On Online Piracy

From war of the worlds radio show to the explosive rise of some kid’s career named Justin Bieber, it seems that our society never quite able to grasp the vast developing field of media technology and communication. I can still remember the time where I don’t really know what to do with computers. I thought it was just a fancier typewriter until the Internet comes around. Not a single individual has ever been sure enough on where the media is heading towards, and even the smartest people in the field could never tell us for sure either.

Tuesday marks the victory of Voltage picture, the studio behind Dallas Buyers Club, over the case of piracy. They had successfully sued Australian Internet providers including iinet for not willing to share their user’s information. The information that was demanded was the detail of the people who are sharing their movie online. Apparently there are around 4700 people sharing the movie, with most of them could receive a legal letter from the company. If treated the same as some other similar case in the US, then every individual might have to pay up to $150,000.

Online piracy has indeed become a highly debated topic ever since Napster surfaces 16 years ago. I remember discussing about this issue few years back in one of my uni classes. At that time, many of the anti piracy ad was concentrating on how we are stealing contents, only to be reminded that online piracy doesn’t really steal. File sharing means that we get to obtain a copy of a file that other people are sharing.


To put it on simpler perspective, piracy means that somebody is making a copy of your car. Your car is still there, but other people make copy out of it. You don’t actually lose anything, the only people who is losing is the car manufacturer. And to be frank, it doesn’t actually cost them anything other than potential future earnings.

Now if the definition of piracy is this confusing, imagine having a legal background for this exact issue. It is a nightmare really, but it is an actual real-world problem right now and nobody really knows how to get over it.

Back in the Mixtapes time, there are laws (or more of a bill actually) that were submitted by American music studio to stop people from making copies of their cassettes. This case is just the beginning of a whole circus involving piracy, and even then, nobody was quite sure why it was illegal to make a copy when nobody is making profit after it. As it turns out, there are such things as copyrights, and since then, this becomes the go-to solution for studios to protect their contents from uncontrolled distribution.

The iinet v Voltage Picture case, for me, paints a picture more on the distribution issue rather than legal justice. I think it makes sense that Australia is perhaps a country with the highest number of online pirates in the world. While they have an arguably good Internet connection, Australia has less than satisfying streaming service. Things such as Netflix or Hulu didn’t really exist until the beginning of this year. So while a lot of people are not quite rich enough to afford $20 or so worth of blu-ray copies, the only way to get a high quality movie or TV shows is through torrent.

So I guess this is more of a distribution issue then. Forbes, in 2013, reported that illegal music download had reduced by 26%, with 40% of sample said they stopped downloading by 2012. The report says that this happened because of the availability of Spotify and other music streaming services.

Basing on that, I think Netflix (or similar form of distribution) is a way forward for studios to tackle freeloaders problem. With $14-a-month subscription of unlimited streaming, this is way cheaper than even buying a single blu-ray copy. This is because frankly, downloading stuffs doesn’t seem to be a simple thing to do either. It involves a waiting process and huge storages for movies that most people won’t see again ever in their lifetime. And with Australia’s most Internet provider having unlimited service anyway, streaming should be seen as a simpler forward. Given that it is affordable.

Of course streaming services would bring another problem, like how Spotify is only paying less than the cost of peanuts for every play that an artist gets. It is a problem that until now, I can’t seem to find a solution for. But as Spotify helps artists to get people to come to their concert, things like Netflix could get studio to get product placements and native advertisings.

Does this mean that cinema and physical copy is slowly dying? I don’t think so. As some pirate are willing to pay premium to watch the movie that they want, people who considers particular movies as being ‘worth it’ would be willing to obtain a physical copy or even come to the premiere instead. While some people who don’t, will be willing to wait months after the release date for the movie to be available on Netflix.

I truly believe that this is a case of distribution, and I think studios (instead of suing people and corporation everywhere like a panicking mother losing her child in a market) should be involved with company like Netflix and other Internet providers to operate a more convenient distribution system.


“Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll more likely pay for it rather than steal it. Well, some will still steal it, but I think we can take a bite out of piracy.” – Kevin Spacey



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