Tag Archives: piracy

Hulu: The Greatest Argument For Piracy I’ve Ever Seen

I should probably state two things right off the bat, just to set the stage. The first is that editing anything, whether it be a weekly all-comics print publication or a blog that floats a measly few thousand views a week [not a humblebrag, I know what good site traffic is], is difficult. The second is that I consider fellow Culture War Reporter Gordon one of my best friends on this planet. It’s for those two reasons that I find covering the issue of piracy, of the copyright infringement variety, so harrowing.

In writing this post I forced myself to do my due diligence and read over my co-writer’s others two articles concerning the topic, and it was truly an ordeal. While in his first there are some fairly reasonable assertions like “Some People Will Never Buy” they’re coupled with others like “Anti-Piracy Hurts the Environment”, a point that ignores outlets like Netflix and other similar legal streaming services that harm God’s green earth just as much as The Pirate Bay. The second covered the “Vindication of Piracy” predicated on an article published by the BBC. All I have to say about that is . . . covered in the lengthy comment I left on that very post, if you’d like to check it out on your own.

As you should be able to tell based on how the above paragraphs are written, I feel very strongly about this. Which should make it particularly notable when I say that due to recent events in the past week I almost agree with Gordon.angrymanfist-2400px copy

And it’s all because of Hulu.

Hulu is the most compelling argument I have ever come across that piracy is both legitimate and possibly even necessary.

Now it’s going to look like I’m talking down to you, but I just want to make everything as clear as possible.

When we watch TV we are bombarded by commercials because the networks need money [as we all do] to survive. Some of that money makes its way to showrunners and the like, and the more successful their programs are the more money, ostensibly, the network will give them, because you want to spend money on that which makes you money. Hulu is an American streaming service that allowed you to watch TV shows the day after they aired, but had them accompanied by ads, for obvious aforementioned reasons. Continue reading

Fame Day: American Literary Piracy

As I’ve already mentioned in a previous post, I’m back in school, so I feel like it’s my duty to share some awesome learning with you. After the piracy debate broke out between Evan and Gordon a little while back I settled on the perfect topic: how piracy saved American literature. Or, as we have been learning in my Canadian Literature class, how British Imperialism screwed over early Canadian writers. Quick, name 5 great Canadian writers! If you are anything like me you probably weren’t able to think up more than one or two. There are a lot more than that, by the way, you just have to look a little harder… and not necessarily in Canada.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

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.


EVAN:
 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!

 

Shame Day II: ISPs and the Six Strike System

Normally, Thursdays here at Culture War Reporters is dedicated to “Fame Day,” in which Evan and I call attention to people, events, or trends we think aren’t getting the attention they deserve.

But not today.

Partly due to my illness, partly due to some unforeseen time constraints, and mostly because of the severity of the issue in question, today there will be no Fame Day.

Instead, we’ll be performing an emergency Shame Day on the subject of yesterday’s terrible news that five major internet service providers (ISPs) will be implementing a “six-strike” system on people suspected of copyright infringement.

Let me break it down for you.

Normally, when you sign up with an internet provider, exactly what you do or don’t do with your connection is entirely and exclusively your business. Whether it’s something as impressive as you doing an electric guitar cover of the hallelujah chorus or as lousy as writing a thousand comments calling that same YouTube video gay is all up to you. What you read, what you write, what you post, what you view- the ISP is simply there (as the name states) to provide internet.

But no longer.

Yesterday, five major ISPs (Verizon, Time Warner, Cablevision, Comcast, and AT&T) announced that they would be participating in this anti-piracy initiative spearheaded by the “Center for Copyright Information” or “CCI”- a lobbyist group for a number of media groups. Quite simply, individual users suspected of “copyright infringement” will be given five warnings, the sixth “strike” resulting in their internet speed being slashed to dial-up quality for an unspecified amount of time.

Now you’re probably thinking “Hey- just don’t pirate stuff and you’ll be fine!” and you know what?

You’re right. You don’t have to pirate.

I’m taking over from this point on for a number of reasons. For the most part because although Gordon had good things to say, he didn‘t necessarily say them well, and in some cases didn’t make very much sense; we’re going to chalk that up to his recent illness. I will be relating to you what points of his that I can, while adding my own.

-Evan.

Gordon’s next point is that for the most part, many people pirate because of time and money. Focusing on time, the truth is that we can’t always guarantee that we’ll be at home on a Thursday night to catch The Office. Maybe we’re working another job [many of us need to], or maybe we just forgot. What options does this leave us?

For those of us in America, Hulu is always an option. The on-demand streaming site once provided a very broad range of TV programming, and Gordon points out that it’s a fantastic resource, or at least used to be. Nowadays, however, it’s a lot more difficult to use than it used to be. Hulu Plus, which requires a subscription, is needed to watch a lot of older shows, sometimes even episodes that aired a month ago, if New Girl is any indication. With one of the most convenient resources made less so, is it any wonder that so many people simply turn to torrents?

