Saturday, October 4, 2003

Twisted / Copy This

> Copy This
Jessica Zafra

Does anyone else find it funny that people who make much more money than we do are appealing to us not to deprive them of their income? You have the nerve to charge me P450 for a CD that is being sold on the street for P60, and you expect my sympathy?

The campaign against pirated software, CDs, VCDs, audio- and videocassettes, would have us believe that piracy is our problem. Really? How is shelling out P100 for a disc that contains P50,000 worth of software a problem for me? It would seem that the pirates are doing me, and my shrinking wallet, a big favor. Why should it bother me that a movie which has not yet opened in Metro Manila theatres is being peddled on VCD on Ayala Avenue for P90? I have no fight with the pirates. They are selling me information I might otherwise not have access to because of prohibitive costs. Yes they are thieves and thieves should be punished, but they are not stealing from me. Oh sure, you can lecture me about how in the long run I will pay for buying bootleg, but by then I will have used the information for my benefit.

So let me make a correction. Piracy is the problem of the manufacturers —the software houses, record companies, and motion picture companies—whom I shall refer to from hereon as the corporations. By telling us not to buy pirated materials "for the good of everyone," corporations make it appear that corporate interests and the public interest are the same thing. This is laughably untrue. Corporations make noises about working in the public interest—these noises are called public relations, PR—but their duty is to their owners.

The anti-piracy ads, with their appeals to my virtue, pass the responsibility of combating piracy to me. HELLO. They invoke the law and call on my conscience to protect their profit margin, but when I shell out P450 for a CD that turns out to be crap, I can't invoke the law, and corporations have no conscience. We may all be equal under the law, but they have the best lawyers. I guess their complaints are valid because they stand to lose more money, while I'm just a sucker who bought the promotional hype.

The anti-piracy campaign says that when we buy unauthorized copies, a.k.a. bootleg, we are stealing from the creators of the music, movies, or computer programs. This would be the case if the proceeds of the sales went to the artists themselves. We know that the artists get a small royalty; most of the money goes to the corporations. They profit from the work of the artists. In exchange for a small royalty, they can suck their artists dry. Their excuse is that they spent vast sums of money on the marketing of the artists' work. In short, the reason "originals" cost so much is because the huge marketing expenses are passed on to us. Why should we finance the ridiculous costs of hype?

When you buy bootleg, you deny the artist a couple of bucks, but you stick it to the corporation, which is so rich it won’t even say ouch. I find it hard to summon up any sympathy for a multi-billion dollar entity that does business in over 100 countries. Aww, the poor corporations, their executives won't be buying personal Lear jets this quarter. Buying bootleg has a Robin Hood appeal: Rob the rich to give the poor, meaning you. It's the opposite of jueteng, in which one robs the poor in order to give to the rich.

The corporations are laying a massive guilt trip on the consumers when they should be working to make their products less easy to steal. With the technology we have, it is extremely easy to make high-quality copies of anything. In the past we worried that bootleg goods could damage our electronic equipment; today's fake CDs are almost exactly like the originals. While the corporations are piracy-proofing their wares, maybe they should cut us a break and drop their prices. The pirates have shown that it is possible to make CDs cheaper. Take the hint, and spare us the sob stories about high marketing costs and your dwindling profits.

I don't buy pirated software—not just because pirates don't usually do Mac programs, but because I love my Mac. But I can not tell PC users not to buy bootleg software when it costs one-fiftieth the price of the original. Caveat emptor, naturally, and the fake software may cause their PCs to crash, but PCs do that anyway. Hey, doesn't the idea of bilking Bill Gates of .000000000000000000(add more zeroes)1 of his income appeal to you? Look at him, the guy's rolling in money, but he won't spend for a proper haircut. Besides, if you really want to quibble over it, didn't Bill Gates and Steve Jobs borrow information from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center?

Cut the crap, and stop appealing to my good nature. It is not my job to protect your interests. The pirates are sleazy, but they have inadvertently raised the possibility of a future in which the artist reaches her audience directly, without a corporate middleman. Think of a future in which you profit from your own ideas. Not bloody likely, right, but it's a good thought.

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