The Psychology of Movie and Music Piracy in the A/V Industry

Do you like being told what you can and cannot do? Do you like being told what you have to do? I think the answer to both questions for every human being on earth is, “No!”

This goes back to one of the oldest stories ever written. You know, the one about Adam and Eve and the apple tree. They were told they could have anything they wanted, except apples from that tree. So what happened? They ate an apple from that tree.

There is another story, more modern, but with the same outcome. A mother tells her child that he can play in the back yard and do whatever he wants. But, under no circumstances is he to put beans in his ears. An hour later, the mother is digging beans out of her child’s ears.

OK, let’s move to the point. Consumers of music and movies are told they are not supposed to copy the content because it is copyrighted. Well, how many of us have ever copied music from a CD? Probably 100%. It took an act of the US Congress to ensure the “Fair Use” policy such that we could copy CDs for archiving or playing the music in our cars. So, the music industry started adding a few cents to the price of blank tape because they assumed everyone would be copying their music. Well, that may have pulled in some cash for awhile, but no one is using tape anymore.

Then came the Internet, iPods, MP3s, and file sharing. No question, it is rampant in spite of lawsuits by the music industry designed simply to scare others into not doing that. Did it work? Not even the slightest bit. And increasing the revenue from blank CDs won’t work because we are not using them. We put our music on our hard drives.

Apple, leading the way as it always does, worked out the iTunes platform where you pay roughly a buck to download single tracks of the music you want. Apple and the music industry are making some real money here.

For movies on video tape, they tried adding copy protection that resulted in video that jumped all over the screen and was unwatchable. Then came DVD and they really got nervous. Why? Because the quality of the movie on disc was a lot better than it was on tape, but also, because it was digital. This meant that a perfect copy could be made.
So, copy protection scheme after scheme was introduced. The movie industry touted that each one would prevent copying of their assets. And, each scheme was broken.

Then, oh no, high definition DVDs – HD DVD and Blu-ray – entered the boxing arena. Now, Hollywood was really panicking. The quality was (is) very close to the original camera negative and still a digital file from which a perfect copy could be made.

So, the AACS (Advance Access Content System) put tremendous effort into copy protection schemes that could be a part of each high definition disc. They came out with successive schemes, and one after the other, they were broken.

Copying movies is still, and has been from the beginning, a routine thing.

Blu-ray has its own schemes, the latest one being BD+. It was thought that this copy protection protocol would be good for about 10 years. Well, it was broken by the time the second BD+ Blu-ray movie disc was showing up on the Blockbuster shelves a couple of months ago.

With the release of copy protection schemes, in many cases, you have to download the latest software for your player, so the new discs will play. In the meantime, people who want to pirate the movies are copying away, with no difficulties at all.

So, what is the problem here? Basically, it is the A/V industry wanting to tell consumers what they can and cannot do, and the consumers – not liking to be told what they can and cannot do – are doing it . . . perhaps in part just because they want to put those beans in their ears when mommy said they couldn’t do that.

The movie industry is stubborn. They don’t want to lose one penny to the copy gang. Of course, they have the right to feel that way. The music and movies are their property. But, in the process of trying to keep that penny, they are spending millions of dollars that eventually go to waste, make the 10% of people who copy movies they haven’t paid for even more determined to make those copies, and inconvenience the 90% of consumers who just want to watch their movies, and who don’t have any intention of acquiring something that doesn’t belong to them.

The bottom line on this is that the movie industry is never going to win this war. They will always lose. There are millions of computer geeks out there, and some of them are going to be able to break every copy protection scheme that Hollywood comes up with. Every one of them.

Unless Hollywood comes to grip with the fact that they have lost this war, and will continue to lose, they will not be able to get on with business.

Things will get worse unless they wake up. Internet downloading is getting faster. There are URLs where that 10% can go and download full movies in high definition that are essentially the HD DVD and Blu-ray discs on-line. Someone gets the disc, often before it is released to the public, and uploads it to these sites.

