The Problems with Digital Content

I was going to remove my notes for this post, and just write a nice little story about the stupidity of mankind.¬†However, I decided to use my notes as bullet points, all bulleted and everything. So first, here’s what I wish to discuss:

  • people whine but don’t and aren’t expected to do anything about it
  • studios are greedy
  • people are creatures of habit
  • change is for other people – or – change is just conforming to someone else’s opinions
  • the internet is an awesome collaboration tool – but it’s anonymity is riddled with deceit

Now on to the meat of my blog cow.

The Internet is a vast, virtually unlimited place. Sure, it’s limited by laws and regulations, standards, TOS and Privacy Policies, actual hard drive space, mods and administrators, and let’s not forget about the forced takedown. But besides that, and the occasional fallen utility pole, the Internet is an always-on connection to every other Internet user in the world. As such, the Internet works much like a public forum. I know there are actual forums out there, but really the entire Internet works like one big (not as orderly as, say, a Gaia website) forum. Any grief you have, opinion you’d like to share, or point you’d like to make can be done on one of many websites. You can voice your concerns in your own, personal blog. You can share your opinion in the comments of a news article. You can even belligerently¬†attack other people on any forum, comments section, or your own blog. If you’re lucky, you’ll find someone on your side. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find a large group of people who think what you think: maybe even gather a following. If you’re really, really, really lucky you’ll even find people who despise your very existence, they hate your views so much.

No matter how popular you are, how popular your opinion is, or who shares or opposes it all this work sharing these opinions is practically¬†pointless. Most people are only interested in voicing a distaste for current events and the people involved. But when it comes right down to it most of these people aren’t actually interested in taking any action against the¬†perpetrators of these villainous¬†crimes against humanity (as so these posters and commentors might have you believe). Further more, no one really expects anyone to do anything about it. Sure, every now and then a commenter¬†will say, “do something about it if you hate it so much.” But people rarely ever do anything more than simply comment back with a usually insulting, and useless,¬†rebuttal.

Want an example? *sigh* OK, let me get out my example box… *dig, dig, dig* AH! Here we go!

Sony Music wants way too much money for CDs, downloadable songs, or licences for streaming companies. If you are fed up with paying so much for something which doesn’t seem so valuable (something you believe you get for free from Pandora or the local radio stations) then you need to do something about it. Stop buying music. Don’t buy the CD, don’t buy the MP3, and don’t use services such as Pandora, Slacker, Last.fm, or any other streaming service, including traditional radio (all of which pay licensing fees to Sony Music in order to be able to play their songs). If you boycott Sony Music, it’s not going to make much of a difference. If you get all your friends and their friends (real and digital) to boycott Sony Music, it might get some attention, but it will still be virtually useless. Now, if you can get 100s of 1000s of people across the web to boycott Sony Music, then they will probably start losing money. It’s at that point they will finally realize pirating is not as big a concern as no one buying any of their music. If you are worried about harming the artist who has very little, if anything, to do with licensing and pricing… don’t be. If the studio is losing money, then yes, the artist will lose out on money. But we need them to join us, and maybe this is the only way to get them on board. Currently, the studio might be the only way an artist can get their music out. It’s my understanding that once you sign a contract with a recording studio they own everything you do now and will do in the future. You cannot, in many cases, release music on your own (per the contract you signed). So if everyone is feeling the financial pinch, perhaps they will finally do something to please consumers. After all, studios are greedy. They will not enjoy not having your money.

This is why we’re in the situations we are in now. This is why DVD’s come with digital copies that you need to activate or pay fees to stream to your devices. This is why you listen to incessant ads on music streaming sites. This is why gaming companies are trying to find a way to keep you from selling used games and book publishers charge the same price for a digital copy as they do a printed book. This is why cloud storage such as Amazon’s cloud and Google Music (which let you access music you have purchased from any Internet connected device on the planet)¬†are in the sights of the RIAA and MPAA. Greed. The studios want you to buy content from them, but they don’t want you to actually use it. Well, they do¬†want you to use it, but only once. If you purchase content on a computer, then that’s where you can use it. Want to use it on a phone, MP3 player, game console, TV, tablet, work computer, or other device? They want you to pay a fee for each device you want to use. Maybe they don’t get it. Maybe consumers don’t get it. Maybe no one truly “get’s it.” Get it?

