Stupid, Stupid Media

I’ll be brief. Coraline is a really good flick but this post is about how stupid the media can be and why I think Internet piracy is undefeatable….

I don’t always do the right thing when downloading media. This is because I’m human, because I grew up in an era where “tape copying” was how you spread music around (CD burning was just around the corner), and I spent a few years in a country (Singapore) where you really couldn’t buy legit copies of games or tapes.  I might write more about that experience later. My rationalization is that I’m an entertainment junkie and I’m not a rich man. Anyway, I further rationalize this in my belief that Thomas Jefferson built the library system to ensure that culture was free to the masses and that my local library is so underfunded they don’t have much of a movie section at all.  I also tend to buy the things I like and want to support and I believe it’s mainly immoral to pirate things when you’re rich. Wait, instead of “rich” lets use the term “can afford it.” Oh, I also don’t pirate anything game related. This is mostly because I tend to get stuff for free and because I don’t … uh, poop? … where I eat. (Breathe a sigh of relief game PR agents.)

If you survived the introduction you’ve come to the MAIN reason I somtimes pirate. Because it’s more convenient. Draconian copy protection – anything really that inconveniences the legit buyer is, to my mind, nonsense.  If it’s easier and better to pirate, media giants should EXPECT piracy. We’re fans, not monkeys. Make of that what you will.

Here’s the point of this post and a “case in point.”

I bought the Blu-Ray of Coraline (a truly terrific film) and lets remember, I could easily visit any Bittorrent site RIGHT NOW and download this movie, in Blu-Ray quality and in the weak red/blue 3D in about … 30-40 minutes. I could do this that quickly.

Instead I did the “right” thing and bought it from Amazon.  The copy I paid extra for came with 4 flimsy glasses, the movie on Blu-Ray in 2D and 3D, a disc of extras, a Digital Copy in 2D and 3D I could play on my computer, and a, y’know, cover.  I paid for Amazon Prime so I didn’t pay shipping and only had to wait 2 days. 2 days versus 30 minutes – strike 1 (but admittedly not a fair strike – strike 1/2?)

The movie doesn’t seem to like my Blu-Ray player – a Playstation 3 – so it skipped occasionally when Linda and I watched it (to see if it’d give the kids nightmares).

Strike 2 (and a half)

To show it to the kids I chose the Download Digital Copy and was confused when the directions for Mac said “Insert Bonus Disc” and the PC instructions said “Insert Digital Copy Disc” – huh?  Since there was nothing called “Digital Copy Disc” I used my intuition and inserted the one called “Bonus Disc” and waited for it to work.

It worked but… lets call that another half Strike?

Strike 3 (this is an odd form of baseball so we’re going to go with more strikes here)

I had the choice of iTunes (not on the disc – why?) or Windows Media Player and I chose the latter. My question here, and this is the fourth strike is – why did I have to use Windows Media Player to DOWNLOAD my digital copy?  It couldn’t be on the disc or a disc in the package?  It came quick, maybe 15 minutes, but that’s half the illegal way to do it.  Oh, did I mention that I can’t really transfer this movie to another computer easily?  I could if I’d pirated it.

I’m not justifying piracy here. Seriously kids and parents, I’m not.  But to my mind these silly hoops mean, to me, that Universal IS justifying it. Even to a small extent, to me, that seems really stupid.

UPDATE: I was wrong, there aren’t any extras on the BONUS disc.  There are commercials however.  Yep, where they could have put extras, or maybe the Digital Copy (or even iTunes) is filled with previews of other Universal films.  Stuff I can watch for free virtually anywhere on the Internet.  What?

UPDATE II:  It gets better!  The “free digital copy” does NOT have a 3D option!  This means, if I want to watch the movie I bought I must use the Blu-Ray option (which skips slightly in my Blu-Ray player). Did I mention I could have downloaded the 3D version from Bittorrent for free?  Guess what I’m going to do right now?  Anyone want to buy this edition? I didn’t think so.

No Responses to “Stupid, Stupid Media”

  1. I can’t believe i read all that.

  2. I also grew in the era of mix tapes and copying. I even worked at a radio station and copied several hundred albums onto tape. I justified it based on ignorance, in that I knew nothing about copyright infringement. I have several friends that are professional musicians, so I no longer do that, knowing that I am depriving the artist of part of their income.

