In my travels through the blogosphere I found an article which grabbed my attention. The author was ranting on how we have become evil pirates leaching on the poor artists who invests in music and have to starve to death because. We are so insensible and indifferent that we steal to no end.
I am going to take the politically incorrect stance here. People, really, the whole stealing thing. It’s a marketing campaign. It’s being overblown, taken out of proportion to serve the interests of the big corporations which distribute media. They publicize astronomical numbers in losses, sue innocent people, raid servers in foreign countries. All to get your attention. All to make you fear your dastardly activities and lead you into a path of redemption.
It is very hard to take any large group of people and place them all under a single category or specification. Yet it has been done. The millions of people that trade digital media around the world in P2P networks (this is the most notorious example, but there are other technologies at work here as well) are all labeled universally as thieves. Is this an accurate description? Let’s try to take an unbiased look at the evolution of the “illegal” distribution of media to try to find out. I’ll concentrate on movies and music, since they are the two types of content that tend to get most attention.
Ten years ago you could also get movies and music illegally. The internet was still in it’s infancy. A 33.6 or 56 KiBPS dial up modem was the hottest thing since individually wrapped sliced cheese. The widespread use of audio and video encoding that we see today was science fiction at best. There was still a very tight coupling of content and medium. To acquire and consume the content you had to accept the medium it was being distributed on. This was no exception for the pirated distribution as well. Let’s sum up the characteristics of the content and medium that was being distributed.
- The pirated medium sucked. The packaging was sported a very bad copy of the originals logo or front label. Usually never had a back label. The tape, or CD itself usually also had a bad copy of the imprint or nothing at all.
- The content quality was bad. The audio and video was usually very bad. The VHS tapes presented static on the TV, the image looked less sharp. The sound sounded muffled.
- The location of transaction was informal. You had to go to a flee market, or meet up with someone selling pirated content on the street. You never walked into a respectable business with a nice presentation. There was no support, no number to call, no promise of customer satisfaction.
- It was more cost effective than buying the original content. Despite all the negative elements previously mentioned, the strong motivator is that it was significantly cheaper than the legal alternative. Legal and illegal product offer more or less the same thing, with a big price difference. Obviously the market is going to respond to that. Keep in mind that there were no HDTV’s or 7.1 surround systems, so a focus on quality was not the big factor it is today.
Jump to the present. The internet has taken the world by storm. We have tiny devices that we carry around all day that can connect our calls, play music, and announce next week’s forecast. Appliance costs continue to decline and an overall growth of technological related product consumption grows. The media market is at the center of this growth. With the supply of all those media devices, content demand rises as consequence.
People want content. It’s that simple. As always, the market will give them a different choices on what and how to acquire it. How have the illegal offerings evolved during this time?
- There is no medium. I can no acquire my content without the need of it being tied to a to a physical medium. I no longer have to worry about a CD or DVD scratching and ruining my favorite song or movie. I no longer have to worry about that big disc pile in the corner of my room. I no longer have to worry about having a CD and a cassette only radio. With digital content, I can have it with me wherever I go. It’s versatile enough to be played on a wide range of devices, not just my radio or TV. I can quickly and easily share it with anyone irrelevant of geographical position. This freedom is a very powerful concept. Especially when compared to the previous status quo.
- The content quality is excellent. Most of the time on par or above legal offerings. I can download movies and TV shows in HD resolution in a wide variety of formats. I can get MP3’s in 320 KiBPS or lossless formats.
- The location is the best place on earth. You can acquire everything you want from the comfort of your own home. No need to deal with traffic. No need to wait for the half hour it takes you to get to the store and the other half hour it takes you to get back. Instant gratification!
- It still is more cost effective. It’s not free as some people think or promote. You pay for the bandwidth necessary to download the content. Those resources are dedicating the acquisition, so they are part of the cost. Even though, it is still considerably cheaper, probably even more than before.
Before I had to choose between “good price and bad quality” or “not so good price and good quality”. Now it’s simply a no brainer. The illegal offering is superior, and it’s cheaper. There is simply not enough to motive you to “step out of the dark side” so to speak. That is why the MPAA and RIAA are crazy suing people and companies and spending millions of dollars in lobbying. The only motivator they can count to favor them is fear of prosecution. So the judgment now becomes: “good price but I’m in danger” or “not so good price but I can sleep at night”. This introduces a little more balance to the equation. It’s not the best method. They are not stupid. They are aware of this, but it’s the only thing they can resort to.
We all know they have made attempts to follow the new distribution mediums. They have been hindered by poor quality, awful DRM schemes, non competing release dates, etc. If you look at piracy as a competing company, not a menace, and you compare each offering… again, no brainer.
