Making excuses for piracy

This argument is both ludicrous, and wrong. Ludicrous, because if piracy is actually wrong, it doesn’t get less wrong simply because you can’t have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay. You are not entitled to shoplift Birkin bags on the grounds that they are ludicrously overpriced, and you cannot say you had no alternative but to break into an the local ice cream parlor at 2 am because you are really craving some Rocky Road and the insensitive bastards refused to stay open 24/7 so that you could have your favorite sweet treat whenever you want. You are not forced into piracy because you can’t get a television show at the exact moment when you want to see it; you are choosing piracy.

If that’s not wrong, then hey, no need to write long articles about how they’ve really backed you into a corner. If you think it is wrong, then act like a grownup and wait until you can buy it legally. And really, if you wouldn’t write an op-ed urging storeowners to stay open 24/7 lest they drive their customers to a little light B&E, then please don’t write essentially the same thing about cable networks.

What a great article.

[Via Harry Marks]

  • I’m not arguing for piracy, but I understand it.

    There’s no real reason that we should have to wait months for shows. Bits can flow freely. Why do customers have to wait 6 months to see the latest Sherlock episode? There’s no good answer to that question.

    The ice cream metaphor is so off point as to be funny. I can get ice cream tomorrow, at the same price as today, and not some repackaged upsell pile of ‘bonus’ crap as my only option in 3 months. If the ONLY ice cream store in the country shut down for 3 months, and no one could get it anywhere else, I’m pretty sure there’d be more than a bit of B&E. Especially by pregnant women.

    Want to stop the B&E? Open the store every day. True for ice cream and digital items.

    • gjgustav

      You proved the ice cream point though. The Ice Cream store owner doesn’t have to open every day (the “at night” part you ignored is the equivalent of every day) if he doesn’t want to. And if he doesn’t want to doesn’t give you the right to break in and take it.

      Same with cable companies. There may be no good reason to wait 6 months to see the latest Sherlock episode, but it’s not for you to decide. It’s for the person that owns the copyright. And if they want to wait six months, it doesn’t morally or legally excuse you for torrenting it.

      • I didn’t excuse the behavior, just explaining the justification.

        If the copyright owner makes it available the next day, there is a lot less piracy. See iTunes/music for a perfect example.

        If the ice cream store owner (remember, the ONLY one in the country) wants to keep his store closed all summer, that’s his right. But I guarantee you, he’s going to get broken into.

        Both business models will have happier customers AND more revenues if they open every day.

        • rwitt

          “Both business models will have happier customers AND more revenues if they open every day.”

          Happier customers maybe, but better business models? That’s debatable. Showtime might make more money from this particular show if it offered Homeland as a digital download the day after it airs, but it believes moving to an a la carte model would lose money from subscriptions and cable bundles in the long run. Otherwise I guarantee you’d already be able to buy Homeland on iTunes.

          • Yeah, you sound just like the people who said the same thing about music. But it took Apple years of beating on their doors to get there.

        • Dennis Madrid

          I think you might missing the point, did you read the entire article, and the one it links to? HBO/Showtime’s business model isn’t selling their TV shows, it’s attracting cable subscribers. It’s an important difference. The whole reason the shows exist is to draw in cable subscribers. That they can make additional income on the side after the fact is a small bonus. The amount of money they make in cable subscriptions outclasses potential and actual profits on iTunes by a huge factor. That wont always be the case, but as long as it is then they will make decisions that will protect the majority of their income, rather than risk it for a small amount of additional income. Eventually the situation will change, and the source of profits will shift. When that begins to happen in a large enough amount they will adjust their business practices accordingly. They’re not stupid, nor do they not see where things are going (if they didn’t they wouldn’t be selling on iTunes in the first place) but until the revenue on iTunes starts comparing to their cable subscription revenue, it’s just not worth risking the greater for the lesser. (also, part of the reason they can make unique, expensive-to-produce content is because of all the money they make).

          • If this many people are pirating their materials, then it seems like the writing is on the wall. Their current business model is in need of shifting. You can only fight technology and human nature for so long before you have to actually adapt to stay in the game.

          • Thank you. That was the point I was trying to make in a round about way.

            It’s not legal, but torrenting should be a huge clue to the businesses that they’re leaving a lot of money on the table.

          • While I have no doubt that piracy is take from the potential profits of these networks, I don’t think there are as many people pirating their shows as you must think. I don’t see HBO or Showtime hurting right now. I don’t think the writing is on the wall just yet.

