Why you might be better off with pirated content

Digital media means that you can make a perfect copy of content every time. As long as you accurately copy all the bits of music, movies or software you get a perfect copy every time. This has not been lost on content creators who have created a model of digital content based on complex anti-piracy systems using encryption and digital certificates. This is called Digital Rights Management  (DRM).

From a customer perspective this is creating digital ecosystems on the Internet. Content islands where the stuff you spend money on will only work on specific devices. The side effect is that you get locked in to manufacturer specific hardware and software with an inability to choose and alternative provider without  losing your digital content. This is exactly the opposite to traditional physical goods. If you have a DVD you can loan it to your friends and they can play it without a problem. It doesn't matter if you buy your DVD from Amazon or a supermarket you can play the DVD on any player, anywhere at any time. I tend to still buy CDs and DVDs for this reason.

The same is not true of the new digital world. If you have bought a movie from iTunes and you visit a mate and want to watch the content you have purchased on his PlayStation you are out of luck. The iTunes content will only play on Apple equipment with your ID logged on to the system - a double padlock. Of course other companies do exactly the same thing.

What this means for consumers is having to purchase within an ecosystem. You can't mix and match. The family with Sky TV, an iPhone, an Android phone, a Windows PC, Playstation and a Mac is in a bad place for digital content. The movie dad buys from Xbox on his Windows device wont play on the family PlayStation or his iPhone. However if he buys from iTunes then he is locked out from using it on his PC. Simple things like playlists of music on Google Play cannot be passed to an Xbox Music subscriber. Gradually consumers will begin to be frustrated that the simple matter of copying the content they purchased to a different device they own is nearly impossible.

Apple, in particular, have used iTunes to dominate digital content via the iPod and the iPhone.

One form of content that can be easily copied is pirated content. People who have done the right thing and paid for their music, videos and ebooks are being frustrated by not being able to easily view their content on any device of their choosing. However people who just download pirated movies are not restricted to specific devices.

So one of the strange conclusions that people might come to is that paying for content is a bad deal because it locks you into one ecosystem with no way of moving your content to different devices. Personally I believe that all digital content should have a license signature that allows you to easily transfer your data around. However this lock-in process suits the electronic retailers of digital content as much as the producers so there is little chance of flexibility in the near future.


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