Hollywood promotes online piracy

David Pogue has a good article in Scientific American, describing how the death spiral of the DVD actually increases piracy.  His point: the DVD is dieing, and there is growing demand for streaming rentals of movies to take its place. The problem: the terms of the rental suck: 24 hours to watch, no DVD extras, and even worse, streaming rentals are not available until months after the films appeared in theaters.

Worse, some movies never become available. Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, A Beautiful Mind, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Saving Private Ryan, Meet the Fockers, and so on, are not available to rent from the major online distributors.

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The people want movies. None of Hollywood’s baffling legal constructs will stop the demand. The studios are trying to prevent a dam from bursting by putting up a picket fence.

And if you don’t make your product available legally, guess what? The people will get it illegally. Traffic to illegal download sites has more than sextupled since 2009, and file downloading is expected to grow about 23 percent annually until 2015. Why? Of the 10 most pirated movies of 2011, guess how many of them are available to rent online, as I write this in midsummer 2012? Zero. That’s right: Hollywood is actually encouraging the very practice they claim to be fighting (with new laws, for example).

My personal pet peeve with DVDs and Blu-rays: after purchasing the disc, why do I have to sit through numerous unskippable previews just to watch the film I want to see?

Via TechDirt, check out the MPAA’s daft response to Pogue’s article:

In response, in typically tone deaf fashion, MPAA spokesperson Howard Gantman has taken the usual tack of not actually addressing what Pogue wrote, but making an unrelated argument. He says that somehow, magically, because there are more crippled, annoying, expensive, incomplete movie services out there, no one should complain. You see, in the MPAA’s world “offering something” is proof that they’re innovating, even if it’s not what people want.

And you should take the time to read the EFF’s summary of the TPP agreement which, as currently drafted, would require ISPs to become copyright cops against their own customers.

Internet freedom

Sergey Brin, speaking to the Guardian today, sends up a warning flare regarding Internet freedoms.

The principles of openness and universal access that underpinned the creation of the internet three decades ago are under greater threat than ever, according to Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

In an interview with the Guardian, Brin warned there were “very powerful forces that have lined up against the open internet on all sides and around the world”. “I am more worried than I have been in the past,” he said. “It’s scary.”

The threat to the freedom of the internet comes, he claims, from a combination of governments increasingly trying to control access and communication by their citizens, the entertainment industry’s attempts to crack down on piracy, and the rise of “restrictive” walled gardens such as Facebook and Apple, which tightly control what software can be released on their platforms.

The 38-year-old billionaire, whose family fled antisemitism in the Soviet Union, was widely regarded as having been the driving force behind Google’s partial pullout from China in 2010 over concerns about censorship and cyber-attacks.

He said five years ago he did not believe China or any country could effectively restrict the internet for long, but now says he has been proven wrong. “I thought there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle, but now it seems in certain areas the genie has been put back in the bottle,” he said.

Regardless of your feelings about Google as a company, he is certainly correct in voicing these concerns.

IP quote of the day

Film poster for Repo Man. Copyright 1984, © Un...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s so corrupt. Now they want to have longer copyright periods because they say the young artists are relying on this money. The young artists never see any money because they sign away that money to big media corporations, like Universal and Viacom. We, the artists, lose all of our rights to these massive corporations, who then come down heavy on these kids for downloading films and music that we never see a penny from. It’s complete bullshit. I want to encourage your audience to go and pirate a bunch of my stuff right away.

Alex Cox, director of the classic Repo Man. This is one of my favorite movies.

Piracy cannot be stopped

The Pirate Bay logo

Image via Wikipedia

Paul Tassi, writing in Forbes, has a good overview of an underlying and unavoidable reality of the digital age in which we live: piracy cannot be stopped. Technological blocks are temporary at best, because blocking any particular digital tools for sharing content merely results in the rapid invention and deployment of new technologies. Consider Napster. When it was such down, numerous clones of its technology appeared. As the IP industry filed lawsuit after lawsuit to shut down the Napster clones, bit torrent technology was created and widely deployed, leading to Pirate Bay. Sharing sites themselves come and go as well. If Pirate Bay is shut down, it will matter little as there are dozens of alternatives already in operation.

But Tassi also notes that piracy will not kill the IP industry. The industry’s claimed number of lost sales caused by piracy are simply silly. Most pirated material is acquired by people who would never buy the content in any case, either because they don’t have the money to do so, or the content is not available in any legal fashion at the time, or because it is simply not worth the trouble or expense to buy, say, a $30 Blu-ray disc.

The real problem, in his view and mine as well, is that the IP industry has failed to adjust their its business model to something that customers actually want and are willing to pay for.   (Perhaps the exception to this is the music industry that was successfully prodded by Steve Jobs into relatively easy legal access at a modest price).

Here is how Tassi put it:

The seven step, ten minute [Pirate Bay] download process (which will be about ten seconds when US internet speeds catch up with the rest of the world) is the real enemy the studios should be trying to tackle. Right now, the industry is still stuck in the past, and is crawling oh-so-slowly into the future. They still believe people are going to want to buy DVDs or Blu-rays in five years, and that a movie ticket is well worth $15. Netflix is the closest thing they have to an advocate, but the studios are trying to drive them out of business as they see them as a threat, not a solution. It’s mind boggling.

The primary problem movie studios have to realize is that everything they charge for is massively overpriced. The fact that movie ticket prices keep going up is astonishing. How can they possibly think charging $10-15 per ticket for a new feature is going to increase the amount of people coming to theaters rather than renting the movie later or downloading it online for free? Rather than lower prices, they double down, saying that gimmicks like 3D and IMAX are worth adding another $5 to your ticket.

