A week ago I wrote a post called “Is it Ever Okay to Steal Entertainment?”, which produced great comments from our readers, many of whom were clearly incensed that I would ever try to rationalize stealing from content creators. I’ve been thinking about the criticism and understanding that was added to the original article. I wanted to see if I could ever become the person that never even accidentally steals entertainment.
I got the impression from your comments, and correct me if I’m wrong, but a lot of people feel that if I’m enjoying any kind of entertainment, then I should have paid for it first.
The problem, I’ve concluded, is that we all steal. All of us. Not always on purpose, but it happens. Some examples:
The Problem with Having Friends
Your friends want you to enjoy the things they enjoy. I really enjoy the band “Cake”, and I never would’ve been exposed to them if someone hadn’t burned me a copy of “Fashion Nugget” back in 2001. Now, over eight years after that, I still haven’t paid for that album, but I enjoy at least one of those songs at least once a month. I’m willing to admit right here that I “stole” that album. And as a direct result, I paid for three other albums of theirs. So the band “Cake” was down one, then up three. “Cake” profits.
This is true of most of the bands that my friends share with me. Friends know best what you’re likely to enjoy.
The DVR Problem
I don’t think there’s any Cable/Satellite/FiOS TV provider that doesn’t offer a DVR box for their customers. Unless you’re watching a Superbowl-type event, or keeping tabs on a weather event or election, you’re probably skipping commercials. That’s stealing: it breaks the model of “we’ll make shows, you pay us, and we’ll insert ads for your product, and there’s an infinitesimal chance our viewers will buy your product over someone else’s”.
If you have a DVR, and you’re decidedly not skipping commercials out of a noble effort to continue this outdated model, then my hat’s off to you, and also, I don’t believe it.
Not to mention the fact that most of the time, the volume of commercials during the break is set so loud that I feel I’m being screamed at.
The “Album Only” Problem
The list of albums that I can listen to all the way through is about half a page long, double-spaced. Nearly every album contains filler material: stuff that the artists know most people won’t like. For about thirty years, record companies sold single songs, with B-sides, and they did very well. The popularity of the CD somehow brought about a trend for people to buy whole albums.
I bought plenty of albums on CD, and have been disappointed with plenty of songs. That’s not an accident, that’s the record company stealing from me. I’m not saying “two wrongs make a right”. I’m just pointing it out. Apple and the record companies know that people much prefer buying single songs, and not wasting money, so they’re working on a new add-on for people who buy whole albums. We’ll see how that turns out, but at present, I predict it will be a miserable failure.
Entertainment in the 21st Century
I much prefer the Creative Commons approach to releasing entertainment. Since Day One, Jonathan Coulton has made it possible and easy to enjoy his music for free. Just as importantly, he’s made it possible and easy to pay him for the songs you like. His music makes me so happy that I’ve paid for the MP3s, as well as a collector’s set of “Thing a Week” CDs, a DVD, and tickets for three concerts.
I know the system works for him, too, since he recently moved into a bigger house with his wife and children.
A Larger View
I think we’re in between payment models at the moment. I’m seeing a 21st century where people only pay for the things they enjoy. My wife and I are already working on a computer-based system, using content from places like Hulu (which includes ads that you can’t skip, but only a couple minutes’ worth), and I’m looking forward to reporting on it, if I can get the bugs all worked out.
Published or updated July 27, 2009.