    That being said, your experience sounds like a giant pain. It shouldn’t be that difficult to watch a movie that you paid for.

  3. Some arguments for you Steve:

    Do your professional musician friends work with a label of almost any size? The way I hear it, over 90% of a record’s profit goes to the suits. Some of this is worthwhile because of advertising costs and such, but much of it isn’t given how cheap a CD really is and the profit margin of it.

    Since radio is no longer a good place to hear music, wouldn’t your musician friends prefer a system where all music is free to the listener, and we support musicians through website donations and/or touring?

    I’d feel better kicking $5+ to a band, rather than $16.99 to a music label who then gives a small amount per record to the band.

    And what about ME?
    I work hard on this site. My contributors do too. I pay for all fees. I make almost nothing from this. At what line do you consider not donating (and here I don’t mean Steve S specifically) a form of piracy? I have a donation button don’t I?

    How am I different than your musician friends Steve? I’m not being confrontational here but I did just do a donation drive that… well, that … well… uh…

    Like a musician giving away music, I’m trying to get attention and reinforce my expertise with this site. It sucks that it doesn’t support me but it leads to some work that does. I’m not saying I’m an artist per se, but I also write fiction that hasn’t been published. If it does one day, I can console myself by knowing that piracy -like the library- spreads my art and builds a fanbase and that’s a part of all this too.

  4. My friends work with a label that they own, so any costs and profits are theirs, though they have several others that belong to their label. One of them tours quite extensively, so he would probably be ok with the system you describe. The other tours less frequently, so I don’t think he would be happy with that kind of system.

    I don’t really have any answers, as I am not an artist of any kind. Don’t you think the holder of a copyright should have a say in how their work is distributed? This is certainly what Jefferson and the other authors of the Constitution thought when they listed copyright and patents as one of the enumerated powers of the Federal government.

    I read a ton, so I frequently use the library. I do occasionally feel guilty, so if I find an author I really like, I will buy the book, as I feel they deserve some compensation.

  5. Agreed on most of your points.
    I own the copyright to GamerDad btw. So you might say I give much of my work – my opinion and expertise is my trade – and I’m generally forced to not be compensated for such, so my sympathy is a bit blunted for anyone else.

    I guess where I fall is that piracy is now fairly old, most people do it and don’t have any qualms. Therefore, it’s up to publishers, musicians, etc., to come up with a way to make money from it. I do think the majority of piracy is done by people who wouldn’t buy the album anyway. Generally I feel access to art is good for art and what I’m really railing against here is the idiocy of them making buying the product – the more difficult and frustrating thing to do. You can’t win if piracy is easier than purchasing. You can’t. It’s a fact of human nature and that means what’s needed and in the future is going to be a sea-change in how artists are compensated. A donation model makes the most sense to me. Failing that, they have to find some ways to make streaming, rather than downloading, more convenient. Hulu and Pandora are excellent examples.

    Also, Founders or not, Libraries can distribute art, books, games, music, etc., any way they want. Artists have no say, copyright or not. The only upshot is that the copies they have, they buy. And I also agree, I’ve chosen to make my website free of charge.

    But is that a *choice* really? Do you think my meager audience would pay for this content? Given the free alternatives out there? No. I have no choice. Piracy just removes the choice from from them and it won’t go away. It’ll only grow. Artists will, MUST, distribute for free and hope for compensation some way or they can choose not to be an artist (webmaster).

    I face the same choice.

  6. I’m serious btw. Before the net, nobody gave away published articles for free except for the ones who could survive entirely on advertising. And those were generally of poorer quality. The NYTimes abandoned their web subscription model.

    Why should I pity your musician friends when I’m already stuck where they’re headed? The only difference is the legality. That’s a big difference for you, being a lawyer and all, but to me it’s a fair analogy. Especially when I look at my bank account and consider the last 6 years. 😉

  7. I’m getting exercised here. Venting some frustration and I’m constructing this argument as I go. I’ve never thought about it this way … forgive me for belaboring.

    To your friend who tours: Congratulations, you’ve found a non-piratey way to make some money off your art! Nobody can pirate a live performance. They can tape it and distribute it, but they can’t pirate the live experience.*

    To your friends who don’t tour: Sorry. Good luck making money in this new environment.

    To me: Do the website for free and make money from freelancing.

