Jan 9, 2013

[Internet] Online Piracy: A Symptom of Distribution Issues?

Hollywood does not understand what hackers really are

When we talk about online piracy of music, television shows, movies and whatever, more often than not the assumption is that we're talking about a bunch of criminal hacker types living in their basements determined to bring down the global economy or something. Piracy is often equated as "theft" as if everyone who pirates content would have naturally purchased a legal copy had piracy not been an option - another inaccurate assumption.

Let's face it - everyone is guilty of piracy at one point in time or another, including the very studios who claim to be against it. And illegal downloads do not automatically equate to people not willing to pay for legal content either. And I feel this is most especially true outside the US.

While I've stopped buying fake DVDs sold on street corners, I have been known to download stuff from the internet. Fellow geeks in the area freely share copies of movies and shows with one another. Don't deny it - it's all true and we all do it. But it's not because we don't want to give our favorite shows and movie franchises our full geek support from a financial perspective either. More often than not, we can't even get access to these shows through existing channels.

Take for example Fringe, one of my favorite shows. There are quite a number of Fringe fans here in the Philippines. And yet if you search on ClickTheCity's TV Guide for a local listing for Fringe, you're going to have a hard time finding a schedule for the show, even for the last season (and not the final season in-progress. And maybe this is a bad example since it's a bit of a niche audience given the science fiction slant. But it's not like one can easily find a cable channel showing Leverage either. No one has really bothered to acquire the local or even regional distribution rights for this show and so no dice either.

Maybe you could get the original DVDs, assuming they're available. But that distribution channel isn't all that great either. You may catch the odd season on display here or there but you won't find the entire show run at any given time. What more for older shows - we end up needing to source copies overseas. Case in point - my copy of the complete Transformers Generation 1 cartoon is a DVD box set that someone had to bring home to the Philippines after I had ordered it online via Amazon and shipped to their US address. I know of friends who stream shows via online services like Hulu and Netflix, which automatically means they are circumventing the Terms of Service for those platforms since the only way to get them to work is by spoofing US IP Addresses via VPN or other related technologies.

And don't get me started on British television shows - at least their US counterparts see some degree of circulation in the region. Almost every single fan of shows like Doctor Who or Sherlock are guilty of piracy to one degree or another since the shows simply don't air here. I've never seen a Doctor Who DVD box set officially on sale either so acquisition will have to involve travel to a country that sells them or a lot of international shipping. And given our postal rates and the ridiculous shifting standards of our customs bureau, it's no wonder why we hate ordering stuff from outside the country.

At least by some small miracle a show like Downton Abbey is showing on DIVA Universal. But think about it - who the heck would actively sign up for DIVA Universal? And the list goes on and on.

And it's not just about TV of course. We had to wait for over 3 months before The Muppets finally aired in local cinemas. And by that time the US had already released the official DVDs, which kind of made the whole thing moot. And critically-acclaimed movies like Crash and The Hurt Locker saw very limited releases the first time around and only saw limited extended runs after they got noticed at the Oscars.

And these cases are all because we have distributors who are making decisions for us as consumers. They're the ones who get to pick and choose which show goes where, which movie gets the most air time and all that. And in this increasingly global community that we live in given the wonders of the internet, it's hard to pretend that we know nothing about all the great shows, movies and whatever that are available in other countries.

Before the studios and big business continue their crackdowns on these pirates who are somehow threatening to take down their entire companies, some serious thought needs to go into our global distribution networks and why the heck do we make it so difficult to make content universally available. I'm not even mandating that every single movie created be shown in every single country, but online streaming solutions could be improved to allow for greater distribution.

We have the right to choose what we want to watch and there has to be a way for media companies to figure out how to take advantage of their global audience instead of just fighting tooth and nail to prevent their local markets from pirating their content. We're the same people who are willing to shell out thousands of pesos on affiliated merchandise may it be toys, shirts, books or prop replicas. So why deny yourselves the opportunity? Why do we tailor our laws to make it harder to expand your fan base outside your home country?

There's definitely something broken in the system. And I'm not talking about the leaks that allow online piracy to thrive. And while I'm not saying that piracy should be legalized by any means, but the continued prevalence of piracy is certainly a symptom of a greater issue at large.
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  1. i have being saying all the time but have but made an elegant point about it. why can't they just post it on the internet and charge people for a fee, like the bbc international iplayer (still not available in asia). they charge you for a monthly fee to watch shows and live streams for all bbc channels. but the problem is not access but money. old guard don't like the internet because it takes money away for local and region distributor. before the 1995, you have to watch it in the cinema, buy a vhs or rent in video city to watch your shows or movie. the internet changed that. and not everyone is happy.