Whatever the issues, whatever the problems, whatever the solutions nothing will change. People are creatures of habit. Some of us are creatures of the night… but that’s a completely different topic. If someone has been listening to music – no, wait… I’ve got a better example. Let’s say you bought a TV. You can enjoy any of the local TV stations without having to pay a dime to anyone. You already paid $100 to $300 dollars for a TV (we’re talking old CRTs… you¬†probably paid¬†much more if you bought a flat screen TV within the past few years). Now you can enjoy years of TV programming without having to pay another dime. Wait? What? You have to buy a special device which will convert the brand new broadcasting signals to a format your old TV can handle? Well, how much is that going to cost? WHAT! $50 to $100 for a decent converter box!? You have got to be kidding…?

Ok, this isn’t that great of an example. The government mandated this because they felt we were too far behind Europe. TV networks didn’t make money off this, either. But it is kind of annoying. Here’s something which is essentially free, and now you have to pay to continue enjoying it. People were not happy about this. This is why we used our tax money to fund the DTV voucher program. People did not want to pay to continue to use their televisions. Not just that, but once they began watching DTV streams, they were not happy with what they saw. Sure, the video quality was consistent among all the channels; even beautiful if you only had poor signal, or now have an HDTV. But that’s only if you got a good signal. Say goodbye to poor but still viewable signals and hello to “slow Internet connection streaming” channels (with no ability to buffer). This all goes to show that people just simply do not like it when things change. I know what you’re going to say: “but change is good. Change forces innovation and allows us to move towards the future.”

That’s a pretty simple, positive view of change. In actuality, most people think of change mush differently. Have you heard the one about the scientist and the priest? A scientist and priest meet up every Sunday afternoon to talk about philosophy, science, and religion. The scientist puts his “faith” in observable facts. The priest puts his faith in God. Both men talk to each other about how they need to change. The scientist thinks the priest needs to face the facts and realize God cannot be proven and “miracles” can be scientifically explained. The priest tells the scientist that he needs to realize the facts are not as important as the truth, and science can’t explain everything.

Sorry, that wasn’t supposed to be a joke, but I did start it off like one. My bad. The point is both men think the other needs to make some changes in their life. These “changes” are no more than the opinion of one person about how to live, what to think, how to act and who to be. When we tell the record, movie, and gaming studios they need to change their strategies for a digital world, it’s really just our opinion. They’re opinion is not to change, but simply use the same strategies they’ve been using in the digital world, with little to no change. Why should they anyway?

They should because everyone seems to think so. They should because people are pirating their content anyway. They should because it would be smart. But this just brings us back to the nature of the Internet. It is a great collaboration tool, with¬†millions of people contributing to projects, sites, and petitions.¬†It is very difficult, as I’ve stated before,¬†to get all of these contributors to act. Unless you want to right wrongs. The hacking group Anonymous has recently shown just how powerful their might can be. Studios are afraid of what this kind of power can mean for their precious content. Already people can upload movies, music, and any software to the web for other to download. There’s the concept of “free is free” where people download these things because they’re free, not necessarily because they wanted it. This concept in action has made studios think there is a huge market for their content which isn’t paying for the content but getting it anyway.

Merge Anonymous and others like them with pirates, viruses and malware, phishing sites, spam, and identity thiefs¬†the Internet looks like (and in reality, can be) a dangerous place. Despite its¬†power for bringing people together, all that’s wrong with it is pushing studios away from its customers. Which, in turn pushes certain people *cough* anonymous *cough* together against the studios. Which in turn pushes the studios further away from its customers. Is there no end?

Digital content can, for all intents and purposes, be thought of as nothingness; and only as valuable as the consumer believes it to be. After all, what is a digital song? What is the music on¬†a vinyl record for that matter? At least you can hold the record in your hand. I think studios put too much value on their content. Sure, it might take $2 million dollars to make a movie, but that doesn’t mean I want to pay 20 bucks for it. It also doesn’t mean I’ll pay any more for a movie that cost the studio $34 million to produce. And now it all comes back to greed. If people want to watch a movie, TV show, or sports game a studio will charge them as much as they can before people say, “no way!” They do this out of greed. The studio wants as much money as they can milk out of its customers. And they want to get as much money as often as they can. At least that’s how it looks, which is why Megaupload existed. People are as cheap as studios are greedy.

