Media Piracy Roundtable Coming to Ottawa

IDRC is hosting an open event in Ottawa on Friday, June 3rd on the Media Piracy in Emerging Economies study it funded. I will be participating along with Joe Karaganis, the lead editor of the study, and Ronaldo Lemos, the Director of the Center for Technology and Society at FGV School of Law in Rio de Janeiro. Admission is free and the event will be streamed live online.


  1. Over the last couple of decades I have lived in five developing countries, each one had it’s own reality in regards to media use. Of course there are many complex factors at play but they can be broken down into the main points of Access, Afordability & Attitude.

    My experience with access varied significantly both changing over time and geography. My first overseas experience was in Suriname where the only way to obtain video, audio or computer media was an actual brick & mortar ‘store’ that displayed media on the wall or a catalog which was then copied to take home. No original items were even available anywhere in the country, you either bought an illegal copy or went without. I will not make a determination on the morality of the choice, but certainly this is an impossible situation for those who want, or in the case of business software, needed to obtain this media.

    Travel to the other side of the globe and forward a few years to The Philippines, legal media is readily available in malls and even on the street. Often though, right beside the stalls or even mixed in among the originals, were the bootleg versions. Now before passing judgement lets look at the affordability, a legal VCD of a hollywood movie would run around 200 pesos or USD $5, while a bootleg version would be around 50cents. An original DVD was sold at the astronmical USA sticker price.

    This is where atitude comes into play, consider the median income in the Philippines is $5 a day. On a world scale this is actually much better than many other developing nations but still consider a legal hollywood movie would cost the equivilent of a FULL DAY’S SALARY in the west. Now ask yourself honestly, if you were given the only legal option to purchase a movie or album, would you willingly pay $150 or consider the $15 knockoff? I know the choices my in country friends made were based on the attitude that they should have equal access to afordable media as their western counterparts, and if the studios were not going to provide it then there was no qualm in obtaining it otherwise.

    I had the ablility to buy the $5 originals, and was happy to do so, but to my friends it was a choice of eating that day or watching a show. I don’t think that is a consionable or realistic situation to put these people in. Solutions to this problem are not simply come by but harsher laws and punishments will only deter rather than incite compliance.

  2. “…despite industry’s success in pushing anti-piracy legislation, ramped up global enforcement and educational awareness-raising efforts have been ineffective, and are leading, in some cases, to unintended negative socio-economic consequences.”

    Well DUH!!! That’s what we’ve been saying here forever. Heavy-handed laws and actions can only cause nothing but more disrespect for an industry that is already collectively considered to be excessive and greedy. No respect will lead to higher piracy simply because people feel no guilt or even feel justified in what they’re doing.

    If you want people to buy your product you need their respect, you can’t simply force them through draconian laws and legislation. Commerce doesn’t work like that. Even in the most extreme of cases, if they completely shut off the Internet, piracy rates would only suffer a temporary setback. …only until communication channels are in place. Mail is cheap, hard-drives are cheap…need I say more?

  3. Crockett, you raise some very good points, which will tend to put people in one of the two extreme camps in order to resolve the dilemma that is imposed.

    The dilemma is this.

    On one hand you have poor countries which cannot afford western rates for media content. On the other hand you have western artists and creators who fairly demand a living wage for their works. And connecting them both in the middle of course you have the omnipresent Internet which makes the communication of these works virtually cost free.

    Copyright owners who have to spend a lot of money for their works are going the tend to want DRM and maximal enforcement in order to ensure that they can supply legitimate markets in poor countries while at the same time stemming the flow of cheap copies back to richer countries. Witness DVDCSS, and the world market segmentation it imposes, as well as other DRM enforced licencing models.

    Users and some creators want freedom to use the works they purchase as they see fit. But it has to be acknowledged that total freedom would make the sort of market segmentation desired above completely impossible. And in a world with such massive discrepancies in income the cost of works would therefore be forced to plummet to the lowest common denominator. This in turn would make the livelihood of many creators untenable.

    How can we have both the freedom to use purchased works as we see fit, and ensure that creators get fair compensation when there is such a large income gap in the world?

    The only solution I see, is a virtual emaciation of copyright which restricts its enforcement to those areas of society where it can easily be enforced without DRM. That is commercial uses only. World governments would then have to come up with alternatives to replace creator income where previous copyright laws provided it.

    This of course is the opposite direction from where we are headed now as we attempt to strengthen copyright rather than allow it to shrink. I think we are going to have to go a lot further down this road and experience some much more significant problems before society seriously looks at going in the other direction.