They have failed to realize that people want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector.

The essay is worth a full read.

SOPA quote of the day

…, the industry is fighting what amounts to a new popular culture.

Unlike the old pop culture Hollywood dominated, this one is largely independent of the music, movie and broadcast industries. In fact, people who spend hours online instead of watching TV or going to movies will probably encounter the entertainment industry only when YouTube videos of their kids dancing to Prince or spoofing Star Wars are pulled down by Hollywood’s bots, or when the RIAA threatens to sue them for their college savings, or when digital rights software makes it hard to move their stuff to a new tablet or phone.

To the entertainment industry, these episodes might seem like collateral damage in the fight to stop piracy. To the new pop culture, though, collateral damage and misuse of enforcement tools are everywhere, and they threaten everyone. The content industry has made itself into the villain. Increasingly, it looks like an occupying power, obeyed at gunpoint, despised for its ham-handed excesses and resisted from every dark corner. Unfortunately for Hollywood, as its customers migrate to the Internet, it is losing not just their money but their hearts and minds as well.

Stewart Baker, writing in The Hollywood Reporter, and explaining how Hollywood is losing the culture war with the new online majority.

How to break democracy

Here is yet another example of the IP industry seeking to protect itself via secret agreements behind closed doors, thereby avoiding public input.

This time it involves a trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership.  Apparently a secret meeting between industry and government participants is being held from January 31 to February 4 at a hotel in West Hollywood.

More details from Ars Technica here and from TechDirt here.

SOPA soap opera

There is a fascinating article in The Hollywood Reporter describing the behind-the-scenes drama at the MPAA during the SOPA smackdown of the past few weeks.

In the desperate hours of early January, with chatter spreading that the White House was poised to make a devastating statement opposing parts of proposed anti-piracy legislation that Hollywood studios considered key to the industry’s very survival, MPAA president Christopher Dodd made a phone call to DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Katzenberg’s company is not an MPAA member, but a list of the top 10 fund-raisers bundling money for President Obama would include not only Katzenberg but also his political adviser, Andy Spahn. It would not include any of the chiefs whose studios belong to the MPAA. So the former U.S. senator reached out, he says, to find out about the thinking inside the White House.

“The rumors were running rampant,” says Dodd. “I was trying to use all the information points I could to find out what was going on.”

Dodd says that at the time of his call, he had been assured no major actions were imminent. Then, on Jan. 14, the administration said it would not support legislation “that reduces freedom of expression, increases cybersecurity risk or undermines the dynamic, innovative global Internet.”

“They just made up their mind to do it,” says Dodd. “I raised issues about it, but they were going to march ahead.”

And the article notes the damage to Dodd’s reputation and effectiveness as a lobbyist caused by this remark:

In the days after the controversial House version of the bill, the Stop Online Piracy Act, was derailed, Dodd belittled those who opposed it and threatened Democrats who had fled when the bill became radioactive. Perhaps his worst post-defeat move came Jan. 19 when he told Fox News that “those who count on, quote, ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake.” There was an instant outcry, including a petition on the White House website calling on the administration to investigate Dodd for “bribery.” (In less than a week, it had attracted more than 21,000 signatures.)

As I previously noted, that remark by Dodd does seem to come close to an offer of a direct quid pro quo of money for legislative action.

Tim O’Reilly: Lobbying and SOPA

Tim O’Reilly, noted publisher of tech-related books, has a Google+ post noting the failure of Congress to make a careful technical and economic study of SOPA, rather than its current approach of “balancing” the positions of lobbyists.

My point is that when evaluating the request for legislation like SOPA, Congress ought to be considering factors like:

* The credibility of those making claims. The motion picture industry has a history of opposing every new technology, even those that proved ultimately to grow the market. (MPAA head Jack Valenti‘s claim that the VCR was the equivalent of letting “Jack the Ripper” into your home is the most famous example.)

* The lack of independently verified quantitative evidence that there has been actual harm to the movie business (and other copyright businesses). My conversation with Representative Pelosi focused on my experience as a publisher at O’Reilly, in which losses to piracy are far outweighed by the growth of the market. Far from being hurt by piracy, internet distribution of DRM-free ebooks is the brightest spot in my business, a key driver of growth.

* The overall benefit to consumers in supporting innovative business models that increase access and bring down prices.

This isn’t a matter of simply weighing the concerns of one set of lobbyists against those of another, but using a standard of care and independent judgment about what is best for our society.

Good news on SOPA

Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has announced that the Committee will hold a hearing on January 18 to “examine the potential impact of Domain Name Service (DNS) and search engine blocking on American cyber-security, jobs and the Internet community” in light of SOPA proposals. He lists a roster of witnesses with actual technology skills. This contrasts with the virtual absence of such expertise in the formal SOPA hearings to date.

SOPA is a danger to us all

From Politico:

The conservative and liberal blogospheres are unifying behind opposition to Congress’s Stop Online Piracy Act, with right-leaning bloggers arguing their very existence could be wiped out if the anti-piracy bill passes.

“If either the U.S. Senate’s Protect IP Act (PIPA) & the U.S. House’s Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) become law, political blogs such as Red Mass Group [conservative] & Blue Mass Group [liberal] will cease to exist,” wrote a blogger at Red Mass Group.

Summary of today’s SOPA action (updated)

Declan McCullagh has all the details. Well worth a full read.

Update: More info from Wired here. And, if you are interested in a cogent explanation of the security risks of SOPA, read this article by Stewart Baker, formerly Policy Director for the Department of Homeland Security, referenced in the Wired article.