Tag Archives: piracy

iTunes Quietly Launches Music And Films In India (Links Available On MySwar)

Digital India was abuzz yesterday with news of iTunes launching its music and films stores in India. I particularly liked the following posts covering the launch:

http://nh7.in/indiecision/2012/12/04/rip-and-run-itunes-india-store-is-finally-here

http://www.medianama.com/2012/12/223-apple-finally-extends-itunes-store-to-india/

While the buzz is mostly positive:

 

,there were some who were not very impressed, like in this comment thread on Medianama.

I think the iTunes launch is a great step forward for digital music in India and while it will have no impact on hard-core freeloaders, it will have huge appeal for people who want easy access to digital music.

iTunes links were already available on MySwar.in in US, UK, Canada. Starting yesterday, iTunes links are available in India as well. The shopping cart icons at the song level link to iTunes India and the album level to Flipkart. This is just a quick fix and we are working on improving this feature.

Partners In Crime – Documentary Review

After my posts – Piracy is Mainstream and Why People Don’t Talk About Pirate Consumers – one of the readers of the blog recommended that I watch a documentary called Partners in Crime. I had heard about this documentary on Twitter but never got around to seeing it. I finally saw it last week and I am glad I did.

The documentary directed by Paromitra Vohra does a great job of asking a series of questions related to piracy but allows the viewers to draw their own conclusions. Some insights from the documentary:

  1. Many people don’t realize that piracy is illegal and they don’t believe they’re downloading for free because they pay for the internet connection and for membership to torrent sites (according to one interviewee – $10 for lifetime memberships for unlimited downloads). People also don’t view playing of music in public as illegal, since music is available for free in the first place.
  2. Some people feel that listening to music or watching movies is a social experience and sharing them only enhances the experience.
  3. Rare, concert recordings of masters are available in people’s private collections but cannot be released to public because of copyright issues. Record labels will not pay for these recordings and legal heirs of musicians are not willing to release these recordings for free.
  4. A lot of rare songs, specially non-film songs, are not archived or available easily to public.
  5. The business of pirated CDs and DVDs happens with the approval of the police. Cops need to get paid no matter what – it could be either to stop piracy or to allow it to happen.
  6. There is another way to look at roadside piracy – it provides livelihood to sellers and also gives cheap access to movies/music to a class of people who would not be able to afford them legally.
  7. It’s extremely difficult and/or expensive to legally license copyrighted work. Copyright owners are arrogant and unwilling to negotiate fair deals.
  8. Big companies copy/adapt folk songs to produce copyrighted songs. If they lifted the music in the first place, how can they own it? For example, how can Munni Badnam Hui be a copyrighted song when it is really just an adaptation of a folk song?
  9. Copyright owners are greedy and want supernormal profits. They stiff content creators by getting exclusive rights and paying content creators a pittance. As a result, content creators are either not motivated to produce original content or decide to self-publish.
  10. The anti-piracy crowd has it’s share of not-very-pleasant characters – a) The head of an NGO against piracy who talks about getting funding from CSR budgets of companies and compares piracy with illegal drug/gun trade. b) Companies that became big by flouting copyright rules in the first place, c) Big corporations who are capable of influencing governments to change laws in their favour. d) Bollywood film makers who have copied ideas from Hollywood.
  11. Intellectual Property Rights create barriers to content for people with disabilities. It’s very difficult to reproduce content in a format that can be accessed by people with disabilities.
  12. Copyright owners have no interest in catering to smaller, niche markets. This creates artificial shortage in supply, which in turn results in piracy.

Recommended.

Why People Don’t Talk About Pirate Consumers

I engaged in a long debate on Twitter yesterday with popular blogger, Karthik Srinivasan (entire conversation at the end of his post). To boil things down, I was asking why illegal downloaders don’t get called out for doing the wrong thing and his point was that it was not really going to make a difference. That argument didn’t sit well with me because ever since social media gave all of us a microphone, we haven’t really held back on anything just because nobody was listening. People rant about plagiarism (Heck, Karthik runs a blog dedicated to it!), traffic, politicians, air travel and noisy neighbours. Why are they wishy-washy about illegal downloading?

Yesterday’s Twitter debate didn’t answer that question for me, so I decided to write about the potential reasons for the deafening silence on this subject.

