As I caught up with my relatives over our annual lunar new year gatherings earlier this week, I was asked a question that had popped up many times before: "How do I download music on iTunes?"
And the answer has always been the same: "You can't if you're in Asia (outside of Japan)." The answer is also true for e-book content on e-readers such as Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook which are not all supported in major Asian markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and China.
There are, like most things, ways to circumvent the limitations but it takes additional effort and resources, and obviously, some white lies on the part of the consumer since the service isn't officially supported by the vendors in these markets.
Those who recognize the need to protect intellectual property rights and want to stay on the legal path would take those additional steps--albeit, perhaps, grudgingly--to access such content "the right way".
But for many others, jailbroken devices and hacked content provide the easier route for them to enjoy the latest Billboard hits, watch the latest season of Glee and read the latest bestseller.
So, when the whole hullabaloo erupted over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) last week, I can't help but wonder if the content providers that have pledged their support for the proposed legislation do so in folly. Laws alone will not resolve piracy because someone somewhere will always find a way to break the rules. Rather, the crux of the problem really is about accessibility.
Universal Music in 2006 was ready to walk out of the South Korean market which was plagued by rampant piracy. But it signed a deal which helped turn a local peer-to-peer provider--then commonly referred to as the Korean Napster--into a legitimate service that grew to become one of the biggest digital music stores in South Korea.
Universal Music's head of global digital business Rob Wells himself underscored the importance of ensuring accessibility to content as a key solution to piracy: "[Offering] licensed legitimate services is the biggest way we can fight piracy... But, the ship isn't turning fast enough so we need laws passed and other protective measures put in place by governments." Which probably explains why Universal Music is a supporter of SOPA.
However, legislations like SOPA and PIPA (Protect IP Act) are sweeping by nature and have serious implications on the way the Internet inherently operates. While the main objective is to curb piracy, put in the hands of content providers, the legislations could potentially abet attempts to censor Web sites and block access to the Web.
Rather than push for legislations that risk damaging the heart of the Internet, content providers such as Universal Music and Sony would see better results pushing the likes of Apple and Amazon.com to expand access to their content via the latter's devices. And if negotiations for content rights are indeed the biggest barrier preventing legit content from reaching Asian shores, more efforts should be invested here to detangle the web rather than in attempts to pass some legislations that may do more harm than good.
Otherwise, you can't really blame the pirates for pirating.