As early as the sixteenth century, countries were turning pirates to their cause by retitling them in exchange for not attacking the nation’s ships. By granting letters of marque, pirates were made privateers. In exchange for not attacking ships flying the colors of that nation, these pirates would not be attacked by the warships of that nation, but would have to give a portion of the spoils for attacking other ships. I think many pirate vessels found this to be an acceptable compromise; they didn’t have to give up their ways, but got some measure of safety out of it. From the nations point of view, they didn’t have to expend resources protecting their own ships from these pirates, but also got a kickback from it. They adapted to the situation at hand rather then trying to fight tooth and nail, a fight that would have cost them elsewhere if it was successful at all.
Yesterday, I ran across an article on TorrentFreak talking about the death of the music industry. As many of you who follow such news have heard, the creators of The Pirate Bay, a torrent sharing site, are being held on trial (with the prosecution failing from what I’ve read). What I find more interesting, barely anyone who doesn’t follow this kind of news knows of this upcoming trial, showing how little the sharing of music and videos actually matters to the public at large. The general public doesn’t care about file sharing… they’ll be upset when musicians become responsible and don’t make up tabloid headlines with drug problems and who’s dating who. But I digress.
Personally, I think the music industry missed out on a golden ticket. Most of what I say from here on out is speculation, but I would guess that most people who illegally download music, movies, and games do it for convenience. I’m sure that the big companies could make an easy coin if they accepted new technologies instead of fighting them. Why did iTunes do so well? If people could get movies and music for free, why is it that they still buy music online? iTunes does some specific things correctly:
- Cheap music
- The ability to download what you want instead of paying for material you might not want
- Simple, straight forward service and interface
Now, iTunes has its problems too, such as DRM. But services like NetFlix, allowing people to rent movies for periods of times they choose, plus having online options, gave people incentives to sign up with them. Websites such as Hulu allow people to watch popular TV shows when they want, as they want, with little delay and few problems.
What I see is this: if the large companies, instead of suing grandmas and single parents, offered their music and movies through their own services are reasonable prices with reasonable features, they’d continue rolling in the dough (that I really don’t think they deserve). But they’re fighting technology. This has worked for years, when we had a relatively isolated society, where communication even city to city was either a phone call or mail that took a few days. The companies had the power, in that they controlled information, and they controlled the material. We live in a new age today, where the next city is equivalent to the next country. They no longer control the information, and rather then adapt to their situation, they fought it.
We’ve living in an age of information, and more importantly, we’ve living in an age of openness. The internet allows everyone access to information they may have never been able to access before. The internet allows people to communicate with people they never knew existed before. The internet allows people to publish their own information in ways they couldn’t do before. And the internet pushed these fat cats over. More and more, people refuse to simply be told what to do… options are opening up, thinking is on the rise. But this doesn’t mean people are rampant criminals. People will do whats right more often then not. Unlike the old days though, you won’t be able to make privateers of these pirates. What you can do is convince more pirates to give up their ways, and it won’t be by threatening the noose.
So here’s my thoughts or solution. First, music, movie, and game producers need to stop treating customers like renters and thieves. Limited activations and DRMs (like the infamous Spore release) make people on the edge want to give in to their less legal impulses. Yes, you’re going to lose money on resales, but when you’re putting out shitty material, why would I want to keep it? And when your customer support sucks and I’m out of activations, I’ve paid for a very shiny coaster. When you stop treating us like we did something wrong by giving you money, you’ll find more people are likely to give you money.
Join the 21st century and start providing reasonable web services. You can outdo iTunes if you try. People don’t want full albums, usually they only want a few songs. Let people listen to an album a time or two, then let them pick out the music they want to keep, and don’t start charging ridiculus prices for these services. Start offering services to watch TV shows and movies online. Use commercials to pay for the TV shows and charge rates to watch the movies. They’re your material, you should get the money for them. Make the services useable, and let people access older content. Too many TV corporations offer their shows on their site, but with nearly unuseable interfaces, only a handful of episodes, and the shows going online days after the show� aired. If you don’t want to bother setting up your own, work out a system with other sites.
Lastly, stop going after people. You’re no longer the big dogs, and thieving is easier with the internet around. You can’t control the internet, and the day you start trying, you’ll find a bigger fight then you’ll want to handle. Yes, you’re making less money then you were before, but I’ve heard nothing of losing so much money that suddenly you’re in trouble, except for your bloated numbers. I’m not saying you’re not entitled to your earnings, I just think its about time you learn you don’t need a golden toilet. You might think you’re protecting your rights to your property (although I’m positive that’s not the reasoning), but all you’re doing is making more enemies and pushing moderates away. Take advantage of your power, and capitulate to the people a bit. You’ll end up being their heroes.