The news is filled daring raids by pirates from the Gulf of Aden to a new breed of Pirates of the Caribbean. While the World’s Naval powers grapple with a response, the blundering, ransoming and mayhem continues. For the businesses in the digital content and application world, piracy is a constant companion. Without the benefit of Nuclear Carriers, executives from the Music and Video industries have tried many different techniques to make digital pirates walk the plank, And to date, with equal success to the world’s efforts vs. Somalian pirates. The Pirates are now setting their sites on mobile services.
I view digital piracy as a form of guerilla warfare. If we examine it in these terms, perhaps some useful analogies can be drawn and some lessons derived.
Real-World asymmetric guerilla warfare examples are the Vietcong and the U.S., the Mujahideen in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet Union, Iraqi “insurgents” fighting the U.S. and most recently Hamas and Israel. In each of these cases the smaller force used unconventional warfare to fight a technologically and numerical superior power. The superior force could prevail in any one engagement, but could only achieve at best a status quo stalemate (or worse) in a prolonged conflict. Also, in each of these cases the so-called weaker party had a major (symmetric) support system.
Support Systems: For the Vietcong it was the Soviet Union and China, the Majatin had the U.S., Iraqi Insurgent and Hamas have Iran. The supporter of the asymmetric force has a political motivation to destabilize or defeat the more power nation.
Back to the worlds of digital piracy: The individual downloader’s are the guerilla fighters. Each download of an mp3, ringtone, or video is a small razor slice to the content revenue streams of the IP owners. The support systems are the peer-to-peer networks, the pirate websites and to a lesser degree the ISP networks. The question is what is the motivation of those providing the support to the download guerillas? The answer has to be profit. I am a firm believer in the strategy of “ follow the money”.
What sustains the supporters of Piracy? The companies that provide Peer-to-Peer networks must have some profit motivation. They want to either sell you authorized version of the content, charge you for downloading a copy (vs. streaming) or provide advertising.
The music industry (the analogous superpower) has been fighting a losing battle with piracy for years. For a time their strategy was to legally intimidate and prosecute individual downloader’s. This is equivalent to fighting insurgency with a few “public hangings” as a message to the others. The cost of presecution far outweighed the damage actually created by any one downloading pirate. Suing your customers does not seem like a great business model.
Like in actual warfare, if you attack each grass hut with a $20M cruise missile, you will blow up a lot of huts at a great cost, and you find that huts are replaced faster than you can blow them up! If the Music Industry had studied warfare they would not have made the same mistake.
To end an insurgency you have to satisfy and end the core motivation of the guerilla force to fight. Intimidation threats, “blowing up huts” are as useful as mowing a lawn. It might look good for a while, but the grass will continue to grow and you will need to mow it again in a week.
The television industry has taken a lesson from what has not worked in Music. Instead of relaying solely on legal measures, each network has provided a full portfolio of free- ad supported- programming on the web. The successful HULU portal provides greater viewer program discoverability by aggregating network content.
The ease of finding high quality, high definition, and high-bandwidth video entertainment through legitimate means has reduced the desire, and the need, to be a video programming pirate. Why search through pirate Chinese websites when you can just go to NBC.com to watch “The Office?” Why download a version of your favorite program if it is available online with a few short commercials?
It would surprise me if the Movie industry did not follow the TV industry example and provided branded portals with ad-supported movies. These movies would have to timed to be after the lucrative HBO and DVD distribution windows,
In both video cases, the legitimate channels of distribution can have a profound impact on the traffic of the P-P networks and pirate websites.
The next question is what does all this mean for the emerging threat of Mobile Piracy? This will have to wait for my next article.