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The Piracy Pivot – A new heading for copyright enforcement?

August 7, 2013 1 comment

1jack

Pretty much seven years ago to the month, Zeitgeist was putting the finishing touches to his Master’s dissertation. It centered on intellectual property rights, and the infringement of those rights by consumers who were downloading content they weren’t paying for. Zeitgeist conducted multiple interviews, including several with key people at studios and industry bodies in Europe and Los Angeles. It was a time when the industry were trying to curtail piracy using massive fines and jail sentences, at the same time providing few legal alternatives for content consumption online (this latter issue is still a problem today). Needless to say, there were a fair amount of heads buried in the sand. We’ve talked about piracy before, from its murky impact on the bottom line to the stricture of copyright law.

It was refreshing to see the news reported by industry trade mag Variety that Comcast – a large cable operator in the US, which also owns NBCUniversal – is investigating new methods of disrupting piracy online. Specifically, they are planning to push pop-ups to those who are downloading content illegally, providing them with links to alternative domains where the same product can be downloaded legally. There are privacy concerns here, undoubtedly. What was most reassuring about the idea though was crystallised below by journalist Andrew Wallenstein, which for Zeitgeist hits the nail on the head:

Using pirated content as a platform to drive legal transactions reflects an alternate philosophy regarding copyright infringement, one that sees the illegal activity less as a crime that requires punishment and more as lead generation to a consumer whose behavior is borne out of inadequate legitimate digital content options.

Wow! What a difference!

When was the last time you visited Blockbuster video? Thought so. Zeitgeist remembers being very excited when he first saw ads akin to that of above; a magical destination for access to many, many films. Of course, the problem was that one had to drive to the store in hope that the film that had just come out that weekend had not already sold out. Then along came Netflix et al. (not to mention Torrents), and Blockbuster, like some listless Neanderthal, was far too slow in catching up. Today it is sagged with a $1b debt. Reuters have an interesting (though mostly anecdotal) article about the demise of the retail giant. Unfortunately, Blockbuster – once a destination space – failed to anticipate the digital revolution of both choice (the availability and range of films online exceeds that of a bricks and mortar store) and convenience (why leave home to rent a movie you can just as easily have mailed / streamed to you online?).

Another industry currently in the throes of potentially significant change is the book industry. The Economist recently featured a couple of excellent articles on what the iPad – and its inevitable successors and imitators – will mean for books and bookstores, for better or worse. When almost 1 in 5 books sold in North America come from Amazon.com, what does that mean for the independent book store? Zeitgeist believes that such shops, like the wonderful Heywood Hill in Mayfair, will have to rely increasingly on their provenance and their eccentrically niche position in the market, organising arcane events and readings to enhance this view.