Piracy and the lack of a stick

The issue of piracy on the Internet has particularly high visibility, with Wikipedia, Reddit and WordPress blacking out their sites in response to the US government’s plans for legislation to ban links to pirated material.  The key issue is that the government’s plans aren’t attacking the pirates directly, but are instead attacking anyone who runs a site which may carry or link to copyright material.  A similar issue exists in the UK, with the last government’s pressing through of the Digital Economy Act 2010; under a strict interpretation of the act, ISPs could be forced to block access to Google if it were shown to link to pirated material. 

It is very unlikely that any action detailed in the proposed legislation will have a significant impact on piracy levels.  If links to copyright material aren’t shown on one site, even the most casual pirates will simply look on another site.  The media companies will need to spend more and more effort tracking down every link to copyright infringement, and at each stage they won’t be affecting the pirates themselves, but merely third parties.  These third parties may be “enabling” copyright infringement, but only to the same extent as the manufacturer of a photocopier or a camera.

Why, then, are copyright holders not pursuing the pirates themselves?  There have been a few high-profile cases where they have made successful claims against individuals, but on the whole it is simply too hard to track people.  And these people must be tracked in order to be beaten with a stick.

Instead, media companies should look towards the opposite end of the incentive spectrum, and find some carrot to encourage people to buy legal media.  Many arguments have been made over price, and this is no doubt an important factor; any legal purchase price will be compared to an alternative of £0 and so legal prices cannot be too high.  However, people will pay for an enhanced product – whether that enhancement is ease of use, printed booklets, or loyalty schemes.  Copyright holders should encourage people to buy legal media rather than looking to discourage them from buying illegal.

At the moment, however, the legal route often gives a lower quality product, with unskippable adverts on DVDs, inability to transfer BluRays to a digital form for watching on tablets, and increasing numbers of video games even coming without a printed manual.  When people are faced with an inferior product for more money, is it any wonder that piracy continues to thrive?

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