But it’s not about us, right? We’re not the problem. Consumers are where the solutions lies. Right? We don’t need to change, the studios need to change. It’s a fact! Who’s with me?!

Megaupload Goes Down – Pirates Weep

Megaupload Shutdown: Should RapidShare and Dropbox Worry? – Slashdot.

I’m sure you’ve all heard. Megaupload has been shut down. I’m not going to lie: I have visited Megaupload to watch a movie or TV show in the past. Yes, that movie was still in the theater. I could begin talking about how dificult it is to get access to content these days, when content seems like it should be available instantly everywhere. I could say this is what made me google search current movies and wind up on Megaupload. I could criticize movie studios for keeping their content so tight in their grasp that it’s nearly impossible for people like me to get access to it in a legal way. I should talk about how movie studios need to get with the digital program and realize the Internet ain’t so bad.

Instead, I’m going to take the side of the MPAA and RIAA… to an extent.

First, an analogy: If you make a chair, it is one of a kind. You sell it and make some money. Then, you make another chair. You could devise a system for making that chair over and over, thus making a lot of chairs and more money. But no matter how hard other people try, they cannot copy your chair precisely. This makes it seemingly obvious when someone tries to copy your chair. Even so, people are stupid. They see your chair and love it, but walk away because of the price tag. Then, they come across a chair which looks like your chair and costs much less. They have, of course, been decieved. You have been robbed of business and income. However, there are ways around this: they just claim you don’t own the rights to “the chair,” nor do you own the rights to colors, chair legs and arms, the “seat,” not to mention they’re not calling their chairs your chairs – consumers are just assuming they might be the same (or same type of) chair. Even so, there still is no way for a consumer to buy the chair, duplicate it, and then make money off of it. Not to mention – who has the time to duplicate chairs!

A chair is a physical object. Computer data, however, is not physical. You could type a story on a computer and then print it out, thus having a physical copy. But you can’t do that with software. Sure, you could print out the code which makes up your software, but that’s going to be a lot of paper and it won’t resemble the actual program. Then there is music and videos. Even though you can hear and see music and videos, they’re not as physical as they used to be. Movies used to be burned onto film reels. Music used to be etched into vinyl records. Now, it’s just 1’s and 0’s on hard drives and streaming across the Internet. It’s much more difficult to keep track of data floating around the web than it is to keep track of a film reel. To copy a film reel, you need a projector, two sided sceen, dark room, transfer film, developing material, and at least 2 hours time plus the amount of time it takes to develop the film. Needless to say, it would take a long time to copy a film reel, and you’d probably know who is making the copies and where they’re going. To copy a DVD, you stick it in your computer, open your DVD copy software, click on the copy button, and voila! You can also rip the video off the DVD as a file which just sits on your computer. That file can be shared with friends, uploaded to websites and file sharing networks. Once this file hits the web it gets indexed, downloaded, re-uploaded, and scattered all over the Internet. Needless to say, it becomes nearly impossible to track down every copy of this file.

Unlike the chair which is difficult to reproduce, a movie file doesn’t have to be reproduced. Simply downloading the file creates a copy. You can then create as many copies as you want without losing quality in the copy or the original. Like the chair, however, if a movie studio sells that DVD or a downloadable video file to you they get money. If you then give that file away, you are essentially robbing the movie studio of income from every copy which results from your initial copying. Those people could have bought movie tickets or purchased the DVD or digital download, but instead (thanks to you) they get it for free.

This is not the same thing as buying a DVD and having friends over for a movie night. Neither the MPAA nor RIAA expect that you will purchase a song or movie and only play it on the computer where you bought it and wear headphones so no one else can “steal” a listen. However, they rightfully expect you to legitimately and legally obtain a copy of the movie or song. A production company makes a movie, they sell the movie, and in many cases they pay all others involved based on how well the movie does. When you hear a gaffer or props master complain about piracy “robbing them” they are partially correct.

