In Real Life

Can The Creative Industry Ever Mesh With The Pirates?

AFACT’s loss in the high court on Friday brought to an end the current legal woes for iiNet, but it’s far from the end of the story. In the press conference held afterwards, iiNet’s Michael Malone repeatedly pressed home the point that a lot of the problems would go away if Australian content delivery mechanisms were better. I agree with him, but I’m left pondering if that won’t bring with it a whole new host of problems.

One of the key frustrations with any TV series if you become a fan is the speed at which programs hit the airwaves here. Television networks are remarkably fickle creatures, with some seasons chopped in half, skipped over or forgotten about entirely. Gaming isn’t much better; for some major console releases, and even for things like digital-only console releases, where only bits have to change hands, we can wait months or years… or forever.

From that perspective, I do understand why some people do go about getting content via “other means”. That doesn’t make it legal, but you knew that anyway. I’m in an interesting position as regards this kind of topic, because clearly I make my living providing works (in my case, mostly written words) that have value because of copyright. It’s an inbuilt bias that I can’t and shouldn’t ignore.

Without it, I go hungry, but I’m also keenly aware that copyright is a contentious term, especially for older works. Quite why Mickey Mouse, or the lyrics for “Happy Birthday” should still be under copyright protection genuinely baffles me. On the gaming side of things, gaming is a little younger, but the number of defunct gaming companies makes sorting out the rights to things a tortuous proposition in any case.

So, the oft-heralded solution for this problem would seem to be fast-tracking content to the land down under, and making it painless to pay for access to TV episodes and video games, whether that’s via free-to-air or a purely digital delivery service such as iTunes. It’d solve a percentage of the piracy problem — but I sadly suspect not for terribly long.

The key problem that I suspect would crop up anyway is one of price. I’m not talking here of those that would pirate at any price because they simply have no money anyway; you’re not going to sell something to them in any regard. The chances are exceptionally high if you’re reading this in Australia that you’re simply not one of those folks. We’re a comparatively wealthy nation, after all.

Now, this is just a hunch, and I could well be wrong, but the reason I’ve got this hunch is because of what’s happened with App pricing over the past four years. We track App sales every day at Gizmodo; App Deals is one of our most popular daily pages, because everyone loves a bargain, right?

That’s true, but equally true is the fact that people quickly adapt to what they think of as “normal” pricing, and become outraged if pricing is “too high”. Outside of a few vertical applications, and very few games, try to sell an app for more than 99c on iOS (sometimes a little higher on Android, WP7 or Blackberry), and you’ll be met with howls of outrage.

While it’s been the accepted wisdom that a console game title costs a bit more, and productivity software often quite a bit more, selling anything except for a buck is apparently baseless profiteering.

(yes, yes, I know; people import games and movies all the time to cut costs too, but that line of thinking is a diversion from the point I’m trying to make)

I suspect price would be the problem with content delivery for larger works as well; while there would be folks who’d pay for content, price setting is going to be very tough indeed. Why buy $5 episodes when the DVD seasons quickly drop to $20? Why not just pirate them? I’m not advocating that, by the way — but it’s all too easy to see the mindset that might switch from “they don’t make it available quickly enough” to “they charge too much for it, so I’ll copy it instead”.

Value’s one of those things that’s very hard to pin down, because it can be personal. I dropped Foxtel a number of years back, simply because I worked out I wasn’t watching very much of what it was offering. Experimentally, I deliberately ignored my Foxtel box for a week to see how much I “missed” it. When I realised the answer was “not at all”, I cancelled my subscription, because to me it wasn’t good value. I’ll happily buy a digital copy of a program (whether that’s purely digital or on an optical disc) at the right price, as long as I can see value in it.

How long would it be before those that hide behind the “I only pirate because it’s not available here” excuse flip over to the “I pirate because they charge too much”, especially when the concept of what’s too much varies anyway? For some, I strongly suspect it wouldn’t be long at all.


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