On innovation, litigation and exasperation

I was just reading Craig Grannell’s new blog post, There’s no justification for piracy, but there are obvious reasons why it happens, and I found myself once again agreeing exactly with what he says. The post was prompted both by the amazing Matt Gemmell’s The Piracy Threshold, as well as by yesterday’s Oatmeal comic, I tried to watch Game of Thrones and this is what happened, which basically explains piracy not as justifiable, but as the inevitable result when a person exhausts every reasonable avenue for obtaining content legally.

As Grannell points out, there are arguments to the contrary, but I think what it all really comes down to is simple: People want your content. They will make a reasonable effort to obtain it legally, at a reasonable price. But when you build a wall around your content, by charging exorbitant prices, deliberately misunderstanding the concept of fair use by fighting format shifting, or simply making it unavailable altogether, a lot of people are going to find a way around that wall.

I don’t condone torrenting, nor do I participate in it. In that regard, I don’t know if I’m in the minority on the Internet or not. But I can understand why it happens. More importantly, I believe it would not be that difficult for content owners to eliminate, or at least diminsh to irrelevancy. They just need to try.

But trying means change. It means meeting content consumers halfway. First, it means recognizing them as potential customers, not as potential thieves.

Change can be hard to accept. But I just cannot comprehend how “big media” doesn’t recognize the potential here. Instead of fighting desperately to hang onto dwindling DVD and CD sales, there’s a huge potential market for online distribution. But it requires thinking differently. Prices may go down, but so will distribution costs, by a lot. Like, almost zero. Margins may be slimmer, but that can be more than made up for with volume.

Would making everything readily available online, legally, at a modest price, eliminate piracy? Probably not. But that’s not the right way to think about it. Every advancement in technology since the printing press has presented the risk of IP theft (though, granted, that’s a modern concept), but it has also presented far greater opportunity for those who aren’t afraid of it.

So, you can resent and sue your would-be customers. Or, you can respect and engage them. I think we’re all fed up with how things are working right now. Let’s be reasonable.