Having written in quite a sarcastic manner on the issue of ‘Piracy’, it is time now to focus on the next aspect of the issue, ‘Anti-Piracy’. For the purpose of this piece and for easier understanding of the article, it is divided into three portions.
3) Anti-Piracy Measures.
Pirates: To fully understand the necessity of any anti-piracy measures, we must first understand the root cause of all these, the pirate. Many people have defined the term in many ways, specially, the ‘industry’ people seem to have an ever-increasing definition of it. I shall however try to demystify the whole concept by presenting what I believe constitutes atleast 99.5% of the pirate population. I believe that these ‘pirates’ can be classified in two very broad categories, those who make money from it, and those who don’t. That seems the broadest possible categorisation, considering the sub-categories under it.
Let us first consider those who make money from it. These are people who have seen a potential business opportunity in a market where there is no physical scarcity, but an artificial inflation of prices by an industry following God alone knows what pricing structure in a self-created monopoly. They are mainly two kinds, the manufacturers and the retailers. Usually in this kind of business, there is a general absence of more middlemen in order to keep the overall cost low. The manufacturers are the guys who hire a few pros, and get the cover design and other material replicated, often even compressing multiple titles onto one disc. In the case of books, those who scan and replicate the entire material and sometimes also create their own jacket designs. They are probably the only ones in the chain who hire technical help in the process. Next come the retailers, people who simply distribute whatever the manufacturer provides, they are in effect the customer-front of the entire operation, ones who directly interact with the end-user. They have little or rather no need for technical help, all they need is to get the goods moving off the shelves, as quickly and quietly as possible.
Then come the kind, who don’t make any money from it. Usually the end-user and their associates. This constitutes a vast majority(more than 90%) of the pirate population. They can be further classified into two kinds, ones who redistribute what they have, and ones that don’t. Usually there is hardly any clear demarcation between the two. Most people usually belong to the first category, because there is always the chance that somebody wants something that they have, that somebody has something in ‘exchange’. Exchange is usually the primary reason for people to shift from the second category to the first. With the availability of cheap replication media, namely discs and flash drives, there is hardly any need for advanced technical knowledge to perform these distributions among them.
However there is an alternate categorisation I would like to propose, though I am sure certain groups of people wouldn’t agree with me. It is regarding the nature of criminality concerned and the awareness of it. I believe the two kinds of people concerned are those that know piracy is illegal and those that don’t. I guess I can already feel a number of readers laughing at this, but frankly I have met quite a number, and believe the actual figures may range in the crores, these people don’t even know of the term ‘piracy’ and are not even aware that the actions they are performing are criminal and may earn them lengthy prison terms. If anybody in the industry was to launch the ‘mother of all crackdowns’ then I would only pity these people the most among the lot, considering the law in force at present. Please note however that this does not mean that I either accept the law as fair or just, or that I have any kind of respect for such an unfair law.
Reasons: Obviously this part of the article is where I know the least, and every reader could possibly think of one more new reason than I can mention. So whatever I say here is probably only what I believe are the main reasons, and are probably not by any measure a representative sample of the actual reasons. The two main reasons I would point out to right away are Ability and Cost. I believe the that primary reason for piracy’s existence is the ‘Ability’, or in simpler words the simplicity with which replication can be done. The wide availability of replication devices often made available by those very members of the ‘industry’ is what enables this to be the number one reason for piracy. Copying material has become as simple as plucking an apple, anyway in most cases if you wait long enough the apple will anyway fall on it own. A lot of times it has been proved by many of the industry measures that things that are harder to replicate are less pirated by end-users, initially atleast. That way a lot of the end-users are dissuaded from pirating it, because of the level of complexity involved.
The next major reason for piracy is ‘Cost’. Most people are dissuaded form buying the original because of what they perceive as too high a cost. Meaning it doesn’t satisfy their expectations of the value they perceive they will derive from it. Most people specially regarding computer software believe it to be too much of an investment almost equal if not more to the hardware cost itself. So THEY BELIEVE that it isn’t worth paying that much to the original maker, not when somebody else can provide the same quality at a much cheaper price. You see, after all they are living in a competitive economy, or atleast that’s what their Government will have them believe. Although there are many more reasons they are usually derivatives of the above two to a large extent, like for example willingness to pay but inability with the current financial position, and so on.