          • lucascott

            You got it. This is my industry and I hate that they are so blind. To this as well as needing to shift how they think about shows creatively. The age of 100 shows to hit a good syndie is over. 1 tight season of 20 episodes is sometimes a better viewing experience and they need to strongly consider that. They need to embrace that folks rewatch and discuss and catch errors and map out details from day zero etc. even perhaps filming those mega mini series type tales movie style at once before anything airs and promising to release everything on iTunes/amazon even if it is cancelled early so folks don’t feel like they will just start to get into a show and it is yanked away

          • “The amount of money they make in cable subscriptions outclasses potential and actual profits on iTunes by a huge factor.”

            You can’t possibly know that.

            The problem with iTunes/legal media is that it’s so hit or miss. What shows, what season, what episodes are available and on which services (netflix, hulu, itunes, local ondemand, etc)? It’s literally a dice throw.

            If everything was available on iTunes/ala carte, the business would be very viable.

          • rwitt

            You can’t possibly know it either. We’re all just speculating. But I have enough faith that Showtime’s managers have actually done the math and know their business better than you or I do. For now, Homeland on Showtime is what’s best for their business. That may change in the future, but it’s the current state of things. The fact that this is inconvenient for me still doesn’t give me the right to pirate their show.

          • I never once said it gives you the right to pirate anything. I’m saying it’s a stupid business model to drive people in that direction.

            They may have done the math, but they’re estimating too. And probably poorly. The music people don’t seem to be complaining after most of their online sales now come through iTunes. But they put up a similar squawk before doing so.

          • rwitt

            My personal theory is that Showtime is willing to accept a certain amount of piracy so long as they have enough subscribers. Right now, subscription service maximises revenue and offering a la carte programming is a loser for them. That said, things will almost certainly change in the future.

          • And we are saying that its a DUMB business model. Because all those pirates will NEVER subscribe, otherwise they already would have. Will some subscribers stop because its available? Probably.

            But nobody knows how many, nobody knows what the balance will be, nobody knows what will make the most money. Why? Because they refuse to even TRY. If they do, they can find out, and the can experiment with price points and availability.

            But not try means they don’t know how to run their own business, because leaving money on the table is bad business.

        • gjgustav

          I agree completely. But the topic at hand is not what content providers should do, but whether or not you are justified in taking an illegal approach when they don’t do what you want them to do.

          • Oh, I fully agree that it’s illegal, as that’s what the law says.

            I’m just saying there’s better ways to go about what they’re doing.

    • What is the incentive for people to subscribe if the episode of their favorite show is available the next day online? A lot of people do not want to hear what happens before they watch. It’s easy enough to do if the show is available the next day. Maybe not as easy for 6 months down the road.

      The subscribers are the ones who are paying to make some of these shows possible. Why shouldn’t they get an exclusive period before those shows are available to others?

      • Some people will subscribe, some people will buy. The total will be bigger than either one.

        However, right now you often can’t buy. And if you can’t subscribe (ie BBC), then you download. Illegally.

        But that’s money left on the table for the companies, and unhappy customers who have to go find it.

        • The total might be bigger. Some that subscribe, may choose to buy. Enough of that and the total goes down. It all depends on the price. We have a society that wants everything now and as cheap as possible. Because of that, as much as I’d like an ala carte model, I’m not as optimistic that the revenue (or profit) would be as high and that we’d have as much quality programming.

          It sucks if you can’t buy or subscribe, however, as much as you try to justify it, you have no right to download the content. I do agree with you though, in those cases, that there probably is some money left on the table for the companies.

          • I’ve said multiple times that I’m not justifying downloading. It’s illegal.

            I’m just explaining why it’s happening. Why the companies are driving their customers in that direction.

            I used to torrent music. I buy all of it now from iTunes. This is the stupidity of the movie/tv show business.

      • lucascott

        Actually they aren’t. Shows stay and go by the ratings which come from Nielsen. Funds from cable companies, like those from overseas, home video etc go into a slush fund. The only time they have anything to do with a particular show is the rare case when a show is almost meeting goal and inching closer and the net borrows from the slush to give it a bit longer to see if it gets there

  • Doctorossi

    Yes, she gets it precisely right.

  • easy to say as long as you live in the US. in europe we’re stuck with bad translated and crippled tv shows.

    some good shows will never get showtime at all.

    if i allready pay my cable and my cable provider pays the fee for a translated tv show then i think i’ve got the right to watch the show in it’s original language”.”

  • There’s no excuse for piracy, but there should at least be some effort made to understand it. Sometimes it’s not enough to just tell people not to do something – if enough people are doing the same thing enough of the time, it should be telling you something: that maybe your approach to how you sell your product to them isn’t working.

    Retailers study human behaviour to figure out how to arrange the products in their store. If they have all the men’s clothes at the back and all the women’s clothes at the front, but it turns out women are more likely to walk right through the store while men tend to walk in and walk out, it would be awfully stubborn and naive of the retailer to keep their store arranged the way it is.