Publishers are not doing enough to solve service and content availability issues. I have written earlier about how difficult it is sometimes to get hold of content legally. It is hard to not empathize with people who depend on illegal sources when they can’t get it legally.

Piracy is seen as a victimless crime. People don’t see piracy as impacting individuals directly. In fact, some people feel that piracy works as a marketing tool and helps artists increase their fan-base. As for the content publishers, they’re not really losing any money and if they are, the greedy corporations deserve it.

Pirates have managed to spin themselves as being hip and anti-establishment. They have managed to project themselves as people who are helping solve the service and availability issues that exist in the market today. It’s another matter that they also distribute content that is available legally and easily. Nobody wants to call out the pirates unless it’s someone like Kim Dotcom who does not manage his PR as well as his peers have.

People don’t want to say things that others don’t want to listen to. If a large number of your followers, readers, etc. are illegal downloaders (which I believe is the case in India today), calling them out is not really going to help you win the social media popularity contest. In fact, being soft on piracy is probably going to win you brownie points. My guess is that I am not winning any with this and yesterday’s post.

People with a voice (bloggers, influencers, journalists, etc.) are engaging in piracy themselves. Not only are they not in a position to speak out against piracy, they, in fact, have to find justifications for their actions so they can retain their high moral ground. Nobody likes to feel guilty.

Why are you not calling out illegal downloaders?

beastoftraal
You Will Never Kill Piracy, and Piracy Will Never Kill You http://t.co/SGy622uE “Realize piracy is a service problem”
2/20/12 10:40 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal Intellectual, theoretical & flawed. Most people I know who download stuff do it because they don’t want to pay for stuff.
2/20/12 10:51 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Yes, I’m aware of that. Service is an issue that has not been tried adequately. Difference in timing of availability, in specific.
2/20/12 10:59 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal My problem is that the valid argument of service/availability gives a clean chit to a lot of freeloaders.
2/20/12 11:02 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Unless we try, how do we know that freeloaders are freeloaders just for the heck of it? They will exist anyway, no?
2/20/12 11:03 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal People freeload even when there are no service/avl issues. Too many people taking easy/cool route of railing against “system”.
2/20/12 11:19 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Have we given people enough paid options that are convenient to opt for?
2/20/12 11:22 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal Last week you got a recco to buy a cheaper, DOS based laptop because you can get a Windows CD “anywhere”. What was that about?
2/20/12 11:23 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Buying Windows CD separately. I can order it along with the DOS-based laptop and can choose a cheaper version.
2/20/12 11:25 AM
taparam
@beastoftraal That’s you. Am positive the guy making the recco didn’t have a purchase in mind.
2/20/12 11:26 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam The only other option in that model was the same config with Win premium something. Base home version would do for me.
2/20/12 11:26 AM
beastoftraal
@taparam Why should that be a problem? If there was a Win-based cheaper option, assumption is, he’d have chosen that.
2/20/12 11:27 AM
beastoftraal
[email protected] Don’t you think we/RIAA/everybody is talking ONLY about freeloading pirates right now? 🙂 And not about service *at all*?
2/20/12 12:02 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Can you point me to discussions on moral/ethical issues around piracy? Not focussing on Kim Dotcoms but on consumers.Genuine q
2/20/12 12:58 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam Haven’t come across any on moral/ethics of it – best dealt with churches, IMO. Pointless to go in that direction. If that be the…
2/20/12 1:26 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam …case, we should also have periodic articles on rape and theft, and how both are ethically wrong, leave alone legally.
2/20/12 1:27 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam This Techdirt piece tries to be more sane – dissecting numbers quoted by RIAA/industry http://t.co/QGgeIAhO
2/20/12 1:29 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Disagree that morality should be left to religion. Society must decide. Solid examples of religion messing up morality.
2/20/12 2:11 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam Didn’t mean it that way; just meant that there’s nothing solid to put forward, as an argument, in the moral debate. That it’s 1/2
2/20/12 2:12 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam 2/2 obvious, but given the endless supply, people don;t see it as wrong. Question then is, if moral argument has any point at all.
2/20/12 2:13 PM
taparam
@beastoftraal Think the discussion is important. Problem in India is widespread. Many of my friends/relatives download. Feel bad.
2/20/12 2:27 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam When people buy pirated CDs on the roadside, of films that released the previous day, why should this be any badder?
2/20/12 2:29 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam There is no point in the ‘It is wrong, morally/legally. You could go to jail’ argument. Only Burma Bazaar pirates are arrested…
2/20/12 2:29 PM
beastoftraal
@taparam …’cos they do it in large scale. Individual downloaders may never feel anything wrong whatever media writes about morals here.
2/20/12 2:30 PM

