It’s just a question of availability and price

Replying to an invitation to share its thoughts on regulation in the communications sector, Google has written an open letter to the Australian communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, outlining its recommendations for future intellectual property and downloads legislation. Its analysis is shared by many of us who have for some time been saying that so-called piracy is a question of availability and price, and one that cannot be addressed through draconian measures restricting the internet:

“We believe there is significant, credible evidence emerging that online piracy is primarily an availability and pricing problem. Google takes many steps to work with copyright owners to protect the rights of copyright owners online. We would encourage the Government to promote new business models and a free marketplace for legal purchasing of content. We would be disappointed if the Government decided to go down the route of overly harsh regulation to combat piracy without considering the evidence from around the world that this would likely be costly for business to implement and with little effect.”

It is increasingly obvious that the entertainment industry’s complaints have little to do with protecting content or those who create it, and are much more about preserving obsolete production and distribution systems, systems that need to be changed to solve the problem of people downloading content online. Google’s response shows that it understands the world we live in, while most governments are in the equivalent of the technological antipodes.

The entertainment industry’s arguments in this regard are always the same: that this is a complex matter and that there is no way to change the way things are done, and that furthermore, anybody who thinks differently is at best being simplistic and at worst is encouraging criminal activity by believing that “everything must be free”. It continues to argue that it is perfectly normal that a work that is available to half the planet is not available to the other half immediately, and that there is no big deal in waiting a month or so for films to be distributed in different countries. That only a fraction of the movies that have been made are available online, or that films are still not available months, and sometimes years after they have been released is simply the way things work. Similarly, we must also accept paying the same price to access works as in the pre-internet age, when manufacturing, logistics, and distribution costs have fallen dramatically over the last two decades. The fact of the matter is that none of these arguments hold water.

And yet, undeterred, the entertainment industry continues to trot these untruths out, at the same time as using lobbies to pressure governments around the world, that, either through ignorance or corruption, are happy to pass tougher and tougher laws that have absolutely no impact.

If you are not able to give your customers what they want, when they want it, and at the price they want it, then you have a problem, not your customers. If, furthermore, you continue to insist your problems are caused by wrongdoers, pirates, and thieves, you are living in a fantasy world. And if, to make matters worse, you insist on lobbying governments to create a punitive legislative framework that allows you to pursue, fine, and send your customers to prison, you are probably borderline psychotic.

In short, the problem with the content industry is not the pirates out there, but the incompetents within it.

(En español, aquí)