A Modest Proposal On Copyright Enforcement

Over at the Technology Liberation Front, Ryan Radia has an eminently sensible post looking at the different kinds of people who circumvent copyright laws to download content, and explains why he thinks it make sense to focus on payment processing while acknowledging that we’ll never get to piracy zero:

The virtue of a “follow the money” approach to rogue websites is that it’s likely to curb piracy by users like Pirate #2, who are already willing and able to pay for legitimate content. Users who have a credit card and use it to pay for infringing content — or for services that facilitate access to infringing content — presumably have at least some disposable income to spend on expressive works. While rogue websites legislation is likely to leave many, if not most, websites that facilitate piracy unaffected, disabling U.S. payment services from doing business with a handful of especially popular offshore piracy sites will frustrate users. Many of these users will simply seek out alternatives, but some users will give up and “go legitimate.” By driving piracy further underground, such a law might cause users like Pirate #1 to spend more of their relatively worthless time seeking out infringing content. But this is the Internet we’re talking about; the determined user will find what he seeks, no matter the roadblocks lawmakers throw up.

The strongest argument against piracy is that the people downloading content outside of legal channels would never have paid for that content in the first place, and so there’s no economic harm. And the strongest counterargument to that argument is the sites that distribute content in exchange for money rather than for free. The content industries might be smart to pursue a combined approach that targets those distributors who charge for illegally downloaded content; makes it easier for consumers to get what they want at market prices in a timely manner (and makes the case to them that they’ll get better quality and customer service, including cloud portability, from legal services); and that examines international pricing models. As a new study (which I’m still digesting) points out, “Relative to local incomes in Brazil, Russia, or South Africa, the price of a CD, DVD, or copy of Microsoft Office is five to ten times higher than in the United States or Europe. Licit media goods are luxury items in most parts of the world, and licit media markets are correspondingly tiny.”