Friday, January 25, 2013

Why it's Okay to Pirate

 Let me tell you why people pirate. This post is inspired by the PS3's Cinavia digital rights management software, which kicks in and blocks your illegal movie's audio 20 minutes into the movie. You know, once you're into it. Let me look into five modern movies and see if they're available for streaming: End of Watch, Frankenweenie, Bourne Legacy, Dredd 3D, and Cosmopolis. To see what's available for rent and purchase, online or physical, I'm going to use CanIStreamIt, a website that does what the title implies. Amazon, Apple, Google, and Vudu, they're almost all available to stream at each one of these major distributors, for $4. Oh, and if you're tech-savvy enough to have your wifi setup correctly, plus a PS3 or Roku type device, certainly you'll need the high definition feature. That ups the price to $5 a rental for a 24-to-48 hour time period.

Hey, remember these?

Now, you may think the price is not bad. And at the risk of dating myself, I recall when brand new VHS releases were $3 for 3 days at the local rental joint. DVDs were the same. Even the overpriced places like Blockbuster matched the $5 but you also got a 5-day rental and certain deals came about now and then. The prices were also justifiable, as real, physical stores come with an overhead. You've gotta pay for the building, the bills, the employees, the services, and the media for others to rent. Well, now, you could say, That's the old model. It is, but that same rental store still exists and now rents blu-rays, at a more reasonable price for a longer period of time. But let's throw this aside and examine another argument.

Moments before the inevitable triple-murder-suicide

But it's cheap compared to a movie ticket. Well, yeah, once you dismiss the fact you've basically subsidized the cost of a $1000 television over a decade and say, $300 gaming console or a laptop to be able to stream said media, and the electricity and the seats. Oh, and you pay monthly for a high speed internet connection. Then it's only $5 compared to a cinema-going experience. Oh, but it matters even less, because a modern movie experience is ridiculously overpriced. Matinee pricing is $8 per person. A ridiculous cost, considering every time I've been most the seats are empty. Doesn't an empty theater defeat the purpose? Both from a social and financial standpoint. The regular pricing is worse at around $12-$15 per person. The price comparison isn't a good argument. Something with a 400% markup isn't a good deal even if you're getting it at half off.

Now, let's look at it from a different angle. Of the five movies, only one of them isn't available on Redbox. Redbox is a vending machine for renting movies. That means for $1.50 I could drive for 3 miles and rent the actual blu-ray of these movies, and can get almost 2 days of mileage out of that and see it in better, uncompressed blu-ray HD quality. And you're going to say, But okay, you save time and money on gas. Yes, good point. Just like blu-rays waste money in production, packaging and shipping. All those semi-trucks and retail outlets. Wait a minute, shouldn't it cost more considering all that other shit involved? Don't forget the expensive research and development costs that went into creating the machines, and their production, and the cost to ship them places, and I bet they might even get charged rent for wherever the machine's located. So all that, plus they buy blu-rays, games, and DVDs in mass, and are somehow able to produce a product $3.50 cheaper than the competition, with better quality and including the special features.

Tesla is wanking in his grave

Okay, but not every Redbox will have everything. They only hold 200 discs. Some new movies are put on a hold for x amount of days before release. Still, it's theoretically possible to do all this extra work and distribute movies much cheaper and in better quality. Look, I'll even include a picture of the inside of a Redbox video vending machine. Look at the beauty and hard work that went into making that. Imagine the research and development (that R & that D). You've gotta employ people to keep it stocked and they all drive trucks. It's brilliantly designed with internet connectivity so you can look online and rent shit before you even go get it and you always know what's available. That picture is the circuit board-equivalent of hardcore pornography. It's beautiful.

So when you distribute digitally you do much less work because the infrastructure is already there, no shipping, no physical media, no environment-harming waste products are being created. Any distribution cost is paid for via bandwidth which is the customer's responsibility. All you gotta do is work out rights agreements and host a bunch of servers. Okay, so servers are the big money drain costing us an extra $3.50 for a rental. Okay, you got me, servers need buildings, and bills, and employees. More so than rental stores or Redbox? I doubt it. There are no distribution costs, and from what I know servers aren't hard to maintain. I mean, a Tony Hawk video game from 10 years ago will still have server slots available if you try it today.

So, all the money's tied up in those high-priced, baller, golden servers, got it. I mean, they still have money to lobby against piracy, and the government still has cash to train people in foreign countries to stop piracy, but whatever. The argument is still null. Remember Oink? Oink was wonderful, as far as large scale, well-calibrated, illegal internet pirating is concerned. You could get a pristine copy of any music imaginable, in mp3 or lossless quality formats like FLAC. It was all ran by people via torrents, for free, using their personal PCs as servers for the file sharing. Free. This kills the external cost argument. It was ran efficiently because it was a community effort with a few simple rules to ensure everyone was uploading, and uploading quality. The community element ensured there were rarely any issues. The high quality stuff rose to the top. This was brilliant, efficient, and was years ago.

