Yesterday’s Online Copyright Infringement Forum was a joke. It can be argued that the unauthorised reproduction of digital goods cannot be considered theft in the physical sense according to existing laws. Australian consumers are being exploited by content owners, who charge unreasonable amounts for content with no justification for the price differences between other countries and Australia. No wonder Australian consumers are rebelling and are pirating media.
One thing the government and content owners consistently get wrong is the issue of consumption. They assume the desire to consume content is guaranteed. From this premise they argue that the choice consumers make is between paying for content or stealing it and consuming it for free. This fundamental error needs to be contested.
Consumption cannot be assumed. It is not guaranteed. The choice many content consumers make is between viewing some media for free or not viewing it at all. They have no intention of paying for it. This is because it has negligible value for them. If something is easily available for free they will watch it. If not, they will do something else.
The internet has facilitated the development of a single global market for digital goods, including media content. Geographical boundaries and the different release dates, prices and other irregularities that form part of media territories are now meaningless. They are a barrier to consumption and have been declared illegitimate by consumers. Content owners cannot justify exploiting some customers more than others based on where they live.
Content owners have the choice to make their content available for legal purchase to all who want it. They know what works and what doesn’t already. The success of the Apple iTunes store demonstrates that for many consumers, purchasing content is easier than stealing it. Torrenting and other forms of content piracy are used by a minority of media consumers owing to the relative difficulty of doing it. It’s not difficult for those who understand how it works, but many people don’t.
Many of us will have a few favourites we will always buy. But the majority of the content we consume we do so fairly passively and indifferently. Back in the day of broadcast television, many people had the box on in the background for company. We do the same now but with downloads, filling in vacant hours with television because we can, but not because we desperately need to. It helps pass the time, but much of it is not memorable or worth paying for.
Media corporations may well persuade the government to severely punish content pirates, but that won’t increase consumers’ expenditure on digital media. We’ll go back to what we used to do, such as swapping DVDs or sharing existing libraries of offline saved content with friends or reading library books.
Nothing will convince me to pay for bloated bundles of rubbish from Foxtel. The media dinosaurs don’t deserve my money. It will take them some time to realise this, of course, but by the time they work it out they’ll be at the point of collapse. They don’t understand that their disdain for their customers and their egotistical insistence on their own importance is widely detested by consumers. Many of us want them to fail because they have failed us.
I’ve always thought the age of piracy would be temporary. Over a decade ago in the original Napster era I gleefully collected the complete discography of Depeche Mode. Now I have terabytes of films and television to watch, much of it legally recorded from the television thanks to my digital tuner. I’ve been prepping for the internet apocalypse. In the future I may look back with sadness to the day the torrents were finally turned off, but I’ll be in my bunker enjoying my stockpile…