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Piracy is just a business model

October 12, 2006
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...said the Disney Co-Chair Anne Sweeney at the Mipcom festival.

I find this quite a refreshing statement compared to the standard RIAA/MIAA stance. They keep insisting on theft, crime, punishment and so on which only seems to create more piracy and distance the customers.

Maybe a better approach would be to compete with piracy in quality, availability and price.

Let's have a look at what that might look like.

Quality
Pirated content is often using the latest video and audio compression. This results in a 90 minute movie in DVD quality being below 800MB, often with 5.1 channels audio and optional subtitles.

With TV shows, the pirated content can often be in high definition if the source was HDTV as well.

It will be hard for a legitimate service to compete in terms of quality. The target should be to at least match the quality of pirated content.

The biggest issue for legitimate content providers will be how to apply copy protection without reducing the quality of the content.

The current digital rights management (DRM) solutions are very restrictive and result in the user renting content instead of purchasing and owning (see an anlysis of Amazon Unboxed).

I for one would accept an invisible/discreet and user specific watermarking but I can not accept DRM solutions where I cannot use the content on any device I choose or where the content can become unusable after a certain amount of time or if the original provider, God forbid, goes out of business.

Availability
TV shows are available as pirated content a few hours after their first official broadcast. DVDs are available as pirated content just a day after their official release.

This is especially valuable to potential customers from regions where the broadcast or DVD release is delayed by up to a year due to region restrictions.

Legitimate content could become superior to a pirated version by being available at the same time as the broadcast/DVD release or even better, a symbolical amount earlier.

Having one single reliable and secure location (shop) to get legitimate content is a great advantage instead of searching various more or less obscure areas of the Internet.

Price
Here pirated content clearly has an advantage by being for free which is a difficult price level to compete with.

A few online services have however shown that users are willing to pay for content if the other criteria above are met.

Paying the same amount (or more) as for the physical version of the content just doesn't make sense to the end user.

Especially since the digital version is often crippled by various digital rights managements solutions decreasing the perceived quality and thus value.

The controversial MP3 online store AllOfMp3 has a very low price point ($0.20/song, $2/album) and while their prices may be unrealistic for other service it should be noted that user are willing to pay!

Conclusion
Summarising the options above one must admit that at the moment it looks a bit bleak for legitimate digital content.



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Comments

  1. /|\ Says:

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    Same thing applies for Windows vista. Check out the arguments at www.winsupersite.com. I thought that windows Vista would be the first Windows copy I would be willing to buy since Windows 3.0. But now Microsoft decided that PC enthusiasts will only be able to move their copy of Windows to another PC once.

    Microsoft just lost me as a potential customer, and I'll be widely supporting any hack into Windows Vista to bypass such draconian and abusive enforcement.

  2. Rob Jansen Says:

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    A lot of true words.

    There is one big advantage of official released content: All the extras (making of, directors comments, ...) and of course the fact that I still think that the makers of the film should be awarded for their job.

    The big disadvantage is that there are to many ...

    It is silly that a movie comes out much later in Europe than in the US. In 'the old days' there was a good reason for this. Making the movie reels costs a lot of money and time, these where photographically copied frame by frame - I even will not think of the amount of chemicals used in this process.

    But in the digital era there is no excuse for this behaviour by the film makers. Movies are transmitted to Europe by satellite and there are even people who state it is possible to copy the movie from that download feed and more and more cinemas have true digital projectors. It is perfectly possible to have movies at the same time in cinemas around the world.

    Doing this will definitely reduce piracy. The (few) pirated movies that I have are mostly of Region 1 (US) DVDs - just because the DVD in the US is available before the movie is available in Europe and I do not want to wait for another few months.

    But the biggest disadvantage of official releases is the amount of junk on the DVD. It is not uncommon that, after placing the DVD in the player, it takes up to a minute (I even clocked 110 seconds once) before you get to the menu - and this is not counting the time my DVD player needs to determine that a DVD was inserted: commercials for new movies (Disney does this all the time), a warning that states that copying or showing in publix is not allowed (in 10 different languages since we are in Europe) or the complex multi-level menu structures you have to go through before you can press 'Start'.

    On the (almost) 'illegal' DVD players that allow multiple regions you can mostly skip this junk. But on a brand player (e.g. Philips or Sony) you cannot skip through these items and you have to see through all this.

    With an 'official' DVD you pay more for added frustrations :-}
    And the biggest frustration I always get after about 6 month. The DVD cost me about 26 Euro (US $ 34) and now the movie is available on a newer DVD with extra making of, editors comments, deleted scenes or even better (DTS) sound for a lower price (19 Euro/$ 25). If you want a movie just after the release date it should be more expensive - that's OK, you pay to be the first one to own it. But then I also want to be the first to own all the newest features.

    I collected the whole James Bond series, 20 DVDs for 20 Euro each. The movies were put on DVD 'as is' with less colorful pictures and mono sound for the older pictures. But now there is a whole new set of DVDs available (12 Euro each) with restored picture quality and restored sound - even with DTS sound restored from the original audio materials. Better picture and sound quality for less money almost makes me think it is not that bad to copy movies once in a while ;-)

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