Markets react to the products and services that are presented to them and under the circumstances they are offered in. It’s not that we wont pay for content! We will. Make it worth our while. Not by driving us into fear. Do it the old fashion way: actually offer a superior product. When you do, you’ll see me in line with everyone else.
Normal day, normal crap. Decide to stock up on some necessary items which I was running low one. So I grab a friend, and go to the nearest store for some quick shopping. Walking around in a store, buying some stuff, you know, nothing out of the ordinary. I collect the things I need and approach the counter to pay.
What the hell. If Quentin Tarantino can get away with it, why can’t I? By the way, if you have never heard of this guy before, you really, really need to rent Pulp Fiction! That scene at the end where Sam Jackson hits his monologue… that’s gold right there! In any case I’m rambling here. Let’s jump back in time a few months. I was living in Santo Domingo for a while and had to move to the good ol’ U.S. of A. for reasons I will not discuss right now, but it’s effects are definitely things I will blog about in the near future. I had lived in the U.S. in the past, but it seems that things have evolved a lot during my absence, which is about half a decade, give or take a year.
Now, if for some reason some one outside of my usual subscriber list accidentally found this article and is reading it I have two things to say to you.
- I apologize. Please withstand this bad writing. It will be over soon.
- Aside from the obvious economic differences, the third and first world are vastly different places. The law, culture, habits, people, it’s all different. It’s almost like if you are in a different world, which is also populated by humans, but which have grown different over time due to the evolution and adaption to this new habitat. I will admit that the third world countries, especially the ones relatively near the U.S., imitate and consume American culture to some extent. This makes it a bit more familiar, but still a world apart.
Since all the clarifications necessary for any stray readers that may appear have been presented, without further a due, let me get back to my story. Jump back to the present again. As expected, the cashier scans all the items I picked up. Her cash register checks the bar code, automagically gets the price and adds it up. At the end of the process she gives the grand total of my purchase.
OK, wait, freeze time. Can we think for a minute what just happened here? The purchasing process is automated to such a great extent that the cashier does not need to recognize the product. She does not need to read a price tag off the product. She does not need to manually or with the assistance of a calculator add up the total of the purchase. She simply passes the items through a scanner and the rest is taken care of. Now, it can be argued that this can be done for the sake of efficiency, security and proper information handling. During office hours, I can be the person that pitches that slogan to you. Lucky for you I started writing this after I got off of work. It’s done for a simple thing.
Any non-programmers that may be reading this may be surprised, but YOU ALWAYS HAVE TO ASSUME THAT THE USER IS STUPID. I’m not talking a little clutzy. I’m talking retarded, finger up his ass, eyes crossed, slobbering, shuddering, can’t-remember-how-to-spell-my-name stupid. And this is done for a simple reason. You cannot predict who the user of your system will be. You might have a demography that may give you an idea depending on the how focused the product is, but that still doesn’t narrow it down enough. This assumption serves as a least common denominator. This leads to a significant reduction in the potential of error. Therefore your information, which in the end is always your money, will be protected from it. Or so we like to tell our clients so they are able to sleep at night.
All of these things I have seen before. They were here before I left. They exist in Santo Domingo in certain big chain stores and super markets. They greeted me in my return. OK, roll time again! She gives me my total. I whip out some cash and hand it to her. She inputs the amount into the register, hands me some bills, but hands me no coins which I was expecting. Then I hear a tinkling sound. Let’s put time in slow motion please. I notice a small device next to the cash register facing my way. It’s a black box, with a nickel plated orifice pointing up. After a couple of seconds something astonishing happened. It spit out the exact change I was expecting. Stop time again! I had a brain freeze. It’s sole purpose is to calculate which coins it has to give you depending on the amount of change you are to be returned! I couldn’t move. I was standing stupefied. Lucky for me the friend that accompanied me, whom I mentioned earlier for this reference, gave me a slight nudge which served the purpose of waking me from the trance and giving you the last queue to roll time again. “Dude, pick up your change and let’s get out of here!”, he said. I picked it up, put it in my pocket, and then walked silent for a couple of minutes.
So now the cashiers aren’t even expected to count coins? They cannot be relied with the responsibility of adding and multiplying four (soon to be only three) types of coins. This is unbelievable!