 

Piracy Is Mainstream

I’ve been an anti-piracy advocate in my friend circle for many years now. Over time though, I realized that people like me were rare and specially in India, we became outcasts. Friends and relatives look at me like I am nuts when I refuse to lend them my iPod so they can copy songs from it. The burden of guilt was specially heavy when I refused to copy songs on a USB drive for my niece (I bought her CDs instead). It has now come to pass that I have to exercise caution while expressing my views on piracy and people who indulge in piracy don’t give a damn! How the heck did we get to this stage?

Take this exchange on Twitter  –

Guy 1 – “I notice it is without Windows and only with DOS. Possible reason for low price I suppose.”

Guy 2 – “Yes comes with DOS. You can get the windows CD anywhere. I bought this laptop 2 months ago. It’s amazing.”

Guy 2 is recommending a lower-priced laptop which does not have Windows on it because “you can get windows CD anywhere”. In other words, why pay for something when you can get a pirated copy for free. I found this conversation disturbing to say the least:

  1. Guy 2 is advocating piracy in public and doesn’t give a damn
  2. This exchange has a fairly wide audience. Guy 2 has 6000+ followers and Guy 1 has almost 7000 followers and my guess is that they share many followers (like me) who are following this exchange.

It’s important to point out that Guy 1 is asking an innocent question and from what I know of him (via his tweets and blog posts) someone who goes out of his way to get stuff legally.

This kind of exchange is hardly an exception. Conversations on socials networks range from discreet (sanitized references to piracy like “download”, “link please”, “linkesh”, “pdf version”) to “naughty” (nudges and winks indicated through an assortment of smileys) to outright blatant (railing against the ban of pirate sites).

As I have said in a previous post, one of the root causes of piracy is the poor availability of content from legal sources. While I don’t support that argument, I do understand it. The other root cause is simply people not wanting to pay for stuff. Many of these people rationalize their “downloading” ways by citing arguments that sound intellectual but are basically flawed – “Why should I pay for bad quality content?”, “Unfair pricing”, “Big companies are greedy”, “Sharing is good for content creators”, etc).

However, the biggest emerging cause for piracy seems to be the fact that people don’t even think of unpaid downloads as piracy. It has become mainstream. How can something be wrong if everyone is doing it? This is probably the single biggest problem the music industry faces today.

Music Wants To Be Free

Pirates (distributors and consumers) often invoke Stewart Brands’ iconic phrase “Information wants to be free” to justify piracy. In a recent discussion with a friend, I argued that Brand used this powerful phrase to suggest that information should be easily available to everybody, not that it should be available free of cost. My friend’s counter-argument was that in India’s context, availability was truly an issue. He told me about how he ended up buying a pirated DVD because the original was not available. He did buy the official DVD when it was eventually released but it was evident that he didn’t really feel obliged to.

While I advocate purchase of legal music, I am unable to find fault with people who are driven to pirated goods in cases like this. I can totally relate with them.

  1. Some time ago I wrote about being unable to get hold of Raghu Dixit’s album. I haven’t listened to his music since then – poor quality internet streams are not my cup of tea.
  2. I ended up buying the music for the Tamil movie, Vinnathaandi Varuvaya, on the iTunes US store, because it was neither available in any physical store in Bangalore (I tried three different ones), nor in any internet store (I tried about a dozen). What was even more shocking? The music label that has the rights, Sony Music, does not even have an India site. Really Sony?! Is that how important the India market is to you? Because of your supply issues, I ended up paying for this album double of what it should have cost me in India. This for an album that had to be one of your bestsellers in 2010.

I know there are other people (like this) who jump through hoops to get legal music.

Music companies – get your act together. Stop whining about piracy and start making your content easily available to paying customers:

  1. Improve your supply of CDs as well as digital music. Even the pirates are doing better than you.
  2. Leverage the long tail. Stop focusing on only the ‘big hits’. The cost of digitizing and distributing music is incremental. Make everything available for download, even, scratch that, specially, the non-hits.
  3. Do a Hulu. Join together and make it easier for people to buy digital music. Google India has done a great job of aggregating streamed music. You can do the same for downloadable music. Don’t make us hop through all your websites to find music.
  4. Develop an India-specific distribution strategy with variable pricing. Don’t forget the bottom of the pyramid. Flood the market with the music equivalent of shampoo sachets – low bit-rate music on pen drives or phone chips. Peg it at a price point that makes downloading/distributing pirated music not worth the hassle.

