anti piracy.jpgAs you probably know by now, the entertainment industry is still busy trying to sue The Pirate Bay out of existence. If they get what they want and The Pirate Bay closes down, their big piracy problem will not suddenly melt away. It may in fact continue to flourish, with or without The Pirate Bay. Here’s why they are taking the wrong route to eliminate piracy, and more importantly, how they should fix it.

What the industry is doing wrong

  • Frequent downloaders will switch, not stop. After a potential closure of The Pirate Bay, illegal downloaders are not likely to stop downloading. Instead, their users will search the internet to find the next big download site. This is the internet, after all. If one download site gets taken down, three more pop up. The industry just may end up making some lawyers very rich while accomplishing next to nothing in their battle against piracy.
  • The three-strikes-you’re-out law features punishments that are out of proportion and will lead to encryption. Some countries – France in particular – are thinking about adopting a three-strikes-you’re-out law to crack down on illegal downloading. This plan will make it legal to cut off your internet if you download illegally. First of all, the punishment is out of proportion. It’s like cutting off one’s electricity because they ripped CD music to a cassette to make a mix tape. Secondly, this will lead to pirates encrypting their traffic to circumvent the traffic scanners. (Tor, anyone?) It’s a cat and mouse game.

The weaknesses of illegal downloading

The industry has to be aware of the fact that illegal download sites have disadvantages too. Let’s look at a few examples.

  • Fake files are time wasters. When a user is searching for a movie to download, they often have to spend some time separating fake downloads from real files. This can be a pain in the behind.
  • Movies are not always formatted the way you want them. Let’s say you want to download a certain movie for your iPod. Are you gonna wait for a 1024×768 movie to finish downloading when you just need a 480×320 movie anyway? Or consider this: you have this new HD home cinema system that can play videos off USB drives. Then you look up the movie you want to watch, but you find out that it’s only available in a 800×600 format.
  • Veuillez activer votre copie de Photoshop CS4. When downloading software like Photoshop, people sometimes download a foreign language version because the uploader forgot to mention that he doesn’t have the English version.
  • Movie subtitles are either poo, unsynced or unavailable. People who don’t speak English as their native language can chime in on this. While there are a couple of sites dedicated to subtitling movies, you often have to go through a lot of trouble to get good subtitles only to find out that they’re out of sync with the version you downloaded.

Exploiting the weaknesses

Now that we’ve taken a look at the weaknesses of downloading illegally, let’s see how the industry can exploit those weaknesses and make legal downloading more compelling.

  • Capitalize on the annoyances of illegal downloading. On legal download platforms, you can get what you want immediately with good subtitles and without having to filter out fake files. Make sure that you rub everyone’s nose in it.
  • Offer your digital movie downloads in multiple formats. Offer your movies in different formats. I’m thinking about versions for home cinemas as well as mobile devices such as iPods and PSPs.

Fixing its own weaknesses

The entertainment industry has made some bad moves to protect their outdated business model and because they seem to be afraid of the internet. Now that they’re competing with the illegal downloading market whether they like it or not, it’s time for some radical changes to get the downloader back on their side.

  • Make sure everyone can download your movies and TV shows online. Revenue is lost due to piracy since many non-US residents will resort to pirating when they can’t legally download what they want. The solution: iTunes should open up their video store to everyone in the world, not just a few privileged countries.
  • Roll out Hulu worldwide. This is a radical move to make and almost impossible to do. But there’s plenty cash in it for the industry to be made. The problem is the same as when you’re buying shows: if non-US consumers can’t legally watch a show on Hulu, they’ll pirate it instead from US sources, where people already have access to it. Open up Hulu for viewers worldwide and ad revenue will rise while illegal downloading plummets.
  • Stop yanking shows off Hulu. Sure, they are in their right to do it. They probably want to protect their offline sales as soon as their shows come out on DVD, and that makes some sense. But what happens in practice is that people who never buy DVDs are going to swarm over to illegal download sites. If they don’t pull these shows, they would perhaps be able to monetize potential illegal downloaders. Hulu revenue may not be as big as offline revenue, but as a company I would rather earn ten dollars than nothing. Besides, hardcore DVD fans are gonna buy the DVD anyway.
  • Down with DRM. The music industry has been through all this, and the movie industry is doing it all over again. If you lock your content in an effort to crack down on piracy, you’re only crippling the user experience. This tends to drive consumers to illegal DRM-free files because they can’t move their stuff around otherwise.
  • Make it really easy to buy stuff from you. Just look at iTunes as an example. You hook up your account to your credit card or buy iTunes vouchers, and then you can start buying. I used to stay away from commercial software but now with the App Store, I’ve found myself paying for iPod apps. If the industry can get such a seamless one-click experience going for them, many people will lose their interest in pirating.
  • Experiment with lower pricing. I’ve heard people complain about the supposedly outrageous price of CDs. Since then, CD sales are not what they used to be. Why not lower prices both offline and online and make it up in volume?

These are crucial times for the entertainment industry. Time and money are running out. They’ll either sink if they fail to adapt or swim if they listen to the demands of the consumer. What will they do?

This post was written by guest author Pieter De Decker, who is also the developer of the free USBsyncer and iPodCALsync! Feel free to read past articles that Pieter has written.

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