Much of the copyright debate reads like fiction. People supposedly find content on the Internet which has a “buy me now” button and a “take without paying” button, and they choose the latter. The non-fiction version of this story is very different. For the vast majority of content which people can acquire illegally on the Internet, there is no way to purchase the same thing legally. It is very hard to share the “moral outrage” that some entertainment industry lobbiests have been exhibiting, especially since they made deliberate business choices which caused their problems to be far worse.
When I say the same thing, I mean the same thing. The file format chosen for a digital file (which determines device compatibility), and its availability in an on-demand basis online rather than only on a physical medium, are part of what defines something as being the same thing.
I know that pretty much every television show and movie I would ever want to see, and all the music I would want to hear, is available illegally online. The file formats are the standard ones such as those standardized by the Moving Picture Experts Group such as MP3 and AAC for Audio, MPEG2 which is also used for DVD’s, as well as other common formats.
These formats either work natively on the devices which I own now (NeurosOSD, OLPC XO1, cell phone, desktop/laptop computers running Linux) or will own in the future. If there are incompatibilities it is simple for me to transcode them on my desktop to formats I can use.
The same is not true for the legal sources.
For music I am a subscriber to eMusic, which gives me high quality unencrypted MP3 files. The major labels are not yet available here, so I don’t have one-stop shopping, but I am quite happy to send nearly all my music entertainment money to independent labels.
I could purchase CDs, but that is now a crap-shoot. While there is a documented standard for CD Audio, a number of CD manufacturers started to deliberately violate the standard in their attempt to do “copy control”. While these defects are sometimes labelled, often they are not, and there is no way to do an online purchase and know ahead of time if the media will work. These defects react in unpredictable ways with different equipment, and thus I try to avoid this deficient product. It is also not correct to suggest that a physical CD is a replacement for a legal download, given one is far more on-demand than the other, and online music can be acquired per-song.
For movies and television the situation is far worse. While there are VHS versions of older video available, most new shows, if they are released at all, are only released in DVD format (scrambled using the DVD Content Scrambling System) or some other DRM system (iTunes, etc). The only way I can view this content is to circumvent the DRM on the video. While I know how to do this (And documented doing it in a submission to Industry Canada in 2001), not everyone does. It is not valid to consider video scrambled like this to be equivalent to the unscrambled version.
The other problem is that converting files from the scrambled versions to a compatible format, even for legally acquired content, is becoming illegal in some countries. I see absolutely no value in paying for any content which laws such as Bill C-61 would make illegal for me to access.
In my ideal world I would take the money I currently pay my cable provider (Approximately $50/month for Rogers Digital Cable), and pay this directly to the producers of programming which I would download via my regular DSL Internet connection. For some shows I would want to sample an episode or two to see if I like it, and for other shows I would want to subscribe to automatically receive new episodes. Given this would cut out some unnecessary middle-men, and provide far more accurate viewership statistics, this would be far more lucrative to the producers.
As clarified above, I would only pay for an file in a standard vendor-neutral unlocked format, but I am very willing to pay.
I am only one person, but I believe that people are generally honest. Rather than the entertainment industry accusing large portions of society as being “theves”, why don’t they first offer customers what they want at a reasonable price and see how many people would pay? Currently they are encouraging people to access the material illegally as the files from illegal sources are far easier to work with (work on more devices, less defects, etc), and then crying fowl when people do just that.
When are we finally going to get a “Buy Me Now” button?