So I was just reading a blog post by David Pogue of the New York Times
where he talks about the responses he got from a large group of college students about engaging in various forms of copyright violation. I'm not going to rehash the whole thing here, but basically none of the students that that copying CD/DVDs or downloading music/movies off bittorrent or Limewire or whatever is wrong. I'm not going to say whether I think it's wrong or not, but I am going to state what I think is the reasoning behind jusitification of said copyright infringement.
First of all - cost. He was asking a group of college students. I happen to be in my senior year of college and I know how tight money is. If you go to the movies where I live (Utah) you'll pay around $8 per person for an evening show of a new movie. If you bring a date you just paid for a copy of the DVD - and that's if you don't buy any popcorn or drinks. Now things tend to get a bit murkier when you talk about music.
With music there is a different economic model (from the college students' perspective). You have highly publicized lawsuits against grandmothers sharing stuff by Kanye West, as well as some of these same artists encouraging people to stick it to the RIAA. Who do we listen to? The big bad coporation or the guy who makes the music we like to listen to?
Second - we have convenience issues. There is a lot of confusion now about copy protected CDs after the well-publicized Sony Rootkit debacle. If I put this CD in my computer is it going to mess up my computer? I use a Mac, is the CD even going to play? Will I be able to listen to the music I just bought on my iPod/Zune/etc? Downloading MP3s mitigates the portability issue, but you do run the additional risk of downloading a virus. The other disadvantage to file sharing is that actually finding a good-quality copy of what you want can be very tricky at time. Plus why would I go to the trouble of going to Wal-Mart or Best Buy when I can just fire up Limewire and get the latest album from [popular artist] when I can just download it from the convenience of the high-speed connection at my student apartment? Especially when I just want the one track that is playing on the radio. This BTW is a case where I think Apple has a serious handle on consumer sentiment. With the iTunes store in most cases I can just buy the track that I want - plus they now have a feature where you can apply the purchase price of that one track to the entire album if you decide you want the whole thing (I think there's a time limit of a week on that though).
The issue becomes a little different when you bring DVDs/movies/tv shows into the mix. With high-speed internet being fairly ubiquitous now it is trivial to find and download a movie or tv show - often before the show has aired or the movie has hit theaters. Incidentally the bittorrent copies of the TV shows actually look better than the cable broadcast AND they are usually commercial-free. I got what I wanted - and that's what the real problem is here. The content producers/distributors are not making the content I want to see available when I want to see it, in the format I want to see it in, and at a price I am willing to pay. I know that my preferences are different from that of other people, so I believe that the content producers need to find out what people are willing to pay, and how they want to see that content, then cater to that. Apple's iTunes store again has a serious thing going here with the ability to buy episodes of TV shows the day after they air. Two of my favorite shows happen to be Heroes and Battlestar Galactica. These shows air on Monday and Friday nights, respectively. I actually go out and do things when these shows are on so I pretty much never watch them live. I used to buy them off the iTunes store the next day for two bucks and watch them at my leisure. Well with this last season of Heroes I found myself downloading the episodes off bittorrent that evening and watching a commercial-free higher-bitrate-than-iTunes quality copy. Before NBC/Universal pulled their TV shows out of the iTunes store I never downloaded stuff like that off bittorrent. Amazingly they actually drove me to P2P file sharing as a result of them having offered me a carrot (which I paid for) and then subsequently taking it away. As an interesting side note, I don't buy the DVD release of a TV show (generally), but I was willing to plunk down two bucks an episode to watch new episodes of Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and The Office - which results in me spending about the same amount of money on each season of the show AND I'm not getting the special features included with the DVD sets. NBC is now losing money on me because I'm not buying the episodes in any form AND I'm not seeing the commercials since I'm not home to watch the show when it's on. I once had the ability to legally watch these shows at my leisure on my computer or iPod but that right has been revoked.
I recently downloaded a movie after its theatrical release but before the DVD release. I saw the movie twice in the theater (so there's $16), and then I found a DVD-quality copy on bittorrent. However, I didn't stop with just the copy I downloaded. When the movie came out on DVD I went and bought a copy. So did the studio lose any money on me? I'm going to say that they didn't (of course I was using bittorrent and I'm not a leech so I did upload some of it to other people). I was not watching my downloaded copy while the movie was still in the theaters - I was watching it when there was no other way to see it, and I had already paid to see it twice, AND I bought the DVD once it hit the shelves. Is that wrong? Legally it definitely is - morally, I personally don't think there was anything wrong with what I did. Now will anyone (other than the studios/MPAA and their lawyers) begrudge me the right to rip this movie that I have now paid $32 to view and watch it on my iPod or make a simple backup copy?
Copying technology is here to stay. Each time someone comes up with a new way to keep people from copying what they pay for the people will find a way around it. The only thing the studios and record labels have been able to accomplish in recent years is to alienate and generally piss-off their customers. They accuse us of being thieves - Microsoft is actually giving five dollars to NBC/Universal for every Zune they sell to cover some assumed cost of Zune users putting pirated content on the device. They try to play off copy protection technology as being good for the consumer, then they install a rootkit on your machine and tell you that it will help you listen to your music safely...and we (the thieves) continue to buy from the right-hand while fighting off a lawsuit coming from the left-hand. How dumb are we?
Labels: Apple, copying, copyright, infringement, Microsoft, MPAA, RIAA