    Freelancing, in its way, is my touring. Self-publishing advertises me (giving music away advertises musicians) and that leads to money (and less control). The record companies are dying due to piracy. The publishing world is dying because of the free-wheeling web.

    Your friends are simply facing the choice I face daily.

    * just as people can – and do – steal my writing or distribute my magazine writing (piracy) all over the web.

  8. My friends don’t really complain and they are fortunately married to spouses with steady incomes. I agree that publishers shouldn’t make it harder for honest people to enjoy products, so I can understand your ire.

    Again, I don’t have any easy answers, because I don’t really work in your industry. Piracy will always be easier that buying because the pirates aren’t paying anything. Given a free alternative, people won’t pay for something they can get for free. If PBS wants donations, they have to give away stuff.

  9. I stand corrected. Of all the founding fathers, Jefferson was critical of copyright. From Boing Boing.

  10. I always find myself arguing in circles when the issue of piracy comes up — on the one hand, I was the poor college student pirating everything because I wouldn’t have bought it anyway. And now, I buy most of the stuff I’m interested in, unless the pirated copy is objectively *better* than the paid-for one — like a PC game that I’d have to buy two copies of to play with my wife, or the PSP game that I can keep “juke box style” on a memory stick, but only if I pirate it (though bravo to Sony for committing to bringing all their PSP games out in digital form starting next year!). But the thing is, as many justifications as I may come up with for pirating, it all comes back to money — I want the creators of the content I enjoy to be reimbursed for their work, but I can’t suggest a better system than the one we have now. So I wind up sounding a bit schizophrenic, like GamerDad.

  11. I’m not angry really. I just hadn’t considered most of my points above. So, I was manic in making the connections, not really trying to put anyone down really.

    Here’s an interesting “pro-piracy” anecdote – depending on whether or not you like Bob Dylan:

    When Dylan was a teen he, like everyone really, had NO access to most music from the past. All the Blues legends, Jazz, etc., were out of print (unless they were chart toppers). Even Woody Guthrie mostly played from old sheet music and living old timers for his folk music. All that content was effectively gone.

    Dylan had a friend in Minneapolis (before he was Dylan) who had a monumental music collection. Dylan listened to it constantly and the friend got sick of him, so he through him out. Dylan left with the records. It took the guy a few years to track him and the collection down.

    Dylan credits that theft for his genius. Unlike most of his folk peers in NY he had memory of older styles long gone. He was able to be a chameleon and to bring new forgotten sounds and that’s, according to him, the source of his “genius.” Regardless of how you feel about his other mad skillz, I’m sure this access did help him immeasurably.

    Right now, because of music piracy, there are thousands of potential Dylans out there. This goes for comic books, movies, games – anything pirated that’s no longer readily and cheaply available. Hell, I can credit the Internet for keeping me far more informed that people from the past. With the net, there’s almost no excuse NOT to know anything. Remember when you couldn’t trust a map? I do.

    You don’t have to be comic book guy or some obsessed record collector to have access to past genius.

    I can’t help but see that as, ultimately, a good thing for everyone who likes music or any form of art. I think this was what drove Jefferson’s thinking as well.

    And to James, yeah, schizo is a good word for it. That’s why I tend to judge pirates more harshly when they can afford it. I know too many wealthy people who bittorrent at will.

  12. Good example, and I can certainly sympathize with Dylan (though I am not a fan of his). I don’t feel sympathy for people that are doing it out of greed or that can pay for it. I know some well off people that bittorrrent and I know plenty of others that are not wealthy, but can still afford a rental fee of the cost of a legitimate download.

  13. I love discussions like this. Well thought out and presented. Bravo!

    I try to keep up on what is going on in the world as far as piracy of copyrighted materials and the law, mainly thanks to the RIAA and their Orwellian campaign against the very people who pay their salaries. The media companies (music, movies, newspaper/magazine, gaming, etc) need to come to grips with the fact that piracy is here to stay, and it is not necesarrily a bad thing. Some people get it, some don’t.

    An example of someone who “gets it” is Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. The last NIN album was available for FREE digitally, though you could make a donation. There was no DRM and if I recall, it was available as both a high quality MP3 and FLAC. He also sold a CD that had some extras, a deluxe edition CD with more stuff, and limited edition VINYL RECORD sets. He sold every single one of them. Every penny, after costs, went to NIN. Trent Reznor gets it.

