How To End Piracy

Photo by: peasap

All the talk of people pirating music — and movies, and software — is enough to make you think it’s a hard problem to solve. But it’s not, really. All you have to do is disincentivise copying. (That’s sarcasm, for those who missed it.)

The MPAA and RIAA have tried licensing, lawsuits, lobbying (I didn’t do that on purpose, I swear) but the copying doesn’t stop. People are amoral thieves!

Or … maybe people remember that when the compact disc format came out, it was supposed to be cheaper than cassettes. They cost less to produce, so as soon as the studios recouped the cost of building the new technology we’d see prices drop. It’s been over 27 years now, have they recouped that investment yet?

Apple to the Rescue

Leave it to Apple, a company not making their money stamping out CDs, to finally break the logjam. They made it cheap and easy to buy individual songs, something the RIAA members had been fighting for years.

The RIAA wanted people to pay for whole albums. People didn’t want to pay $18 for two good songs. Since they couldn’t buy singles, they used Napster. As soon as someone made singles available, people started buying them. And Apple has made a fortune selling what the RIAA didn’t want to sell.

People Pay for the Good Part

I don’t go to many first-run movies. Too expensive. But the local theater that shows them a few months later for $1.50, or $1 for a matinée? I’m there all the time. So I don’t get to talk about it with people around the water cooler. I survive. Other people will camp out to see the first showing. Would they pay more to pre-order that ticket if they didn’t have to wait in line? Probably.

Point is, “find another business model” and “disincentivize copying” end up meaning the same thing. Anyone who wants to make money has to figure out what is rare about what they do and charge for that. First is rare. Convenience is rare. Taste is rare. Complex physical objects are rare. Copying data, that’s easy.

The iTunes store combines convenience and, through recommendations, taste. That’s what people are paying for.

What Do You Do That’s Good?

If you want to make money creating something that can be easily copied, then you need to come up with a business model where you can get paid for it.

I’m really good at sitting on the couch watching TV. I’d like to get paid for it. Some people have cracked that nut. They’re critics, and they get paid to watch TV. No one set out to decide, “Gosh, how can we pay these people to watch TV?”

Copyright worked for a long time, when large-scale copying was as rare and expensive as what was being copied. That’s no longer true. We don’t need to pay for copying any more.

This is the exact problem being faced by newspapers. Their business model was based on printing. They focused on the “paper” instead of the “news”. Take away the printing and suddenly they don’t know how to charge for anything. They need a new business model.

Blaming people for not wanting to pay for something is stupid. First, because people want what they want. Second, because it’s not true. They do want to pay for things. They’ll pay $1 for a 15-second snippet of a song as a ringtone. Because someone saw an opportunity for a new business model and jumped on it, instead of trying to coerce people into paying for what they wanted to sell.