Last month, Ron Miller gave us a blog that clearly distinguished content stealing from content sharing. The former is piracy, he argued, but the latter is not -- and Big Content (as I like to call the studios and music labels) couldn't or wouldn't tell the difference.
Ron went on to say that building a consensual solution to piracy won't be possible until Big Content lets go "of notions of total command and control." All very fair, except for the elephant in the room. Content stealing is indeed piracy, and it's here to stay. That's the really challenging fact Big Content has to get its collective head around. Or not.
Writing for Forbes under the brutal heading "You Will Never Kill Piracy," contributor Paul Tassi makes what seems to me to be the unarguable case that as long as people can download content much more easily and conveniently than they can otherwise obtain it (buy a DVD or go to a movie theater), then that's what they're going to do. Especially when there doesn't seem much chance of getting caught, and it doesn't really feel like stealing.
Let's pause right there. Never mind whether it feels like stealing, Big Content will say. Theft is theft. The trouble is that the classic definition of "theft," both in law and language, has always involved the intent permanently to deprive the rightful owner of the thing stolen. That's not happening with piracy. You can "steal" a thousand copies of a movie, and it will just keep reproducing itself.
Don't be silly, Big Content will say. We're talking about loss of sales, and there's plenty of room for debate about how large or small that loss is. It's not persuasive, however, to the individual who sets about downloading something for which he and she would not dream of paying the full price.
The first thing Big Content needs to get drilled into its saurian brain is that prices are set, ultimately, not by studios and music labels, but by the market. And the market -- except for certain niche segments -- is no longer willing to pay $30.99 for new DVDs, $17.99 for new CDs, or $26 for a couple to go to a movie theater (popcorn not included).
The second thing Big Content needs to grasp -- and this is where one might despair -- is that alternative sources for movies and music are not going to be driven out of business. Pirate Bay has been around almost 10 years and is ranked the 79th-most visited site on the Web.
Finally, the message Big Content needs to receive is a very simple one. If you can't beat them, join them. As Tassi shrewdly points out, companies like Netflix, rather than being Big Content's second-most deadly enemies (after the pirates), could actually be Big Content's saviors. Convenience and cost are the two factors that will keep pirates in business indefinitely. That's where Big Content has to compete.
Stop shackling content to the purchase of little shiny discs in plastic boxes (hello, Blu-Ray). Stop trying to prevent your customers from sharing things they already own. Instead, provide -- or allow Netflix or YouTube to provide -- readily accessible content at a price set by consumers. There will still be pirates, but the audience might be persuaded to give legitimate content another chance, if it can be obtained instantaneously and at an affordable price.
— Kim Davis , Community Editor, Internet Evolution