This is why anti-piracy is not simple and intuitive...

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | May 4, 2012 - 10:07 PM |
Tagged: piracy

The Pirate Bay has recently been blocked by a number of British ISPs but single-day traffic increased to the highest it has ever been. If there was a need for yet another example of where intuition opposes reality when it comes to content piracy, please -- let this be that so we can move on to actually solving problems.

The biggest issue with anti-piracy campaigns is that so many have opinions but so few have acknowledged facts -- even when proposing litigation.

The intuitive perception is very simple: see a quantifiable amount of what could wrongfully be considered theft and assume that sales were reduced by some factor of that value. Also, if you block access to that cesspool of theft then most of the theft will go away or move somewhere else. Both of those suggestions are fundamentally flawed statistically and have no meaning besides feeling correct.

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Content companies: Do not blame piracy. Sales before sails -- think before you sink.

In reality there are many situations to show that an infringed copy has counter-intuitive effects on sales. More importantly to this story is the latter situation: blocking The Pirate Bay appears to have substantially increased their single-day audience by 12 million views. This seems to be yet another conundrum where no action would have been the optimal solution.

If you were to take away a single point from this article it should be the following:

Just because something seems right or wrong does not mean it is. You should treat intuition as nothing more than a guide for your judgment. Never let instinct disrupt your ability to understand the problems you are attempting to solve or ignore completely valid possibilities at solving them.

Objectivity really is a good virtue to embrace.

May 4, 2012 | 10:42 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

It's hard to expect logical thought when dealing with politicians. They're only interest is trying to hold onto the power they've developed. Unfortunately people in those position will never realize that they can't legislate their own ethics onto other people.

May 4, 2012 | 10:43 PM - Posted by Shambles (not verified)

Ahhhhh, shoot me in the foot.

"their" not "They're" (I'm so so sorry :()

May 5, 2012 | 05:11 AM - Posted by Chaitanya Shukla (not verified)

The main reason for this move is the money that these Greedy Politicians will get from the studios under the name of party funds. Its the same with Cispa(and Sopa before). Internet is not going to be a free place it once was with all sorts of censorships put into place but these greedy b******.

May 5, 2012 | 02:38 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Then be active and call your representatives. All of them. Whichever their party. Even when there is no occasion.

Let them know you value the internet and if they value you then you better too. Tell them that anti-piracy has yet to do any good and has constantly been abused for things like extortion or anti-competition.

((One way people extort people with anti-piracy methods is to send fake DMCA requests and "ask for a settlement" -- hoping the defendant doesn't know any better. If the defendant files a counterclaim -- then everything is often dropped instantly in those situations.

Another way is to send fake DMCA requests/claim ownership of other people's content in automated takedown systems at places like Youtube to claim ad revenue for what is actually original content... again, hoping that the defendant doesn't know or is too scared to counter claim. Everything is usually magically dropped again... because... well they know it was fraudulent in the first place.))

May 4, 2012 | 11:44 PM - Posted by Wolvenmoon (not verified)

Piracy is market darwinism.

(Kidding, but some of the self righteous 'free, darwinian market' people should take note. . .)

May 5, 2012 | 03:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The internet definitely has had a devastating effect on movie, music, etc sales, but it's not all to do with piracy, I could not watch a single Hollywood blockbuster, not listen to another commercial album, and still be more entertained than I ever was before the net. There's simply tons more better content out there, I can engage with people online, discuss things, play online games, watch live podcasts being filmed on nearly any topic imaginable. When I was younger, I remember being charged £15 in the highstreet for a CD album, and when I got home, there were only about 3 decent tracks on there.

May 5, 2012 | 07:12 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Just because you don't want to pay for copyrighted content, doesn't mean it's not stealing.

People steal copyrighted content because it's easy. Much easier than physical items.

The idea that it's okay to steal from media companies because they make large profits is also ridiculous. So, we should all be encouraged to steal from Apple, CocaCola, Exxon, etc, because they make a lot of money?

"Apple will hardly notice if we steal a few laptops. Heck, people seeing us use them at the coffee shop/park will actually be encouraged to buy them! We are actually doing Apple a favor!"

May 5, 2012 | 09:00 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

And what if action against those pirates reduces your profits as a company as well as has collateral damage to adjacent industries and innocent actions? Who wins?

A good example is Ubisoft and their latest DRM method: Sales shrunk by 90% after its introduction. The sales did not even migrate to a different platform; their potential customers simply ignored their products. They, no word of a lie, called it "a success" because they saw a, so they claim, marked reduction in piracy. They lost 9 out of every 10 customers! That is never a success!

