But let’s be honest with ourselves, that doesn’t mean that all those same media companies don’t suck. Let me back up a minute, as this is an old argument. Most recently, this article from The Guardian bemoans the release window system:
A couple of months ago, I purchased the first season of the TV series Homeland from the iTunes Store. I paid $32 for 12 episodes that all landed seamlessly in my iPad. I gulped them in a few days and was left in a state of withdrawal. Then, on 30 September, when season 2 started over, I would have had no alternative but to download free but illegal torrent files. Hundreds of thousands of people anxious to find out the whereabouts of the Marine turncoat pursued by the bi-polar CIA operative were in the same quandary
This is, of course, stupid. This guy does have a pretty simple alternative: wait a few months to watch the show. It’s a shitty alternative, to be sure, but that doesn’t excuse piracy. As Sonny Bunch notes:
Of course you have an alternative you ninny! It’s not bread for your starving family. You’re not going to die if you have to wait six months to watch a TV show. You’re not morally justified in your thievery.
Others have also responded as such:
This argument is both ludicrous, and wrong. Ludicrous, because if piracy is actually wrong, it doesn’t get less wrong simply because you can’t have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay. You are not entitled to shoplift Birkin bags on the grounds that they are ludicrously overpriced, and you cannot say you had no alternative but to break into an the local ice cream parlor at 2 am because you are really craving some Rocky Road and the insensitive bastards refused to stay open 24/7 so that you could have your favorite sweet treat whenever you want. You are not forced into piracy because you can’t get a television show at the exact moment when you want to see it; you are choosing piracy.
This is all well and good, and the original Guardian article has a poor premise… but that doesn’t mean that the release window system isn’t antiquated and doesn’t suck. The original oped could easily be tweaked to omit the quasi-justification for piracy. Instead, the piracy is included and thus the article overreaches. On the flip side, the responses also tend to overstate their case, usually including something like this: “you can’t have the product exactly when and where you want it at a price you wish to pay.” This is true, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for consumers. And with respect to streaming, the media company stance is just as ludicrous as those defending piracy.
Here’s a few examples I’ve run into:
- HBOGO – This is a streaming service that HBO makes available to it’s cable subscribers. It’s got a deep back catalog of their original content, as well as much of their current movie lineup. Sounds great, right? What’s my problem? I can’t actually watch HBOGO on my TV. For some unfathomable reason, Comcast blocks HBOGO from working on most streaming devices. It works on my computer, and it was recently launched on XBOX 360 (but I have a PS3 and I’m not shelling out another couple hundred bucks just so I can gain this single ability), but is otherwise not available. I’d like to watch the (ten year old) second season of Deadwood, but I can’t do so unless I sit at my desk to watch it. Now, yes, I’m whining here about the fact that I can’t watch this content how and where I choose, but is it really so unreasonable to want to watch a television show… on my television? Is this entitlement, or just common sense? How many dedicated streaming devices do I have to own before I can claim exhaustion? 4? 6? 15? Of course, I’ve got other options. I could purchase or rent the DVDs… but why do that when I’m paying for this other service?
- Books and Ebooks – So I’d like to read a book called Permutation City, by Greg Egan. It was originally published in 1994, frequents Best SF Novel lists, and has long since fallen out of print. This is actually understandable, as Egan is an author with a small, niche audience and limited mainstream appeal. None of his novels get big print runs to start with, and despite all the acclaim, I doubt even this book would sell a lot of copies here in 2012. Heck, I’d even understand it if the publisher claimed that this was low on their ebook conversion priority list. But it’s not. The ebook is available in the UK, but I guess the publisher has not secured rights in the US? I get that these sorts of rights situations are complicated, but patronizing a library or purchasing a used copy isn’t going to make the rights holders any money on this stuff.
- DVD on Linux – I’ve got multiple computers and one runs linux (at various other times, I’ve only had linux PCs). One of the things I like to do for this blog is take a screenshot of a movie I’m writing about. However, it is illegal for me to even play my DVDs on my linux box. These are purchased DVDs, not pirated anything. To be sure, I’m capable of playing DVDs on my linux PCs, but I’m technically breaking the law when doing so. There are various complications in all sorts of digital formats that make this a touchy topic. Even something as simple as MP3s trip up various linux distros, not even getting into stuff like iTunes or DRMed formats.
- Blu-Ray – A few months ago, I wrote about a movie called Detention. I loved it and wrote a glowing review. Wanting to include a few screenshots to really sell the movie to my (admittedly low in quantity) readers, but when I plopped the BD into my shiny new BD drive on my computer, the BD player (Cyberlink PowerDVD) informed me that I wasn’t able to play the disc. I was admittedly lazy at the time and didn’t try too hard to circumvent this restriction (something about reinstalling the software (which I’m not even sure I have access to) and downloading patches and purchasing some key or something?) and to this day, I don’t even know if it was just an issue with that one disc, or if it’s all BDs. But still, who wins here? I get that the IP owners don’t want to encourage piracy… but I don’t see how frustrating me (a paying customer) serves them in the end. It’s not like this “protection” stops or even slows down pirates. All it does is frustrate paying customers.
- iTunes – I don’t even really know the answer to this, but if I don’t have an AppleTV, is there a way to view iTunes stuff on my television? I don’t have an iPad, but if I bought one, would I be able to plug the iPad into the TV and stream video that way? I think there is software I can buy on PC that will stream iTunes… but should I have to purchase extra software or hardware (above and beyond the 5-10 devices I have right now) just to make iTunes work? And the last time I toyed with this type of software (I believe it was called PlayOn), it didn’t work very well. Constant interruptions and low quality video. The fact that there are even questions surrounding this at all is a failure. For the most part, I can avoid this because Amazon and Netflix have good selections and actually work on all of my devices (i.e. they actually care to have me as a customer, which is nice).
Now, this doesn’t mean I’m going to go out and pirate season 2 of Deadwood or any of the other things I mentioned above. Frustration does not excuse piracy. No, I’m just going to play a game or read a different book or go out to a bar or something. I have no shortage of things to do, so while I do want to watch any number of HBO shows on HBOGO, I can just as easily occupy my time with other activities (though, as above, I’ve certainly run into issues with other stuff). Pretty soon, I may realize that I don’t actually need cable, at which point I’ll cancel that service and… no one wins. I don’t get to watch the show I want, and HBO and Comcast are out a customer. Why? I really don’t know. If someone can explain why Comcast won’t let me stream HBOGO, I’m all ears. They don’t have the content available ondemand, and they’re not losing me as a customer by allowing me to watch the shows (again, you have to be an HBO subscriber to get HBOGO).
I get that these are all businesses and need to make money, but I don’t understand the insistence on alienating their own customers, frequently and thoroughly. I’m not turning to piracy, I’m just a frustrated customer. I’ve already bought a bunch of devices and services so that I can watch this stuff, and yet I’m still not able to watch even a small fraction of what I want. Frustration doesn’t excuse piracy, but I don’t see why I should be excusing these companies for being so annoying about when and where and how I can consume their content. It’s especially frustrating because so much of this is done in the name of piracy. I suppose this post is coming off petulant and whiny on my part, but if you think I’m bad, just try listening to the MPAA or similar institution talk about piracy and the things they do to their customers to combat it. In essence, these companies hurt their best customers to spite non-customers. So I don’t pirate shows or movies or books, but then, I often don’t get to watch or read the ones I want to either. In a world where media companies are constantly whining about declining sales, it’s a wonder that they don’t actually, you know, try to sell me stuff I can watch/read. I guess they find it easier to assume I’m a thief and treat me as such.