When I’ve written about piracy in the past, I’ve generally taken a moderate position because like many I do not think piracy is terrible evil. Instead I look for the harm it does and I try to weigh the negative value of piracy based on its damaging effects.
I’m glad that I waited for evidence because it looks like there isn’t any. Today I learned that piracy isn’t nearly as harmful to the entertainment industries as some claim.
Mike Masnick has just posted a new research report titled, The Sky Is Rising. It’s a follow up to the one he cowrote 3 years ago, and it elaborates on the true state of the entertainment industries.
For years, we’ve been hearing doom and gloom reports about how the industry is dying, how customers just want stuff for free, about analog dollars turning into digital dimes… and (all too frequently) about how new laws are needed to save these industries.
Yet, what we find when looking through the research — from a variety of sources to corroborate and back up any research we found — is that the overall entertainment ecosystem is in a real renaissance period. The sky truly is rising, not falling: the industry is growing both in terms of revenue and content.
If anyone wants to claim that piracy has a negative effect then at this point you’d pretty much have to argue that the industry would grow even faster without it. (I look forward to someone trying.) Of course, I made pretty much the same point back when Wiley decided to sue ebook pirates, and it’s still true today.
Yes, piracy does happen, but it exists due to the same technologies that also created new business opportunities. Do you know why some part of the entertainment industries are growing? It’s because of the new opportunities. They’ve found new ways to sell content to customers.
But what about those companies whose revenues are shrinking, not growing, you ask? My counter is simple. How do you know that piracy is the cause, and not poor business decisions? And even if you can show an increase in piracy for a given corporation, how do you know that those poor business decisions weren’t the cause of the piracy?
I’ve always held that the first cause of piracy is the frustrated customer. For example, people wanted Harry Potter ebooks, so they went and got them. Feel free to hate them for that, but a good portion of those pirates would have bought the ebooks had they been available. That is a poor business decision, not a consequence of evil pirates.
Do you know the great part about this report? It weakens the claim that piracy is harmful, and that undermines the entire concept of it being evil. In fact, piracy is now no more evil than the used book market, libraries, or people browsing without buying in bookstore. For the longest time I have had the feeling that this was the case, so I am pleased to finally have proof.
P.S. Just because piracy isn’t harmful doesn’t mean that you should stop trying to make a profit. Those pirates aren’t evil but they re still potential customers. Figure out a proactive way to turn them from pirate to customer and your business will grow.