It’s 2019! More amazing art is being created and distributed than ever before. The plight of the artist, whether they’re making TV or films, creating music, or animating a world, is tougher than ever before. Even if the entertainment industry makes more money than ever, individual creators will never see that cash. Consumers of every media and medium are becoming more aware of this.
So why is piracy still so prevalent?
Animated Monologues, I am AniMo, and I’m finally talking about piracy in show business. This may be the most controversial topic I talk about for a while.
It used to be hard to think of pirates outside of swashbuckling scoundrels sending ships down to the abyssal depths of Davy Jones locker. This isn’t the case anymore. Modern day pirates will download or buy illegal copies of movies, music, and television. Instead of thieves stealing treasure from ships, they’re stealing content from entertainment producers. They don’t sail the seas, they sail the web. They also blend in with modern entertainment consumers, because even the best consumers don’t legally acquire everything. So, again, I ask why?
Honestly there are a lot of answers to this question. They all center around one key component, the services.
This essay isn’t about the creators vs. the consumers. It’s about the services that provide consumers access to the creators. It’s about the Netflix’s and the Spotify’s that stream art, or the film studios and record labels that license, distribute, or legalize every creation. I focus on these services because these are who consumers usually deal with. Creators rarely sell their own work directly to consumers, they go through these ‘middlemen’ so they can reach as many consumers as possible. These services are usually where the issue [that creates or reinforces piracy] lies.
The crystalizing idea is that pirates want to support creators, but don’t want to support the necessary services.
This might contradictory if you are a casual fan of music or film or TV, but this is actually the surface level of consuming entertainment. I used to be firmly anti-piracy because of this ideology. While I’m not going to go pirating every film or anime after I publish this, I now understand their plight much more than before. As someone that’s fascinated by the governing bodies that run the entertainment industry, researching this article opened my eyes to a lot of issues I never acknowledged before.
Services Pay Themselves, Not Creators
Entertainment services take most of the money they earn for themselves, usually at the expense of the artists, and the music industry shows that. In digital distribution, iTunes used to be the best service for musicians. Unfortunately though, they don’t pay musicians very much for the music they create. For every 99 cent song you buy, only 7 cents is paid to the artist. Even the service provider (usually iTunes themselves) take 17 cents for themselves, and the record label behind the artist takes the biggest cut, at 47 cents. This means that when people pirate, the loss of money affects the services more than the creator. It’s hard to support the entertainment industry without having to support the services that provide it. The services who claim to support the industry aren’t necessarily supporting creators, but instead they’re supporting themselves. Casual consumers who want to support artists are usually blocked by services that aren’t built to do so. If the services don’t support artists, then pirates aren’t willing to support the services.
Pirates, as a section of the broad consumer base, are still very active in the market. They follow the industry, and would rather find direct ways to support the artists. Pirates may illegally download music, but they would gladly pay for a live performance or merchandise. Piracy exists because of a disdain for the services, not because they dislike supporting the industry. If someone dislikes a service, they won’t pay for it. For pirates, they want to support a service that benefits the creators behind any given industry. People won’t stay pirates if a quality service that satisfied customers and creators existed. Sometimes, the issue isn’t based on rightfully paying artists or not, but is an issue about the service itself.
This isn’t exclusive to the music industry, it’s a systematic problem across every entertainment field
Sometimes, the Service is the problem
People will pirate if they dislike the quality of the service, which is seen a lot in film and television. Every year when the Oscars release their nominations, people want to go out and see the rewarded films. The box office gross of every Oscar film increases the instant they’re nominated. This demand exists in piracy as well, since piracy rates of films increase once the Oscars are released (Dackevych, 2017). Pirates aren’t driven to watch films in theaters or other legal services, and this is based on a dislike of the service itself. The issue that music services face, in terms of not rightfully paying creators, also exists in film as well. This isn’t the only reason that pirates dislike services in entertainment. Going to the movie theaters for films, Oscars or not, isn’t attractive to everyone. People have to wait in lines for movie tickets, wait in lines for extremely unhealthy (or overpriced) concessions, and finally sit in a theater room that can fill with loud people who will distract from any viewing experience. The service itself is the problem for some pirates, and it’s not worth it if the creators aren’t paid in the end. Sometimes, the problem with the service is that it’s just absent.