    The team at (Good Old Games) gets it too. They work with publishers to make older games available without copy protection. They are easy to download and run, and costs less than $10. I will pay the $10 for an older game I want to play rather than pirate it because it is so easy to do.

    And just the other night (Tuesday) I went to the Depeche Mode concert at Madison Square Garden. 10 years ago anyone trying to bring a camera or any kind of recording device in would have had it confiscated and possibly been tossed from the show. This week, people were walking in with camera bags, taking pictures with high end equipment (not just camera phones like me) and recording HD video of the show. And the best part, they posted links to the YouTube videos right in the forums on the official Depeche Mode website. Why? The video and pictures just keep building a bigger and bigger buzz for the tour as it goes on, allowing a band that started 27 years ago toe sell 40,000 tickets in NYC for two sold out shows. Depeche Mode gets it.

    But when things happen, like what you experienced GD, where it is more difficult to use the legitimate copy than pirate it, well, we all know what happens. Universal obviously doesn’t get it. The record companies are starting to get it (by allowing music to be sold without DRM) but it seems the RIAA didn’t get the memo.

    I mean look at PC games. DRM on some of them has gotten out of control to the point where it can trash you machine. Or you have to keep the disc in the machine, or have an online connection, etc. What if I wanted to play the game I spent $70 for while on a plane and I forgot my DVD? I’m screwed, unless I went online first and found a cracked exe file that disables the DVD check. Is that pirating?

    What about downloading digital copies of albums you bought 15 years ago? Just because I don’t have the equipment to properly convert it to digital format does that mean I have to buy it again?

    And then there is the cost involved with some items. If I had paid full price for every game that I have ever installed, played for an hour or two, and then deleted ’cause I didn’t like it despite what the reviews said, I would have been broke years ago. Same goes with some of the applications we all use. Microsoft finally got smart and started offering a version of MS Office (the Home & Student) that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. So guess what, less people pirate it. Oh, and more people learn it so they continue to use it (and the more expensive versions) when they go to work for companies.

    Adobe hasn’t quite gotten the memo on that with the prices of Photoshop (though I know they have a educational discounted version, but it isn’t that easy to get and still costs a lot). If it wasn’t for piracy most of the people I know who have become paying customers wouldn’t have known how to use the software good enough to get the jobs where they either request it or are required to use it.

    Now I know this might sound like I am advocating piracy, but I’m not. I think we all should pay for the copyrighted materials that we use on a regular basis, that we enjoy, or that we use to make a living. I support the copyright owners by purchasing any music, movies, software, games, etc that I like, enjoy, or use on a regular basis. And for those companies that can’t do it right, who impose draconian DRM or restrictions, there is always BitTorrent. And if I really like it, I’ll buy it, just don’t expect me to use the purchased version.

  14. I personally don’t think DRM (in games) is that big a deal. so far I have not had any problems with it and have found ways to remove it even though a lot of people say you can’t. piracy is a very sticky issue and there is no one golden answer to it. On one side 90% of the copies of wold of goo are illegally downloaded, shame on us. On the other side company’s are making it harder to use products thinking it will stop piracy, shame on them.

  15. Ah, the piracy topic, yummy!

    First off: On some deep philosophical thoughts on how Copyright affects our Civilization, read “Free Culture” by Lessig – it got my mind working a treat!

    Concerning Andrew’s passionate column: I can totally empathize with what you write. However, this is a very difficult topic to grasp in terms of how much money publishers make, how much damage (or benefit!) comes from piracy etc. Thus, I won’t delve further onto that slippery surface, no matter how much I love to discuss these thoughts.

    That being said, there is a plain and simple fact here: “Punishing” a legit buyer with burdensome procedures or lower-grade goods is a) not fair in any sense of the word, and b) just totally stupid from a business point of view.

    Just one recent personal example: As a huge (like really huge) fan of the Total War series, I really wanted to give the latest entry “Empire TW” a try (poor demo notwithstanding). However, due to the requirement of registering it with a steam account *for life*, I wouldn’t be able to sell it off if I didn’t like it. Enter the downloaded copy…

    So: if we pirate stuff instead of buying it, it’s not because we have some moral justification for doing it – it’s just because we aren’t stupid, and we’re not about let anyone take advantage of our good faith. Maybe when the industry realizes it’s losing the goodwill of it’s customers, they will change their approach to piracy.

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