I was reading a couple of newspapers lately, and there was mentions that MASA (Mauritian Society of Authors) is gearing up for a new round of anti-piracy campaigns this year. What's piracy all about?

Wikipedia defines Copyright Infringement (Piracy) as follows:
Copyright infringement (or copyright violation) is the unauthorized use of material which is covered by copyright law, in a manner that violates one of the original copyright owner's exclusive rights, such as the right to reproduce or perform the copyrighted work, or to make derivative works.
Today, the term Piracy would often be used to refer to multimedia content and files obtained illegally through the Internet, or without the publisher/author/owner's consent.

Enough formality. Most of us know what it's about. Downloading stuff which you could otherwise buy. In the general jargon, you'd here people talking "Hey, I downloaded that new movie yesterday" or "Do you have the crack for that game?". That's what piracy is about. Piracy is stealing. Is it?

It may. It may not. It depends on the point of view. If you are MASA or the law, yes it's stealing. It's depriving developers and artists about their rightful gains. You are stealing their stuff. Now, if you are the average Mauritian, it's not. Why? Dunno. It's Mauritian logic. Or it's purely logic. The fundamental question is: Why buy something with cash when you can get it for free? That's the invulnerable claim that piracy-consumers make. How do you counter that argument??

Another form of piracy that we see often these days is the mass-sale of copied CDs/DVDs for ridiculously cheap prices. While strolling through Port-Louis, you'll most probably see "4 DVD pou Rs.100" or similar. That's Rs.25 per DVD, that same DVD that would be selling around Rs.1000 genuine, or a cinema ticket priced at Rs.150. Which one to choose? The Rs.1000 or the same Rs.25 priced DVD?

Can the consumer be blamed? I don't think so. Considering the actual state of affairs in Mauritius, it's fairly impossible for somebody to spend Rs.1000 on a single DVD when he/she cannot even afford basic necessities. Food and basic needs' costs have risen so much that life's real tough. Same applies to most countries. That person who buys a pirated DVD may want some entertainment during the weekend, after a long and tough work week. That student that buys a pirated Audio CD gets only Rs. 50 as pocket-money per day, and cannot afford a genuine Rs.900-priced CD.

That's for consumers. Then there are downloaders. These will scour the net, looking for the newest and hottest things, and download them off torrents, or P2P programs. Some years back, we all saw the ruckus that these two programs made: Napster and Kazaa. The fight was long and tough, and both (original Napster and Kazaa) finally bowed. Today, torrent is the new hype, with major players like ThePirateBay (TPB) and others. TPB is notorious for mocking the law when it comes to lawsuits filed against it for listing copyrighted stuff.

According to me, people buy/download pirated stuff for 2 main reasons. This applies specially to Mauritius:

- The genuine product is way too expensive
- The genuine product is not available

Wikipedia lists other reasons, but these are most applicable to Mauritius.

Genuine software is not available. That latest album from my favourite artist costs Rs.1200. That movie I wish to watch is not available. The list is long.

What can be done? In my humble opinion, what the Indians did is best. The latest movies are being sold on DVD for Rs.200 Indian Rupees. The latest albums are priced at Rs.100. That's almost the price at which pirated movies are being sold in Mauritius, but those are genuine. See for yourself. I magnified and highlighted the price. The best and most effective solution would be to lower the price of the genuine content. If it's fairly priced, I doubt that people would prefer a pirated version, when they can get the genuine one with all its features. If a movie is priced at Rs.100, people would buy it. At Rs.1000? Forget it! Rs.1000 represents almost 1/5 the monthly consumables bill of the average Mauritian home.

The second reason is more difficult to address. The solution lies with importers. One simple example I like to mention is the lack of genuine anime in Mauritius. There is a big market here, but unfortunately, genuine products are rare and overpriced (Rs.800 at least per DVD). The only remaining solution is to download fan-subs, and that's what most Mauritian anime-fans do. Same for other types of content. There is no availability, so we just go and download it for free.

Anti anti-piracy?

There is, of course, the unscrupulous downloader who doesn't care about developers or artists. What matters is that they get the product they want, no matter if it means stealing it. We should always remember that piracy, at its core, is theft.

Switching sides, piracy is a real head-ache for law-enforcers. Campaigns are varied. Warnings are seen everywhere. Nag-screens are... annoying. There are even anti anti-piracy campaigns! At one point in time, restrictions were even placed on consumers, in the form of DRM. This measure however, proved to be very very unproductive, to such extent that it is finally abandoned. Amazon has recently started offering DRM-free tracks at reasonable prices, following the move from Apple via its ITunes Store.

As if it was not enough, RIAA acquired some kind of lawsuit-firing cannon, and arbitrarily assaulted people for illegal downloading, even 12-year old kids!

The biggest trick is this: offer the consumer things at a very reasonable prices, and they will willingly buy. Try to restrain them, or try to purely make profits, and you can be sure that they'll do everything to annoy the hell out of you. You can't fight a Hydra by sheer brute-force.

