One way to fight video piracy is to make shows available legitimately

One way to fight video piracy is to make shows available legitimately

Summary: If more legislation won't solve the piracy problem, is there anything that can reduce it? Yes, as it turns out, I believe there is.


This morning, I had the opportunity to read a well-written article in the Wall Street Journal (possible paywall link) about challenges that TV networks and content providers have in fighting pirates.

The article focuses, as they say, "on another network", but the piracy challenges are quite real for any online content producer, TV network, blog writer, or software developer.

I've talked before how, back in the days when I wrote and sold software, I'd often get support complaints from people who either downloaded pirated copies of the software I'd written, or worse, paid someone for copies who had never bought them from me.

I've seen copies of articles I've written for sale on Amazon. And I wrote last summer about the lowlifes who completely cloned copies of my iPhone apps (right down to the marketing copy) and are still selling them on the Apple Store, right under Apple's apparently uncaring nose.

The WSJ article goes into detail about how challenging the fight is, because with video content, pirates steal episodes immediately and post them. It details an NBC anti-piracy unit that tries to fight all these illegal posts.

I have a couple of problems with the WSJ article. The first is that it seemed to support the inevitability of damaging SOPA-like legislation, and I just don't think Americans need to have their privacy rights damaged completely just to protect episodes of The Biggest Loser.

If yet more legislation won't solve the piracy problem, is there anything that can reduce it? Yes, as it turns out, I believe there is.

A few weeks ago, our TiVo glitched and didn't record a complete episode of one of my wife's favorite shows. She was very disappointed because it's one of those shows that builds on the story of the previous week.

Initially, I thought the problem would be easy to solve by simply buying the episode online. I looked on Netflix. I looked on Hulu. I looked on Amazon. I looked on iTunes. I looked at the network's own website. As it turns out, the previous season was available on iTunes, but current episodes were not.

Now, I know better than to go download a torrent of the episode. You shouldn't download torrents either. First, you're probably violating a law; and second, you're probably subjecting your computer to all sorts of nasty payloads.

The problem was, my wife didn't get to watch her show. I would have easily spent $2, $3, heck, even the price of a movie admission just to make sure she wasn't disappointed. But the network in question simply didn't offer a pay-for digital version of the show.

This brings me back to my original premise. Many TV providers don't provide online versions of their shows at the same time that they broadcast it. I think this is a huge mistake. I know there is the risk of people cutting off their cable TV services, but if that's going to happen, it's going to happen.

A few simultaneous releases won't change anything. They could even sell episodes at a higher price while the season is running, and then reduce the price once the season is over. We would have quite enthusiastically paid a higher price (all while commenting on the wonders of the internet), just so that my wife could keep up with her show.

If the TV producers make their programs available outside of the "be on the couch at this time of the night" mentality, legitimate viewers will continue to support their programs, and possibly those not quite as law abiding as I am would buy the shows instead of pirating them.

So what was the result of my wife's disappointment? She stopped watching the entire series. She's now working her way through a different series on Netflix instead. The network that didn't make that one show available lost her viewership for all that show's remaining episodes. So did that network's advertisers. My wife actually likes what she calls "the tiny programs", and enjoys watching most commercials.

And no, it's not lost on me that ZDNet is owned by a major media company. And yes, I did run this article past the editors before posting.

Topics: Privacy, Government, After Hours


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • No, it's a much bigger problem then just "simultaneous release"

    and your wife passing on the series just because of a glitch in recording is likely not the norm, more the exception.

    Comcast has their on demand that rebroadcasts TV shows, commercials and all that you can't fast forward past, so if I miss an episode, I can usually get it on there. But they don't do it for everything, and they only do it with the network's permission.

    The problem is that today, everything has to be a hit in 2 episodes, or it's gone. (3 shows I've liked, already) It's all about the ads. The fact that you have the "be on the couch at this time of night" isn't a mentality, it's a physical fact. They show it at this time, they charge X amount to advertisers.

    Giving them away for free online at the same time doesn't get them the ad reveune, in fact advertisers may balk at current prices if they feel they're only getting half the audience, because everyone else is watching ad free on line.

    Buying them a couple of days later off of their site, I agree, good idea. If you're not selling to Netflix or Hulu, may as well sell them yourself.
    William Farrel
    • You can't take the sky from me

      Don't get me started on Firefly!
      David Gewirtz
      • I hear you

        Burn the land and boil the sea, you ain't taking my TV from me.

        (just had to paraphhrase, a bit) ;)
        William Farrel
    • Outside the Box

      You've got a completely legitimate argument, assuming that they serve up the episodes online without ads. Package the episode with ads just like other online videos, and you still have that revenue stream. Offer a "premium" to "own" version for a much higher price if you'd like. Advertisers stay happy, piracy decreases, we're all happy.
  • Good point

    They're failing to understand that the way we watch TV is changing and a massive percentage of people simply no longer want to be forced to watch something when someone else (the TV company) tells them to.

