I have wondered aloud about the futility of fighting software piracy. Certainly, I’ve given up on any personal relief (ie. within the next 5-10 years.) But the recent ‘3 Strikes’ ruling by the Irish High Court, has given me a possible new way to think about the issue that does offer some glimmer of hope.
I call it…
The Anti-Smoking Campaign
People don’t smoke nearly as much anymore—well, at least in ‘the west’. Like our use of fossil fuels we’ve pretty much had our fun and realised that there’s a price to pay. So most people don’t smoke anymore; or if they do? They wish they didn’t because of the obvious issues (death being one, expense another.) Only the nuttiest of libertarians still proffer ‘equal rights’ to smokers.
I’m pretty sure that framing piracy like smoking is the way to go;#8212;not only as personally damaging but also injurious to the society as a whole. Seen from that POV, it’s possible to envision a marketing campaign that could change hearts and minds over the course of decades.
I’m addressing this essay to the idea of ‘futility’. If you are of the mindset that simply doesn’t see piracy as any big deal then this post is obviously not for you. I’m only writing to those who’s main objection is that we should ‘save our breath to cool our porridge’ since the problem is intractable.
“Ah but wait!”, you say, “Smoking gives you horrible diseases. As far as I know, ‘file sharing’ doesn’t even give a guy zits. The analogy is crap! (And wishful thinking crap, which is the worst kind of crap.)” I hear ya. But I’m not certain that personal fear was/is the only big factor that drove everyone to give up smoking in the space of about 25 years. At a certain level, I think people just got sick of it (no pun intended.) And by that I mean, like all fads, after the initial fun wore off, people realised that it was more trouble than it was worth. I was at a hotel a few months ago and a person I was talking to complained about the smell of smoke in the older rooms; and this was a current smoker saying that. Even if you’re hooked, you probably realise that it’s a costly habit—no matter how cool it looked when Humphrey Bogart did it (well, before that LUNG CANCER did him in of course.) It’s costly to businesses and individuals and franky, the high it gives one is pretty lame compared with the legal buzz one can get these days simply by downing a Red Bull or one of those ‘herbal relaxing teas’. So at some point I think it would’ve gone the way of Beanie Babies Investments simply because there are so many other ways to be cool nowadays that don’t involve leaning against a lamppost and striking a pose with a Lucky Strike between yer fingers.
“Rubbish”, you further retort, “The Indians gave the gift of the pipe to First World Man hundreds of years ago.” Right, but ‘We Smokem Peace Pipe” is a looooong way from RJR and Phillip Morris. To me, tobacco use in the New World was a bit like ‘file sharing’ before the Internet. And Big Tobacco today is kind of like BitTorrent. Back in the day (circa 1700) tobacco was limited People didn’t light up whenever and wherever because it was expensive and the quality was so uneven. In fact, it was a bit like dope is now—and was recognised as such. Usage did not skyrocket until the twentieth century, when technology made what once was a luxury into a commodity. Then, until 1960 or so, tobacco was actively supported by the government and society because it made monster amounts of money and was a very cool thing amongst the youth who then got hooked on it until it became a social norm. Inadvertently, society has been supporting ‘file sharing’ because frankly, the things necessary to shut it down cost a lot and since the internet was originally ‘free’ (both meanings apply) everyone now feels entitled to everything on the internet as ‘free’. So kids have gotten used to it and over the past decade piracy has become almost normative both because of the ‘freedom’ and because of the ‘no charge.’
My guess is that eventually, software piracy will be seen similarly as costly to society. But more to the point, it will also be seen as a PITA for individuals. The convenience of having music ‘in the cloud’ will make the whole process of downloading anything seem quaint and tedious. I’m counting on the accelerating pace of intolerance of any effort towards obtaining entertainment to make even software piracy feel onerous. Don’t believe it? Look how fast movie rental stores are shutting down in the face of on-demand cable and NetFlix. People will stop stealing because they will be able to obtain a higher level of instant gratification without it. And it will be seen as much cooler to have that instant gratification so people will pay for it. And those who have to resort to piracy will be seen as ‘ghetto’ by comparison and will feel strongly compelled to get on the right side of the law in order to not appear so uncool.
The trick for people who create art will be to find a way to get paid for having their music in the cloud. Currently, this is not possible. Not enough people are yet willing to pay for this sort of access, but I’m fairly certain that the Comcasts and Verizons of the world—the people who have learned how to get people to pay for convenient entertainment will figure out how to do this in concert with all the politicians they have in their collective pockets.
In 60 or so BC, the Roman Navy squashed an epidemic of seemingly intractable piracy throughout the Mediterranean Sea using the most brutal tactics imaginable. Similarly I’m optimistic that the monopolist pricks that squeeze all of us every month to watch TV are up to the challenge of squashing these modern day slugs.
So between the new technologies that will make file sharing ‘so yesterday’ (and therefore uncool) and the might of the plutocratic matrix, I’m happy to report that the future of illegal downloads is about as dismal as that of smoking;#8212;at least in the west. What we’ll be left with, however, is a ‘pay to play’ entertainment world run almost exclusively by Comcast, Sony, Disney and The Baby Bells. I’d like to tell ya how we’re gonna fight the power against them, but I fear we must let them help us rid one evil before we fight the next battle. They’re sort of like Stalin and…. er…. we get into bed with them temporarily to eliminate Hitler and then….
Crap. I started out with a ‘smoking’ metaphor and ended with a WWII simile. That can’t be good.
But don’t worry. File sharing is coming to an end. But that doesn’t mean that artists will do any better than they are now. Sadly, artists are like the innocent townspeople who are continually getting run over by opposing armies during the Napol….
Never mind. 😀