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How to Really Stop Piracy

Written by on February 3, 2009

I am very much against any form of piracy. Whether it is people from Somalia capturing a ship, or ordinary people downloading content over the internet. But there are two kinds of pirates. One is the real pirate, who plunders and rapes our society because they want to. The other, which accounts for nearly 95%, is people who turn to piracy out of necessity.

When it comes to online piracy about 5 percent are the real pirates. It is the people who have turned to piracy because it gives them a "kick". These are the people who will bring a digital video camera to the movie theaters; just so they can publish it online and have other people tell them how amazing they are.

Another example is the many people who "steal" content from websites. Every single month, someone will take a number of articles from this site, and republish it using their own domain and replace himself as the author. Three months ago, a person took this entire site, removed my name, and republished it as his own. And when I forced him to take it down, he responded by doing the same using another domain a few weeks later.

These people are the real criminals. These are the real pirates, the ones who steal. And these are the ones we should fight.

The other 95%

The other 95% are not criminals by choice. These are ordinary people who have turned to piracy out of necessity. They didn't start pirating, because they wanted to. They started pirating because it was the only useful solution at the time.

So why do people start downloading illegal content over the internet? Well, it's simple. It is because of convenience and necessity. It is because turning to piracy is the only way you can get what you need. And, it is a worldwide revolt against greed, and companies who wants to decide what you can or cannot do.

Let me give you a couple of examples why people turn to piracy:

Platform dependence

I recently switched from Windows to Mac, and in doing so I had to find out how to "switch" my applications as well. I have many Windows applications, so in a perfect world I would simply be able to install the Mac version using the same serial number.

But in most cases I cannot do that. I have to buy a new full-version of the products for Mac. I cannot even upgrade my Windows license to a Mac license.

Why do I have to pay twice for the same product, just because I decided to use a different computer?

In this case, it is incredibly tempting to simply download a pirated version over the internet. It isn't like I am stealing anything. I already paid for the product.

Note: I didn't actually download pirated versions; instead I bought VM Fusion, which allows me to run Windows on my Mac. But that is an incredible complicated solution, to a problem that shouldn't exist.

I also use when I want to listen to music, and a few days ago I heard a song that was so good that I just had to buy it. But when doing that, I was greeted with "Song not available in the Danish store".

So I can listen to it on, I can watch the music video on YouTube, I can even listen to it on the artist's own website. Why am I then not allowed to buy it? What kind of idiot decided that?

Again, here I am just a single click away from buying this product, but I can't. What should I do? Not get it? Or turn to piracy and simply download it from an illegal source?

In the end, I decided not to get it, but many people will simply download it illegally. They don't feel that they are doing anything wrong. It is a limit that should not exist.


I have also been a fan of Pixar for many years. But every Pixar movie is released 4-6 months earlier in the US, than in Europe (where I live). It is not like I don't know that it is coming. The internet is global and I am just as exposed to the marketing campaigns as anyone else. But I cannot see the movie until 4-6 months later.

So when my friends in the US all said "Oh, have seen Wall-E, it is so cool", all I could say was; "No! Because I have to wait 4 months..." and I am feeling left out of the very community I am a part of.

Again I had a choice. I could either accept not being a part of the joy and excitement shared by my friends, because some stupid movie studio does not realize that we live in a global world. Or, I could download it illegally over the internet and share the experience at the same time as the people around me.

Why am I forced to make this choice?

The Long Way Round

You might have seen "The Long Way Round", where Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman drive around the globe. It is a great TV series, which I watched on Discovery Channel.

The only problem is that I missed a couple of episodes, and I don't have a hard-disk recorder.

But here is an idea, why not simply download the missing episodes (illegally) from the internet? It is not like I haven't paid for it. I pay a lot of money each year to get the Discovery Channel.

Why is this illegal? It wouldn't be illegal if I had a TiVo or a hard disk recorder, then why is it illegal to get it using other methods?

Most importantly, why am I again in a situation where I have to make this choice?

Out of print

A friend of mine wanted to buy a music CD. It was a fairly old album, and as such it was impossible to find anywhere. He couldn't find it in any of the music stores, he could not find it on iTunes, nor could he find it on eBay. It was simply "out of print". All the physical CDs was sold out.

The thing is though. My friend didn't want to buy a CD. He wanted to buy the music. But since the record company had decided (in 2001) to only release the music on a CD, and also decided not to "print" new CDs when the first patch ran out, he was out of luck.

He now had a choice. He could either not get the music he so desperately wanted; or he could download it illegally over the internet. It is not like the record companies are going to lose any money, since they have decided to stop selling the album anyway.

Why did he have to make that choice? Why does a physical distribution model limit the product?

But I want it on my TV

There is also a growing number of online TV and movie channels on the internet (although most of them are not available in Europe), but almost all of them only work from inside your browser on your computer.

I don't want to watch a movie on my computer. I want to watch it on my big-screen TV, with surround sound and in my comfortable couch.

Why is it illegal for me to capture the video feed and convert it to a file that my TV can show? Why is the online distribution channel limiting how I can use the product? Why is it illegal to turn a bad experience into an enjoyable experience? I paid to watch this movie.

It is like saying: You can only use the product if we send it to you via UPS. You cannot use it, if you decide to use FedEX or if you get it yourself. But I paid money to buy the product, not the distribution method.

Why the limit? Why are they turning people into pirates due to unfair limits that have nothing to do with the product itself?

That's way too hard

Another reason why many people turn to piracy is because the internet is much easier to work with. If you want to watch a movie, you can either choose to go to Netflix, order the movie, wait one day (or 2 days if it is during the weekend), and watch it then.

...or, you can go online, download it illegally, and watch it 10 minutes later.

Is it really that surprising that people turn to the internet? It is just so much more convenient.

What if you are already a Netflix member? What if you are already paying $4.99/month? And instead of ordering the DVD's via Netflix, you simply download them (illegally) online. You already paid to be able to watch 2 movies per month, you simply don't have to wait for them to arrive.

Why is that illegal?

Or, what if you have pre-ordered a DVD on Why is it then illegal to download the same movie so that you can see it now? You have already paid for it. It just hasn't arrived in a physical form just yet.

The way to stop piracy

Piracy should be stopped, there is no question about that, but best way to do that is to embrace the online world. I don't mean you have to give something away for free, but you do have to remove the many limits that have nothing to do with your product.

Allow people to use your products the way that they want to use it, when they want to use it, and where they want to use it.

Give people a way to enjoy your product without having to feel unjustified and without forcing people into finding "another way".

This is not just about the movie and music industries. This is about any industry, including when you are making web applications.

It is one thing to decide which platforms, and channels you want to support. That is often a wise strategy. But it is different thing when you are actively trying to prevent all other channels. That is not a wise decision.

Like when Facebook tries to decide what you may, or may not do, with your own content. Or when Apple is deciding what kind of applications you may, and may not, install your iPhone.

Apple made a wise choice when they created a number of criteria's for which applications that they are going to support via the App Store. But they made a bad decision when they also decided to block all other applications, even those distributed via non-apple channels.

People will turn to piracy when you are trying to force them into working a certain way, buying your product through complicated channels, or deciding when or where they can use it.

Most people do not turn to piracy because of the price of your product (unless it is incredibly expensive), people turn to piracy because it is too hard, too complicated - or even outright impossible - to use it the right way.

Fight the real pirates, the ones who steal because they want to steal. Don't fight ordinary people, who simply turn to piracy because you make it too hard for them to use your product.

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.


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