Make “Music wants to be free” your motto. Or, watch musicians and movie producers bypass you and start self-publishing as you become irrelevant. Worse, watch pirates destroy your industry.

The Mystery Of The Missing Raghu Dixit Album

I have been following Raghu Dixit closely over the last few weeks. I found out about him from a tweet by Vishal Dadlani, who, along with Shekhar Ravjiani, ‘discovered’ and promoted him. In fact, Raghu Dixit’s one and only album has been released by their label.

My curiosity piqued, I checked out Raghu Dixit’s sound-check and live performances for a UK TV show called Later…with Jools Holland, and came away impressed by the simplicity of the music and the intensity of his vocals. And from my standpoint, anytime a song has a cool violin piece, it’s a winner. I was also taken in by Raghu’s charming story about how the Jools Holland show came about and his experience in the show. So, when he tweeted this excitedly, I was really happy for him:

I was now all set to deep dive into all his songs but was disappointed to find that the only ‘specialty format’ store in the largest mall in my neighborhood, did not have his self-titled CD. I called five major stores that sell CDs and did not find it anywhere (one store at least offered to take my contact information so they could arrange for the CD and call me back). I then tried online stores and drew a blank there as well. The Raghu Dixit website (www.raghudixit.com) did have a ‘Buy The Album’ link but it took me to UK’s iTunes site. Imagine – an Indian album that hits No. 1 on iTunes World Music charts is not to be found anywhere in Bangalore or online! What was ironical was that there were plenty of options to download Raghu Dixit mp3s from dubious looking websites.

Moral of the story:

  1. Buying music is a chore in India. Downloading pirated mp3s is easy.
  2. Indian music is hit-driven. Non-mainstream musicians (i.e. musicians not involved in the film business) are better off wooing international audiences.

PS: An interview with Raghu Dixit in the Times of India reveals that only 50,000 of his CDs have been sold. Consider yourself lucky if you own the album.

Music Industry’s Battle Against File Sharing (aka Piracy) Heats Up

A few key events from the last few months:

  • LimeWire shuts down – LimeWire shutdown its P2P file-sharing service in October due to a court-ordered injunction. Within days, it was resurrected as LimeWire Pirate Edition (LPE) by a ‘secret dev team’. Predictably, LimeWire claimed that it had nothing to do with LPE. PCMag, very thoughtfully, informed its readers of the various LimeWire alternatives. RIAA, one of the entities whose suit against LimeWire led to the shutdown injunction, blasted PCMag for promoting music piracy. PCMag responded that it was only covering news and that the music execs should accept that the “industry has changed” (my interpretation, “music piracy is here to stay”) and that they should adjust their business model to account for it.
  • Pirate Bay administrators convicted for violating copyright law – Last April, 4 individuals associated with Pirate Bay, another P2P file sharing service, were convicted by a Swedish court. After many months of legal imbroglio, an appeals court upheld the conviction but reduced their jail time and increased their fine. Stung by the verdict, a hacking group called The Anonymous launched attacks on the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) and Warner Bros websites and brought them down. Meanwhile, the Pirate Bay website is still up, apparently being run out of Seychelles.
  • The US Government shuts down 82 websites involved in copyright infringement – In response, a Pirate Bay co-founder is mobilizing support to create a peer-to-peer domain name system (P2P DNS) which will not depend on ICANN, and therefore immune to shutdowns of this kind.
  • And in India, execs of guruji.com were arrested for alleged copyright infringement – The only news update since the arrest in January is that the execs were eventually released. Guruji.com continues to be operational and still allows search and download of mp3 files, with this disclaimer – “Guruji.com indexes third-party websites and does not have control over, nor any liability for the content of such third-party websites. If you believe that any of the search results below, link to content that infringes your copyright, please contact us.

With the high-profile arrests and shutdowns, the music industry thinks it is winning the battle against piracy. The New York Times reported a lawyer representing the companies suing the Pirate Bay admins saying this “My assessment is that in two years this type of piracy activity will be completely dead”.

My take – in the next post.