Niki Cheong is blogging

Will the real pirates please stand up?

It quite refreshing today to wake up and read the New Straits Times page one story about how people who purchase pirate DVDs has been let off from talk of laws being put in place to punish them for their purchases.

The article reads:

Domestic Trade, Cooperatives and Consumerism Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob told the New Sunday Times that the proposal, which was mooted by the industry, had been shot down because the ‘public feels the move is too harsh’.

First thing that crossed my mind was, “Ah, a page one story that’s not about politics! Great start to a Sunday!”. My second thought of course was, “Awesome”. This statement also comes following reports on Friday about proposed legislation which forces ISPs to suspend or terminate accounts of people who download or share pirate material via P2P networks.The article in The Star reads:

The free-and-easy days of illegal downloading of music and movies may soon be over. A proposed new law will enable Internet Service Providers (ISP) to suspend or terminate the Internet accounts of P2P (peer-to-peer) users.

Look, I know as much about the next person about why piracy is bad. I appreciate, as much as the next person, the value of intellectual property. And I understand, as much as the next person, how piracy can affect the livelihoods of the victims.

Piracy is not theft (fun)

The image above was taken from Flickr via de_coder under the Creative Common License.

Still, I had issues with how they were looking to “curb” this piracy (the same way many people in the US are frowning upon recent revelations that the Homeland Security has seized the URLs of over 70 websites, without notification, for “Copyright and Trademark Violations” – UPDATE: although rumours are now abound that it might be a hoax). When the idea was first mooted, many arguments (how would they search for the items, would this create more opportunities for corruption, who would have the authority to conduct such searches etc) were presented so I won’t go into it. Let’s just say I agree with many of them.

But what I am really more interested in is what our lawmakers are doing to encourage the purchasing of original material, instead of clamping down piracy? Surely the old rule of economics about supply and demand still stands (although, I suppose, with good marketing, suppliers can influence demand). If we can get more people purchasing original content, surely the demand for pirate material will go down, no?

In the context of entertainment discs (CDs, DVDs, Blu Ray et al), I would love to see the lawmakers work with the content creators/producers/artistes/agencies they are currently working with to clamp down on piracy to see what can be done to take a more positive approach to helping them not get ripped off. Because you can argue all you want about theft, but if people can’t afford your material, they will always, always go for the cheaper (or free alternative).

So what if you lay down such laws? Will people not find ways to get around it? It has been happening for centuries, what makes you think it will change now?

Why not find a compromise? Why should such material cost so much? If you look at many countries, the cost of a CD ranges from 10-15 bucks in their currency. In Malaysia, we are paying in the range of RM40. You can argue that the average middle class person should be able to afford a CD or two, but what about the rest?

Although, to be fair, I know of a record label who have attempted to make their foreign music available to Malaysians for much cheaper (sort of a no-frills local version of the album). But somehow, it doesn’t feel the same if it doesn’t come with the original CD sleeve and all.

Also, many people purchase pirate materials (or download them) not just because of cost factors but for accessibility. Malaysians who want to even pay for music are unable to purchase them via some online shops like iTunes for example. Considering that there is already a Malaysian app store, I would rather our Ministry spend time talking to companies like Apple to speed up the sale of music in our country. This would also I think solve the problems about people having to pay for a whole album. When I was younger, and had the privilege of traveling, I would often buy singles – much cheaper too because I really only like one song from the artiste. We don’t have a strong “singles” culture here in Malaysia.

Moving on, don’t even get me started on how we don’t often get good shows – let alone shows that are not aired months, if not years, after their original release – on our TV stations, paid or free-to-air.

Then there is also the issue of censorship. Many music albums, TV shows and movies are so heavily censored. Why would people not want to purchase/download a version that is how its creators originally created it?

I would really rather our Ministers (or Deputy Ministers) work with these issues to give people less of a reason to turn to piracy, as opposed to just clamping down simply.

Granted, there will always be people who will still not appreciate it and continue to access pirate material. This will happen anyway, even if those laws are in place.

Like with most things in life, the steps one have to take has to first start with education. If you want to change the mindset of people (generations whom, let’s face it, grew up with piracy – whether it is fake clothes, handbags, music, photocopying school books etc), then you need to take the positive steps to start of with.

Clamping down will just give people reasons to find new ways to flout the law. Education and alternative choices, on the other hand, have less negative implications.

8.53pm Malaysian time (+8 GMT)

Discussion (15)

There are 15 responses to “Will the real pirates please stand up?”.

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Niki Cheong, Kingsley Jayaraj. Kingsley Jayaraj said: RT @nikicheong On my blog: Will the real pirates please stand up? (My take on curbing piracy in Malaysia) […]

  2. ken responded:

    · Reply

    no matter how the government tries to curb this matter, malaysians will surely find their own way..
    malaysia boleh! :)

  3. I would be very happy to rent DVDs instead of buying them. If there was something like that service where you can get DVDs sent to you (can’t remember the name), or even a local shop – at least with rental the quality of the DVD would be guaranteed.

    • I love this idea but not sure the distributors and production companies will be for it unfortunately.

      We used to do this with VHS in Malaysia. All illegal though …

  4. Ditto, ditto and ditto. Offer legal alternatives and actually give a damn about consumer’s rights before labeling them pirates.

  5. KY responded:

    · Reply

    there’s an entire different argument on not calling it piracy as this dilutes the real meaning of piracy on high sea aka somalia cases

  6. Evan Fing responded:

    · Reply

    In the grand Malaysian tradition of curbing corruption and other crimes, just nab the victims and screw the root causes!

  7. Ben Israel responded:

    · Reply

    This is a difficult one. Yes, copying a DVD may not be theft. But, depriving the4 record labels and production companies from the income they should have received is probably theft. It’s also not feasible to make a direct comparison of prices to other countries. Britney Spears gets paid in USD not RM. It’s not her fault the RM is weak.

    It’s the same problem with games. If the game is selling for USD99 in the U.S., it ridiculous to think that it should be selling for RM99.

    Best way to combat this, is to offer alternative options, e.g. digital rentals. Or, work with publishers like Hulu or Xbox Live to make paid content available in Malaysia.

    Skin it how you like, piracy/copying will never be legal.

    Consumers still have the option of buying local goods/productions 😉 okay… maybe that’s pushing it

    • Hey Ben,

      I see your points. But there has to be a way around it. If people are unable to afford your material, there’s no point in you selling it. If you have to make less, then by all means. Most artistes make more money from concerts than they do on album sales anyway. Also, companies like Universal, who have come out with cheaper alternatives (still original but without the sleeves and frills) show that there is a way to get around this.

      That said, I like your idea for digital rentals. And yes, even making paid content available.

      My argument is not to make piracy/copying legal. I’m basically saying that to curb it, we need to look beyond just punishing and take more positive, but equally pro-active, steps – including the ones you suggested.

      And yes, totally pushing it on the last point. 😛 hehe

  8. David’s point +1. We need legal alternative before we can be label a bunch of pirates, or at least a way of renting them, a la NetFlix in the US. On a separate note, wish that we can download music via iTunes rather than have either buy the whole album or torrent them. To choose between the two, you will know which I will pick.

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