Anti-Piracy Measures: This is the one topic that makes me laugh to my heart’s content. It refers to the measures the ‘Industry’ takes to ‘protect’/’enforce’ what they supposedly call their ‘rights’. These take many forms and many shapes, rather than me giving you a general lay of the land, it would be better to leave that to those more qualified. Copy Protection is the term the industry chose to prevent people(read mostly end-users who don’t make money from it) from rapidly distributing copies of their ‘copyRIGHTED’ property. And the kind of methods they use are beyond my usually self-constrained vocabulary to describe. Readers can check out this link for the magnitude of the collusion that occurs even behind the backs of those who legally pay for it. Being the conspiracy theorist that I am, I would say even the anti-virus companies were “paid-off” to shut their collective mouths about the matter. All that is not the actual story, the real story begins when I point out that some hacker found a way to beat this whole system, one that must have cost Sony upwards of nearly $100 million(including the recalls I suppose), by simply marking a particular area of the disc with a permanent marker! So much for Copy-Protection’.
The most laughable part of this entire story is the ‘time, money and effort’ that these companies invest into that wild-goose chase(oh did I offend somebody, i meant the quest for that Holy Grail) called ‘perfect copy protection’ mechanism. I fail to understand why these companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars to invent such a system, because even theoretically there can be no such system that can be economically implemented. Not with any amount of specialised tools they might claim to utilise.
The only way to prevent most of the possible ‘casual copyers’ is through a combination oh hardware AND software, something that the ‘payers’ would vehemently object to. You can’t expect somebody who wants a music CD to also buy your player that is specially configured to protect YOUR interest, by making the consumer throw AWAY their player which was perfectly fine in the first place(oh dear me, how could it be perfect when it didn’t enforce your rights). It is like expecting a customer who wants a new saddle for his horse, to also buy a horse from you, because you only want your saddles to be used on horses to be sold by you. It can be done, as Apple has proved, with their OS, by purposely making it run only on hardware that they sell, effectively forcing a hardware/software combo on the consumer, and look at how much market share they occupy. The industry obviously recognises this, and hence never tries to enforce such a combination on the consumer. However, why they spend those hundreds of millions of dollars per year, on copy-protection measures is beyond my limited mind.
I don’t understand why they think those 100 or 200 hundred people who are ‘hired’ and ‘work for money’, and only seek to get out to home the moment their 9 hours or whatever the stipulated time on the job is finished, can design a ‘system’ (that thousands of people who work day and night as a challenge, free of cost with only one objective of beating that ‘system’), that cannot be beaten. I fail to see the logic of investing those millions on a system designed by a handful, which will surely be worked upon my thousands if not millions to see who has the upper hand. So far I fail to find one area where the industry has gained, and I mean gained respectably good lead on the competition for quite a period of time(some years). if anyone from the industry or their lackeys are reading this, I request you to point me one such example, and I would be glad to accept that probably hackers haven’t concentrated hard enough on it.
For that matter I would like to point one of the most ingenious methods being secretly implemented online, to curb the menace of piracy on many video/audio hosting sites. Allow me to present the hope of all those YouTube clones out there, AudibleMagic. For those uninitiated to the technology world, it might seem like a ideal solution you could sell to a Texas ranger(I know one bright enough to buy it, he currently live in the FFFFFF House), claiming it could prevent his cattle from being unauthorisedly replicated, after all many believe cloning is unethical apart from being illegal.
Anyway my personal feelings aside, the concept they proposed can be simply explained as a method where the content-owners(read ‘Industry’) presented the Host service with a ‘fingerprint’ of all their content(meaning a kind of identification device, for example audio is in the form of a wave, so a method of saving that wave shape information in a fingerprint file, or for example video is in the form of frames, so a method of saving the frame information in a fingerprint file), and the host has the responsibility to scan every file before it is uploaded and compare it with the fingerprint database, if anything matches, it is to be taken down. In the meantime, the ‘industry’ has been given a free hand to examine existing content already hosted, and ‘claim’ their content which will then be taken down.
To the casual observer, it sounds like the death knell of all those free album videos/movies they used to see online courtesy of Google & Co..However it took me all of five minutes to devise a way to beat the ‘system’. I can challenge anyone in the industry it will probably take somebody who knew programming with my help, only one single day, to even write an application to take advantage of this crack. Anyway, the point I wanted to make is that if an amateur theoretical hacker like me can crack something that sites like Soapbox and Youtube are paying millions of Dollars for, it definitely proves two things, firstly, those who are more professionally into it than me, can definitely do much much better, and secondly, the industry is really being run by ‘imbeciles’ who don’t seem to even know how to burn money properly.
It would be nice to simply end the whole topic saying “don’t try such stupid things as stopping the pirates, it is impossible”. However there are a couple of more things I would like to draw your attention to. Firstly, an age-old idiom, about “the pot calling the kettle black”. Readers might find this link of interest, about one of the pioneers of ‘Copy-Protection‘ in the ‘industry’.
Having said that, the last thing I wanted to say in this piece, is those who have been waiting for that supposedly ‘magical’ solution for all this mess. Your wait just got extended by a week. It is only next week that I will be posting my version of the solution. So have a long week ahead.