A couple of years ago when I first made my comeback into the withering world of publishing, a Facebook friend messaged me and asked me how I did the layout for my book. I have not met this guy in person, but his profile photo showed a very decent bespectacled guy in a suit. He was some independent “financial consultant” who went around giving talks on what sort of insurance policies to get, what to invest in, property market etc. For the first time in years since he befriended me on Facebook, he expressed interest in publishing his own book on financial management. Enthusiastically, I gave him some tips and sent him the link to Adobe Indesign.
“It’s OK.” he said. “I can get a pirated copy in JB.”
I unfriended him and would certainly not attend any of his talks or talks by like-minded people in that profession. It irked me that for a high profile, knowledgeable professional, he had no pride and integrity to purchase a legal copy of the software. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s not often used except by publishing houses, but imagine someone stealing your work. Obviously this guy (and many other guys downloading content illegally now) think that it’s OK to steal from others (who are richer than they are) and not for others (who are poorer than they are) to steal from them. I don’t get the logic. Do you?
Fast forward. Some folks who downloaded the Oscar-winning film Dallas Buyers Club illegally are going to receive a letter from the film producers’ lawyers seeking compensation. Things like that don’t happen very often on our sunny island. In fact, downloading “free” content is so commonplace that nobody sees it as a crime. I just talked to someone yesterday. A tertiary-educated person, he somehow just can’t figure out what is wrong with stealing intellectual property. To him, the company will somehow still make money and he is just one of the countless, faceless mote of dust in cyberspace whose participation or non-participation will not make a difference. In other words, they see safety in numbers.
“Why pay when you can get it free?”
“I not rich like you lah.”
I think these guys are missing the point. Is this about “saving money”? I don’t think so. Why don’t these people try to “save money” and push a full trolley out of the supermarket without paying? People who look for shared password combinations simply don’t want to pay for content. To me, that’s not very different from shoplifting. Face it. It costs the content creator time and money to create a product. He probably has to spend some money promoting it too. Along comes a bunch of cheapskates who claim that they “can’t afford” (but still want it).
Of course, not all content creators are so perturbed by piracy or illegal downloads. Singaporean author (based in HK) Chua Lam used to say that he was not in the least disturbed by pirated copies of his books on sale in China. He mused that they helped promote him to the widest possible audience and he can then command higher rates when he appeared in food and cooking shows. His restaurants in China would also get some “free” publicity. Just sacrifice a bit of sales.
Of course, there are also companies like Voltage Pictures that closely guard their copyright. According to Today’s report:
A Singtel spokesperson said today it received the High Court’s order yesterday. It must now turn over requested information, including the names, IC numbers and addresses of subscribers linked to the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses identified, of some 150 subscribers to Dallas Buyers Club LLC, which owns the film’s rights, by the end of the month.
The telco, she said, had received a letter in October last year from Samuel Seow Law Corporation, which represents the United States-based film studio’s suit in Singapore, requesting identities of some of its subscribers.
Another well-educated guy said: “This is so stupid. How can they ever control all this? When they decided to get into this business, they should have known from Day One that people will steal their content?”
Stupid? So what if nobody wants to make films anymore because it’s “stupid” not to expect people to steal them? I’m not sure if they can figure out some high-tech way to prevent sharing, but for the time-being, they seem to be using lawsuits to deter potential sharers.
IT blogger Zit Seng has come up with some rather “cloudy” arguments in defence of those who may have inadvertently committed a crime. Here are some of the funniest bits:
…The fact that a content is published on the Internet seems to give reasonable assumption that it is public viewable, and that one doesn’t need to check for permission to read.
… If you walk past a magazine shop, perhaps you may browse or buy a magazine. You assume that it is legal for you to browse and/or buy the magazine, shady shop notwithstanding. Had it turned out that the shop was really selling illegal magazine copies, it seems the copyright owner should go after the shop, not their customers? The customers had good faith that the magazines were legit!
You can find Zit Seng’s blog entry here.
Let’s cut the cloudy bull. You don’t need to be a lawyer to know that something published online by the originator without any password protection can be assumed to be free for all. If the material is shared around, the obvious question arises. Does the originator know and allow it? I’m not sure if I can give the benefit of the doubt to the folks who appear not to realise that the free files they’ve shared did not originate from the creator of the movie.
I’m surprised that magazines are used as an analogy. Let me get closer to the issue at hand. You go jalan jalan at our neighbourhood pasar malam. You come across a stall displaying children’s DVDs for sale. Maybe you can’t spot the substandard packaging. Maybe you think that pasar malam stalls are not allowed to sell pirated DVDs. But at a price of 3 for $10? Hmmm… maybe you don’t know the recommended retail prices for these DVDs and mistake them for originals (3 for $10!) because you have “good faith” in pasar malam stalls. Just maybe.
Now, let’s talk about movies on the internet. Maybe it’s possible to stumble on a site you’ve never heard of and download a movie you think is free. Just maybe. But it’s very easy to find out how much the DVD should cost. Just do a search for Dallas Buyers Club at Amazon.com and this page will turn up. List price $22.98. After discount $11.99 for DVD, $14.96 for Bluray. If you have every intention to buy the original DVD, that’s where you would go.
Now, you “stumble” upon a link that allows you to download (and/or share) the movie and watch it for free. Somehow you don’t know that it’s illegal even though you’re on a file-sharing network that is not even remotely linked to any of the movie’s official sites. Somehow you have forgotten to contact the film’s producers and thank them for their generosity.
Like Zit Seng, I’m no lawyer either, but I don’t act blur and do know that sharing “free movies” online is considered piracy. The victims of piracy always make it sound very serious.
In response to TODAY’s queries, Mr Raj said his clients had initiated the action in Singapore because “piracy is seriously damaging the economy”, and they are pursuing uploaders “as these people are distributing the work without a license on a global scale”. He added: “When the public downloads our client’s movie using peer to peer networks, at the same time they are also uploading the film and they become illegal distributors globally. One person can turn into 10, which in turn can turn into 100 or to thousands.”
The report in report may be read in full here.
Sharing and piracy may not damage the economy, but it can certainly kill an industry. Small-timers like me can’t afford to sue people, but it’s good that Dallas Buyers Club has sent out a strong reminder to those who are taking things for granted.
“So horrible. I boycott Dallas Buyers Club!” said another educated Singaporean guy.
Right. As if a convenience store owner would be concerned about shoplifters boycotting him. So much stupidity in this world.
For more information on film piracy, please check this out