Come to me my fellow geeks, gather round the warmth of the internet and let us discuss a topic so hot it’ll burn your eyes if you read for too long. A couple of news stories to get the debate ball hurtling down the hill into an open can of worms:
Microsoft disconnect around 1million X-box owners who have modified their consoles to play pirated or unofficial games. Those users will now have to buy another machine to play online. Tracy’s verdict: ha ha! Good. It’s very clear in the terms (and by the fact that you can’t get the mod officially) that such things are illegal, and MS has every right to lay the smackdown on those who violate its terms. You take the risk, you pay the price if you get caught. Of course, no doubt there’s already another mod to get round the ban, but some people will do anything to defend their right to do whatever it is they got caught doing.
UK Govt (and, I believe, USA, but would like a decent source for that) is considering disconnecting file-sharers from their broadband networks. Tracy’s verdict: unless the Govt can prove that the file-sharer in question is the only person in the household to which the connection belongs, then this is nothing more than ‘group punishment’ and as such not only undemocratic, but plain old unfair. The trade-off seems interesting, in which the law would be changed to allow people to copy CDs to their iPod and for family, but without more detail it’s hard to say if that’s lip service.
Spotify delays its US launch. Some speculate that signals an end to the ‘free’ usage model. Spotify isn’t technically piracy, because it now has an agreement with music publishers whereby it compensates them like regular radio stations do. The trouble is, some artists have been complaining that the level of payment is far below that of a regular radio station, and many users of the service use software like Audio Hijack to download the tracks, which is straightforward piracy.Â Tracy’s verdict: Spotify is a house of cards. I noticed a while back that they’re no longer allowing new users to sign up to the free service, under what looks to me like the pretence of issuing limited numbers of ‘invites’. I’d be surprised if any invites are issued, given the estimated cost of running the service are millions. I don’t believe for a second that the number of paying subscribers plus the advertising revenue can be covering anywhere near Spotify’s costs, and while its business model didn’t include having to actually pay for the music it streamed, it was probably a great idea for the owners. Now it’s more or less ‘fair’, it’s a crappy business model.
The issues around piracy seem clear: some people like to get something for free when they can get away with not being caught. Many pirates disagree with the notion of ‘ownership’, claiming that to duplicate something takes nothing away from the owners. Others claim that if they like a pirated movie or album, they’ll buy a copy (I find that a thin defence. Imagine if you took that approach with meals you had. It doesn’t make it OK not to pay just because something isn’t to your taste, unless it is broken. That’s why there are demos, previews, trailers, etc. And many retailers will take back CDs, DVDs and games within 30 days, no questions asked). If the risks were higher, fewer people would pirate. Whenever there’s a crackdown, piracy rates fall for a while.
The trouble is, as demonstrated by published stats like “1 in 20 music tracks are illegally downloaded”, if enough people are doing it, it becomes unpolicable, a broken model. Entire generations have no ethical problem with piracy, but the music, game and movie industries HAVE to make a profit if they are to continue making new content. Very few people invest without wanting a return. If it costs a million pounds to market a new artist, that money has to come back, with profit. If it costs Â£100m to make a movie, the studios and investors want more than their money back. And they will plough some of those profits into riskier projects which aren’t directed by Michael Bay. The British game development market is in the toilet, and won’t attract new investors while profit is threatened by piracy. These are extremely difficult issues. Everyone wants quality product, but many don’t want to pay for it at all, many others only want to pay for it after they deem it quality, and those who do pay are overcharged. So, to my questions:
Is it OK to download something free when the maker intended you to pay for it? If the current model is broken, what is the solution?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.