Let's Talk About Piracy – Everybody Indulges in It, Nobody Talks About it

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I was once having a chat with my colleague where I argued that selling HD media players like these or even ION-based Net-tops  are indirectly propagating video piracy. Think about it, I told him, these devices don’t have an optical drive, they’re completely dependent on digital media to project it onto an HDTV.
 

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Sure, you could play HD videos that you shot yourself using an HD videocam/cellphone or depend on freely available HD content on the internet. But in a country like ours where there isn’t a good source to legally purchase digital HD content yet, how will people watch what they want to? Other than the somewhat clumsy idea of making HD rips of Blu-rays that they purchased, would people resort to downloading HD content illegally?

Devices like the media player are just a means to play content. You can’t stop selling them simply because someone chooses to play illegal content on it. It would be like asking Moser Baer to stop making DVDs just because people are burning pirated content on discs that they manufacture. You can’t ban P2P file sharing entirely because people share illegal content on it.
 

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All this makes me wonder how often we take piracy seriously. Consider this; an original Windows 7 Home Premium license or a graphics card? Two audio CDs of your favorite artist or a month’s unlimited broadband internet connection? What would you go for?

There are some things that won’t offer you a similar experience. Like there’s no comparison to watching a movie in a theater than viewing a DVD rip on your PC. But unfortunately when it comes to software and music, there seems to be very little to lose. You get an almost exact experience with pirated content as the guy next to you with a legal purchase would. Sure, an illegal copy of Windows won’t let you get the latest updates, but one could care less as long as it gets the job done. It may keep throwing warning messages, but a quick system format or downloading a tool that will turn those off isn’t too hard to do.

Let’s look at the digital consumption of a 20 something. This person can buy audio CDs of his favorite musicians, but hundreds of GBs of music is illegally available with friends and on P2P file sharing networks. The same goes for movies and TV shows. Such is the callous attitude towards infringing copyright material that the developer spends time, energy and money to create. And what makes these people have such a reckless attitude towards something that by law is nothing short of a considerable offense? The hope that “They’ll never bother catching me”.

We seldom hear anti-piracy crackdowns occurring at an individual’s home. It more so happens at organizations, or places where such software is used to make money. It is also a fact accepted by pundits that piracy kind of binds the user once he or she starts getting used the software. Initially the person may use an illegal copy, but there will come a day when he will want to purchase it out of restriction or simply out of the goodness of heart.

Let’s take our own digital life for example. Most of us got to using Microsoft Windows as kids, in our schools and homes. Then we grew up with this piece of software becoming an integral part of our daily computing experience. There will be a day when we have to work on our office PC or buy a new computer with an OS pre-installed. Would most of us not want Windows to be that operating system? Just like that Microsoft has gotten themselves a customer for life. OK, “for life” maybe too far-fetched but out of 10 people, how many actually go the extra mile to switch to a Mac or Linux entirely? That’s how Microsoft still dominates the world when it comes to operating system.

Apple battles piracy by restricting their OS to work only with expensive devices that they themselves make. It’s difficult to use pirated content with gaming consoles like the PS3 and Xbox360. But with one game costing more than Rs. 2000 on an average, most of us have no choice but to treat them like entertainment tools for the wealthy. You buy just 8 to 10 games and you’ve roughly spent the same amount you did to buy the console.
 

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As for television, HD set-top boxes have started rolling out only recently, with only a few HD channels as of now. HD is not going to be an affordable affair too. After the initial free period, each HD channel is approximately priced at Rs. 25 per month. Forget HD, even standard-def isn’t a complete experience. Not too long ago I saw the Will Smith starrer Bad Boyz 2 on a popular english TV channel. Even if I choose to ignore the parts chopped from the movie that contained expletives, nudity or gore, owing to censor board guidelines, I was surprised that the last 10 minutes of the movie, which I very well remember when I watched it in a theatre, were blatantly cut too!

This could very well be a reason for people to opt for pirated content.

What if the D-day arrives?

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I’m talking of the day when law enforcement agencies will come down heavily on people who indulge in piracy. Your options then will be; buy a genuine copy, use something free or face consequences. What will you do? I remember a question put to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at a press meet recently. The young software developer explained how he resorted to pirated version of Windows initially because he didn’t have enough money back then. He did clarify that now he owns a licensed copy. His question was whether Microsoft would consider selling Windows at prices that a commoner can afford. Ballmer retorted, “I don’t get how one can have enough money to build an entire computer, but just not enough to buy the operating system”.

Let us assume that the day is here and you have 30 days to make the change. What is your master plan? Share it with us, while I try to come up with my own and share it with you within 30 days. 

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