Digital Content and Copyright
This article is going to be a little bit different from the usual stuff I write. Everything in this article strongly applies to games, but the article is also a lot more general in nature. The issues of copyright and digital content is something I consider to be of great importance to society as a whole, and I also believe it is a strong indication that human society has taken several turns for the worse. I just hope that more people might take in interest in this, which might help influence lawmakers in the future.
We are living in an age of digital content. It has become increasingly rare that people buy a physical copy of a movie or a game. Physical copies of music seem to be reserved for those with a special interest, or collectors. Books still seem to be going strong with physical releases, probably because most people prefer to have an actual book to read instead of looking at a screen. I must also confess to having a love for physical books, but at the same time I really enjoy the fact that I can have countless digital books which does not take up any shelf space in my home.
Some gaming communities swear to physical copies of games, which is also something I can understand. There has always been a very unique feeling to having the physical game box. Back in the 90's, most games would come with a lot of goodies in the box, such as a really cool manual and a big map of the game world. Every game release felt exclusive, there was just something unique with opening the game box to see the treasures inside. Despite all this, I am all for digital releases. I love the fact that I can have several hundred games and it does not take up any space in my home. There were so many games that had 3-5 game discs, which you would need to change while playing. This disc changing is something I never really enjoyed as it ruined immersion. If you didn't take good care of your game discs then they could become scratched over time, even to the point of making them useless. So yes, I love digital games, and there are still some releases that come with additional digital goodies. Another thing that can't be overlooked is the environmental impact. Releasing a hundred thousand digital copies of a game is costly and produce a lot of trash. A hundred thousand digital copies does not cost anything more than a single digital copy, and since there are no physical components (not counting the hard drive required to store the content) there is no environmental cost.
With all this in mind, you would think that a digital copy of a game or book would be considerably less expensive to buy, but in most cases it is not. When it comes to games, a digital copy is usually the same price as the physical copy. A digital book, or e-book, is usually slightly cheaper than a physical book. But the difference in price is usually so small that it often makes no difference. Furthermore, e-books are frequently only accessible on proprietary platforms or through some proprietary software. The result is that the user is limited in how they can read the book they purchased. Such limitations do not exist with a normal physical book. There are some places where you can get e-books without any limitations, but most e-book sellers will force you into a certain platform for reading the book you purchased.
The big picture here is that creating digital content is cheaper than creating physical content, but the consumer rarely see much of this reduction in cost. Certain digital content is only served via locked-in proprietary, and sometimes extremely cumbersome methods. For many people, this means that digital content is less convenient than physical products. This is the very opposite of what digital content is supposed to be. The introduction of digital content was supposed to make our lives easier, more environmental, and cheaper.
When it comes to films and series, it's even worse in my opinion. There was a time when you could watch almost anything on a single streaming service. I was thinking that finally there was an easy and convenient way to watch all the things I found interesting. But then things changed, more competitors appeared with films and series being divided between the services. Now, you would need to subscribe to several streaming services to be able to watch all that you want. Personally, I do not subscribe to any streaming service because of this. Again we see the pattern that digital content is becoming more inconvenient and costly.
This is a topic where I have strong opinions, but I shall do my very best to provide an objective viewpoint. I don't have an issue with copyright on its own. However, the current situation with copyright laws and enforcement has resulted in a stranglehold on creativity. I want to use YouTube as an example here. If you upload a private video, but there is a song playing in the background, then you are highly likely to receive a copyright claim against your video. Even just a few seconds of music can be enough to trigger such a copyright claim. To me, it seems like the rightsholders want complete control over how people can access their content.
Some people acquire illegal copies of digital content, frequently as torrents. Torrents are usually not stored on any server, but shared by everyone while downloading. Some people also make it a habit to continue sharing after having finished the download. Among file sharers, it is considered good etiquette to give back in this way. Torrents are not illegal or wrong on their own, in fact a lot of Linux distributions offer their install images this way. However, the distributed nature of torrents is also the reason why it became popular for illegal sharing. Since the data is not stored on any centralized server, it is almost impossible to shut down torrent sharing. But nobody is anonymous while sharing via torrents as your IP address is visible to everyone else on the same torrent. This is how people are identified as sharing content illegally, which usually results on criminal persecution.
People who are convicted of illegally sharing digital content will sometimes get unusually harsh sentences, especially site operators. Companies will often provide numbers on their losses because of illegal sharing, and those numbers are very frequently absurdly high. I can only assume that they calculate every single download as a lost sale. It would be wrong of me to speak for everyone, but I'm still going to make a guess that every download does not equal a lost sale. In fact, I doubt even half of the downloads are actual lost sales. Most people would probably not bother paying for the content if they couldn't access it for free, and in certain cases these downloads could actually turn into real sales. Some people will use illegally acquired content to make the judgement if they think it is worth spending money on the product.
Then there is the legal consequences for those who share content. This will obviously vary a lot from country to country, but some countries have prison sentences up to five years for people who share via torrents. This might just be my personal opinion, but I will never understand how you can be so harshly punished just for wanting to share something with others. In most cases, it is not even the actual content creator that is attempting to persecute file sharers. Most of the time, it is some huge corporation that owns the copyright, and they will use a lot of resources just to take some file sharers.
So what is gained by persecuting file sharers this way? I suppose it will discouraged some people from doing it as it might be considered too risky. But at the same time, gaining legal access to specific content can be very difficult or even impossible in some regions. This alone will drive some people into illegal file sharing. I suppose rightsholders believe that they are reducing illegal sharing when they limit and restrict access to legally purchased content. But if I am to speak from my own experience then I will completely avoid cumbersome and controlling platforms. In those cases, these types of platforms are working against their purpose, because they lost me as a customer. I wonder how many others are feeling the same way, and might turn to other methods of acquiring content when the legal methods are so limiting.
To be honest, I find it difficult to see any solution. The so called "rightsholders" seem to be pushing for more and more draconian measures to keep people in check. But people don't like to be controlled, at least I don't. Most people like convenience, along with freedom. The digital content market is failing to cater to these needs, which is something I can only see as pushing more people into illegal file sharing. I can't speak for everyone, but I am a customer just like everyone else. Looking at my own habits, I make purchases at digital content distributors that give me the freedom I want. There are not many such distributors, but I know of a few. I still believe digital content should be cheaper than it is, but at least some companies give you freedom.
The ones that I know of, and stand out, are:
Here you can buy games completely free of any DRM. There is no copy protection, or restrictions, in how you download and use games you purchase here. As a result, I'm buying most of my games here.
Here you can buy ebooks with no form of copy protection. You get to download the books, which you can read with any software on any device you wish. At the time of writing, you have a choice of downloading the books in either epub or mobi format. The only downside is that they only sell Warhammer books. But if you are into that, be sure to check them out. I own a significant part of the Horus Heresy books from them.
There are obviously more places where you can get DRM free content, but it seems to be the exception instead of the norm. I would like to see more digital distributors that respect the freedom of their customers. I would also like to see digital content being priced cheaper, since there is hardly any distribution cost compared to physical distribution. The only power we have as customers is to choose those distributors who make choices we like.
In closing, I need to point out that I can't condone or encourage anything illegal. But at the same time, I want to state that I have full understanding that someone might resort to illegal file sharing. The current digital content market is severely lacking, there really is no other way to say it.
Categories: Free Software
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