Big Tech Still Full of BS on Piracy
Following the loss of Robin Williams, my kids were in the mood to re-watch Disney’s Aladdin. We thought we had a VHS copy of the film, but I bet mine is not the only household with a few VHS jackets containing the wrong tapes inside. (See kids, this is why we put things back…) Anyway, not so much with the tape, I never did get around to buying a DVD; and so I checked Netflix and iTunes, neither of which had the film in its libraries. I’ll order a DVD or something the next time I think of it, but I share this otherwise unremarkable anecdote because it seems to me that many very serious people would have us believe that what happened to my kids as a consequence of this postponed desire is quite extraordinary. They lived! They even shrugged off the deferred desire to watch that particular movie and resumed their otherwise normal lives.
What I’m saying might seem obvious to the average reader, but it turns out highly-paid, fully-grown professionals would equate the mundane experience I just recounted with deprivations like hunger, thirst, or disease in order to justify media piracy as though it is the only rational response to whatever barriers stand between the consumer and 90 or so minutes of entertainment. The self-righteousness with which this premise is consistently proclaimed and repeated — and taken seriously by lawmakers — is nothing short of an embarrassment in a world where an estimated billion people don’t have access to safe water.
Recently, TorrentFreak reports that Google, Facebook, and Microsoft rejected Australia’s anti-piracy proposal, and as usual, the CCIA is playing another variation on the familiar theme that piracy is a consumer reaction to producers’ failures to deliver unfettered access at a “fair price.” To quote:
“…CCIA director Jakob Kucharczyk says that any new scheme should employ a “holistic end-to-end approach” and be coupled with efforts by content providers to give customers the content they need at a fair price.”
First of all, as a former corporate communications guy, let me say for the record that when someone employs a redundancy like “holistic end-to-end approach,” he’s blowing smoke straight up your ass. These are words used by people who either have no solution to a problem or do not seek a solution to a problem because they don’t acknowledge that there is a problem. That’s what’s happening here. The CCIA, speaking on behalf of Silicon Valley, is saying piracy is a) not a problem, and b) if it is a problem, it’s the producers’ fault because consumers aren’t getting what they want.
The funny thing is I agree prices aren’t fair. They should actually be considerably higher in most cases. $1.29 for a song in 2014 is equivalent to $2.35 in 1990 just before us Gen Xers — yes, we were actually the first adopters of all this stuff — got online. Has the cost of living for the several people who made that song possible gone down? Of course not. Granted, prices and wages have failed to keep up with the cost of living across many sectors, which is why we’re seeing a shrinking middle class, but it isn’t going to help if the next generation of consumers buys into this ridiculous narrative that they’re getting a bad deal on discretionary purchases that are widely available and already quite cheap. Spotify for music is just one way the consumer is certainly not getting hozed; unfortunately, though, songwriters and artists are; so there’s a problem that needs a “holistic” solution and fair pricing that’s legitimately fair to the next generation of musical artists. But of course, that’s not what Mr. Kucharczyk meant.
It’s understood that this is how big, corporate interests play hardball. The Internet and consumer electronics industries have a financial stake in continuing to reduce the value of professionally produced media until the musicians and filmmakers and other creators around the world are left with no choice other than to make deals with the only devils left standing. Now, I personally think these guys are straight up pigs, but the only way they’re going to get away with owning the universe is if the consuming public allows them to do so by believing this story. But I actually don’t believe people are quite that cynical or naive. Sure the short-term lure of instant gratification without cost is tempting, and it becomes easy to rationalize; but bit by bit, people begin to understand that it is patently absurd to love iPods and HD TVS without any media to play on them.
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