A Literacy of the Imagination

a deeper look at innovation through the lenses of media, technology, venture investment and hyperculture

Digital #Piracy: Attacking the Problem from a Human Angle

Piracy comes in many forms and can take on many faces. Perhaps it isn't quite what we think it is.

With the SOPA bill passing through legislation just last month, yet again we are faced with certain government agencies and politicans who have not properly diagnosed the problem, nor have they sought to seek out human solutions. Companies like GoDaddy and 3M are going to face very serious repercussions in their support of this bill. Movements like #anonyops have already sprung up, and similar to #Occupy, they are intent on making corporations pay the price for their alignment with "bad legislation".

(By the way, try logging onto http://www.anonyops.com/ -- the site is "currently unreachable"...)

I'm not sure that countercultural or anti-establishment groups are necessarily a good thing either. The unfortunate truth is that radicalism and polarity can rear their heads in very ugly ways when citizens feel as though they have been forced to take a stand. Historically, this has produced controversial gains, and going forward, I'm also not sure that this is the right message for our youth or for the systems that are greatly in need of repair.

Yet, we must ask ourselves some of the more obvious questions: Is governmental control inducing bad behavior? In an era of choice, voice and circumstance, are we ignoring the fundamentals of human behavior? Is this more of cultural issue than an economic one?

In my belief, piracy, quite plainly, can't be managed by controlling behavior, but rather by changing it and cultivating it. This means that we need to create far better awareness on what it actually is, who's actually doing it, and what we can actually do about it based on the behaviors we see. Some have described this as a market problem, not an economic problem

I've worked with government agencies and have been close to a few projects that address piracy and its associative challenges. There are some tidbits specifically on digital piracy you may or may not know about -- the first of which has been hotly contested, stemming from, among others, a controversial report that was released by Rand in 2009. Assertions that this is mere propaganda are completely understandable; however, there is substantial evidence of its direct affect on the black market and organized crime, much of which, unfortunately, has not been released to the public. (side note: one of my family members is a part of the local/federal counter-terrorism task force here in Los Angeles)

Another caveat: the numbers on file-sharing versus hard copying (like DVD replication) have also not been sufficiently substantiated to support claims on organized crime, another achilles heel in the government's and entertainment industry's framing of the problem. With that said, hard copying is still very much a legitimate threat, even if this distribution issue was in fact created by the industry itself. For context, here is what some of the research, biased or not, says (these are not my own opinions):

- Digital piracy (replication) in some cities like Los Angeles is bigger than the drug trade and subsidizes organized crime (including some forms of terrorism) more than any other black market activity.

- Globally, piracy (replication) is a $75B business and is growing exponentially; countries like India and China serve some of the biggest black markets, but the U.S. is not far behind.

- Piracy, downloading and sharing are strongly attitudinal and ethically driven; the social costs and anti-big business sentiment have arisen out of institutional fear, not the comforts of living in an open Internet environment. There are lots of studies to support this.

- According to Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig, "There's no such thing as copyright that has remained fixed and constant over the last 200 years." This means that legislation itself is a moving target. It also means that copyright has become an artificial boundary between creators and consumers. This does not bode well for any corporation that wishes to create content or distribute products in the 21st century.

Here is a strategic brief I compiled for a Paramount Studios anti-piracy initiative that includes these points and frames the problem in a much larger context. As I personally don't think organized crime or terrorism angles are going to win over anyone on the fringes (nor should they necessarily), this proposes a proactive, human approach to delivering a solution-set.

We must never forget that while government ultimately intends to protect us, we must also protect it by aligning culture and business in ways that drive real change and set new precedents for legislation... And those which are co-created by the citizenry.