Industry Rant: Piracy, DRM, and The Corporation as a Victim

I'm a Pirate. I'm not sorry that I'm a pirate, it's necessary to survive the age of bloatware and rebuys. I also purchase a lot -most, I'd say- of the applications that I use professionally, so if that opening admission makes me a target, shame on you, Big Software. I'm a supporter.

Let's define our terms.

Highware: Large companies and corporations need software to function. This software is priced pretty exorbitantly because companies will pay it or, even better for the developer/publisher, buy bulk licenses. If you're a teacher you know this to be true because, almost always, the academic discount shaves off a *significant* percentage. Companies that make this software- I'm not mentioning names because it doesn't matter- generally don't care if the software is stolen or not. If you steal it and use it properly, you'll eventually get to the point where you're a professional and you're making money using that software. It will pay for itself, and you'll buy it. Everyone wins. If you suck at using the software, you haven't lost any money and you aren't eating into the industry that uses it. Personally, stealing software is only harmful if you use it for personal or monetary gain without (eventually) giving back to the team of creators- tho as we've mentioned, they usually aren't hurting for cash. (I'd been calling this Bloatware, turns out that's slang for software that uses up more system resources than considered necessary or efficient. So for now I'll call expensive software suites HighWare.)

Rebuys: My family has purchased the movie Jaws on VHS, Laserdisc (yeah, laugh it up,) and DVD. I pay for netflix, so in the event that I need to stream it to something, I can do that too. Now I'm supposed to buy it on BluRay? No wonder people freaking steal movies. Corporations, meet me at camera three. Hello there. You know those things on the backs of products called barcodes? They are used to keep track of inventory. How about you let me use the barcodes on the back of my old products for a discount on new formats?* Or if I've purchased the Alien Legacy QUAD SET collection on Amazon, you let me scan the barcode and send in for 50% off the BluRay? Or a free soundtrack disc? Or freaking... Poster. Something to commemorate how much freaking money I have already thrown your way. I think you see where I'm headed with this. Help the consumer, don't hurt them. And if one thing is absolutely destroying consumer confidence, it is this:

DRM: Digital Rights Management. This is a form of copy protection that either kills or limits the consumer's ability to duplicate, copy, back-up, transfer, or alter digital media that they themselves have purchased. This is one of the largest fallacies of the information age and it has less to do with copyright law and more to do with the corporation being a huge headless beast. There are a few great (grave?) examples of DRM that I'm going to mention and tear apart.

1)iTunes store files:

Ever buy a song, show, or movie using the iTunes store? Ever try to play that song, show, or movie on someone else's computer? Yeah. No dice, unless you authorize that hardware address. You can't share anymore. Remember- the difference here is the delivery. Technically, when you buy a CD, you're buying a non-exclusive license to play that music privately for yourself. You don't own the song. You own a disc of it. The benefit of the hard copy is what I like to call (yes, I make up my own terms to organize toughts) the Kindergarten Principle. --Sharing is caring. Like an album? Share it! Burn it and pass it along. This is technically illegal, including back in the days of the first CDR drives or dub-ready stereo machines, on and on. What the DRM-using corporation doesn't realize is that this is the greatest benefit they could have to their market. Firstly, it puts sharing tracks and mixes in the hands of users. This uses not one but two of the the very definitions of advertising in the new Century of the Self- involve the consumer and make the consumer define or inform him or herself with the product itself. It's all about making them feel like they are building something alongside the artists and craftsmen. Mixdubs and mashups, internet radio, build your own smart playlists, again... on and on. Come up with new ways to involve and inform the consumer. And since it's music, hell- people have been defining themselves with musical choices since operas- but I'd argue that the walkman really turned the music world upside down. Suddenly life had a soundtrack, and that involved people in a whole new way. Btw, RIP Sony Walkman. ... Where the hell was I? RIGHT. DRM is crap and those that use it for music files are actually limiting their own market saturation, their own growth. If you cut out some of this DRM nonsense, let the files spread a little, you'll find that suddenly people are finding new bands with ease. Word spreads faster. Things catch on faster. More artists grow new fans. Everyone wins. With DRM, everyone is losing. When's the last time you bought something on vinyl? Artists and publishers that provide vinyl now often include a digital download of the album with the purchase. BRAVO! This is the path. Inclusion, not limitation.

2)Steam game apps:

If you don't play video games you are ridiculously stupid. Sorry, that... That came out wrong. If you don't partake in any form of video games, or worse, you are down on them for being childish or time-wasting, you are a sad, sad relic of a dead era. Sorry... I just don't understand people that are down on games. Interactive New Media is a fantastic new wave of entertainment that is growing and expanding at a dangerously speedy rate. Even more than music it exemplifies the nature of the new century in allowing the user to take part in the generative, or, dare I say, creative process. Little Big Planet and Sleep Is Death are great examples of how interactivity and creativity can join together to form something challenging and unique... Even communal. But we're not talking about games. Let's get back to DRM.

So you aren't one of those dead-era persons. You're a gamersperson. A gamesman. You pick up this PC game via a download store called Steam, Valve Software's online gaming store. It's a rainy day, a storm knocks out your internet, or your wireless is acting up because your roommate is torrenting porn. Whatever. You're having trouble connecting to the net. You boot up Steam to play your new game and LO! You can't play it because you can't connect to a Steam server. What's this then? It's a single-player-only game, how could- Oh, THAT's what that is. See what happened? Steam has instituted a DRM policy that *requires* an internet connection to "verify" your "licensing." Every. Single. Time. You play. I'm sorry but this is ludicrous. How can you not just build an offline key specific to an account and a hardware address? Store this key in the user's online account and build a new replacement key if they want to transfer to a new system?* I realize that sites like GOG offer DRM-free game downloads... Wait, they just closed down. /sigh.

I think I understand the source of the problem. The corporation doesn't know how to be a victim. They can't stop suing their own consumers. It's ludicrous out there! The RIAA, the MPAA, Cable companies are SUING THEIR OWN CUSTOMERS FOR COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT. They don't know what to do so their flailing around like characters out of Peter Bagge's HATE and hoping that fear will stop all this unabashed piracy! Two things. First, most pirates are Chinese, European, Scandinavian, and Eastern-European users that won't have access to what you're selling for another 8 months or more, if at all. It's a global economy, morons. Get with it. If it's good, everyone wants it, and they want it now, not 8 months or a year after America. Second, pirates that are 'stealing' your music and shows and movies and games are going to watch them and play them. They will recommend the good ones, building cred, word-of-mouth, support, and consumer base. These will sell more than usual. Equally, they will *not* recommend the bad ones, and no one will buy your crap any more. Suddenly the market is gaining intelligence and sources, thus not paying for crap when it comes out only to find out it's crap. Suddenly the product matters again. Suddenly the corporation is responsible. Scary stuff for this headless mass, so used to pushing people around and defining its own trends without a care for the individual consumer! Information isn't changing these waters, it is the water itself; the consumer is evolving past the old line of corporate sales and into a new realm of user-defined consumption. Let's all make it a responsible realm. Support your artists. Buy things from those that need the attention, and, hell, steal it too. And blog/tweet/status update about how awesome they are. Culture will grow with or without capitalism. I am an artist, and I support piracy.

*I think this is a bang-up idea.


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