Gordon’s next point, and a very valid one, is this issue of the Six Strike System and how it relates to piracy. There’s an issue of what exactly is at stake here. Gordon insists that the answer to that is everything, and while I’m not fully with him on that, there’s some sense to what he’s saying.

The thing is that almost anything can be considered copyright infringement. YouTube covers, memes [which often use screenshots of shows like Futurama {see: our Shame Day image}], Gordon’s beloved gifs, even many of the pictures of this blog, in spite of being Photoshopped, don’t technically belong to us.  Would we have our internet cut because we run this blog? [Answer: I wouldn’t, because I am Canadian.]

To finish off what Gordon wrote earlier today, the issue is that the people in question aren’t being penalized by an international agency, or even the state or federal government. The fact of the matter is that these ISPs are “using their lobbies to persecute and prosecute suspected users without due process” [quoting Gordon]. What truly incensed him more than anything, though, was the way they’re going about it. That they’re holding themselves up as Knights of Good when in reality they’re just proud that they’re “selectively picking off anyone their bosses deem a threat to their unending stream of profit.”

Untitled-2

Piracy is not a subject I agree with Gordon on, and in fact I had a very hard time letting his last piece on the subject be put up on the blog. If people really, truly love art, whether it take the form of television or movies or video games they need to vote with their wallets and know that what they love is worth spending money on.

That being said, I do believe that what these ISPs are doing is wrong, particularly in that they have no one to be accountable but themselves. No business or corporation should have that right. Shame on these ISPs, and shame on the Center for Copyright Information.

A Brief Argument Against Anti-Piracy

Over the past couple years, the issue of regulating the internet has repeatedly arisen, and while there have been many issues contributing to this, there is perhaps none more well known than the contention over copyright infringement and piracy.

Now for  a brief disclaimer.

I am a Marxist. I do not believe in “property” as the word would be recognized today. Every written work, every film, every piece of art belongs to every human being living. The Godfather series is just as much a part of our legacy and inheritance as the Mona Lisa, and as such, access to it should be enjoyed by all.

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This is all to say that I don’t view “copyright infringement” as constituting any true offense. On the contrary, it’s simply the people taking back what was rightfully meant for them to begin with- but I’m not here to talk about that.

No, I’m here to talk about how the music and film industries’ witchhunt for media pirates is doing them (and everyone else) far more harm than good. Let me break it down for you.

I. Some People Will Never Buy

It’s a strange statement, but a true one. There may be a slim minority of people who pirates actually are keeping from the major industries through their cheaper/free service, however it ought to be fairly safe to say that there are plenty of people out there who would not otherwise listen to certain artists or watch certain shows. We’re living in tough times, and with your average movie ticket running at about twenty bucks (to say nothing of the gas getting to the theater and back), for many of us piracy is the only way we’ll see new movies and shows. Assuming there’s a segment of the population who will never, ever pay to see The Godfather, stamping out free avenues- namely piracy- doesn’t save the industry any cash. On the contrary, it just means that those people who don’t get to see the movie because they won’t pay for it aren’t talking about it, and generating buzz that might well attract people who will pay to see the movie. And speaking of them…

II. Some People Will Always Buy

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Just as some people simply can not or will not pay (such outrageous prices) for entertainment, you will find people who will spare no expense when it comes to it. There are plenty of people who want to see movies on the big screen. There are plenty of people who want to see their band live in concert.The Mona Lisa is a perfect example of this.

No ownership claimed...

You can see pictures of Mona Lisa anywhere; it’s one the most widely recognized images in human history. Because it’s available for free most anywhere, no one will actually go see it, right? After all, it’s been “pirated” to death. Yet that room in the Louvre is packed wall to wall with people who want to see the thing for themselves. Why? Because it’s the original. Doesn’t matter that it’s roped off, or behind glass, or barely visible, or that the guards usher you along after thirty seconds- it’s still wildly popular. The same is true of all media. 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.

III. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Audience

You may not have experienced this in the states, but there was once a time when DVDs were listed by region codes, and could only be played on players that recognized that region. In other words, a DVD from America couldn’t be played on a DVD player from Europe and vice versa. You were granted a limited number of “switches,” but seeing as how you typically only got seven, it just put off the problem, rather than solving it. The goal (one of ’em, at least) was to prevent international piracy of DVDs through cracking down on how far away they came from, but all that just came down to it being a huge hassle for everyone, regardless whether or not their purchase was legitimate. Imagine all the time, money, and manpower that was invested in that venture that wound up solving nothing and quite possibly leading the industries involved to lose more money over that debacle than they would’ve lost to actual piracy. The same could be said for those hyperbolic ad campaigns comparing piracy to car theft

IV. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Industry

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. Is it a guarantee? No, but it’s still a better chance for the industry to make some cash than by preventing the person from seeing the first film at all.

