truly little-guy musician in the grand scheme of things (with the industry as it is, we’re not seeing a ton of start-up film makers or tv show producers). Still, for all the arguments that “piracy takes money away from start-up artists who really do need the cash to support their careers,” I have to say that I’ve never actually seen this happen. Piracy seems to be directed towards the big fish- I’ve certainly never seen some acoustic guitarist off of YouTube fail to make it because people keep downloading her music for free. Firstly, there’s just not enough demand for such an obscure artist that avenues of piracy would even exist. Secondly, nobody- excluding Evan- cares about hearing some breathy, acoustic guitar cover of a decade old pop song, which is the real reason I think lots of these “little guy” artists never actually make it.

Yeah, there really aren’t a ton of non-“Pirates of the Caribbean” pirate gifs out there…

So there you have it. Not everything I said about piracy was vindicated, but some good chunks were (and by some pretty major players, too). It’s not a solution to the problem as a whole- and it is a problem, let’s not forget that- but, if nothing else at all, this new shift is a step in the right direction.

Another Note:

As of 09/22/13, Culture War Reporters broke 100,000 views. We would like to thank you all for your continued support- even those of you who found this blog with such search phrases as “Dakota Fanning Playboy” and- I kid you not- “Evan and Gordon Porn.”

Seriously, what’s wrong with you perverts?

8 responses to “A Vindication of Piracy

  1. Honestly, none of this vindicates piracy. Sure, some companies have found a way to swing it to their advantage. Sure, others can still get by, and maybe some of the “little guys” aren’t affected by it. But it’s still theft. It’s taking a product that isn’t yours without the permission of its distributor, and I’d say the immorality of that action transcends U.S. copyright laws. Certainly, if people made access easier, as Netflix has done, piracy will drop away, but that doesn’t mean that people are entitled to steal until those distributors make things easier on them.

  2. First of all, your claim that “Half. Half of all Canadian piracy gone in 3 years due to easier access…” is a huge fallacy. That is 50% down on a specific torrenting site, and doesn’t take into account other sites such as The Pirate Bay or non-torrenting options like streaming.

    Secondly, what can’t be measured or taken into account is what money isn’t being spent due to piracy. If someone chooses to, instead of legally purchase an mp3 by a YouTube musician and instead uses one of the many YouTube→mp3 sites that exist out there it’s money out of the musician’s pocket. If a hundred people do this that’s $100 of profit gone, and there’s no way of factoring that in.

    As far as the article “vindicating” piracy, all it really served to do was expose how Netflix uses pirating sites to inform their decision, and how piracy can get word out in regards to certain shows. This is piracy in of a specific medium, and even then that in no way excuses it.

    Just because movie profits have exceeded past records this year likewise doesn’t vindicate piracy. Do sales of any kind have to take a hit in order for us come out and say, “Oh, this should be illegal”? Stew’s comment above begins and ends the issue when he states that it is a) against the law, and b) immoral because it is stealing.

    I’m not even going to go into the issues of piracy in regards to comic books, which harms the industry in a very significant way, because this comment is long enough. I appreciate that you found these articles and people in the industry who are stating that piracy “ain’t all bad,” I just don’t believe these articles back up your stance on the matter.

  3. I personally don’t have a problem with streaming/downloading large budget productions. Up until very recently it was actually legal in Canada, in fact I’m not sure the issue is entirely resolves as of yet (I will have to do a little more research). I just tend to agree that for smaller artists people get behind what they are doing and want to pay them directly. And as for the larger budget stuff, do they really need the money? Then again, maybe I am just excusing my own bad habits.

  4. This is something I’ve internally debated for quite some time. I have friends who make music and have distributed it for free, knowing that getting their name out in the world is more valuable for them than %5 of a record sale that mostly goes to the label or distribution company. Their name out there = more people at shows, purchasing tickets when they tour, and more people buying records/merch directly at shows. If it’s about the art, and not the money, then people should be happy that their art has such a large platform to access people. The people who are losing money typically tend to be the middlemen; the ones who ‘handle’ the artist and take a very large chunk out of the profits. I’m not sure if it’s the same with the film/television industry, but downloading forces the market to adapt, and it is adapting with netflix and other content websites. There’s always money to be made, but it generally isn’t the artist who is making it, regardless of who is doing the stealing. That being said, I do purchase most of my music, because I prefer having a physical copy(I don’t appreciate it as much if it’s free), and I do most of my movie watching on Netflix, because it is more convenient and it doesn’t take up hard drive space.

  5. I’m seeing a lot of “the end justifies the means” arguments, which is really unfortunate. Another point worth making on the music front, too (which I think I’ve commented on before): while many piracy supporters cite how little of record sales actually makes it to the artist, they fail to factor in how the stats contribute to the artist’s success. Traditionally, artists get signed on for tours based on the financial success of their records, and if record sales go down, their live performances disappear (and with them, their primary source of income). It’s all well and good to say that artists should be happy about piracy because “art is for the sake of art” and they’re reaching more people with theirs, but the reality is that art and the artist’s financial stability need to go hand in hand.

  6. Pingback: Fame Day: American Literary Piracy | Culture War Reporters

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  8. Pingback: Hulu: The Greatest Argument For Piracy I’ve Ever Seen | Culture War Reporters

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