It’s Not Piracy – It’s Free-to-Play

i don’t want to chime in on this SOPA/PIPA stuff and sound ill-informed, alarmist, and adolescent like many of the current commentators do. (“SOPA is BAD because i can’t pirate movies any more … er … i mean, because it takes away my freedom!“)

Braveheart

Who do you think you are – William Wallace?

The truth is that i Am Not A Lawyer, and neither are you, and that makes us (and most laypeople) incapable of reading and comprehending legislation and bill proposals and legalese. We need our lawyer friends to do that for us, and since lawyers burn money to heat their homes, we have to put up with understanding these proposed bills with second-hand, filtered, and often distorted information.

Old Lady

Obama’s new health care plan will boil elderly people down for craft paste!!

As a lawyer friend of mine put it to me recently, anyone who does possess the skill and interest to read a bill like SOPA also brings with him an agenda, so you need to crank your bullshit filter up to High Alert (those last few were my words, not his. And, charitably, he didn’t charge me for his words.)

POPE-A

i liken the way we’ve heard about SOPA and PIPA to the way medieval peasants experienced the Bible. They were illiterate, and Mass was in Latin, so they relied on the liturgy to be retold to them after church let out, in the town square. As i tell my daughters: whenever you hear anything, think to yourself “Who’s speaking? Why are they saying what they’re saying? And what do they stand to gain or lose by communicating it to me?”

Honest Jon

It may sound like a cynical attitude, but hey – welcome to the postmodern age. (Also: get stuffed, Disney copyright)

A bit of what drives me nuts about the current lay “discourse” on SOPA is the standard weaselly excuses people make to protect their ability to steal media. And i will call it stealing, for now, because that’s what it is … taking for-sale or protected goods without paying for them is called “theft”, or “stealing”. i’m not going to argue that. What i will suggest though, as i did to my lawyer friend, is that people constantly push against the boundaries of law in ways that, once the scale tips, those once prohibited behaviours become legally permissible.

People of Wal Mart

There oughta be a law.

Here’s a short list of things you couldn’t legally do a few years back, and can now do thanks to enough people bumping against the boundaries long and hard enough:

– fellate someone (oral sex was decriminalized in Alaska in 1971. True.)
– marry someone of the same sex (boundaries are still being pushed on this one, as you well know)
– sit at the front of the bus if you’re black
– vote if you’re a woman

(the key difference here is that these laws are all about people, whereas copyright and piracy are about ideas and things … and it’s offensive to many of us that theft of ideas and damage to things can be punished as much as or more severely than damage to people)

With that key distinction made, digital piracy is another example of people pushing up against the limits of law, and in great enough numbers, that the law will eventually have to change to meet the demands and desires of the people. There’s a very interesting parallel between video game consumption and linear media consumption. Games can be pirated just like movies, music and teevee shows can. But the gaming industry is younger and more nimble than “Old Media”, and is constantly exploring new revenue models, because the game industry (perhaps uniquely) realizes it needs to Adapt or Die.

Skate or Die

Adapt or Die! Or Skate!

F2P via P2P

Free-to-play is one of these new-ish revenue models. It evolved out of a situation where players were being forced to pay a high price – $60 for maybe 20 hours of entertainment – with a sight-unseen product. They could only determine its value via reviews, word-of-mouth, and brand affinity. If they spent the cash and didn’t enjoy the game, they were out of pocket and out of luck – there was really no return policy. Their best bet was to hawk the disc at a Buy-And-Sell shop (about which the industry complained bitterly).

But now there’s this free-to-play model. The game is free – anyone can have it, no strings attached, and perhaps the file is shared on a peer-to-peer network. You download it, and you play as much as you like. There’s no risk. If you don’t like the game, you get rid of it and try something else. People can pay extra money for added value: new weapons, different levels, and snazzy hats. The hope of the game developers is that the minority of paying customers will subsidize the game’s development costs. Good games float to the forefront, and the best developers who offer the best value are rewarded with the most money.

Introducing Free-to-Watch

Now, think about people who pirate movies, and check this out:

Free-to-watch is one of these new-ish revenue models. It evolved out of a situation where audiences were being forced to pay a high price – $20 for maybe 2 hours of entertainment – with a sight-unseen product. They could only determine its value via reviews, word-of-mouth, and brand affinity. If they spent the cash and didn’t enjoy the movie, they were out of pocket and out of luck – there was really no return policy. Their best bet was to hawk the DVD at a Buy-And-Sell shop.

But now there’s this free-to-watch model. The movie is free – anyone can have it, no strings attached, and perhaps the file is shared on a peer-to-peer network. You download it, and you watch it as much as you like. There’s no risk. If you don’t like the movie, you get rid of it and try something else. People can pay extra money for added value: the big-screen theatre experience, film festival premiers with actors and directors in attendance, 3D glasses, DVD extras, and a physical product that they can touch and display on a shelf. The hope of the film-makers is that the minority of paying customers will subsidize the movie’s development costs. Good movies float to the forefront, and the best film-makers who offer the best value are rewarded with the most money.

The Patty Duke Show

Oh yes they’re couuusins, identical couuusins …

If movie studios were less entrenched and more willing to try new things like the game industry does, it’s possible that this whole concept of piracy would fly out the window. Laws would be changed, and “piracy” would be seen for what it really is: the agile, forward-thinking film industry’s experiment with their pioneering free-to-watch monetization model.

1 thought on “It’s Not Piracy – It’s Free-to-Play

  1. Mushyrulez

    (I don’t know if Mashable is reliable, but they recently wrote a post somewhat explaining SOPA, with the actual full text of the bill attached.)

    Free to watch ‘linear media’ does exist – YouTube offers some free movie. The same marketing strategy surrounding normal YouTube videos can be applied to movies, but it isn’t, because I guess YouTube doesn’t have copyright or some complicated legal shenanigans like that.

    However, a good example of a free-movie-providing website is Crunchyroll. Visitors can choose to watch for free, or to pay a low monthly subscription to watch movies. Free watchers have to wait a week after the original air date to watch the movie, and will have to watch with ads and only in standard definition, but they still get to watch the movie. Subscribers have to wait an hour after the original air date to watch the movie, and can watch in I think even Blu-Ray quality. Although Crunchyroll specializes in anime, I see no reason why a similar model cannot apply to all other movies. (Perhaps anime fans just spend more money on these sorts of things.) Eventually, televisions will probably be obsoleted by computers, and by then, perhaps a similar type of free/subscription system will be used for every site.

    tl;dr: perhaps it’s not the studios that need to change; perhaps it’s a video provider that needs to be created. there’s an internet right in front of us; why stick to only showing movies in theatres when you can show them to everybody, everywhere?

    Reply

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