I am quite concerned as a lot of my work is done online and I have worked for people who were on the receiving end of incorrect (some feeling quite fraudulent) DMCA claims. I also have a lot of concern with the perpetual diminishing of the public domain and its rammifications for current and future art.

We need to get past emotions like those demonstrated in your comment and work toward solving the core problems.

Solving problems without thought lead us to situations like this.

For all we know, turning a blind eye may just be the optimal solution for everyone.

May 7, 2012 | 08:41 AM - Posted by ET3D (not verified)

"emotions like those demonstrated in your comment" - I think the emotions are more in yours. He talked about piracy being wrong, and you reply by saying DRM is wrong, which is to say you completely ignored what he said and struck back to insult him. That's the gist of the problem. Both sides are talking on different terms, trying their best to make it look as if their side is right while the other side is dead wrong.

Real world: piracy is morally wrong; DRM is of dubious financial benefit. But consider this: if piracy stopped, there would be no need for DRM; if DRM stopped, piracy would continue, because it's not caused by DRM. It's clear that piracy is the root problem. Just because you feel annoyed by DRM doesn't make the act of piracy justified.

It's true that relaxing or removing DRM might be good for a company's bottom line in some cases, because paying customers will suffer less, which might increase sales. That point of your article is correct. If you put it that way that would be okay (although you'd still be just voicing opinion, since some DRM scheme's like Steam might be beneficial to the bottom line). But you keep implying that piracy isn't wrong, and that's where your article goes off the rail and shows you're just ranting, not thinking.

May 7, 2012 | 12:19 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually the point of the article is more the following:

"If piracy is stopped" By what?

  1. Censoring The Pirate Bay? It got 12 Million more views than it otherwise would have.
  2. Adding DRM? Your sales drop further and society is harmed.
  3. Making more and more things felonies?  DMCA didn't work and was terribly abused.

... and so forth.

You cannot set piracy to a specific value only influence in ways which you think will make it go up or down.

I am not saying my side is right -- I am saying the other side is missing the point and has a terrible understanding of statistics (actually, most of both sides). 

In a comment further down I said (actually in response to an error made by an anti-anti-piracy comment):


Also claiming record breaking numbers for a pirated content makes a similar statistical error that anti-piracy people do.

You cannot measure piracy figures and assume what would happen to sales... and you cannot measure sales figures and assume what would happen to piracy. Basically, you need to measure them both while adjusting factors which influence them.

You cannot say: "What would happen if I was only pirated 21,352 times?" You cannot control your dependent variable.


So your statement, "if piracy stopped, there would be no need for DRM" assumes you can control piracy -- and you cannot. You measure it.

Your other statement, "It's true that relaxing or removing DRM might be good for a company's bottom line in some cases, because paying customers will suffer less, which might increase sales." bumps into the point then misses it again.

If you attempt to influence piracy -- keep in mind, more than just piracy is influenced.

Even if piracy goes in the way you predict (which it often doesn't) -- it does not mean that sales will also go in the way you predict (in fact, it pretty much always doesn't).

And at that point, what were you trying to accomplish?

May 5, 2012 | 09:55 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Would it be ok with you if I posted your articles on my own tech site?

I'm not going to attribute the article to you, or pay you any royalties for your work. It's basically appropriation art, with the added benefit that I will profit off of my site's advertising.

Does that agree with you?

If you wish to go the difficult route, I might go guerrilla and fire up the forums to boycott your site. Kind of like what happened to Ubisoft.

****End Sarcasm

People steal when it is easy and rarely punished. They get upset when they are called out on it.

How many people that steal movies on bit-torrent would ever dream of driving away from the gas station without paying?

It costs money to make a film, just as it does to produce gasoline, why is one more socially accepted than another?

May 6, 2012 | 02:54 AM - Posted by Scott Michaud

My content, including articles, *have* been plagiarized, and I am very sick and tired of "You wouldn't say that if it happened to you" arguments.

We have responded to the infringements. We did *not* respond by doing various browser hacks to prevent copying and pasting as other online print outlets have. We are sensible enough to realize that would only piss off legitimate viewers. That initiative would help no-one, including ourselves.

There is a difference between responding to an infringement and throwing a hissy-fit then hurting everyone including yourself. That difference, among others, is essential to comprehend before even thinking that you can solve the problem. That really is the point of this article.

----- But back on topic -----

Yes, infringing copyrights is wrong.

Also wrong is enraging your potential customers. Also wrong is making your content extremely difficult to legally obtain because you want your customers to consume your content strictly as you prescribe. Also wrong is proposing litigation and initiatives that are abused and harmful to society. Also wrong is blaming your shortcomings on piracy because it is a value you can point to.

