Angry Birds: 'Piracy may not be a bad thing'

'It can get us more business at the end of the day.'

Piracy is not necessarily be the evil that the music industry professes it to be, and may actually be a way for business to attract more customers, so claims Rovio Mobile chief executive Mikael Hed.

Rovio Mobile, the company behind the hit game Angry Birds, knows a lot about piracy. Not only has the game itself been ripped off mercilessly, but it has increasingly become a target for fake merchandising. But Rovio Mobile boss Hed doesn't see this as a problem. In fact, he sees considerable upsides to piracy.

Speaking at the Midem conference in Cannes today, Hed said that 'we have some issues with piracy, not only in apps, but also especially in the consumer products. There is tons and tons of merchandise out there, especially in Asia, which is not officially licensed products.'

'Piracy may not be a bad thing. It can get us more business at the end of the day.'

Hed's chosen solution was to learn a lesson from the music industry in how it look at consumers.

'We took something from the music industry, which was to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans. We do that today. We talk about how many fans we have.'

He also sees the apps themselves as sales tools, so the wider they are disseminated, the better they can promote products and merchandise.

'Already our apps are becoming channels, and we can use that channel to cross-promote – to sell further content,' said Hed. 'The content itself has transformed into the channel, and the traditional distribution channels are no longer the kingmakers.'

In many ways it seems that Rovio Mobile has made piracy work for its company with regards to Angry Birds because the company has moved beyond the game into the physical world with toys and other branded items. The $0.99 game is no longer the real money-spinner in the deal, and really becomes a vehicle for cross-selling. But I'm reluctant to use this one example of piracy working to build a company and extend it to all piracy. The truth about piracy is that ultimately people want something that someone else has made, and not have to pay for it. I've heard endless arguments and debate about how piracy is not stealing and how no one is being harmed by it, but I'm not convinced. If everyone decided to become a pirate, then entire industries would collapse, and as much as we might dislike the heavy-handedness and Draconian actions of the likes of the MPAA and the RIAA, the fact remains that millions of jobs are linked to these industries, and their demise would be catastrophic to those associated and the economy.

The truth is that it is possible to make piracy work in certain circumstances and for certain industries, the message hat is make piracy OK is one that I'm not comfortable with.