Talking tech since 2003

Back in the medieval days, everyone associated the term “pirate” with crooked and drunken sailors – often with creative names such as “Redbeard” – sporting swords, peg legs, hook hands, parrots, and repulsive breath.  In more modern society, however, the terms “pirate” and “piracy” have taken up quite a different meaning.  Modern day piracy – a term used to describe the theft, distribution, and use of electronic software and multi-media – has come to impact every single electronic-driven industry.  But the culprits don’t travel on ships or wreak havoc on the wide sea.  Instead they do their work on a keyboard in front of a screen.  Sure, they don’t sport parrots or swords, but much like medieval pirates of centuries past electronic pirates share the same attributes of unlawful theft (and sometimes bad breath).

In the last few years, it has been estimated that about ninety-five percent of music downloaded online is obtained through illegal methods such as illegal download sites and peer-to-peer sharing protocols like as BitTorrent and Gnutella.  According to similar studies, videos and movies only fair slightly better with approximately eighty-five percent of content being downloaded and consumed illegally.  Even electronic software and applications are subjected to piracy, with an estimated forty-one percent being downloaded, distributed, and consumed via less than legal methods.  But even with these undeniably high numbers – in some cases with illegal downloads far surpassing legal ones – I am convinced that the problem with piracy is an issue that will begin to fade out over the next few years.

Yes, I realize this is a bold statement to make.  With organizations such as the Business Software Alliance (BSA), Record Industry Association of America (RIAA), and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) publically voicing the issues caused with piracy and openly pursuing those behind these illicit operations, one would think that piracy was a huge issue.  And indeed these people would be right.  But the public action being taken against pirates and the anti-piracy campaigns – some of which, admittedly, using propaganda – that we’re seeing are guaranteed to make a fair amount of people think twice before downloading content illegally.

But even aside from the legal issues involved with piracy, I honestly think that more and more people are (and will continue the trend of) steering away from piracy for other reasons.  Having said this, we have seen quite a few changes in how Internet-based content has been distributed in the past couple of years, many of which nullifying any possible validity behind excuses that people previously used to justify their illegal downloads.

For example, online music stores such as iTunes began eliminating the implementation of Digital Rights Management (DRM) encryption on music purchased through their online stores starting a matter of months ago.  Even iTunes, which initially offered DRM-free music as a “premium” purchase, went all the way by making DRM-free music a standard in their store.  Their influence arguably urged other online music services to follow similar routes.  By giving end-users the ability to use their purchased goods with any (compatible) software and devices that they please, online stores have made their services that much more attractive to users; some of which would have previously had to have downloaded their songs and albums via illegal services in order to attain the same level of freedom.

Services such as Amazon’s Cloud Drive have even gone as far as to give users the ability to securely store their purchased music, allowing them to protect their purchases by optionally storing them on cloud-based infrastructures; making it easy for individuals to recover their music purchases in the event of a data loss, thus eliminating yet another classic excuse for music piracy.

In terms of cost, “all you can eat” music plans such as Rhapsody’s streaming service and alternatives such as Rdio have begun to deliver music as a service instead of a product.  By giving users the option to access ginormous libraries of music, these services have made it so that users can easily listen to all of the latest (and classic) music without downloading – or paying for – songs individually.  With cost-effective unlimited streaming plans, the cost of listening to music legally has dropped drastically, and has made it so that individuals of all financial statuses have viable options for listening to music without turning to a criminal enterprise to do so.

This same concept is illustrated in services such as Netflix, Hulu, and more recently Amazon Prime’s video streaming service that market unlimited streaming plans that allow users to watch movies and television completely legally.

While music piracy has been slightly alleviated in the last few years and will likely continue in this same direction in the years to come, there are still a number of setbacks with video and movie services that I honestly think are preventing video piracy levels to diminish.  Sure, services like Netflix are great, but the fact of the matter is that their library sizes aren’t anywhere near the sizes they need to be in order to have a chance at converting otherwise pirates.  With this being said, I believe that there are definitely some users who have very few options but to pirate movies and videos because of lacking varieties offered by streaming services.

It’s important to note, though, that these issues were seen with streaming music services as they became popular only a few years ago.  Seeing as how history has a great tendency to repeat itself, I would imagine that in a few years time we will see larger selections in video streaming services and will in turn see a decrease in movie piracy.

Last but not least, software piracy has been documented to have decreased a bit in the last few years.  While the decreases in question are very minimal, I believe that new technology trends will ultimately make pirated software a much smaller market than it is now.  You see, distribution methods such as the Macintosh App Store has given end-users the ability to purchase applications with ease, ultimately reducing the “convenience” aspect of illegally downloaded software.  Similar concepts such as Valve’s “Steam” distribution system have applied the similar concept in-game purchases as well.

Even though I see the increased availability of electronic software downloads reducing the amount of piracy over the next few years, I honestly see the overall use of software decreasing more than anything.  You see, “cloud computing” is becoming the “in” thing, and by moving to service-based applications the potential for pirated software is sure to decrease.

So, with this all said, is piracy going to become a thing of the past?  Now that we’re seeing plausible solutions that give users viable options outside of piracy – be it movies, music, or software – will more users choose to go the legal route?  Sure, piracy is never going to go away entirely and there will always be individuals who will pirate goods regardless of the alternative options available, but will we see the problem diminish in the coming years?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

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