Ranting about what is right and just does not solve this problem.

Because if it was just as easy as censoring The Pirate Bay -- it would not have received the extra 12 million views it did, hmm?

And what if, hypothetically, that censorship initiative harmed a legitimate business? It's happened before.

Is that right? Should we permit a law to protect an industry... that does not actually protect that industry... and harms other completely legal and ethical industries?

May 6, 2012 | 09:18 AM - Posted by Tim Verry

Indeed, we've had several discussions about the balance between going after others plagiarizing our articles and the how any countermeasures would affect our users.

No one here is saying that it's cool and a good thing to illegally download or plagiarize content. And the argument that generally happens about whether copyright infringement is stealing or not is not helpul to anyone, and if anything it is just a smokescreen. I think what Scott is getting at is that in the end, companies need to stop going after piracy at any cost and actually do business with the customers that want to give them money! He mentioned Ubisoft and he has a point, I paid 60 bucks for the latest Splinter Cell and was not able to play it until a year later when I moved and had a different ISP! Ridiculous! You know who was playing the game without issues a month after release? Pirates. That's stupid. Anno 2070 looks awesome and I wanted to buy it after seeing the GiantBomb quick look... then I saw the DRM and haven't bought it. I haven't bought any Assassin's Creed games either after. Piracy has unknown impacts on sales, but I'll tell you what does have a noticeable and measurable impact: burning your paying customers with overbearing piracy countermeasures that make the game impossible for anyone but pirates to play!! Who cares if they eliminate all the pirates if they have no more paying customers? Businesses need to go back to focus on what they are designed to do: do business. Sure, piracy sucks but it's not the real problem. The real problem is fucking over paying customers, because those are the people that actually contribute to profits ;).

Sorry for the rant, it's not really aimed at you, DRM just pisses me off LOL

May 6, 2012 | 02:18 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

What you and Scott miss is that companies are under no obligation to be nice to their customers. Nor can they be compelled to make a product to begin with. If they don't like how the game is being played, they can take their proverbial ball and go home.

Sure it would most likely be conducive to seem like they care about the customer, but it is the company's decision how they wish to proceed. Companies exist to make a profit, not to be nice.

If a company came out with the best game ever made that was also impossible to pirate, would people buy it?

Do people complain about Xbox or PS DRM?

People get frustrated with DRM because they want to consume the product. If the products were terrible, no one would care how difficult it was to consume.

May 6, 2012 | 02:36 PM - Posted by Tim Verry

Exactly, they exist to make a profit, and how are companies going to make a profit? By catering to the people that want to give them money (not the people illegally donwloading their content that may or may not have given them money). They don't have to be nice to their customers, but it usually doesn't hurt.

Xbox and PlayStation both use DRM, but it actually works, is invisible to honest users (though that is starting to change a bit with second hand sales content codes and such), and for the most part does not stop paying customers from actually using the product they bought. It doesn't stop pirates either, but that's another story.

So they should make the product as easy to consume as possible to make the most money.

Companies are wasting so much time and money on the possibility of maybe stopping someone from illegally downloading and instead paying for it, when they really should be focusing on the much more likely sales from people that want to pay for content.

Is illegally downloading content wrong? sure. But so are the lengths companies go to for anti-piracy that negatively affects actual customers.

I just feel like too often it is, figuratively speaking, a huge line of people saying "wow, this game looks cool, take my money!" and publishers are responding with "Wait your darn turn paying customer, we have to take care of the pirates first!!" It's like paying customers are second class citizens because the games are being catered more towards anti-piracy than sales magnet.

May 6, 2012 | 03:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I brought up XBox and PS precisely because it is successful.

If other media entities were able to implement similarly unobtrusive DRM measures would they still be a "waste of time?" It seems many would like to try before they just give up and "turn a blind eye" as your colleague advises.

Adobe is an example of a company that has dealt with mountains of piracy but looks to have come up with a good solution: subscription services. They have priced their product well enough, that many who stole before, will probably now consider going legitimate, mostly for the convenience. I imagine Adobe will also continue to make pirating more difficult while making the subscription more attractive. (Apparently the software must contact their servers once a month to remain active.)

The NY Times as well. They have been slowly tightening their pay wall, while seeing an increase in subscribers and revenue. Many thought the pay wall was a mistake originally.

When it's more convenient to purchase than steal, more people will go legitimate.