Now you have to understand. The all life forms on this planet naturally adapt to their surroundings and their circumstances. Darwin is the grand daddy of these theory. If you are reading this that means you probably went to school, which means that you should know who he is and what I’m talking about, but these days you never know. It happens all around nature, and it happens within human society as well. By giving the cashier the aid of the cash register, she no longer needs to be adequate with simple arithmetic operations, so she doesn’t do them. Since she doesn’t do them, she is no longer capable of doing them at a rate acceptable to efficiently process a purchase. I will be straight with you. Ever since they let me bring a calculator to a test back in high school, I haven’t been the best guy in the room with arithmetic, but I can defend myself most of the time. And believe me, I CAN’T COUNT MY MONEY! Keep in mind that the cashier has been stripped of most of responsibilities anyway. Now she doesn’t even count change? What does that tell you about how she will adapt to this new circumstance? It’s simple. If she doesn’t have to think, then she won’t.
I recently saw a very funny movie called Idiocracy. It depicts a future where everyone was so dumbed down due to all the automation and lack of intellectual responsibility, society as a whole got to a state where the average person had the IQ of a 3 year old. I interpreted the message as a moral for how we are living today’s life and the things we should change. After what I’ve seen today, I fear it might very well be a prediction of the future.
A good friend of mine passed me a disturbing article today. It tells the story of a vaccine which has been developed that fights sexually transmitted virus which may cause cancer. The disturbing part is not the vaccine itself. The advancement of the sciences of health are almost always good news. The disturbing part is opposition that a program to adopt and distribute the vaccine is receiving. There are numerous arguments some of which I agree with.
Some argue that the tests on the vaccine are not 100% complete. Better understanding of the potential side effects are necessary in order to make a qualified decision on it. They have my moral support on this matter. Others argue that the cost of the treatment is far too high for developing nations. Being a native of one such nation, at 360 American dollars a treatment, I wholeheartedly agree. I would even dare add that even within the United States, under certain situations it would pose some difficulty as well.
All this is well and good, until I got to the part of the article which says: “Some conservative groups complain that by cutting the risk of catching a sexually-transmitted disease, the vaccine would encourage sexual activity in young girls.”. At first I thought I had misread the sentence. I rolled my eyes over it again. Nope. Still there. Then I got angry and started shouting at my poor innocent monitor, who looked back at me with a confused glance. “Why the hell are these people doing this?!”, “They prefer those girls to get sick, spread disease and collectively die?!”, “The moral of the story is more important than saving lives?!” were some of the quick things that came to mind.
After I calmed down, I remembered another organization which functions in very similar fashion: the catholic church. They have an almost identical doctrine. Well, come to think of it, they probably invented it. As a kid, when my mother forced me to go to church. I was less interested in it than I am today. I remember clearly that they did not emphasize the need to become a man of good, or a personal relationship with God, or respect to your brothers and sisters on this earth, or peace with once self. Nope, all of that played second fiddle to the primary slogan: “You gotta do what I say, or you’ll burn in hell”. It’s not for the good of society, or your family, or the people around you. You are in a fight to save yourself, and you are losing the battle! Repent now or face eternal damnation!
Now, keep in mind I was a only a kid. The closest thing to eternal damnation that my feeble mind was able to grasp was getting my behind whupped by my father. I had no idea what these people were talking about. And yet instead of cultivating customs and ideas, simple at first and then progressing over time, that would make me a better man for my immediate society as well as society at large, they just attempted (and failed) to cultivate fear into my “soul”.
What is the relation? Different subject, same approach. Sex is a bad thing! Never mind how we all came to be on this earth. It’s evil! You should never ever ever do it! it’s how Eve got Adam kicked out of the eternal garden (yes my friends, it all goes back to the catholic church again). It’s why people suffer, it’s why you should be punished, and above all in this case, it’s the source of STD’s. Cultivating knowledge amongst the teens so they are aware of the potential dangers and know how to protect themselves? Nah! Explaining what an STD is and how to recognize symptoms in themselves and others? Over rated! Telling them the simple truth: Sex per se is not a bad thing, you just have to do it under the right circumstances? Hell no! Grip their hearts with fear. That’s the fool proof plan!
Ummm… has anyone checked how the rate of teenage mothers is doing? Or the increase in the transmission of STD’s among young people? How about the use of anti-conceptives early and often? Yeah… is it me or are things just getting worse? But since humans naturally fear change, these “conservatives” prefer to continue their outdated ways instead of evolving with the times and feeding this generation the knowledge they really need. Sad thing is that the people with the power to make a difference are paying attention to them and hesitating.
You can’t save the world if you can’t save yourself first. Please my brother and sister. I beg of you. Never let the shadow of ignorance cloud the light of knowledge. It will not shed any positive results in your life or the ones of your immediate surroundings. Never has, never will.