Linux, politics, and other interesting things
For a long time it has been obvious that in all cases anti-piracy technologies discourage purchases and in many cases encourage piracy. I first discovered the significance of this in about 1991 when I attended a public lecture by a senior employee of Borland and a member of the audience claimed that the Borland product he bought didn’t function correctly due to anti-piracy measures. The Borland employee firmly stated that Borland did not use anti-copying technology on any of it’s products, didn’t have any plans to do so, and the problem in question must have been caused by something else. Of all the hostile questions that were asked, this was the only one that caused the speaker to appear agitated so it was obviously an issue that was considered to be important within Borland.
In the late 80’s anti-piracy measures were mostly based around creating floppy disks that couldn’t be easily copied (violations of various aspects of the disk formatting standards). This meant that you couldn’t make a backup copy of the data, so it wasn’t uncommon for people to seek pirate copies of their commercial software for daily use to avoid wearing out their valuable original floppy disks. Then the dongle was invented and people who bought software sometimes sought pirate copies so that they could use their printer and their commercial software without having to change plugs on their PC. But in those cases the benefits to uncrippled software to the users were small.
Now a large part of the battle on copy protection concerns DVDs. If you had a DVD of a recent movie and an MP4 which would you rather watch? Would you prefer to be forced to watch some anti-piracy rubbish for a couple of minutes at the start of the movie (with fast-forward disabled) or would you prefer to just start watching it? Would you prefer to be able to pre-program the sections of the movie that you watch (as some parents desire to skip the sex and/or violence in movies for their teenagers) or would you prefer to be forced to watch the movie straight-through with only a manual fast-forward to skip sections? Would you prefer to have a DVD that can’t be played properly on many (most?) computers because of the CSS encoding or an MP4 that plays on everything from PCs to mobile phones without an issue? Would you rather have 100 movies in the spare space on your laptop hard drive when you travel and 1000 movies on your desktop system or the much smaller number of boxed DVDs that you can store? I think that in most cases a pirate MP4 will give a better experience than a DVD.
So the question is, why pay for a DVD when in most cases you get a lesser experience than you will get from a MP4 file downloaded by bittorrent?
One reason for buying the DVD is to support the film industry. But I doubt that such a profitable industry will get much sympathy in today’s economy. Another reason is the morality, some people consider piracy to be theft (it isn’t – by definition theft requires that for at least a moment the property be completely in the possession of the thief) and therefore avoid it.
One technical reason for buying a DVD is the fact that it may have multiple languages supported, it will have subtitles, it may have an audio track with the creators giving a commentary, and it may have extra scenes that were cut from the main release. I believe that work on adding subtitles to the video file formats is a work in progress, so it’s only a matter of time before the DVD rips include all this extra data.
Really the content creators should focus on making a product that meets the needs of users and that they want to pay for. Pirating books is technically possible, but almost no-one does it. Some successful authors such as Charles Stross freely publish significant parts of their work and Cory Doctorow freely publishes all his work in electronic form. Books just work well, they meet the needs of users and people want to buy them. Sure they can sell them second hand, lend them to other people, and it’s technically possible to pirate them, but they remain profitable. On my documents blog I have a page of links to free short stories that I liked  and a page of links to free books . It seems to me that creators of other copyright content should consider how they can be of service to their customers.
We are all familiar with corporations and misguided individuals who get whiny about the supposed losses due to piracy. Bruce Everiss has unfortunately joined this trend and demanded the disconnection of Internet users based on unproven accusations of game piracy . I don’t know whether the game buying experience sucks as badly as the DVD buying experience, but based on the reports of locked-down consoles that have to be cracked before they run Linux I expect that the modern game industry is doing at least as badly as the movie industry. They need to provide things that users want!
One thing to note is that a Windows or console game player who uses pirate games will probably buy some games at some future time, while someone like me who uses free software both by principle and because it gives a better user experience will probably never pay for a game (I haven’t got time to play all the free games so I probably wouldn’t even buy a Linux game).