Piracy Is A Service Issue

Very smart talk from Gabe Newell of Valve Corporation:

In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate’s service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty.

Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company. For example, prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become our largest market in Europe.

I understand the entertainment industry’s antsiness about piracy, even if I don’t particularly agree with their approach. And I think that more companies and groups could take a lesson from this lens on the challenge. Even if you’re cracking down on “rogue sites” rather than on individual consumers, spending all your time talking about the evils of piracy sends the message to consumers that your focus is on limiting the way they get to the product, rather than on the product itself, or on improving methods of delivery. And even if I don’t think it’s the main reason people download content they don’t pay for, I think the idea that production companies have the interests of neither consumers nor artists in mind becomes a powerful part of the moral justification that people use to give themselves permission to do so. Focusing more of their public messaging on improving and diversifying delivery mechanisms — and actually doing so — seems like it would do much more to change the culture of consumption than talking about piracy will. And ultimately, it’s that cultural shift is what undid media companies and what they really need to change.