What Should Be Done About Online Piracy? [You Told Us]

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I’m sure many of you reading this now are pirates, or, to give the practice its less-controversial title, online file-sharers. You are free to do whatever your moral compass tells you is right to do, but you are, depending on which country you reside in, likely to be breaking numerous cyber laws when you partake in this activity.

Laws against piracy of copyrighted materials existed well before the invention of the Internet, but this interconnected network of computers has turned piracy into an immediate and unfortunate problem for copyright owners of all shapes and sizes. The question is, where do we go from here? We sought to find answers to the problem of piracy in last week’s We Ask You column.

The Results

We asked you, What Should Be Done About Online Piracy? We wanted the honest views of the MakeUseOf readership, whether they constituted legitimate ways in which piracy could be halted, or an argument as to why piracy isn’t a problem that needs to be solved. I’m happy to report that we received the full gamut of views relating to Internet piracy.

A notable minority feel that piracy isn’t a problem at all. In fact, the idea of all content being available for free to everyone should be welcomed by both consumers and content creators. One of the arguments stated is that money should not be the absolute end goal here, and art will always be created regardless of the level of compensation.

However, the majority of people who responded to the question adopted the middle-ground. They may think the problem of piracy is being overplayed, but they can see why the current free-for-all has to be halted. Rather than taking a negative approach, this group laid out some common sense ways in which the problem of piracy could be lessened…

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  • Lower Prices. This means cheaper prices for digital content and software with no physical substance, and prices which are set different in all countries according to the income levels of those people in those countries.
  • Improve Availability. This means creating and endorsing new ways of distributing the content online, and giving people legal alternatives to piracy, such as using advertising to cover the costs of content.
  • Go Global. This means realizing that the Internet is a global entity, and if a movie, TV show, or album is released in one territory months before other territories it will be pirated. This is easily fixed by releasing content everywhere at once.

Interestingly not one person came out in agreement with the way piracy is currently being handled, which is creating tougher laws to try and counter the practice and going after individuals to mark them out as examples to others.

Comment Of The Week

We had great input from the likes of MunsuDC, Katharine W, Stephen Ellwood, and Mike Freeman, to name just a few. Comment Of The Week goes to Yannis Vatis, who won with this comment:

Piracy should be contended against, the way I see it. People who regularly download content for free usually fall into the following categories: a) they just want free stuff, b) it’s more convenient and c) they can’t afford to buy, view or rent content regularly.
Regarding the first category, there’s not much that can be done. It’s human nature to go for the option that provides the least risk. It is possible that the amount of people who are in this category will be greatly reduced by means of solutions for category b) and c).
Convenience is one of the primary reasons people download free content. For instance, people who live in countries outside the US don’t have access to amazing services like Hulu and Netflix. Sure they can pay extra to get a VPN or proxy but a lot of people are not as tech savvy or inclined to go through the added hassle.
Finally, price is always going to be the number one issue. The problem is not necessarily that people are not willing to pay money for software and content. It’s that for a lot of these things there is no real way for people to tell if they are worth paying for or not. Here’s an example, say I heard that Game of Thrones was a great show and I went and bought the first few episodes on some service. Unfortunately the show did not compel me as much as others and feel my money was wasted. I would have appreciated if the studio offered me, say, the first 2 episodes for free to just check it out. If I liked them as much I would at least be intrigued to buy the next episode and even if the show didn’t really pay off as much I would not feel that I wasted money. There are flaws in this suggestion, to be sure, but it’s just an example.
Content delivery is definitely getting better and better. There are tons of great services out there that have made things easier, and in some cases cheaper even. I don’t understand, though, how e-books are sometimes priced higher than their “dead tree” counterparts. I’ve read tons of articles on why digital content pricing works but I still feel the low pricing purpose – an important draw of digital distribution – is in some ways defeated. PS3 games bought on the PSN store are the same exact price as the disc, too.
My overall point is that piracy can be reduced if content acquisition gets more convenient, better and more flexible pricing models are introduced and content becomes truly global.

We liked this comment because it offers a common sense view on the issue of Internet piracy and some very real ways in which the problem could be tackled. It puts the onus on the industries involved to take the lead in improving the situation, rather than expecting consumers to simply toe the line. Which is, at this point, the only way any future compromises are going to be forged.

We will be asking a new question tomorrow, so please join us then. We Ask You is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. We ask you a question and you tell us what you think. The question is open-ended and is usually open to debate. Some questions will be purely opinion-based, while others will see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps to the MakeUseOf readership. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.

Image Credit: Richard Winchell

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