Internet piracy has become a big business. It has also become more sophisticated in the way it steals. Rather than selling the music and movies of others, often they provide it for free and use the increased internet traffic to obtain surprising advertising revenues. This allows the pirate to claim he isn’t selling anything. But he makes a handsome profit stealing the property of others — movies, music, books, etc. According to a recent study by the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), in 2013, these piracy sites reaped an estimated quarter billion — with a B — dollars in advertising revenue. Even small piracy sites can pull in over $100,000 a year in advertising revenue and it is almost all profit.
Some might think that this is great news — free music and movies for everyone! But the truth is this theft harms everyone. Everyone you ask? Yes! Everyone, except maybe the pirate. Here’s why. You and I go to work because we hope to receive a paycheck. If we learned that there would be no paycheck, we would not show up. If we learned that we would only be paid for every other hour we worked, we would likely only be willing to work every other hour.
People who create music, make movies, or write books also hope to make a living. If people steal their work-product and thus pay them for every other download or viewing or copy, they will likely produce less or maybe even stop altogether and do something else for a living.
Free music, movies and books sounds great until you realize that if the pirates are successful in their theft, today the music and movies may be free, but in the future there will be fewer new movies and books for us to enjoy and less new music too. I want good music, movies and books today and tomorrow. So I want the creators of such content to be paid for their efforts and creativity. And I want to stop the pirates because they are also stealing from me and leaving me with fewer music, movie and book choices in the future.
I’d rather legitimately rent a movie for a few dollars and have the film’s creator paid for their work and investment, so that in the future there will be more high quality entertainment available to me. Getting it for free today from a pirate is simply too expensive once I factor in that the pirate’s theft is going to limit my choices in the future.
Interestingly enough, the advertising at piracy sites also hurt the companies advertising there. Currently, advertisers have a way to avoid their ads appearing at known pornographic sites and known hate sites. This makes sense as advertisers may not want their brand associated with nazism or bondage. But currently the online advertising systems do not have a way to insure that legitimate companies aren’t advertising on piracy sites. According to the Digital Citizens Alliance study, this problem can be solved, but the industry needs to change its best practices to accomplish it.
How would you like to be an author who wrote a book and have someone steal your book and post it at their piracy site and then make money because your ads advertising the book appeared on the same piracy site? First, they steal from you and then you pay them for having committed the theft. That would add insult to injury!
One way to stop the pirates is to make it harder for them to turn a handsome profit stealing from others. For those piracy sites that operate on ad revenue, one simple way to stop paying them to steal is to encourage the online advertising world to take voluntary steps to stop content thieves from collecting ad revenue. The online advertising ecosystem currently has a way to protect legitimate companies seeking to advertise their products from having their ads appear at porn and hate sites. This should be expanded so that legitimate businesses can avoid their ads appearing at piracy sites. Why should they be forced to pay the very pirates for advertising who steal their property and harm their business reputation?
This will be a good start, but we will also need to find a way to stop the piracy sites that rely on subscription revenue. These groups steal someone else’s work and then offer it for sale for a monthly subscription price. This practice also harms you and me — limiting our music and movie choices in the future.
We all have a stake in solving these problems. Society doesn’t allow employers to steal an employee’s paycheck. We have laws and courts that make sure that an employee gets paid. Likewise, we need to make sure we have rules and processes that prevent internet pirates from stealing a musician’s, author’s or movie maker’s paycheck. It is simply justice. And it insures that in the future, we will have lots of content to choose from. That’s a win-win.
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George Landrith is the president and CEO of Frontiers of Freedom.