Media Piracy in Emerging Economies and Satirical Licenses

The Social Science Research Council recently released a study titled ‘Media Piracy in Emerging Economies’, an independent, comparative study of media piracy and enforcement, with a focus on the social benefits of media piracy in different developing countries.

The study is commendable for stressing on the aspects of affordability, development, access and pricing – issues that are often found wanting in the rhetoric of participants in most piracy debates, who reiterate the issues of lost sales, stricter enforcement and criminal sanctions. In essence, the report provides ‘the other view’, one that is much desired in such increasingly polarised debates on piracy. The report itself has received much attention and acclaim from the likes of William Patry (Google’s Senior Counsel), Mike Masnick (Techdirt) and Michael Geist (IP Professor from Canada who has extensively campaigned against the ACTA).

What is most interesting about the report however, is the subtle satire that has been resorted to by means of the license created to acquire and view the report. The authors have created an aptly titled license – the “Consumer dilemma license” which creates different paths to acquire the report. An IP address geolocator is used to determine the location of the user and consequently sends visitors from high income countries to an $8 paywall when they download the report; all other addresses get free access. There is a separate ‘commercial reader’ license that costs $2000 if the report is acquired for any commercial use by any copyright profiting business. Thus, users from high-income ares such as the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, Israel, Singapore, and several of the Persian Gulf States are required to pay $8 while those from developing countries can acquire the report for free.

While the license has unsurprisingly generated some criticism and controversy, the irony seems lost on most critics. The entire purpose of the license is to mock the pricing strategies of big media houses, and, to borrow from an old saying, ‘give them a taste of their own medicine’. Just as users from some countries are forced to pirate for lack of an affordable alternative, piracy will be the only means to acquire the report in case the report’s pricing appears restrictive. The authors of the report themselves are outspoken in presenting it as an option, so a claim for hypocrisy cannot be made either. All in all, the report, while using hard empirical data to arrive at some significant conclusions, also succeeds in making an important point, albeit in an unconventional manner.
The report is available here and can be downloaded for free.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.