May 6, 2012 | 04:04 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually Adobe spent the longest time not doing much about anti-piracy. The same hack was possible for several versions. They realized it was better to let casual home users pirate and get used to Photoshop/whatever so that they could pressure their future employers to use Adobe products as that is what they are trained on.

They turned a blind eye to it to benefit themselves later.

Eventually they offer a subscription service. That's good for them. That's one of the best ways to counter-act piracy -- offer a better service. Steam does the same thing. Adding more and more strict DRM is not good... as Gabe Newell of Valve himself even said.

Again, I did not say that always turning a blind eye is the best solution. I said it could be the best solution for a given situation and you need to stop letting your feelings about being ripped off cloud your judgment. It could be the best solution... find out if it is and do not just scoff at it because it violates your intuition.

Also, you have not proved that the DRM included in Xbox and PS3 systems increased their sales. The platforms were successful -- but how successful would they have been otherwise?

PS1 and PS2 were crazily hacked and they were ridiculously successful... therefore piracy increased sales? No. That's no more true than what you said. Now if you see sales spikes or drops or remain unchanged shortly after a modchip was released? That would be valid evidence.

Not a proof -- but valid evidence none-the-less and a start of a conversation. Your evidence is not.

May 6, 2012 | 05:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I am not trying to prove that DRM increased sales over a non-DRM baseline.

The point is they ARE successful while operating on a platform that contains DRM. (Some extremely so.)

Yes, some people don't like any form of DRM, no matter how unobtrusive. Unfortunately, that sentiment doesn't appear to be compelling to a large portion of content providers.

May 6, 2012 | 05:33 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

So what is your benchmark for DRM success if it's not increased sales?

May 6, 2012 | 05:45 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's not my benchmark. I'm just saying that if a company believes it must protect its assets with DRM and they are able to turn a profit while doing so, they are still successful.

May 6, 2012 | 05:48 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Successful in spite of the DRM, not as a result of it.

May 6, 2012 | 02:48 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

We obviously understand that companies are under no obligation to be nice to their customers.

We also understand beyond that.

If a company made the best game ever that was also impossible to pirate, would people buy it? Someone would, but how much harm (to their sales, society, other businesses, fair use, etc.) was done in making it "impossible to pirate"? Does the user need to be online 24/7 with three USB license-dongles sticking out of their PC and a series of specific chips on their motherboard?

What you should ask is:

If a company made the best game ever that was also impossible to pirate, how many sales would they have compared to the best game ever that was also DRM-free? How about compared to (some other DRM)? 

You claim that companies exist to make a profit, not to be nice.

The problem is: *neither* has been accomplished!

And society slowly gets screwed up more and more as the arts and entertainment industry gets slanting further toward disposable entertainment and away from timeless art.

Because what good is a timeless classic if the platform it is on (consoles) or the DRM that "protects" goes unsupported?

Oh, and the community cannot support it either -- because breaking encryption is a felony with no expiration... even after the content goes into the public domain.

I decided to focus more on the impact to society this comment -- since I think I have beaten to death the impact on other industries and acts.

May 6, 2012 | 04:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Ok, so in your ideal world:
DRM wouldn't exist.

Everyone could play Pong on any platform.

Media companies would all produce "timeless art," (that the masses are just dying to purchase.)

Said media companies would make record profits.

Is that about right?

May 6, 2012 | 04:24 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

I do not like proprietary platforms at all.

There should be an open community-driven platform that art can permanently reside on.

Timeless art is loved by the masses. Super Mario Bros. and Zelda are two such examples.

The NES does not exist any more. They can be ported to new platforms... and after the NES patents have expired there exists emulation systems. After copyright expires (which is way too long and getting longer), the community can then rewrite the art for whatever platform they desire.

Nintendo (in this case) can still profit off of their work by doing that, and doing it better than the community. They just do not have exclusivity anymore because the art belongs to society in the public domain. And if they don't, then the art is not lost -- someone else will if it is worth it. (And make legal derivative works, etc.)

That is not possible if you wrap it in encryption and make it a felony to break.

Consumable entertainment would exist too. It would be much more popular than timeless art -- but not preclude timeless art.

Sensible companies which value both the short releases and the long tail would make record profits. Heck -- Steam shows that sales are not even bound by how much content you can consume. I have tonnes of games that I will never get the time to play but was on sale and I *might*, so I purchased it.

There are a few independent things that I am concerned about and you should not try to ram them together to try to make my argument feel weaker to justify your own. Benefits to society and benefits to companies are two different things -- but by no means mutually exclusive.

Again, just because something feels some way, does not mean it is.

May 6, 2012 | 05:42 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciate your sentiment.

