Could you imagine a world where you don’t have full control of the things you buy? Think of buying a car that only you can drive, that only drives to certain places and only runs on fuel from a specific gas station chain. Madness, right? Yet every day, consumers in the digital age are told by the entertainment industry to accept only having partial ownership of the products they buy. Through their efforts to eliminate piracy, entertainment industries have forgotten the consumer.
As the entertainment industry continues to lobby for laws bent on eliminating piracy, the rights of consumers everywhere seem to be diminishing with little to no penalty towards the real offenders. The problem with today's industry leaders is that they seem to see hardline regulation as the only possible solution, while it’s those very regulations that drive consumers towards piracy. In a world where consumers’ standards are sky high, producers need to learn to compete with the convenience of piracy.
The music business — one of the most common targets of piracy — has improved its services drastically from the early days of digital distribution. iTunes was the first of many to pledge security to record companies through the use of Digital Rights Management tools (DRM). The trade-off for this protection was the inability to use the music beyond a set purpose, negatively affecting the consumer.
A study out of Duke and Rice University showed that the removal of DRM could actually reduce piracy. Amazon has demonstrated how DRM-free music works to benefit both the distributor and the consumer, forcing Apple and a variety of other music stores to follow suit in 2009, alleviating the problem.
The music industry should strive to embrace new ideas and distribution models like the recent music service, Airborne. A subscription service with a unique hook, users can subscribe to a particular artist for $1 per month and, in return, get DRM-free copies of their songs in a variety of formats, which they are free to share with others. This increases the artist’s fan base, resulting in new sources of revenue. All music you get though Airborne belongs permanently to you, and can be streamed from most devices anywhere in the world. While Airborne seems to belittle the role of record companies, the music industry should learn from Airborne and try to offer the most value for their products rather than trying to monetize files.
In the world of PC gaming, Good Old Games, an online distributor of classic titles, has provided a convenient alternative to piracy. Where other game companies like Ubisoft and Electronic Arts have included restrictive DRM in their recent PC releases, GOG has continued to sell DRM-free downloads of many of the most popular games of the past 20 years. Since it launched in 2008, the service has grown to include hundreds of titles.
Valve co-founder Gabe Newell has been quoted stating, “The easiest way to stop piracy is not by putting anti-piracy technology to work. It’s by giving those people a service that’s better than what they’re receiving from the pirates.” By only relying on one solution to resolve a difficult problem, the entertainment industry has limited its own success. It’s in entertainment companies’ best interests to try innovative distribution models and reduce restrictions on consumers’ rights. In the end, pleasing the consumer creates a sense of trust, and if you have that you needn't worry about piracy in the first place.