Every argument people usually make to support their habit of obtaining free copies of digital content is flawed from the ground up and utterly rediculous.

  • These greedy studio executives who already make millions of dollars just want more money.” – greedy or not, of course they want their money. They are creating a product and selling it. Anyone who works to obtain or spread movies without paying for them is guilty of theft.
  • Music and Movies become popular when people share them.” – Sure, I buy a song, play it for my friends, they like it, and they begin listening to that band. It’s all great until the support of that band begins to lead nowhere. If the band isn’t making money because people are pirating their music they will eventually be dropped by the recording studio. Either that, or they just won’t be making any money off their music.
  • I bought the DVD. I own it. I have every right to rip the movie off of it to play on my computer, Xbox, home network, phone or iPod.” – partially true, but mostly still false. You do not own the movie just because you bought the DVD. Under the DMCA you have the right to produce a backup copy of your digital media in case your original is lost or stolen. But you still don’t have the right to distribute copies of copyrighted material.
  • I’m not making any money.” – well, you don’t have to be making money. If you robbed a bank and gave all the money away, you’re still guilty of robbing the bank. Likewise, even though you don’t sell a copy which is uploaded to the Internet, you are still guilty of giving away content which you don’t own the copyright to – content which the copyright holders are trying to sell.
  • Who is it hurting?” – specifically? I don’t have enough space to write out all the names. Let’s just say you are hurting the people who work on these movies, music, programs, and other digital media. You also end up hurting yourself. Piracy is what makes movie and record studios nervous about streaming across the Internet, supporting DVR’s, using new medium formats (DVD, BluRay…), and striking deals with distribution companies. It’s what makes the studios force DRM into their content, in the hopes their content will be copy-proof. Piracy also forces groups like the RIAA and MPAA to support the drastic and seemingly unconstitutional measures laid out in legislation such as SOPA and PIPA; legislation which could harm legitimate webites and the security of information on the Internet.
  • People don’t want to pay for movies and music.” – Too bad. It’s like saying you’re not going to pay for food but the farmers must continue to grow it, chefs must continue to cook it, and waiters must continue to serve it. That’s just stupid. Songs cost no more than $2, with movies ranging from $3 to $7 in a downloadable format. Loosen the purse strings.
  • Fine, I’ll pay for it when the price goes down.” – well, guess what: the price ain’t going down when the studios believe they are losing money to pirating. Once everyone begins purchasing the content and the studios begin making lots of money, only then will they have the incentive to lower the prices so they can sell more. Then again, they might keep prices high because people are buying the content anyway. That’s just business.
  • I could really use the software, and make good use of it. However, I can’t afford it. So, I can’t buy it to learn it so I can use it to make money to pay for it. What do you expect me to do?” – become affiliated with a school. There are many programs out there like Photoshop, Microsoft Office, and Adobe After Effects which you can get at discounted prices (or even free in some cases) just for being affiliated with an educational institution. Become a faculty member or just take a non-credit class. Then, you’ll at least be able to use the schools computer labs even if you can’t get your own copy of the software. You could also budget your money better…
  • I don’t pay for television or the radio. Why do I have to pay for the music and TV shows?” – maybe you don’t pay for radio stations, but someone does. First, you have a company which purchases the station equipment and pays all the fees associated with broadcasting; including paying for the rights to play the music and TV shows you like. Then, radio and television stations are loaded with advertisements. Those advertisements are what pay the employees of the station. The more popular the station, or current programming, the more advertisers have to pay, and the more money the station brings in. You don’t pay for TV and radio, but someone does.
  • But, it’s out there on the web…” – so what? pedofilia is on the web as well, but it’s still illegal. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it’s ok to look at, download, or redistribute. The people who uplaoded it might not understand what they’re really doing. They might understand exactly what they’re and simply don’t are about breaking the law. Make up your own mind. If the cpyright holder didn’t uploaded to the website, it is there illegally.

There are other arguments, but they are all based on the same thing: greed. People want things for free and they take it for free if they can. They also don’t feel like something they can’t hold is real. If it’s not real, you can’t steal it. The bottom line is “if it doesn;t belong to you, you don’t have any rights to it at all.”