    Make it legally available at the same time as you could pirate it and for easiness alone a lot of people will pay. Why? Because legal sites such as BBC iPlayer have shown, make it simple and people will use it.

    Torrenting isn't something anyone would call simple.
  • Massive availability of content has done nothing to slow piracy

    Amazon has nearly every movie and TV show once it is on PPV, yet accoring to Sandvine, BitTorrent gre by 40% from 2011 to 2012 by data volume transferred. The people who spend the $100m to make a product are entitled to determine how and when it gets sold. As for "support the inevitability of damaging SOPA-like legislation," I have yet to see any blogger who can actually describe how blocking sites like Isohunt and The Pirate Bay "damages" anyone except those that want to steal content and make money from those that steal content. ISPs work together with Spamhaus to BLOCK ip addresses everyday. The only difference between blocking spamming IP addresses and blocking IP addresses used to illegally search for and distribute content are that Google doesn't make money from spam and won't pay for the EFF/Public Knowledge and the press campaign to oppose it. Spamhaus doesn't "break the internet." Copyright is a human right.
    • They may have it..

      but it is WAY over priced.
    • "Copyright is a human right."

      No, it's not a right, it's an entitlement. The "exclusive right to make copies" is not at all the same as freedoms, the right to a trial, and protection from unreasonable search.
  • no so

    copyright is not a human right
  • Spot on

    I very much agree with this article, networks should also make their online editions available worldwide at the same time. It is getting a bit better here in Australia but too often we have to wait months or even years for shows that when we do get them have had bits cut out so our networks can cram more ads in the same time space. Most of the piracy i see is because the content just isn't available, so if we could get it legally our tv networks would have to undergo a radical change witch I think that they need anyway.
  • I still favor a "use it or lose it" rule on copyright

    If the copyrighted work isn't made available for sale or licensing at least one year in seven (as often as Disney used to rerelease its classic cartoons to the theaters), the copyright should expire seven years after the last publication date.

    If nothing else, it's an easy way to eliminate the problem of orphaned works.
    John L. Ries
    • Absolutely

      @John L. Ries,

      Hear hear! The root problem is the copyright laws are ridiculous to begin with.
  • Risk? try fact

    "I know there is the risk of people cutting off their cable TV services, but if that's going to happen, it's going to happen."

    This is a fact and their is nothing the TV channel companies can do about it. My family consumes TV shows via on demand streaming and no where else! i will happily wait for the episodes to show up somewhere streamable rather then pay the outlandish prices that cable and satillite providers charge monthly.
  • Agreed

    Yes, some cable/satellite companies offer on-demand programming, but it's hit or miss whether the show you missed is actually available.

    My wife and I watch almost everything DVRed; sitting down at a certain time on a certain day, and then doing nothing else for an hour, is just not how we like to operate. We're free spirits! Or something ...

    My biggest complaint about the major networks is their insistance on only showing an episode/program once, and then giving us no way to see it again until months later. I guess I'm spoiled by the cable channels showing their stuff multiple times (especially the repeating of their prime-time stuff after midnight the same night), so if I miss the show I can always catch it later that same week, if not night. The major networks don't do this because they have *so* much "quality" programming they don't have any dead space to fill up ... well, other than all those infomercials in the early morning ...
  • Thanks for reminding me that I have to DL Walking Dead tonight

    Forgot to do it this morning.
  • Buying digital video is pain

    If you could buy a movie or TV show and watch it in XBMC I may go for it. However you need to use AOD software for Amazon or Apple TV or Itunes for Apple etc etc.

    If I could buy and play on whatever platform and player I want with no restricting it may appeal to me.
  • Piracy is intentionally made...

    Most piracy is from developing countries like mine where most TV shows, Music and overall media are censored by reasons I don't know too much, but as far as I know is related to US law and streaming rights.

    Services like US Netflix, Hulu Plus, etc are unavailable and blocked through IP blocking. Services like Amazon Video are blocked too.

    So, it seems the piracy is intentionally made as they don't leave legally options to buy for developing markets.

    Then they take all those piracy statistics to tell the US government and UN to approve law that takes away Internet freedom.

    Is there some conspiracy around....
    • By the way

      I'm not in a US Export law blocked country like Cuba or Iran.
      • It is a problem

        I've encountered that problem in the Philippines. Now before I go, I'll load up a portable hard drive with TV shows (via Tivo2Go), music, and ripped DVDs.

        As far as giving up cable for an Internet-only existence, I watch too much news and sports for that to be practical. Also, I can't find any internet-only way to get regular tv shows and news from the Philippines -- the equivalent of what I get on Comcrap by spending $12 per month on The Filipino Channel.
  • Internet First...

    Over here, Germany, many soaps are being offer on the internet in advance of their on-air broadcast. At the end of the episode, there is a trailer for tomorrow's episode, with the tag line, watch it online now! (Okay, you have to pay 1€ to watch tomorrow's episode today.)

    Most channels also offer a catch-up service to watch the stuff that they have already broadcast - although a lot of imported American series are exempt from this.