  4. @Darryl
    “On the other hand you have western artists and creators who fairly demand a living wage for their works.”

    But on the other, other hand people in developing countries see “artists” such as Keanu Reeves and Russell Crowe who make, on average, over $10,000,000 per movie. This is NOT a “living wage” and I would think is likely considered obscene in such areas. No one “needs” that kind of money to live. This is pure Hollywood excess and while these are extreme super-star examples and are what’s highly publicized, salaries well in excess of $1,000,000 for even a second-rate actor on a single movie are not uncommon.

    The entertainment industry is trying to wring water from the proverbial stone. Most of them are so far removed from reality that they simply cannot conceive the economic and living conditions in some of these places. Even in Canada for the average Joe Blow, we pay $7 for a coffee at Starbucks when $7 in some of these places is more than you have to feed your entire family for a week.

    Unfortunately, I tend to agree with you that the market will pretty much have to implode on itself before any truly useful changes will be made in developing countries.

  5. IamME, I agree with you complete. However take the inverse of Crockett’s mental experiment where he suggests we try to imagine westerners spending a full days wage on a DVD. That is, try to imagine a westerner spending the same absolute dollars on media as a poor countries citizen would need to be able to pay to make a workable market in their county. I.E. Less than a dollar. If the whole world paid no more than what was viable in the poorest region of the world, then there is no way Hollywood blockbusters would ever be viable. Nor would RIAA backed music groups. Even without paying the stars the mega-bucks they currently get. This is what proponents of DRM are trying to address.

    It would also apply to television books and software. Nothing which could easily be transported over digital channels would be immune from this race to the bottom.

    Now, as I said, I am not saying there is anything wrong with this scenario. what I am saying is that copyright simply does not work where all individuals have the power to create and distribute as many perfect copies as they want. That is why I think the fix for copyright is not to strengthen it at significant social cost, but rather to find alternatives for it is situations where it has demonstrated that it cannot work any longer.

  6. Jhaagsma says:

    Just stop selling DVD’s and such…
    Free online via streaming with subscription(think netflix), or funded via advertisement (think hulu); people will still go to see movies in theatres; live performances for music…

    Most big budget movies have paid for themselves many times over before they are even released on DVD; Given you can watch lots of movies via netflix and the industry *hasn’t* imploded, I’m sure this would work fine. And independent “pay what you want/can afford” music has been demonstrated to work remarkably well.

    Perhaps they’d have to cut some artists wages from the multi-million down to the million or multiple hundreds of thousands per movie; but I’m sure they wouldn’t starve.

  7. Crockett says:

    Some more thoughts
    We all sound in basic agreement on the issue of access. The problem of income disparity is it is not a situation that is going to be fixed in the foreseeable future .. so what is to be done?

    Darryl’s suggestion of replacing copyright based renumeration with some type of socially backed payment is interesting but also not soon to come.

    The structure of the internet itself cannot both allow the free flow of information that is driving our information economy & providing revolutions of free thought, yet be locked down otherwise. It’s neither technologically feasible or socially acceptable.

  8. LOL
    The media industry has demonstrated over and over again that they care little about “socially acceptable”. ;-O

  9. Crockett says:

    Save the world …
    The panel discussion was very informative, I enjoyed having a tele-presence participant from Brazil to bring in an outside perspective. One point that struck me, and a question I posed to the panel, was the effect that copyright enforcement has on developing nation’s legal infrastructures.

    The USA has a big stick in the form of the USTR. I do not bemoan it’s role as any country must protect it’s own industry and competitiveness, but the amount of pressure it brings to bear must be weighed against both it’s effectiveness, as well as the effects it has on those it is targeting.

    For instance I mentioned above that I have traveled and lived abroad in the developing world, thus I may have a greater perspective on the inequities people face there. One of them, of course, is justice which is often hard to come by when eclipsed by corruption. With the intense political and trade pressure that the US brings to bear a disproportionate amount of limited resources can be diverted to combat what is essentially a minor economic problem in lieu of combating more pressing quality of life, safety and even life threating issues.

    I think a reflection on the importance & degree of copyright enforcement in the developing world must take into account these factors and one must ask if the morality of such actions are justified against the apparent harm. I say this understanding there will be some loss on the part of the copyright holders, but unless they actually plan to participate in these markets in a cost appropriate way, the actual losses are close to non existent.

    For all the hoopla and pandering by so many high profile artists to the plight of the disadvantaged, it seems antithesis to me to push such draconian measures for so little personal return, but then does the USTR, **AA really represent artists … or perhaps the stockholders?