The trouble is no one is able to prove to the content providers that they will be more profitable in the long term by disregarding DRM.

Look at the huge amount of films that are still not available on Netflix streaming. Obviously the rights holders are waiting for what they perceive to be a more lucrative deal. Yes it's unfortunate, and yes many consumers will just go to TPB to get it anyway. But still the rights holders wait.

I'm sure the rights holders are also terrified of letting Netflix become the dominant distributor, which is why the studios have attempted to launch their own platforms.

I'm sure this war will be dragged out for a long time to come.

Was nice chatting with you.

May 6, 2012 | 05:54 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually they're learning it on their own.

Music publishers dropped DRM in an attempt to try to starve Apple of their iTunes dominance... and it has turned out that the water they feared while standing on the diving board was, in fact, always warm and inviting.

Some book publishers are doing the same.

It's a slow process -- because breaking your intution often is -- but a valid process none-the-less.

Nice chatting with you too.

May 6, 2012 | 06:13 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Music publishers were swayed by a growing monopoly on distribution, not because they felt compelled by the mass's dislike of DRM.

Also, your idealistic want for a future of open platform DRM free content is anything but objective.

May 6, 2012 | 06:24 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

That's what I said.

They were swayed -- and it turned out to be good.

And other industries are slowly coming to the light too.

Btw: no-one is fully objective. The point is to be sensible and self-reflective.

May 6, 2012 | 08:05 PM - Posted by Thedarklord

While I do agree that "piracy" is a "issue", I honestly dont believe it hurts publisher's or developers sales, if anything it boosts them dramatically! Look at the leaks from Crysis/Call of Duty, and yet they sold in record breaking numbers..., even HL2 when it leaked a long time ago, again record breaking numbers.

Fail CEO's... look elsewhere besides piracy to blame for your lacking sales. Unoriginal game maybe?, Buggy game maybe?, over chargeing people maybe?, making paying customers feel like crimals maybe?.

"The more you tighten your grip, the more star systems will slip through your fingers" -Princess Lea (Star Wars Ep 4)

May 6, 2012 | 08:53 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Actually Crysis did not sell so well.

Also claiming record breaking numbers for a pirated content makes a similar statistical error that anti-piracy people do.

You cannot measure piracy figures and assume what would happen to sales... and you cannot measure sales figures and assume what would happen to piracy. Basically, you need to measure them both while adjusting factors which influence them.

You cannot say: "What would happen if I was only pirated 21,352 times?" You cannot control your dependent variable.

May 6, 2012 | 11:09 PM - Posted by Thedarklord

Well just to be clear, the point I was making was simply that piracy and sales are not related, and are two stats that have no quantifiable corilations.

Plus, there is no real way to tell "how many times something was pirated".

And Crysis did really well, made tons of money, set a standard for graphics in games, and it and its follow up's continue to sell well.

Even though Ubisoft continues to treat paying customers like criminals and implements DRM measures that in some cases can make it impossible for paying customers to play, but those who went and pirated it, can still play...

If you want to help your game sales, and implement some sort of "always on" DRM, maybe add in benefits to it... Steam, auto updates, allows to you play while off-line, or offers bonus's to those who register, ect, (more maps, more content).

All im saying on that last point, is some game developers need to stop treating paying customers like criminals, and instead bring the fun back to buying that sexy game / ect. Remember when every game came with tons of bonus content in the box?, books, manuals, strats, behind the scenes, music, ect. And this was before you had to buy the Collectors Ed of most stuff. Which I do anyway cause im a collector like that, lol.

Edit: BTW as I stated before I honestly take no stance on Piracy either way, besides that its something that happens, and there are better ways to "solve" it than some companys/people on both sides of the argument have done. :)

April 20, 2013 | 06:43 PM - Posted by blaze (not verified)

*sigh* ok here is the deal...... remember back in the day, you purchased a PC game, and it came with demos for like 50 other games? where did that go huh?

I feel that Torrented games should be considered the new "demo" I mean that's how I use them, I see a game that I think "hey that could be good.... but it might not be.... not certain" so I torrent it and if I like it I buy it, if not I delete it. the way things are going now even a game you think could be the best thing since Mario could end up being total crap, Im looking at you Stormrise >=(

on top of that a shit load of games now have like 30-50% of there content as online multi-player (take Mass effect 3, borderlands, and Minecraft for example) I mean come on Minecraft is fun in 1p for like I duno a week, but if you want to get into multiplayer (where the real fun is) you need to buy it.

and I do think this image summes up why most Valve games wont be torrented for a good long time lol

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