Monday, May 25, 2009

Piracy is a boon

There are appeals on television and full page spreads in the papers. Huge stars are campaigning, begging you not to buy pirated films or music. Microsoft and other software manufacturers repeatedly warn you against buying pirated software. Microsoft goes so far as to neutralize functioning pirated systems that it detects online, causing the pirated SW to stop functioning. The appeals are heartfelt, and you are told all about the millions of rupees lost every year in royalties because of these unscrupulous thieves called pirates.

The question of course is, are they telling you everything? And more importantly, what does piracy mean for you? Well, first of all, let’s be clear about what music and film piracy is. It is the unauthorized copying and sale of music, books, software, films, and other intellectual property. Basically it’s a copyright and intellectual property rights violation. While this is a problem, and unfair to the creator in many ways, there is more than on side to the argument.

A company like Microsoft spends a certain amount of money, time, resources, and energy developing the latest version of Windows. The question of course is whether it isn’t unfair to sell a single original copy of the operating system, to you, for as much as eight or twelve thousand rupees. Does it really cost that much to produce each copy? Even including overheads, profit margins, and so on, isn’t the official price sheer greed?

Consider books. There is hardly anything you can buy these days that costs anything less than five hundred rupees. For an avid reader, the monthly bill for books can be as much as fifty thousand rupees if they indulge themselves. Does each of those books really cost so much to print and publish? And again, even adding the extras, isn’t this price daylight robbery? Isn’t 900 rupees for the latest Harry Potter book, and all the hoopla and security around it, sheer avarice on the part of the author?

As for films and music, the same thing applies. The very stars appealing to you to forget piracy and pay extortionate prices for a movie ticket, DVD or a music CD, are the ones who charge billions of rupees, driving up the cost of the film. And they don’t lose a penny. They get paid in advance, as does everyone else, including the director. The only people losing money are the distributors, and that too not much.

Film exhibitors are whining about how piracy is reducing footfalls at their theatres, while in the same breath they increase the prices on their tickets, and convert their theatres to horribly overpriced multiplexes, and making more off one ticket than they would from 100 before this. Both industries also horribly underpay the lower ranks, the technicians, spot boys, and so on, while the star takes a HUGE amount of money.

Now consider this. How many millions does a company, an author, a star or a singer really need to make? Also, at these prices, what is the message? Poor people have no right to listen to music, watch a movie, own software, or read a book? Anyone with an income below a certain level should just forget about art and entertainment? Must all of these things be forced to become elitist and exclusionary, leaving the less fortunate, the less well heeled, and the less solvent, out in the cold?

If all these stars are really so concerned about piracy, let them charge less. If the companies care so much about intellectual property rights, let them sell software cheaper. If Rowling wants you to buy only originals (giving her all the money) let her sell them for 100 rupees. If anyone gets original quality and guarantee at competitive prices, why would they bother buying pirated stuff, as Moser Baer is proving now? And if the original is prohibitively expensive, it is every human’s right to buy pirated copies at a price they can easily afford. My message to all those people so concerned about piracy is, stop being greedy, and piracy will die a natural death.

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