V. Anti-Piracy Hurts the Environment

Lastly, I have to point out that we have free access to most films, music, and TV shows anyways- down at the local library. Only problem with that is when I drive to the library, I’m spending gas money, creating traffic, and spitting out exhaust fumes. Now I can get most anything down there for absolutely free, and no one complains. But imagine instead that I save on gas money, I keep the streets clear, and I reduce my carbon footprint by staying inside and watching the same movie I would’ve gotten free at the library. Suddenly, I’m a soulless criminal. Does that make sense to you?

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What’s to be gained from all of this? Despite the doom-and-gloom prophecies of the industries, piracy continues on its merry path and yet we haven’t seen a decrease in the quality or production values of our movies.

Though "quality" is such a tricky word...We have more music artists now than we did a decade ago (at least, more access to them), in spite of piracy, and two of the most popular genres of our generation, techno and dub-step (I will never stop being ashamed of that) is heavily based on remixing and sampling other people’s work, i.e., piracy.

Look- I’m not asking the media giants to be happy about piracy, but at the same time, I have to question whether it’s really even worth it. All that cash being poured into anti-piracy gambits isn’t workingif it doesn’t already outweigh the revenue lost, wouldn’t all that time and effort be better spent elsewhere? Wouldn’t it be more profitable elsewhere?

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Just sayin’.

Free Information Culture

The last of my installments (for now) in looking at these rising alternative cultures is “Free Information Culture,”  which shares the same problem with “science” culture in that there’s really no good name for it yet. I’ve referred to it before as “internet culture,” only the problem with that is that, like “science culture,” it isn’t so much the culture of the thing itself as the culture of the fanbase. In simpler terms, it’s the difference between Hollywood culture and movie-lover culture- it’s the end product that’s valued.
So what’s the internet’s “end product”?

Besides porn and stuff like this…

Free Information.

Whether it’s the news, or Wikipedia, or TED Talks, or Imgur, or anything else imaginable, it’s on the internet for free and public use. It’s something of a great equalizer. No matter where you’re from, what language you speak, what class you hail from- you can create or say anything and then get called gay in the comment section.

And while that last bit is sort of a joke, it does play a role in developing the “free information culture.” Granted, general anonymity can make us vicious and vile people, but it also (to some extent) strips us of our egos. When you make something online, you really don’t get much, if any, credit, but that’s alright since it isn’t the point. It’s just about creating, nothing more or less. Who drew the first rage face? Who started up Bad Luck Brian? Who edited and sourced that one Wikipedia page you used to stitch your last minute term-paper together? Who puts together those monthly fail compilation videos? I don’t know and will probably never know, but I do know that they’ll keep coming because of the simple joy of creating them. I and every other person with a half-decent internet connection.

And all of this simply isn’t understood by some people.

Recall the massive outcry against the SOPA and PIPA bills? What prompted the creation of  these acts was that some people- certain corporations in particular- couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of free and unlimited access. Now maybe you agree with them, and maintain that posting copyrighted material of any kind is piracy and immoral, however, what needs to be understood is that this was viewed as an act on the very nature of the internet and everything it had come to represent.

Again excluding porn and stuff like this…

Now more and more companies are catching on to the idea that it’s wiser to try to work with the faceless and vengeful cat-worshippers of the internet than against them- just look at video game companies that are starting to work in tandem with modders. The game Minecraft in particular is a good example of this, as many of the new aspects of each update to the game coming from the fan-forums themselves. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of people out there (I’m looking at you, Music Industry) who continue to struggle (vainly) against the dissemination of what they view to be the “information wants to be free” crowd.

Again, it all boils down the core of the culture that the internet has produced, gravitating around the concepts of freedom and egalitarianism. Look at Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange.

If he did his work back in the early 90s, we can be pretty sure he’d be viewed overwhelmingly as a candidate for a James Bond villain. But today we (for the most part) view him as being a heroic (or at least positive) figure in a world that’s become increasingly secretive and unequal. Why this dramatic shift in perception? Again, it’s the internet and it’s affect on us. In a time of economic crisis we might not be able to go to the movies, or eat out, or drive for miles to see a friend, but we can watch something online, or browse recipes, or video-chat with the same buddies that you’d otherwise not be able to see. Any threat to your full and unrestricted access to the internet is, by proxy, a threat to some of the last pleasures you have left.

Hence the formation of a culture obsessed with the values of free speech, free access to information, and freedom from censorship. And with every development of the internet or our access to it serving as another leap in the evolution of the culture, it’s safe to say that the howl of anger that the governments of the world met when trying to create such bills as ACTA is only going to intensify.