Sometimes, the Service is Absent
People turn to piracy if the service isn’t available for them. People without movie theater access aren’t even in a position to choose if they want to pay for services or not. If they can’t support filmmakers because they don’t have access to services, or even money to pay for it, they’re obviously going to turn to piracy. Some films don’t even get released in theaters, and anybody that wants to watch them is forced to use piracy. This is to say that, at times, piracy is the only option to consume some entertainment. In November 2007, NBC pulled all of their TV shows from iTunes. Many people were directly driven to pirate NBC shows because their content was physically unavailable.
the removal of NBC’s primary digital sales channel caused an 11.4% increase in piracy of that content over and above any change experienced by competitor networks ABC, CBS, and Fox over the same period. An 11.4% increase in piracy corresponds to about 27 more downloads per day per episode, or 48,000 additional pirated downloads of all NBC content per day. To put this number in perspective, it is about twice as large as the number of daily iTunes sales NBC received in the two weeks before December 1 (Danaher, 2010).
This is direct proof that people started pirating when there was no other option. When services are absent in their market, people will pirate. Entertainment wants services to succeed to sustain the market. Whether they realize it or not, piracy sustains the market as well.
Pirates Develop Market’s before Services
Pirates are active in pursuing their entertainment, which helps sustain the industry even without the exchange of money. Anime, which animation from Japan is called, has seen their market develop in America because of piracy. There used to be no one in America that released anime legally. Fans learned to create their own subtitles, put them on pirated videos and distribute them to local anime fans. Eventually, this created a larger demand for anime to be distributed in America, and legal services were created to do so. This happened with physical copies of anime, and with digital streams of anime online. Pirates developed and sparked the anime market, which services were then able to capitalize on because they knew they had a market to sell to. This goes back to what happened with NBC and iTunes, where services were absent from the market and it created piracy. When the time came around for services to legally distribute anime, they already knew who to sell to and how.
Anime pirates have played, and continue to play a vital role in the transnational anime market, but their greater prevalence and visibility in the marketplace due to technologies like BitTorrent, and their increasing emphasis on speed and, indeed, on quality, have placed them in closer competition with the most significant industries that create their objects of fandom (Denison, 2011)
Pirates, when they create demand, determine the supply of entertainment services. This is also because piracy is the biggest competition to legal services. When services aren’t around to sustain entertainment market, pirates will do it for them. They, in turn, end up developing the markets in ways that not every service is able to.
The entertainment industry is growing. More people are producing content than ever before, and more people are consuming content than ever before. This means that more services need to come up to distribute everything. When services aren’t competing with each other, they have to compete against piracy. If a service isn’t fair to creators, or isn’t of good quality, and especially if they aren’t available for consumers, then would-be fans will turn to piracy. Piracy still grows the market of entertainment, despite any media that tries to argue otherwise. They are seen as stealing treasure by big media companies, but the role of piracy isn’t that black or white. Piracy is a demand for services to provide more quality content to consumers, or to provide proper compensation for creators. Pirates have never been static, they are willing to pay for a service if it is worth the cost to themselves, the creators, or the market. While piracy may be illegal, it doesn’t mean that every pirate is a criminal.
Author’s Note: So this blog is about to have some big changes. I’m planning on going multi-media under this same AniMo name. I want to make an effort to post more since I now have more ideas, plus a catalog of unfinished drafts that I want to post. So here’s to the comeback of the ages!
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Danaher, Brett, et al. “Converting Pirates Without Cannibalizing Purchasers: The Impact of
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Dackevych, Alex. “How the Oscars Became High Season for Film Piracy.” British Broadcasting
Denison, Rayna. “Anime Fandom and the Liminal Spaces between Fan Creativity and Piracy.”
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