    In the matter of piracy, they can cite the law and ethics all they want, but if a substantial amount of people are pirating material simply because it’s not available for purchase when and how they want it, maybe – just maybe – it would be worth looking into making these materials available when and how people actually want it.

    • Dennis Madrid

      Your point about understanding human behavior is valid, however I don’t think a substantial amount of people are actually pirating it. A substantial amount of the tech-savy, unplugged-from-cable, content-on-demand crowd, perhaps, but that’s still a minority of the population at large. I think HBO/Showtime/etc. understand human behavior quite well. They make good content knowing that it will encourage the majority of people to subscribe to premium cable channels, and it pays off in the large amount of revenue they make from cable subscriptions. As time progresses that will shift as the true majority of the population uses more on demand services. At that time they will adjust the availability of their content to match. Until then it makes sense to keep doing what their doing, even if it upsets a small subset of the population.

      • “Your point about understanding human behavior is valid, however I don’t think a substantial amount of people are actually pirating it. A substantial amount of the tech-savy, unplugged-from-cable, content on-demand crowd, perhaps, but that’s still a minority of the population at large.”

        I think this is the real problem. The minority is much more vocal about this making the issue seem larger than it actually is. Just because a person is one of the upset group that thinks that things need to change doesn’t make it reality.

        • You both make valid points that I hadn’t fully considered.

          “I think this is the real problem. The minority is much more vocal about this making the issue seem larger than it actually is. Just because a person is one of the upset group that thinks that things need to change doesn’t make it reality.”

          That’s pretty much my take on all the fuss about Twitter these days.

  • What a TERRIBLE article. For starters, comparing copyright- a government created privilege- to property rights- something inherent in being a human. Nobody loses ANYTHING if I download a watch a TV show. Somebody loses something if I steal. There are two different things.

    So why should I take this article seriously when it so obviously gets copyright wrong? And why are we blaming the pirates, and taking this high and mighty stance against them? We are talking about the wrong people. If there is not a paid alternative, people will pirate.

    We can whine about them, like Marco and you and a bunch of others who think they are better than the pirates do. But that won’t fix the problem. The problem is with the media companies, who despite this women’s protestations- DON’T know how to run their businesses better, or they would have paid alternatives. They ARE forcing people to piracy. They are just as blind as the music industry was.

    BTW, guess what music piracy got us- the iTunes store with DRM free music. So yes, piracy is the way to tell them what they are doing wrong.

  • lucascott

    The sad thing is that these types of excuses are addressable by the industry but they refuse to do it.

    Given that they bank on the ratings controlled ad money to cover the budget they likely don’t really need to charge $5 for an episode of a show like HBO does, or even the $2.99 of broadcast. Especially on a ‘half hour’ show. Folks are more likely to go for $.99 for a half hour, $1.99 for an hour and $2.99 for those 90 gigs like the BBC Sherlock. Put season passes with complete my season up on everything with a min 15% discount over buying one at a time. And SD, 720, 1080 in all titles. Adding the features you’d normally put on the Box sets at least with the season pass would be a nice touch. Same with multi audio, subtitles etc. even if you have to reup load that copy in a couple of weeks. Make it avail at midnight the night after first viewing for all stores or say ‘morning’ after in home country, everywhere else in a week. And so on.

  • somethingmissing

    Why do articles like this assume that companies like Time Warner are entitled to continue making the same profits and being the same size as they are currently, regardless of technological developments that kill their business models? They grew too big when they had the distribution channels by the balls, when they chose to force people to subsidise cynically-produced crap that fattened bottom lines and executive payouts. Now that technology has caught up with them they’re fighting tooth and nail, to the point of forcing though legislation across the world, to protect an obese business model that has been soundly obsoleted. I’m no fan of piracy, but let’s not pretend that these dinosaurs deserve their revenues. They invested far more heavily in their distribution lockdown than they did in producing only the best content. They (unlike their customers) valued distribution more than content. They worked themselves into a position where they were selling something other than what their consumers wanted to buy. They sold distribution, and their consumers put up with that to buy content. Now this is coming back to bite them, as technology devalues their distribution and consumers decide to pick only the minority of content that they perceive as having any value. Of course customers feel entitled to have easy access to content – from their point of view, that’s what what they’ve been buying all along. The entertainment industry are the whiners, not the consumer. They’re not facing up to the inevitable. They deserve to get smaller, and their profits should shrink, because the thing they were selling is no longer valuable. This may seem harsh, but I work in publishing, another industry that’s been rendered obsolete by technology, and I have zero sympathy for these crybabies. They have a chance to sell just content, sell what has value to their customers, but they’re eschewing it and choosing to whine and lash out instead. I consider the pirate vs network war to be a war in which both sides are morally condemnable, but one in which the pirates hold an unassailable advantage. The industry will shrink, and it will only have itself to blame. It’s just business.