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Don’t Jump To Conclusions! Do We Truly Understand Content Piracy?

Last month Teleread’s Juli Monroe linked to a Baekdal post, “The real problem with piracy“, that was published almost a year ago. I’d read the Baekdal post when it went live in May 2013, but I’d taken a pass on commenting because I felt that it really didn’t advance the piracy discussion at all.

Monroe’s post, “Interesting article on how piracy is devaluing digital goods“, extracts some of Baekdal’s arguments, but she misses the one thing that sank the earlier post for me: there is no data.

At the outset, Baekdal made a series of credible observations—I might even call them hypotheses—about the reasons people pirate. His arguments parallel ones you’ve read before in posts appearing on this blog: content is not available by legitimate means in a given market; the use of a particular form of digital content is unduly limited; and customers may feel that they have already paid once (or more than once) for access that is rightfully theirs.

In the middle of his post, though, Baekdal makes the leap from these examples to an entirely different area: “Piracy today is done for the sake of piracy.” Why the leap? It turns out that Baekdal, who feels he has made his content available without limitations or restrictions, has found that his content is still pirated.

This is annoying, no question, but it’s not the equivalent of finding a mass movement toward piracy. Baekdal offers only anecdotal evidence from a handful of published authors, without any links to what they encountered. He also weaves together the instance of piracy—that it occurred—with the impact of piracy, an unknown, at least in the context of this post.

Maybe piracy is “the new normal,” as Baekdal claims, and perhaps it results in lost sales of his work. I’d be willing to work with him to find out, but his argument that people pay for digital goods “because they have to” and then pirate digital goods “because they can” is purely conjecture. That gap in data makes it a far less interesting claim.


About Brian O'Leary

Founder and principal of Magellan Media Consulting, Brian O’Leary helps enterprises with media and publishing components capitalize on the power of content. A veteran of more than 30 years in the publishing industry and a prolific content producer himself, Brian leverages the breadth and depth of his experience to deliver innovative content solutions.

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