12 March, 2014

Where Does Piracy Stem From?

Almost as big of a question as how do you stop copyright infringement, if not bigger, is where does it actually stem from? Why do people pirate content for which they should pay for enabling the content creator or creators to benefit from their hard labor. Although a myriad of answers can be given and argued, a recent unearthing of a letter by Google to the Australian Minister of Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, gives the communication company's view as to the question.

In their letter Google's Head of Public Policy, Iarla Flynn, expressed the company's view on the root causes of piracy: "...we believe there is significant, credible evidence emerging that online piracy is primarily an availability and pricing problem". On the face of it, one can agree with Ms. Flynn's assertion. Although blatant entitlement and sheer greed can be the reason for many when it comes to piracy, more often than not this can be pure availability. The most pirated TV show of 2013 was Game of Thrones, which provides the perfect example of this conundrum for many. As such the popular fantasy show is incredibly hard to access all over the world. It is provided as a part of HBO's GO system, which allows for the instant viewing of the channel's shows on-demand alongside its broadcasting on the actual HBO channel. However, the service is only usable in the United States, and even there the pricing can be steep, access costing over 100 dollars a month, as it is included in cable service bundles, being inaccessible to those without a qualifying package. Due to this many clearly have no other option but to pirate the show if they want to follow it as it progresses, or wait until the season is released on DVD and being severely behind on the newest developments discussed at the water cooler. Money isn't necessarily the only issue here either, with delays in the show's airing times contributing to piracy  rates as well.

As a possible solution to this problem is the increasing of availability and making pricing both affordable and equitable. A great example of recent successes proving just that are both Netflix and Spotify. Both services provide the consumer with the opportunity to pay a monthly fee for unlimited listening or watching of music and television. Although regional offerings vary in terms of content, both services have showed success in curbing piracy. Are they the answer to piracy fully? Arguably not. Copyright infringement is all too convenient, easy and has become a part of peoples' daily lives, with the stigma associated with it having almost fully dissipated as a result. There will be no time where people will not abuse that which they have the ability to abuse, and the Internet as a vehicle is no exception.

So what would the answer be? This writer for one would not be an advocate for more strict regulation and surveillance to prevent infringement. This would simply result in the increased disapproval of such actions, as can be illustrated by the recent Internet filtration by the United Kingdom, and only hinder access by those who legitimately want to access content. Arguably the ball is in the content providers' court, and the legislature should encourage the market to react rather than demand more regulation. With recent reforms showing a clear intent to expand freedom in relation to copyright, the onus is more on the providers than ever.

Piracy has been, and will remain, a hot button topic in the scheme of copyright, and rightfully so. Discussion should encourage change on both sides, but still remain sensible enough to prevent over regulation on strict surveillance. Although discussion has been scarce in the US especially, one can only remain hopeful and keep the discussion alive.

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