Companies like Slysoft sell software (AnyDVD) that lets you rip HD DVDs, Blu-ray, and NTSC DVDs to your hard drive. Copy protection is broken and the discs rip without issues. They set up out of the jurisdiction of US and European copyright laws so no one can touch them. The AACS has declared the Slysoft programs public enemy number 1. Well, it’s not the public’s enemy. It’s theirs. But, it doesn’t have to be.

Other websites out of the copyright laws’ reach will undoubtedly set up shop too for helping consumers get what they want when they are told they can’t have it. Maybe an HD software player. Maybe a separate operating system for media servers.

The remedy is to stop trying to prevent anyone from copying their movies, because some people are going to continue to do that no matter what. Spend the money that would be used to make more copyright schemes on prosecuting major pirating groups. It’s not worth it to chase down individuals. Focus on the 90% of consumers who are willing to pay for their movies. The 10% will get their copies whether you spend millions trying to stop them or not. So, don’t spend the millions.

Within five years, we probably won’t be getting any music or movies on discs. We will be downloading everything to media servers, which are starting to explode in sales numbers. So, the industry needs to focus on delivering content – movies and music – via the Internet, to those servers. In the beginning, this could simply be our satellite or cable boxes with TiVo or whatever recording software is available.

Netflix is already starting to do this. Blockbuster should work out a distribution deal with Hollywood to let us download full HD movies for $2.99 – or whatever cost – for playback one time. When the movie finishes playing, it is automatically deleted from the hard drive. For $14.99 you can keep the movie on your server and play it whenever you want. The server would need to be configured as RAID, because no backup copies would be allowed, and it would take up too much space anyway (about 30 GB for a high definition movie).

Since downloading a 30 GB movie takes quite some time, we would need to decide on which movie we want to watch a day ahead. You choose your movie, click “Rent” or “Purchase” and it downloads while you sleep, available the next day or evening for viewing.

The movies on demand platform probably would not work, because it would take a lot of servers delivering the movie in a viewable stream when perhaps a million people were trying to see it at the same time. Downloading to your satellite box or server during the night would let it come in at varying speed until the file is completely downloaded.

Think of how much production costs could be saved this way. No disc manufacturing expenses. If the file has an error, it could be corrected at the download source just like any software bug. Promotional material could be on the distributor’s website for downloading and printing on the consumer’s inkjet.

If the movie industry can set aside its paranoia about losing a few cents, it might make a lot more dollars. And, that 10% might even drop to a lower number because they are not being told what they are not allowed to do.

Keep in mind that several musician groups are now going direct to the consumer, offering their CDs for download, bypassing distributors. One even offers the music for free, and you only pay what you think the tracks are worth. Low cost high definition digital video cameras are now available that have 24p output and which are perfectly capable of being used to make commercial motion pictures on shoestring budgets. I have no doubt that the movies from Indie companies that make small budget movies will be offering them for download in high definition, perhaps 30 GB in length (2 hours of high def video with 5.1 surround sound) in a pay-per-download format. The trailers will be there on-line just like any movie. You can burn it to disc or just watch it from your media server. No fancy-dancy copy protection schemes that might make the movie unplayable on your equipment.

Speaking of that, I recently rented the Blu-ray high def movie Home of the Brave from Blockbuster. It has the latest Blu-ray copy protection scheme, called BD+. I put it in my Sony BDP-S1 Blu-ray player and got the error message, “Cannot Play Disc”. Now the only reason I knew about BD+ was seeing it discussed on forums and that these new discs would require an update of the encryption key on Blu-ray players. So, I downloaded the latest driver for this player from Sony, but I also needed some software that would burn an “ISO image” onto a DVD. The update files could not just be copied onto a DVD and put in the player. Since my CD/DVD burning program did not have a menu selection for burning an ISO image, I had to get something else, and I ended up with “Magic ISO”.

