Monday, December 12, 2005

Pirates Of Creativity

Yesterday my sister-in-law was telling me how her kids (my nephew and niece) would embarrass their uncle (her brother) whenever they see him with pirated DVDs. “Tito, do you realize that’s a crime?” they would chide him. Their mom says they got that attitude from me; they never fail to mention that I only buy original DVDs. “You set such a very high standard for them,” she said.

Honestly that wasn’t my intention when I first started buying CDs and DVDs. I shunned the early pirated stuff because their quality was poor back then. Music and movies are my passion, and as a collector of CDs and DVDs, I obviously prefer to own an original copy versus a fake one. Eventually the quality of pirated materials improved dramatically, and now the line between real and fake has blurred even more. So why am I still not buying fake?

I’d like to quote Stephen King in his column “The Pop of King” in Entertainment Weekly (#853, Dec. 09), when he talks about songs he downloaded: “Most were downloaded… and through perfectly legitimate pay-then-play sources, I hasten to add. Copyright is my bread and butter, and I do not cockadoodie where I eat.”

Often the arguments of pro-piracy people concentrate on the benefits the consumers/listeners/viewers (a.k.a., them) get from having cheap access to movies and music. But what about the creators of those movies and music? Who’s looking out for their interests? For every unit of CD or DVD sold the artists get royalties while the producers (the record or movie companies) receive part of the earnings to pay for the production costs. If you buy pirated materials, none of what you pay goes to the producers and artists.

Some people, including columnist Jessica Zafra (I’m a fan of hers), have justified their pro-piracy stance by standing up for the consumer. Some pro-piracy people have argued that the consumer pays for so much when the actual costs for producing a CD is not that high; in other words, the record companies bloat the prices. Why should the consumer pay so much for so little?

They also add to their argument the accusation that the artists do not actually receive a fair share of the profits; supposedly the record companies pocket most of the money. By buying pirated CDs, the pro-pirates are saying, “Stick it up to the Man!”

Interesting points they raise. However, assuming for the moment that the issues were true then the problem lies in the current system of remuneration. Therefore the solution would be to fix the system. Piracy does not address the problem; in fact it compounds the problem. Sure, perhaps the artist only gets a measly 5% of the profits; with piracy the artist gets 0%.

So what is the root of the problem regarding piracy? Why do people buy pirated stuff when they know that they’re stolen goods? Is it human nature to want to do something illegal? My theory is simple: if they can, people will try to get more for less. It’s a similar concept behind bargaining; however, this isn’t an above-the-table negotiation. Instead this is the isahan mentality—getting one over the other.

A change of attitude is needed. MasterCard got it right: the best things in life are free (love, the beauty of nature, the warm sun on our backs, and the sight of the Mischievious Boys shirtless); for everything else, there’s a price. Creativity costs, you know; a movie or an album doesn’t materialize out of nowhere. It takes a lot of creativity, manpower, materials and electrical energy to come up with a “Boom, Boom, Boom (Let’s Go Back To My Room)”. Patronizing original material means that we support the creators. Because if we don’t, then one day these creators will stop making the music and movies we love because they cannot afford to make them anymore. (That’s why I found it ironic that a writer like Ms. Zafra would condone piracy. I wonder how she’d feel if someone were to shoplift her books, photocopy then sell them.)

What about those too poor to afford to buy original? Will we condemn them to a life of want? Well duh, we all have our crosses to bear. Just because I want to own a Jaguar doesn’t justify my stealing one, or knowingly buy a stolen Jaguar. Pro-piracy people are like kids with low emotional quotient (EQ) in the TV commercial. Remember the ones who ate the marshmallow because they couldn’t wait?

And what about those poor Muslims who depend on selling the pirated tapes? It is all about choice. If they choose to sell stolen goods then they should be ready to face raids, maybe even arrests and convictions. Or they can choose to sell knock-off Uma headbands instead. A life of crime may mean more money, but it also means greater dangers. Everything has a price.

Do I sound so high-and-mighty, holier-than-thou? To be honest I have bought two pirated DVDs already. They were Y Tu Mama Tambien and the Korean TV series Oh Pil Yeung. How come, you ask? Well, it is a sad fact that the pirates have access to many titles not available in our shores. (Because they need not worry about copyright laws and remittances, they can pretty much release any and every title that they feel will sell briskly.) So I resort to buying pirated if the official release is unlikely to be made available locally. But if I do get to find an official copy of Tambien I will buy it because my pirated copy doesn’t play all the features listed in the menu.

Next time you’re in front of pirated material, stop and think. Give our singers, composers, writers, directors, cinematographers, editors and others too numerous to mention the recognition and support they deserve. Stop thinking of yourself only.

3 Comments:

Blogger Nelson said...

I'm right with ya about the poor, shabby quality of pirated stuff, although because of technology, it's harder to know what's real and what's not. I've always bought original CDs and VCDs, and just get pirated porn [the quality doesn't really matter to me--you've seen one, you've seen them all]. Canada has very strict laws on piracy, so I'm forced to buy original CDs here. I just winced when I got Madge's Confession for about 18 bucks. Masakit, pero keri na.

My views on pirated software are quite torn though. While I support companies [but I now have a low opinion of Microsoft] that produce the softwares, I think it's extremely vulgar that they charge so much for them. If this technology will make people's lives better, why not make it accessible to them? In the end, everything is still tied up to the culture of consumerism.

12:45 AM  
Blogger fried-neurons said...

I have to admin that I am guilty of downloading songs off the Internet. My main beef was that I hated paying $15 for a CD when it only has one or two good songs in it. Since iTunes started selling songs for 99 cents, however, I have stopped stealing songs over the 'net.

Movies, however, I have never gotten illegally. I only buy "jeenooween" DVDs.

As for software... of course it's "tied to the culture of consumerism". Software companies are in business to make money. Their primary mission is not to make the world a better place. So I don't begrudge them one bit for charging as much as the market will bear for their products. Having said that, I will also admit that I have ussed pirated software.

1:57 AM  
Blogger McVie said...

Call me naive, but I believe that there still are companies (maybe not software ones, but who knows?) who are in business to make a profit and make the world a better place too.

I will agree with Fried-Neurons that if they over-price their products too much, then they'll price themselves out of business. So I would assume (again, maybe naivelly) that the pricing should more or less be competitive.

6:55 PM  

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