Feature

Opinion: Innovation and pricing is the way to curb piracy, not laws

If you tried to go to Wikipedia yesterday, all you would have seen is this:

Same thing with Reddit:

And for US based folks, Google:

The bill that they’re protesting against is Stop Online Piracy Act and it’s evil twin, Protect IP Act, two laws that aim to clamp down on piracy and IP infringement that threatens to unravel the internet as we know it. We’re not going to bore you with the technicalities of the bill (Mashable made an excellent post dissecting SOPA here) – suffice to say these two bills give the American government too much power over sites that supposedly violate IP and undermines the very open nature of the internet. The fundamental problem here is that the politicians and subsequently, the big name studios and media outfits that are lobbying for SOPA and PIPA’s passing in Congress have failed to keep up with technology and the internet, and are approaching the problem with a Sledgehammer when they should be using a knife.

Innovation is the key to reducing piracy, not laws. Most of the time, piracy is the symptom of a much bigger disease – the lack of access to affordable and convenient content for users. As Gabe Newell put it – Piracy is a service issue. From the man himself: “If a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable.” When their company entered the Russian market, everyone told them that it would be a waste of time because in the Russian market, everyone pirates everything. The company then found out that one of the reasons why Russians preferred pirated copies was because the pirates did a better job of localizing content than the publishers did. Their solution? Make better localized copies of their games. Now Russia is Steam’s second largest market in Europe.

Pricing is another key factor that spreads piracy.  A report by the Social Science Research Council has said that piracy is an issue of pricing, and that the prices of the products should be adjusted depending on the region or the country where it’s being sold. It’s common sense really – a game that’s priced at around $60 (or about Php 2640) in first world countries won’t sell in a country like ours for example, where the minimum wage is only Php 450 a day. If content providers lower the prices of their products, then pinoys will be able to buy legal products and developers and publishers will be paid for their work. Win-win, right? And this particular theory has already been proved by one retailer in the Philippines. DataBlitz has been able to reduce the prices of original games to about Php 1300 – to 1700, and as a result there are a lot more people buying and playing original games now than before. Don’t be fooled by naysayers – there IS a market for original software in this country – the trick there is finding the right  pricing for people to buy it.

Possibly the worst thing anyone can do to curb piracy is enacting draconian copyright protection rules and enforcement. The more content providers tighten their grip in regards to copyright enforcement and protection, the more their content will be pirated. Noted comedian Louis C.K. tested the waters of DRM-less publishing by releasing his 1 hour comedy special without any kind of DRM, region locks or any other crap, for $5 dollars. Guess what? He made a million dollars of off it in 12 days. Again, no DRM, no region locks, no protection.

Piracy is a fact of life. Big media needs to understand that not all pirates are people out to rob them blind. Most pirates are just regular people who want to enjoy the latest games or watch the newest movie, without the means or enough money to do so. Laws like SOPA and PIPA are dangerous to the point of irresponsibility, and big media needs to leave the past and join the rest of us here, in the present.