It’s All About Lame Licensing, Not Free Downloads

The Guardian reported today that research performed by the 11-month-old Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property suggests illegal downloads cost the UK economy more than $21 billion (£12 billion) annually (Cost to British economy of free downloads is revealed).

The Guardian quotes David Lammy, UK minister for intellectual property, as saying:

“Illegal downloading robs our economy of millions of pounds every year and seriously damages business and innovation throughout the UK. It is something that needs tackling, and we are serious about doing so.”

This is the worn out, stock-in-trade response to the issue of digital access to intellectual property and it demonstrates the fact that politicians are incapable of grasping the true root of the problem. No matter that it came from the other side of the Atlantic; Canadian politicians have memorized the same prattle.

Think of it this way: if an orchard stood on one side of the street, and a closed, locked, and heavily guarded grocery store stood on the other, where would consumers go for their produce?

While the Guardian’s article addresses a UK-specific study, the problem is the same worldwide. It’s particularly acute here in Canada where we seem to get falsely accused on a regular basis by American producers of somehow being the root of the problem.

The truth is, most media consumers are not “bad” people, and none of us take pride in consuming content that artists and producers are not being compensated for.

The real problem is with the media licensing models that govern access to content, particularly movies and television shows. Despite the best efforts of online retailers like iTunes, most media production companies insist on making it incredible difficult to access, purchase, and consume their products.

Why are non-American residents blocked from Hulu? Do producers really think that by building an artificial wall around their content, they can prevent us from accessing it?

No, that’s what BitTorrent is for. It’s the orchard just across the street from the heavily guarded retail outlet. As soon as that store opens, we’ll all head over and pay good money for quality produce (well, most of us will, anyway).

So illicit downloading is not the problem here. A lame and decrepit licensing model is what needs dealing with. Governments around the world need to move their focus away from consumers and force the issue on producers and their resistance to change.