• Print

Piracy isn't just about price

A piracy research report makes a strong point about pricing, but results may be too narrow.

Manifesto.pngLast week, the Social Science Research Council published the results of a three-year study on piracy in the “Media Piracy in Emerging Economies” report. The report concluded that price was the overwhelming issue contributing to piracy around the world. In a post for thinq_ summing up the study results, James Nixon described an example from the report:

They cite the example of Russia, where legal versions of the film “The Dark Knight” sold for $15 — roughly the same price that consumers would pay in the US. But with wages much lower in Russia, that price represents a much higher percentage of consumers’ income — the equivalent of a US buyer shelling out something like $75 on the film. Pirate versions, says the report, can be obtained for less than a third of the price.

In February, a group of contributors got together at a workshop and came up with piracy guidelines. Of the five points outlined in the “Don’t Make Me Steal” manifesto, only one addresses the price issue.

At my request, Magellan Media founder Brian O’Leary, who has done extensive research on piracy and P2P file sharing, reviewed the report summary and the manifesto website. He offered his take, and his preference, in an email response:

I strongly prefer the approach taken in the “Don’t Make Me Steal” manifesto. Although higher prices can encourage more people to pirate content, the debate is about more than just prices. Concerns about convenience, availability and usability (the absence of onerous rights restrictions) factor into individual decisions about what and whether to pirate media products.

This doesn’t refute the Social Science Research Council’s claim that higher prices in lower-wealth countries can lead to piracy. It does suggest that it may not be enough to just lower prices. I do agree fully with the SSRC’s conclusion that enforcement has limited impact. Content producers are better off looking at a mixture of localized prices as well as widespread efforts to make their products convenient, widely available and interoperable.


tags: , ,

Comments: 6

  1. Piracy isn’t just about price but it doesn’t matter. It’s becoming clear that the record labels want to use DRM to create a world-wide monopoly. So, no report is going to convince them to stop. They’re going to keep trying until they’re force to stop, probably through bankruptcy. After all, the reason music sales is declining is because of the cell phone. When teenagers can talk & text the friends at any time, they don’t have time to listen to music.

    So, you can complain all you want about how silly the record labels are but you’re still going to hear their complaints as long as they’re solvent.

  2. Thanks for picking this up. It’s really the crux of the issue. Can I just paste a response from an upcoming (Brazilian) interview?

    A lot of the press coverage of the report suggests that lower prices will end piracy. This gets at the main issue, but it isn’t exactly our point. What we say is that lower prices are a positive policy goal in and of themselves and that the media business will transition to lower prices if there is competition. Lower prices will diminish piracy but ultimately businesses will find a balance point: close enough in price to the informal market to cannibalize it, but sufficiently above it to allow for a viable (if also less lucrative) commercial media market. From a legal perspective, in this context, you enforce against anyone trying to make money by disrupting the legal market, but you basically leave the rest of consumer sharing alone. That’s probably the future for recorded media. In other areas, there are different issues. The real pressure on software profits isn’t piracy (which, we argue, is part of the business model), but the disruptive pricing of companies like Apple, which are creating expectations that software should cost $2 dollars. The Brazilian market still hasn’t seen much of this pricing pressure, for reasons related to lack of competition, though some of Overmundo/CTS’s other work points to the emergence of related business models around local music.

  3. Stuart Bernstein

    At the root of piracy is ignorance. Most authors do indeed feel proprietary about their own words, which is their legal as well as moral right. Not only do they expect to be compensated for their work, and in most cases, to set their own terms for such compensation, but a good number of them feel protective of their words and wish to control the context in which their writing appears, the way it is laid out on the page, even the publications it may appear in.

    I would guess that many of the people now complaining loudly about the price of ebooks or the restrictions publishers place on them to assure further income and control are merely trying to maximize their hard-earned dollars. Maybe they are students with after school jobs or factory workers or lab technicians or stock brokers. Witness the crowds of protesters in Wisconsin, outraged over being stripped of collective bargaining rights. But no one understands when an artist, a writer, a musician wishes to be in charge of, and compensated for, his or her work, whether it be educational, informative, inspiring or merely entertaining.

    Sure, very popular books and authors might survive at the low price point or the no price point so many seem to be in favor of these days, but it’s not an economically feasible model if you’re looking to have a diversity of material, of viewpoints, or experimentation and innovation. It’s not especially encouraging to the brilliant undiscovered writer when all publishers want is big, loud books.

    We do need to explain to people that, morally speaking, there’s no difference between shoplifting and stealing music or books, just because it’s suddenly become convenient. And to the casual pirate, the person who admires a poem or story, copies and pastes it onto a blog, the teacher who posts copyrighted material on a website for easy access by students; to the person with the blog called something like “Today’s Poem” who steals a different poem from its copyright holder a few times a week, we need to explain that there are permanent consequences to a web posting that may cause the creator of the material a huge loss of income or that feeling of violation you get after your home has been robbed.

    Many of these casual pirates think it’s OK as long as they give credit. Ask the more activist among them to take something down and you get a tirade that usually includes the phrase “my free expression.”

    Write your own poem, blogger! Or ask some poets permission to post their work. Many would likely say yes, but respect the ones that say no.

    The price we attach to things is a measure of their value to us. We need writers. Just like public servants in Wisconsin, they need to be paid for what they do and have the right to negotiate the terms.

    The tide is flowing another way, it may not be stoppable. However, I’d like, at least once in a while, for someone to point out that piracy is stealing. That words in certain new combinations can belong to the people who assembled them. And that this thoughtful combining of words for the purpose of communicating feeling, ideas, explanation and compassion is a necessary part of the way we live. We need it now more than ever.

  4. I know that the pirated content I currently view is pirated because of a lack of availability in the US. I enjoy watching a lot of BBC television that simply isn’t available to US consumers therefore those of us who choose to watch choose to watch pirated versions.

  5. It’s great to see people so passionate about the issue of piracy. As a media producer we are constantly on the lookout for people thieving our content. Online there a few ways of protecting yourself but all too often it’s too little too late.Unfortunately UK laws in particular have not kept pace with the technological advances. Maybe the way forward is as the article suggests: dont make me want to steal. By providing good quality content at a reasonable price so people dont feel the need. Here’s hoping anyway.

  6. Unfortunately it is so easy to obtain pirated copies these days and young kids are brought up (by their friends) to believe this is ok to do. I think the parents should be encouraged to give them a blank canvas and show them what is correct and that money should be earned. After all it’s the artist that loses out.