The benefits of piracy

February 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Media, Music, Art, Etcetera | 2 Comments

(Click to enlarge)

It may be one of the more extreme examples, but this chart shows some of the frustrating disincentives against buying a film on DVD. Whatever the arguments about the morality or legality of consuming something you haven’t paid for, if piracy is not only cheaper but considerably more hassle-free than enduring a dozen unskippable anti-piracy adverts and movie trailers, it’s going to be a tempting option for a lot of people.

This isn’t to say that piracy isn’t risk-free; quite apart from the legal issues, the retail market remains the best choice if you want 100% certainty that the DVD, record or book you want to buy is of the quality you would expect. If you absolutely have to watch Avatar, you’re going to want to see it in the highest definition possible. Many music fans would wretch at the thought of listening to a Flaming Lips record at 128kb, or hearing Pet Sounds through tinny laptop speakers.

Despite this, the pirate market can still satisfy fans in ways that the retail market is incapable of doing. Let’s take the example of the prodigous & endearingly inconsistent alt.country songsmith Ryan Adams. In 10 years, Adams has released an impressive 11 full-length studio albums, but, as his fans will often remind you, it could’ve been many more. Adams’ label famously rejected a host of superb recordings – made during his songwriting peak – on the grounds that they weren’t commercial enough, thus depriving fans of the chance to hear a hours of great songs.

The great thing about the internet age is that music fans are no longer restricted to what some artistically deaf record company executive thinks you ought to hear. Recordings such as ‘Suicide Handbook’ were soon leaked and are now easily available on filesharing sites. And the label didn’t make a penny out of it. On top of that, his fans have access to loads of good quality live recordings, covers and out-of-print b-sides which otherwise wouldn’t have been easy to access.

But this extends beyond Ryan Adams and beyond music. The pirate market allows us to keep permanent copies of things the creative industries would rather we not have. You can keep an enjoyable episode of Eastenders for posterity, save an enthralling football match or share an interesting article that might otherwise be buried behind a paywall. To be a fan is to be an afficionado, and to be an afficionado means you’re always searching for that which you haven’t seen or read or heard. Thanks to piracy, our compulsion to consume new things is no longer restricted.

So it’s not just the appeal of a free record or film which sustains the piracy market, it’s the innate consumption compulsion of the fans. Unless the affected industries stop restricting what we can see and hear, and find a way of making some money out of it, piracy will retain its creative importance.

Update: From the comments, here’s xkcd:


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2 Comments »

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  1. another aspect of why pirated material is superior to bought digital stuff
    http://xkcd.com/488/

    • Heh, cheers! Post updated.


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