After downloading the Sony update and extracting the files to another directory where the ISO image was created during the extraction process, I opened Magic ISO and burned the image to a DVD. Then I placed it in the Sony player and the software was updated. I put Home of the Brave back in the player, and it started to play, so I removed it and set it aside for the next evening when I planned to watch the movie.

Unfortunately, that next evening when my wife and I sat down to watch the film, another error came on the screen. It said, “Wrong Region Code.” So, the movie now wouldn’t play. It did have the right region code – I got it from Blockbuster, and it had started to play the previous evening – and I had paid for the rental.

So, I ended up putting it in a new media server that Sandy Bird and I had constructed a few weeks before. It had a Pioneer Blu-ray BD-ROM drive, and I downloaded that encryption-breaking software so I could watch this %#@* movie that I had paid for. It played perfectly using the media server and associated software.

Here is another amusing anecdote: I saw an ad for 3-D movies being the next big thing and that if anyone tried to pirate them by photographing them on the movie screen at a theater, the resulting copy would not be marketable. The 3-D works by having the stereo images shown with polarized light, each image being polarized at opposing angles (it takes two projectors to do this). The audience wears polarized glasses, with each lens at the opposing angle so the left eye sees one image and the right eye sees the other image. So, indeed, if you photographed the movie screen with a video camera, you would end up with the two images on top of one another, and you would not be able to separate them. But, I think the pirates are already preparing to put a polarizing filter on their camera lens and simply turn it so only one of the images is seen and recorded. And, if they use two video cameras, with polarizing filters at opposing angles, they can record two tapes, one for each of the two images and end up with the movie pirated in full 3-D.

OK Industry, are you getting the message? Pirating is simple. Stop wasting your money trying to roadblock that 10%. Spend it on making great products for us, the 90%.

Now, I don’t plan to copy and keep any movies that I have not purchased. But, I certainly plan to do whatever it takes to watch movies that I am entitled to watch, having rented the discs or purchased them. If that means having overseas software that breaks encryption, then that is what I will do, because I am entitled to watch movies I have paid for, and I intend to watch them.

But, suppose I didn’t know anything about the new Sony BD+ encryption and I didn’t have a media server with software that got around all these encryption problems that were preventing me from viewing a movie I was entitled to view. Suppose I was just a family guy with a home theater that had been installed for me and was sitting down to watch this Blu-ray disc with my wife. Suppose I didn’t work with computers and the Internet a lot. I would see the error message, curse a few words, and take the disc back to Blockbuster for a replacement. I would get home and the replacement disc would still not play. At Blockbuster, the cashier might not know about the new BD+ copy protection scheme either. We all might just conclude the player was defective.

Meanwhile, everyone using de-encryption programs like AnyDVD would be watching that same movie just fine. And here I am, a legitimate paying movie customer, and I can’t watch the movie I paid for.

Is something wrong with this picture? Do the powers that be in the movie industry realize they are committing suicide with these failed attempts to absolutely protect their media from anyone having unauthorized access, at the expense of paying customers?

I could not find anything on the Sony website about BD+, but there is plenty of info on other websites if you Google the term. Sony should just send the update DVD to everyone who purchases a Blu-ray player automatically rather than assume all consumers will just check their website when Blu-ray discs won’t play. The consumer should be told up front that the update contains new copy protection info that must be installed. Yes, it would cost them a dollar or so to send out the mailers. But that is better than the tens of thousands of potentially angry Sony customers who, in a fit of temper, might throw out their Blu-ray player and just watch high def movies on network television.

Of course, I did not receive anything from Toshiba about the HD DVD software update for my HD DVD player either. But, I have not had any problems with HD DVD discs (yet).

I want to say that high definition products are great, and the companies making them, such as Sony and Toshiba, are fine organizations. But, both camps (Blu-ray and HD DVD) are taking a big risk with all of these issues surrounding the new high definition disc formats that have not exactly taken the consumer electronics world by storm to begin with.

If you want us to buy your players and your movies, then stop making things so difficult.