You can't fight piracy. It's like a Hydra. Cut one head, another one pops up. Here, it's not one head. It's like zillions of heads pop out. Napster and Kazaa went down. Shareza, Ares, Limewire and countless others replaced it. Annoy TPB, and they want to buy Sealand! That's not the way to fight. You will need to convince consumers. Tempt them. Attract them. Not restrain their freedom through DRM. They will hate you for that. You can't just walk in with your lawsuits and tell consumers "Hey buy my stuff, even if it's available for free on torrents and hosting sites! To hell! BUY! Or lawsuits!" And the result? Declining sales. Offer competitive prices? Rising sales!

There is no for or against piracy. Consumers just go wherever the prices are lowest. Developers and artists, I know you work hard. I respect your work. But if your creations are unaffordable, what can I do? For software, there exists Open-Source. For music, there is public-domain, and artists like Radiohead who offer albums almost for free. The Piracy war won't be won by violence. Repression never works. The anime industry knows that well. Instead of firing lawsuits everywhere, publishers humbly request hosting sites to take down their products. It works!

Time to stop. And time for you to comment! :P

And as the saying goes on the net: "If you like it, buy it. Support the developers."


  1. morinn said...

    i don't support piracy, but as you said, sometimes the genuine stuff are not available or are overpriced and some people find it better to sit in the comfort of their home and get the latest movie, album on their pc. :/ anyway, nice post! I'm for developers and artists! yay! :D  

  2. Shah said...

    I read the post and it does hold some truth (the reasons). However, I can't help myself but wonder: "ARE YOU HIGH?"
    And the question applies to most Mauritians.

    There are many ways to get away from piracy:
    1. Changing business models - think of open source and how Radio Head "sold" its music in 2007 -> MASA IGNORES THAT ENTIRELY
    2. Stop the awful downloading of movies. There are movies and loads of series @ http://getmiro.com
    And if you need a movie such as "I'm a legend" or "Valkyrie," either go to the theater or buy it off Amazon. Music can be obtained for free from iTunes (There are free tracks give away) or from Magnatunes.
    3. As far as software goes, either go for open source as stated before (though there are good proprietary apps out there e.g VS.NET (Which requires windows though) for its IDE is very appealing) or create your own app. Funny thing: Mauritius has its copyright act not covering software as such. If you don't believe me, phone the patent office for issuing a license for "software"(mention software). It will redirect you to MASA which will tell you "no, we only issue licenses for literature thingies and music." *Gasp*

    The concept of Fair Use is a blur in Mauritius. MASA is strict about the act though. However, P2P can be applied to share content within the country. An analogy would be like lending a DVD you've bought to a friend. However, the DVD being shared under the P2P, should be an ISO image for you CAN'T EDIT the original data when lending.

    The only appealing reason to go for piracy would be to avoid DRM. I've a DVD bought at Rs. 4000 (huge movie) and I've been unable to play it on any DVD player except Ms. Windows Media Player 9 (version 10 and 11 don't play the damn thing.)

    2008 is not the year of anti-piracy. It's a year full of idiocy expressed by the actions of those who keep on the pro DRM track and who do not inform people of alternatives, and of those who keep on with the same business model.


  3. InF said...

    Hehehe! Nice comments, Shah! :P At last somebody contradicts me in my points. This is wickedly cool! *Appreciated

    Anyways.. Not everybody can afford to go to theaters every time a movie they want to wish comes out. Not everybody has the means to shop on Amazon in Mauritius. Not everybody has the means to go online and make purchases.

    Regarding software, you will notice that I mentioned Open-Source and potentially freeware as alternatives to piracy. There are loads of good things out there. The most common example being the alternative to Windows: Linux. I'm always for Open-Source as counter-measure to piracy. What's more? You get to learn things using open-source. You are encouraged to participate in whatever means you can, coding or otherwise. This is great. And the content.. Fabulous! Sometimes even more than what money can buy.

    Regarding the business model, this is what I wanted to show in this post. Maybe my points were not clear enough... I might have been high with sleep! :P

    What I wanted is to show that alternatives exists. Instead of DRM, give away free tracks. Give away DRM-free ones at good prices. $1/track is really good, although quite expensive for us Mauritians. It does make around Rs.30 per track, and Rs.600 for a 20-track album.

    Offer free music. Download.com is full of that. Or at least offer good prices. Currently, we can't afford the prices in place. And no, repressive tactics don't work.

    Try to fight and bring down somebody by force and they turn into a sort of martyr, gaining widespread sympathy. That's what happened when Digg tried to bring down the HD-DVD Encryption Key. There was the Digg revolt.

    The ultimate solutions to piracy, imho, are those:

    - Fair prices
    - Non-restraining measures
    - Availability of varied content

    and as you suggested Shah..

    - Show people alternatives

    and for everybody's sanity and sake

    - Update those copyright laws!!!  


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