Matt Gemmell

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An action-thriller novel — book 2 in the KESTREL series.

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The Piracy Threshold

piracy, software, movies & music 3 min read

Music and movie industries, you’re well-known for being incredibly short-sighted, greedy and stupid. I’m not going to argue with that, because you really are.

All right-thinking, rational people look upon your recent efforts towards creating further draconian legislation (such as SOPA and ACTA) with disdain and dismay, because you’re once again looking in the wrong place for the source of your problems.

Let me make this perfectly clear: piracy is your own fault.

You’ve got the whole situation almost exactly backwards. You laughably think that:

  • Piracy is an unfixable social disorder.
  • Piracy happens because of a lack of effective security measures.
  • Piracy is the consumer’s fault.

Congratulations on that big, perfect zero score. Stepping outside the remedial school for a moment, here’s the revelation:

  • Piracy is a readily-fixable customer experience problem.
  • Piracy happens because you’re fucking people (notably, via pricing).
  • Piracy is your fault.

The experience of almost every media-consuming human being on the internet is summed up by the following graph.

The Piracy Theshold

When honesty becomes too difficult, dishonesty is easier.

The majority of people have a basic desire to be honest - and I mean actually honest, rather than some limited definition based strictly on the law. People will go to reasonable lengths to be honest. It makes us feel good about ourselves, and it confers a certain immunity from legal problems.

But then you fuck us. First you fuck us with exorbitant pricing. Then you fuck us with inconvenience by not making your content universally available when we want it. Then you fuck us by treating every paying customer like a criminal.

Fucked by money, fucked by convenience, and fucked by judgement. We know that you hate us, and you’d better be aware that we absolutely hate you too.

So, since you pushed us too far, we decide to fuck you back, by “stealing” your content. In return, we get a better experience all round than if we’d actually purchased it on your primitive spinning discs or in your Orwellian DRM-encumbered digital formats.

I’m a developer, and I know a lot of other developers. Pretty much everyone I know has purchased some of your DRM-encrusted media, then stripped the DRM so they can consume their media in the way they want to. Pretty much everyone. They don’t see that as a criminal act, and they never will. Similarly, pretty much everyone I know feels that it’s absolutely acceptable to download a digital copy of something they already own on a spinning disc. Both of these common practices indicate that there’s an enormous problem with the “solution” of using DRM.

The vast majority of people are happy to buy your stuff, but only if you’re reasonable about it. £10 for a movie isn’t reasonable; it’s greedy. People don’t feel that’s the right price. We’re not asking to get things for free, but we’re not willing to be fucked.

We’ll buy stuff if it’s convenient to do so, and if the price is reasonable. Any sensible business would thus have as its goal “make our stuff convenient to buy, and price it reasonably”. You, however, suffer from some kind of brain cancer where your goal becomes “find ways to force people to buy our stuff regardless of how inconvenient and extortionate it is”.

Well, fuck you. There’s always going to be some kid who can find a way around your next big DRM scheme. There’s always going to be a teenager who places zero value on their own time, and will gladly spend days just to know that, in the end, they fucked you back just a little bit. It’s a losing battle for you, and it’s insane to even participate.

Piracy can never be completely eradicated, because there are always going to be criminals, and there are always going to be brain-addled, hormone crazed teenagers on the internet.

Teenagers grow up, though, and criminals are a tiny minority. Meanwhile, there’s the rest of the entire adult world who are delighted to pay a reasonable price for convenient access to your stuff. The same people who hate being treated like criminals, and who really hate feeling that they’ve been robbed.

Give us convenient content at a reasonable price, and we’ll buy it. Sell the stuff without DRM, for a few dollars. Make it available to everyone, worldwide, at the same time. Then take the massive, unending pile of money, forever.

Or keep doing what you’re doing, and enjoy your ceaseless war of attrition, ever-rising tide of negative public opinion, and eventual forced irrelevance. And get fucked.

(Got a comment? I’m @mattgemmell on Twitter.)