Thursday, March 13, 2008

Daily Soap Box - Illegal Downloads

Lots of excuses have been made for illegal downloading. Equally there have been plenty of arguments against it, in addition to tougher laws and increased litigation. Looking back at the last decade, yes it's been that long. (Napster didn't hit the scene until 1999, but there was still plenty of illegal downloading going on. Napster just brought it into the lime-light.)

In the last couple of years there has been growing concern about those who have grown up during this time. Those in their late 20's to late 30's probably download illegally too, but for different reasons (sampling the media typically*), and will many times buy media from legitimate outlets if they like what they downloaded. The younger group has always had access to 'free' media and often is not able to pay for everything they download. Pre-teens and Tweens don't have jobs. Older teens may have a job but they also have cars and gas to buy. There is no decision between gas or CD when you can get the CD online for nothing. The decision is made unconsciously.

So now we have, basically, two generations of casual pirates and it has become an issue for a couple reasons:

1) There is little to no consequence for committing the crime. Sure the RIAA and others has gone after some people but it really has had little impact on people downloading.

2) It's easy! There are few hurtles (DRM, filtering, throttling, etc) and most of them can be overcome.

3) It works! At the end of the day casual pirates get away with it and get what they wanted.

Before digital media you would have had to go into a record store and try to pick-pocket a CD or cassette. The physical media typically had some kind of sensor that would set off the alarm if not removed. If caught the police would be called and you'd be going to jail. These are pretty strong disincentives.

Media companies are FINALLY starting to understand that digital media cannot be sold and protected in the same way that physical media can. Some of the new models are working but Pandora's box is open.

I'm not suggesting all people are inherently thieves, but the media companies have created a culture of piracy in their complacency. Fighting piracy has created a great deal of negativity towards media companies and their various organizations. Had they jumped into this new market and embarrassed it back when it started, instead of fighting it for a decade, perhaps there wouldn't be a whole generation raised with the availability of consequence free downloading.

I think things will work out. There are new distribution models that seem to have promise. There ARE lots of consumers who have no problem paying for this media, so long as it's fair and reasonable. We'll get there. It'll just be interesting to see what the consequences will be in the end.

It's possible that there will be fewer large media companies or more agile small media companies. Some artists will just pack it in and say it's not worth it. Traditional methods of entering the media market, for performers, will change. They'll have to rely more on social networks, rather than media conglomerates. The landscape of media will change forever, HAS changed forever.

* - Generalization
- Note: While most of my experience has been with music piracy, much of this applies to all digital media companies.

Related posts (Interesting to go back and read what I wrote about this situation in the past):

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