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Online Piracy Is not Due to a Lack of Available Content

I've always thought it was somewhat self-incriminating that critics of copyright tend to excuse copyright piracy. They usually claim to believe in some form of copyright (though they can almost never describe what they would support), and claim to believe in obeying the law, yet they excuse and explain away piracy.

Very often, the technique is to deflect "but don't you think piracy is wrong?" with a quick "yeah, but Hollywood . . . " and then you either get:

  • Hollywood doesn't make content available to consumers they way they want it (what they really mean is that Hollywood should make its products available to consumers immediately, easily, in a variety of formats, and for almost nothing).
  • All those rich Hollywood fatcats make too much money. I'm just depriving them of their next Bentley
  • Hollywood is defending their old business model instead of adapting to changing technology
  • Copyright term is too long (what this has to do with pirating a movie that's been out for a week is not obvious to me)

or some other foolishness.

One example of this was the silly project, which as near as I can tell lasted for only the week it was rolled out. The whole point was to imply that the reason people pirate content is that the content owners don't make their content available. I wasn't a fan. But the site hasn't been updated since November of 2013--I guess another shiny libertarian thing came along.

Anyway, while none of those are adequate excuses for piracy, neither are most of them true. It's always been true that the content industry exists to see its content consumed by as many people as possible. Duh. Why else would they do it? They just needed some reasonable ability to keep people from stealing their content before they could make it easily available: hence the importance of technical protection measures.

A new study from KPMG bears this out. KPMG found that, as of December 2013, 94 percent of the 808 films identified were available via online distribution:

  • 100 percent of 2012 U.S. top 100 box office hits
  • 100 percent of all 85 Oscar winning best films
  • 100 percent of all 60 Indie top hit films from 2011-2013
  • 98 percent of U.S. Top 20 box office hits each year from 2000 - 2010
  • 96 percent of the American Film Institute's Top 100 critically acclaimed films
  • 77 percent of 2013 U.S. Top 100 box office hits (including films that were still in first-run in theaters at the time of the study)

And for television shows:

  • 96 percent of the Top 100 U.S. TV shows in 2012
  • 96 percent of modern hit TV shows (pre-2011)
  • 95 percent of the Top 100 U.S. TV shows in 2011
  • 87 percent of the Top 100 U.S. TV shows in 2013

Let's be clear about this: Those who believe in capitalism and markets believe that companies exist to sell as much of their products and services as possible. They do not thrive by keeping their products away from consumers. The same is true of content companies. They don't generate content in order to keep it away from consumers. They have every interest in developing and rolling out new business models that put their content into the hands of as many consumers as possible, in as many forms as possible.

They simply require legal and technical structures that make it possible for them to sell their products with only a tolerable amount of shrinkage, just like any manufacturer or retailer. If any other business had to put up with the amount of shrinkage that the content companies have to deal with, those other businesses would never make it.

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