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Hassett: How to stop Internet piracy

BY NICK HASSETT | SEPTEMBER 19, 2013 5:00 AM

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Since the dawn of Internet file sharing, software and music piracy has abounded through such services as Napster or Kazaa, where many people have skirted the edges of the law to get a new album or software release with the digital five-finger discount. (Coincidentally, I think this is also how most people got their first computer virus. Rest in pieces, Limewire.)

Anti-software and music piracy groups such as the Recording Industry Association of America weren’t quite sure how to handle the sharing and downloading of these files. So in recent years they’ve sued anyone unlucky enough to be caught pirating for everything they could get, but piracy lives on. Now, it seems that they’re trying to turn pirates into snitches.

An example of this tactic found its way to my Facebook feed on Monday. An advertisement asked users to report the use of illegal or pirated software at their workplace, to be a digital-era corporate narc. But the ad, put on by the BSA (also known as the Software Alliance), doesn’t just stop there.

The BSA, contrary to the RIAA’s stab-you-in-the-wallet approach, uses a monetary carrot as incentive.

“Is a company that you’ve worked for pirating software?” the post reads. “How much bacon could you buy with your cash reward?” The post is accompanied by a picture of some sizzling bacon strips, naturally. Another post proclaims: “It’s not I-T, it’s We-T. Take a stand to do what’s right.”

Yeah.

The abuse of the Internet’s obsession with puns and bacon is hardly new. I’m half-expecting an ad featuring kittens to come out of the page at this point (software piracy makes Mr. Mittens sad.

Report software piracy today to get more catnip!). But what disturbs me most about this campaign is the following line in one of the ads: “Reporting software piracy helps solve the problem.”

Some might say there’s value in punishing copyright infringement as a deterrent to others. But that value is about equal to that of sentencing a crack addict to years in prison as a message to his drug dealers.

Going after individual users and businesses in the fight against software and music piracy is ignoring the root cause of the phenomenon. To be sure, piracy is a problem in these industries, but heavy-handed lawsuits and snitching won’t solve the issue. What companies should be asking is why piracy occurs in the first place.

It has taken time, but some are starting to get it. Steam, an enormously successful video game distribution service on the PC and Mac run by Valve, allows users to purchase games digitally, often for very cheap during frequent sales, and offers access to an incredible network of downloadable content, support, free modifications to games, ease of updating, and other services that pirated versions of games can’t replicate.

In fact, Valve founder Gabe Newell claims that on a per-employee basis, Valve is more profitable than industry behemoths Apple and Google. The 250-person team behind Valve have propelled it to an estimated $1.5 billion company value, and that number is only growing.

Ultimately, hunting down pirates does very little to deter piracy. It simply is too easy to find a digital file on file-sharing sites or to get it from a friend, and the sheer amount of piracy that goes on is too much for even the most litigation-hungry software alliance to tackle. What will deter piracy is making the digital experience for legitimate products so good that users would rather buy the product for the added benefits than pirate a bastardized version.

And until organizations such as the BSA realize that, it will continue to fail at curbing piracy.


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