Monday, May 7, 2007

Canadians Are Pirates

Today, the Canadian Anti-Counterfeiting Network (wait, we have one of those?) presented a study to the governmental powers-that-be that outlines a proposed plan to combat piracy in Canada. Will it work?

For anyone who thinks piracy here is small in comparison to other countries, think again. We're actually behind many developing countries (yes, you read that right) in instituting proper measures that would prevent the prevalence of everything from fake copies of the latest film release, to bogus, "cracked" software applications.

In fact, the International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) says that Canada is the leading manufacturer and exporter of bootlegged movies and illegal devices that facilitate pirated activity, like “modification chips” used to allow counterfeit games to be played on videogame consoles. Apparently we're also the place to go for content if you want to make pirated reproductions of movies (via concealed camcorders in movie theatres, for example). The IIPA sourced back 20-25 per cent of pirated DVDs to Canada! Who ever said Canada wasn't tops in anything?

All joking aside, piracy is a serious issue. For every person that buys a pirated DVD or piece of software, that's one less legitimate copy that gets sold. This means profits are down for everyone involved and, in some cases, can result in the loss of jobs. Many sources, including the RCMP, estimate economy losses related to piracy to be in the billions of dollars.

Yet despite this knowledge, people continue to grab DVDs from some hole-in-the-wall store. Why? Because they're 5 for $20, that's why. Who cares if the cover of the DVD is a photocopy of the actual DVD jacket? Or if Russian subtitles run across the bottom of the screen? Or I have to watch some guy’s silhouette in the theatre as he gets up for a bathroom break during the flick? There are many who wouldn’t even think of watching such horrible-quality recordings, but judging from the number of pirated movies circulating in the country, it's safe to assume there are just as many who would.

So how do we stop these "thieves" from perpetrating again? Should manufacturers spend less on the quality of their products and more on bringing the costs at retail down? Probably not. Whether the problem is high prices, accessibility, or simply “stickin’ it to the man”, people will continue to buy pirated products as long as they are available. All we can do is take measures to eliminate the people who sell them.

Does this mean hiring more cops, or taking some off the streets (how about those pesky parking cops?) and putting them on a special piracy task force? Do we start fining huge amounts of money for possessing, or selling pirated DVDs? Do we raid shops and throw the culprits in jail for the night to “teach them a lesson?” Call me crazy, but I can't see how shoving over the murderers and drug dealers to make room for the dude selling copies of Spiderman 3 from the back of his truck is the solution.

The CACN proposes, among other things, tougher punishments, more resources dedicated to the issue (including police officers and educational programs), and stricter enforcements at the border. And the CACN cites a survey that says almost half of Canadians would call me crazy, and throw guilty parties in the slammer.

Whatever the solution, piracy is a problem that has only been getting worse in Canada. I don't know anyone who hasn't owned, or at least seen, a pirated copy of something or other: a DVD release of a movie that just came out in theatres; a pirated version of the latest PC software; or an MP3 track downloaded from an illegal, P2P Website. The suggestions CACN proposes are a step in the right direction, but we’re still far off from ridding the country of pirated product.

As a sidenote for those interested: the most “guilty” regions for piracy in Canada include Vancouver and Richmond, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; Toronto and Markham, Ontario; and Montreal, Quebec.


Frank Lenk said...

I'm afraid that I must question most of the content-industry-supplied "facts" upon which you base your otherwise reasonable comments.

For starters, "piracy" (though poorly defined at best) must be distinguished from "counterfeiting." Most of your post actually refers to the latter... which is already a serious crime under Canadian law, no changes needed. (We can argue about extra funding for enforcement, though asking the public to foot this bill may not be popular.)

What's more, neither piracy nor counterfeiting is harming the content-creation industry to anywhere near the astounding degree that's being claimed. There are many variables involved, but one of the most persistent and least-reasonable assumptions is that each "pirated" copy of a work eliminates one potential sale of that work. In fact, it's far more likely that most "pirated" content goes to people who were never going to buy the legitimate product.

I won't go too much into the supposition about Canada being a Den of Thieves. Legal experts such as Michael Geist and Howard Knopf cite ample statistical evidence to show that this accusation is shaky at best.

Finally, it has to be noted that while most of the bodies complaining about rampant "piracy" see stiffer laws and penalties as the solution, there's ample evidence that these do absolutely nothing to solve the claimed problems. The US DMCA, for example, is the toughest intellectual-property legislation of all time (by a huge margin), yet has brought no improvements, only new and worse problems. The US continues to lead the stats in copyright violations, while the DMCA is used mainly as a cudgel to restrain legitimate competition, curtail free speech, and pursue endless lawsuits against teenagers and grandmothers.

Even assuming that there is some sort of major piracy problem out there, this would be a perfect time to reconsider past policies. Canada has done well in avoiding hasty action that would only exacerbate a problem that's poorly understood, and generally obscured by exaggeration and emotional rhetoric.

Marketnews - Christine Persaud said...

Hi Frank,

Thank you for the very insightful comments. It's interesting to know that there is actual statistical evidence that shows the sale of pirated works doesn't have as much of an impact on sales as certain organizations may wish us to think.

I agree with you, and in certain instances, content providers really need to find a way to "get with the times", so to speak, and adjust their operations to accomodate the changing, digital landscape.

Thanks, and keep the comments coming!