All hail the Holy One

Netflix is a reasonable movie-streaming service at $8 a month. It's popular because it's affordable, and because it works quite well. Legal streaming has surpassed overall bandwidth usage over illegal downloads thanks to services like Netflix. Despite this, content providers have failed to realize a simple premise: why pay for legal content when it's provided more easily, in better quality, and a better product illegally? Try to use your iTunes movies on Android, etc. DRM has made media harder to use, and it comes in worse quality. Oh, and if you want say higher quality iTunes songs, you need iTunes Plus, which comes with a 30 cent premium per song or you pay a yearly fee. The irritating part is the best way to curb the unethical practices of piracy would be to curb the unethical business practices. Tons of money goes to stopping piracy would could go to create a better infrastructure or back new ideas.

A Playstation game will usually costs $20 more to download, which has no resale value, nor did it require a life-cycle of production, shipping, packaging, and storage. Plus the non-downloaded copy is a physical, tangible, real thing you can hold. Buying something streaming should always be cheaper. Let's try a $5 bargain bin movie from Walmart. The critically-acclaimed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. For $5 you own a physical copy of the DVD for life, for the same price you "own" it online which means DRM restrictions will make it unplayable once the apocalypse hits. If you want to buy all 4 movies in a DVD boxset, it's $10 to own physically, $35 to own digitally, and $13 to rent. That's right, $3 more to rent four movies digitally than to own them physically. Unlike stores, which have much more overhead, digital media rarely goes on sale. But let's say you want a modern movie in HD like The Hunger Games. The high-def digital purchase is $18.00 on Amazon, and the physical blu-ray disc is $17.67 on Amazon that also includes a bonus disc of extra features as well as a free digital copy of the fucking movie!

Blankman: coming soon to the Criterion Collection

Theoretically you can buy a copy of a new movie, keep the download or physical copy, sell the other. And you see how shortsighted and stupid this all begins to become. Some companies do digital right. Steam is one of them. Steam has reasonable prices, Steam has sales, Steam has minimal DRM, Steam has no you-can-only-install-this-so-many-times limit. Simple premise: people will pay for a great service. But for every Steam, there's a hundred Playstation Networks and Xbox Lives and iTunes. So if you want to watch the great 1938 classic The Adventures of Robin Hood on Vudu, somehow you'll still be charged $3.99 to rent it in HD. $4.99 to rent it in HDX, whatever the fuck that means. $18 to own this 75-year-old movie. Okay but it is a classic, even if no one in present time desires to watch it. Let me try something more stupid. Wayne's World has the same prices. Major Payne and Blankman are $14 each to own. Oh, and I'm pretty sure you can't put technicolor movies from the 30s in HD.

Povertyville, NE

Availability is another issue. Yeah, sure I'm a twat for wanting to watch a 6-hour Frontline special about a farm couple in Nebraska, but that's my business. That documentary's called The Farmer's Wife. It wasn't available to torrent, but I was in the mood to see it. I searched Amazon and PBS sites, and the other Frontline episodes were $3 but this one wasn't available. Only a $30 DVD was available to order. I feel entitled to it for free or at least less. Here's why. Because my library carries the thing, my taxes contributed to it, for this documentary that couldn't have been rented more than twice lifetime. I simply wanted to avoid the ride and wasted gas. My library also has books, music, and modern blu-rays, all free. At what point does stealing become arbitrary? Probably at the point where it makes more economic (saving gas) and ecological (saving energy) sense to do so.

A documentary I torrented recently, The Bridge, about suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge, could not be streamed or bought digitally. Werner Herzog's Stroszek, which I'd like to see again, can be found nowhere online. The late Krzysztof Kieslowski's excellent 10-part Decalog series that tackles the most troublesome subjects of modern life cannot be streamed. I would've never seen it without an illegal download. The 10-hour series costs $90 if you wish to purchase it new. So, if I were an ethical person, I still would've ignored the purchase by virtue of whoever's in charge of his legacy being selfish pricks. $90 for something that was aired on TV in the 80s and is available at the local library. All this to add to the inevitable Planet Plastic. Maybe I'm full of shit. But that excrement will help plants grow. Those million copies of Susan Boyle's debut album won't.

Back to basics

People want to be fair. But it's like when the government invades your privacy to make things secure. How about you lead by example and exhibit some transparency first. If you're not practicing what you preach, no one's going to take you seriously. That's why I can't listen to my father when he says to eat well and work out. Unite the communities of piracy with the content providers. Stop throwing money toward stomping out piracy when you can use that to build a new format, one where people are monetarily rewarded with lower prices for uploading torrents and adding to the infrastructure of the content industry, instead of being the supposed parasites. And don't call it impossible. If people can collectively do it better on their own, surely they can do it better with additional resources and legal consent.

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