The New Age of Piracy

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This week, I was covering a sociology class in a school that booked me as a cover teacher, and the lesson was about something I did when I was in school: Thomas Becker and interactionist theory of crime and deviance. In explaining that it is the society that influences what is right and wrong, I asked these teens whether some things were right or wrong. I asked the class whether piracy (illegal sharing and streaming of media) was right or wrong. Most of them said it was right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EnLVyNB52R8

Context

Piracy kills the movie and music industry. Piracy is also responsible for organised crime and terrorism. Your mother will leave your father, take the house, and spit on your grandmother’s urn if you pirate a movie. It seems a bit silly now, but this is what most youngsters would watch before a movie on video (basically a plastic rectangle with plastic tape that had data on it) or DVD (shiny disc with data on it read by a red laser). Warnings that piracy is bad for business.

Based on box office sales alone, the worldwide film industry is worth $138 billion, as of 2018. Losses due to piracy were around $30 billion. However, we fail to look at other ways that the film industry makes money. There is the selling of rights to air on linear television. A lot of money also comes from selling the rights of media to streaming services, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. There is also merchandise to consider. If you look at it that way, the film industry makes much more than they let on.

Does that make piracy victimless? No, as job losses do occur when enough revenue is lost to piracy. But things are becoming less simple these days.

Why do people pirate media?

We laugh now at public information films like that one, but they come from an era where we used to buy or rent media physically. It’s a good question. Not everyone who pirates is a terrorist, obviously. There are actually some good and compelling reasons. Some people cannot afford it, or choose not to pay for something they think is expensive or are unsure about. Some media isn’t available in a given country. This article gives more reasons and elaboration on that, but suffice to say, they’re not all terrorists and criminals

The Death of Traditional Piracy

You now see on Facebook a level of nostalgia for Blockbusters and Woolworths, because people my age went to those shops as children. A lot of younger people miss the point now, but to watch a movie, you had to go out and rent it, or even buy it.

It is increasingly rare these days to find a media cabinet like the ones I remember from when I was a boy. Televisions were big boxes in the corner of the room. Some people would have a Digibox, that just showed television, nothing else. To watch movies, you would have to do the following things:

  1. Go to a cinema
  2. Buy a subscription to a movie channel
  3. Have a VHS, or DVD, recorder to record programmes on your television. Sky+ was a luxury in those days.
  4. Buy or rent a video or a DVD (assuming you had a player)

That is how a lot of the early pirates started. You would go to a cinema with a camcorder and record an entire movie. And camcorders that could record a 2-hour movie were not inconspicuous. If you had a video recorder with a full VHS, you could copy media and digitise it later. If you had a computer, you could access both of these things, as well as official leaks, or DVD rips of officially released material.

The methods of piracy in those days seem somewhat backwards and simplistic to how we conduct ourselves today. But the film and music industries have changed this, and are largely killing off these endeavours. Streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox are the norm now. They have gone from something that was a luxury in the past, to a standard part of your living arrangement.

People do not need to own media anymore. People are not buying a DVD or Blu-Ray as much as they used to. Those who do buy physical media these days tend to be enthusiasts who can afford 4K Ultra Blu-Ray players (which cost hundreds of pounds) and buy said Ultra Blu-Ray discs. Your average consumer, who just wants to watch movies and TV shows, doesn’t need to buy it off his mate. All he can do now is pay a tenner a month, and get instant access to old and new stuff.

Your dodgy mate who pirates stuff doesn’t need to now. People can afford a monthly subscription to Netflix. Less people are watching terrestrial television, as they want to watch stuff in their own time, when they can. And now, you don’t have to wait years for movies to be on TV. They go on streaming services and movie channels in mere months of release. This is going to become a shorter window in years to come.

The New Pirates: Piracy for Ownership

Piracy for profit was what worried the industry. Losing out on the money that they could make selling you the movie. Nowadays, people don’t need to own the movie to see the movie. They don’t need the album to hear the album. They can pay for a service and keep paying for that service. It is a steady flow of income and the royalties constantly will come in. Why let them buy a thing once when they can pay again and again to see it?

Piracy is changing from something to make a few quid, to just owning the media. When they stop making DVD’s, CD’s, etc. and they stop making players to play those things, you’re screwed. You will only have the option to stream, or download something in order to keep it. In both cases, you’re still paying for a subscription.

And will people pay for multiple subscription services? As of 2020, the current crop of paid streaming services in Britain are Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox, Disney+, Apple TV+, WWE Network. All cost money, and a lot of them specialise in one thing. Disney+ is just Disney owned property, for £6 a month. That may include Marvel movies, Disney movies, and Star Wars, but where is the value in that?

Spotify, Amazon Prime Music, Tidal, Apple Music, et al. all have slightly different features, but each largely contains the same content. You tend to stick with one of the services, and usually, you bundle it with what you already have. eg: if you have Apple Music, you likely will have Apple TV+ or an iPhone. Same with Amazon. If you have one service, then it is a harder sell for you to buy into another.

If you want material from one or the other, you are going to have to pay. Some people will pirate this stuff, of course, and maybe they should. Not because it’s legal, like file sharing, but because people will simply refuse to pay to one and the other.

Conclusion

Piracy for profit or ownership is illegal, and I cannot stress that enough. It may be illegal, but people still do it. Some people cannot afford to watch or listen to media, and some people choose to share their music, movies, and TV shows because media should be a more open playing field. The music streaming services are still the best example of what streaming services should be. As media evolves and changes, we may see streaming change. I don’t think all the companies will survive. I predict, eventually, it will be a duopoly. However, It may not be right, but piracy isn’t going away.

More from If you ask Ben

Monopolies: Good or Bad?

iTunes: A Lament

HMV: It’s death could be bigger than you thought

 

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Ben

Since 2012, Benjamin Attwood has written for the If you Ask Ben blog.

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