Piracy and its Benefits for the Entertainment Industry By Potharaju Jayantha from Jindal Global Law School
Back in the day, pirates were known for their scallywaggery, ransacking foreign ships and looting everything in sight. In the modern world, an alternative meaning for the word has developed: people who engage in the stealing and distribution of digital copies of media. The entertainment industry for the past decade has been going on about a rant on piracy and its ill – effects. But is piracy as harmful to the industry as people claim or is there another side to the coin? In this article, taking the American music and film industry specifically into the spotlight, I will argue that piracy is not as monstrous as people make it seem because it makes music and movies more accessible to potential consumers, gives exposure to the content creators and thus contrary to the view of the majority, helps add to the overall profits of the industry.
Online piracy makes films and music more accessible to potential consumers. In Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century, the author, said that independent record labels used file-sharing networks to help their music become more accessible to the masses. That’s not all. In the film industry, due to geographical restrictions, international copyright law and licensing costs, films and television shows produced by many major cable networks and production houses are unavailable to the demographic living outside developed countries. This in turn leads to avid consumers in countries outside the geographical limitations who are willing to pay for these products with no means to procure them.[i] Luckily, with the help of torrent, people could access these films from any part of the world. Take 28-year-old Oskar Jareteg from Sweden as an example. Given below is an excerpt of his interview:
“I found a popular Bollywood song, “Tunak Tunak Tun” on popular torrent website, limewire.com and got hooked on it (….) If it weren’t for piracy, this probably would’ve never happened because Bollywood music is not popular in my country.”[ii]
Not only does piracy make films and music more accessible to the audience, it also helps in giving direct exposure to the content creators. This is a quote from HBO CEO Jeff Bewkes, when he was talking to investors about Game of Thrones being the most pirated TV show ever:
“Our experience is, it all leads to more penetration, more paying subs, more health for HBO, less reliance on having to do paid advertising… If you go around the world, I think you’re right, Game of Thrones is the most pirated show in the world. Well, you know, that’s better than an Emmy.”[iii]
When the CEO of the second largest premium channel in the United States openly acknowledges the good that privacy does for the exposure of TV shows, it does leave some food for thought.
In a paper, researchers found out that most of the music in digital music stores would not have been purchased if there had not been an opportunity for the consumers to first use the illegal file-sharing websites. This sort of behavior through a potential consumer indicates that people first like to try what they want before they buy it. In "The Piracy Crusade," the author, Aram Sinnreich cites an example of one of the first online free file-sharing websites, mp3.com that helped users upload files and made them available to the masses for free. Although this, at first created animosity between the record label companies and the website owners, later it was found that this helped in generating publicity.[iv]
Apart from and partly because of the exposure and accessibility that piracy gives the industry; it also adds to the profits that the industry makes, contrary to the majority view. In “The Piracy Crusade”, the author has done extensive research on the topic to debunk the extensive blame on piracy being the major cause for industry losses. It has almost become a norm in the recent years for the music industry to blame piracy for the sudden decline in profits in the past decade. They specifically blame the online file-sharing website, Napster, after whose introduction in 2001, profits began to seemingly fall at incredible rates. To debunk this link, Sinnreich focuses on three major areas: the evolution of the music retail market, the rise of the blockbuster model along with the consolidation of broadcasting, and the unprecedented expansion of the US and global economies between 1991-2001.
The consumers had more purchasing power in that period to buy music and around 2001, due to a number of reasons, there was a global slowdown in the economy. In a report published by the London School of Economics and Political Science, they spoke about the music industry:
“Contrary to the industry claims, the music industry is not in terminal decline, but still holding ground and showing healthy profits. Revenues from digital sales, subscription services, streaming and live performances compensate for the decline in revenues from the sale of CDs or records.”
And the film industry:
“Despite the Motion Picture Association of America’s (MPAA) claim that online piracy is devastating the movie industry, Hollywood achieved record-breaking global box office revenues of $35 billion in 2012, a 6% increase over 2011.”[v]
With evidence from reputable sources that piracy does in fact have a negligible to a positive effect on the film and music industry, it is hard to completely dismiss piracy on an economic basis.
There can be moral reasons to dismiss piracy as it is, in the end copying of another’s material. But when this copied material ends up giving benefit to the consumer and the manufacturer, it is hard to understand why there is so much hue and cry about it. Perhaps, it is because of the lack of in-depth research by the people against the act. Digital piracy is here to stay because it is impossible to contain anything on something as vast as the internet. Players in the entertainment industry must stop looking at this as a problem and learn to think innovatively and utilize it as a benefit.
[i] Cummings, Alex Sayf. “Democracy of Sound: Music Piracy and the Remaking of American Copyright in the Twentieth Century”. Oxford University Press, 2013. (Print)
[ii]Oskar Jareteg. Personal Interview. 14th October 2016
[iii] Paul Tassi. “'Game of Thrones' Sets Piracy World Record, But Does HBO Care?”. April 15, 2014. October 19 2016. http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2014/04/15/game-of-thrones-sets-piracy-world-record-but-does-hbo-care/#161390f17198
[iv] Aram Sinnreich. “The Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry's War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties”. University of Massachusetts Press, 2013. (Print)
[v] Bart Cammaerts et. al. LSE MPP Policy Brief 9 Copyright and Creation. LSE Media Policy Project, September 2013. (Print)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the articles or any other publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Educoncours or its members.