Sunday, April 30, 2006

Peter Griffin: Choice is solution to piracy

It was a publicity stunt designed to highlight the battle against music and movie piracy. Thousands of counterfeit CDs and DVDs seized by customs were crushed last week in an Auckland ceremony organised by the New Zealand music and movie industries which have joined forces to fight piracy together.

Most people innately know it's wrong to burn CDs and DVDs for mates or download albums and movies from internet file sharing services without paying a cent. That's not the point.

People are sick and tired of paying high-street prices for full-length albums that only have a handful of decent songs on them. They're annoyed that music lovers overseas get a range of options to buy music and we continue to get taken for a ride.

The only way to cut down piracy is to give people no excuse to break copyright law. Give them decent value.

First, the music industry and Apple need to sort out their differences and get the New Zealand iTunes music download store up and running. A growing body of evidence overseas, iTunes' billion song downloads included, shows that legal download websites are making an impact on piracy.

The iTunes service is so far overdue here, I'm starting to wonder if Apple's policy of having a download service in every country it sells its iPod music player is genuine. Until iTunes is a fixture of the local music industry, I'll have little sympathy for the record labels. One thing's for sure, the lack of a download service to work with the iPod, the most popular music player on the market, isn't doing anything to dissuade people from taking the easy option of downloading songs for free.

The movie industry needs to shrink the time between when movies are released in the US and when they screen in cinemas here. Some releases are out on DVD and in many cases available for download free on the internet, before they make it into NZ theatres. DVDs also need to hit the shelves sooner following theatrical release.

The movie and TV industries should support online services such as Google Video, which offers US TV shows for viewing, streamed over the internet, for US$1.99 an episode. They should be lobbying Telecom and TelstraClear to set up video-on-demand services so that people can pay for content when they want it.

There seems to be little strategy to deal with the illegal-download threat.

But you can understand why the entertainment industry's first priority is disc-burning counterfeiters.

A dream run at the box office for Sione's Wedding was tainted when some scoundrel nicked a copy of the film and distributed it around South Auckland on DVD. Producer John Barnett estimated the movie's takings would take a $500,000 hit as a result.

But counterfeit discs are the tip of the iceberg compared to the Great Illicit Download that's going on 24 hours a day in this country.

The scale of it is only really known by the internet providers who can track the level of file sharing going on. It's for years been a sizeable percentage of internet traffic.

Increasingly, people are going online to get what they want for free. The DVD and CD peddlers are occasionally nabbed in high-profile cases, but the download-fest on the internet carries on unabated.

It's virtually unstoppable, the Bittorrent peer-to-peer file sharing system so pervasive and decentralised it's impossible to shut it down. As more people get high-speed internet connections it's becoming less of an effort to download albums and even full-length movies. Educating people about the ills of flouting copyright law isn't going to turn the tide. What we want is choice, better value and the chance to use the technology legitimately.

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