Monthly Archives: February 2015

Global Album Release Day Can Align Fans Against Piracy

Just as the music industry offered other creative sectors a glimpse into the future with its all-in approach to streaming media, the announcement of a standard worldwide release day for records is a forward-thinking acknowledgement of today’s digital marketplace.

Friday is the day selected for albums to be made available in any country, although in truth the important element here is less about the day of the week and more about the way releases work.

 

Different release dates around the world leave a space where demand in certain countries goes unfulfilled, even when supply is flowing in others. Pirates need no invitation to quickly step in and fill that void, leaving impatient fans with a moral choice to make. A global release day eliminates the temptation to piracy, while legal streaming services make it easy to access any album that has been officially released around the world.

Although the tradition of “New Music Tuesdays” in the U.S. is rooted in record-buying history, and Monday a major day for music stores in the UK and Europe, the reality is that the vast majority of music is now consumed online. Whether by digital downloads from stores like iTunes and Amazon, or streaming on-demand from the likes of Spotify and Rdio, international demand has been aligned by digital supply.

Fans now know what is out in other markets, and rather than fuel further demand for expensive import CDs as it has in the past, restricting availability across national borders now just pushes fans into the arms of piracy sites.

The move to a global album release day is, hopefully, another step on the road to beating pirates at their own game.

The only reason for a piracy site to exist is to satisfy the demand that legitimate channels have yet to fill. If all music is available online at the same time, easily accessible and synced up across devices, then piracy is pushed to the very margins of music consumption.

When fans get what they want, how they want it, there’s simply no reason to risk the malware and questionable quality that the illegal sites present.

 

Around the World, The Oscars Bring Out Piracy In All Its Forms

The Academy Awards is the crowning jewel in the movie industry’s celebration of creativity; the peak intersection of critical acclaim and mainstream recognition, if the winners haven’t already made waves with the masses.

Every year as the Oscars roll around, however, there’s also the shadow of piracy. As much as a win – or even a nomination – gives each film a boost on the international stage, it also prompts a spike in activity on sites notorious for their copyright infringement.

 

The phenomenon represents all that is wrong with the mentality of piracy, as well as showing copyright infringement in all of its forms around the world.

In the United States we’ve become used to the year’s piracy being communicated in terms of illegal downloads. Popular shows like Game of Thrones and Big Bang Theory inevitably top the list of TV shows, while the year’s biggest box office titles show up with the same reliable frequency. The same contemporary measure and methods apply to The Oscars, where American Sniper headed the list of most downloaded movie in the run up to the awards show. Best Picture winner Birdman can expect to soar up that list in the weeks to come.

Further afield, where connections are less reliable and online access may be limited, more tangible forms of piracy persist. 

A report in the Tico Times explains how Costa Rica sees illegal copies of all the Oscar nominees spread onto the streets and into stores as fever peaks for the awards ceremony. From Birdman to Boyhood, Selma to American Sniper, all of the titles that should be gaining revenue as well as recognition for their varied creative talents are brazenly sold as bootleg DVDs.

This occurs not just on the streets, but in stores alongside other legitimate merchandise, some even with discounts for buying in bulk, making piracy as habitual as running to the grocery store for milk and bread.

Back to the original point, and the study that revealed the Oscars spike in piracy rates confirms just how global is this concern. The research by Irdeto finds Academy Award nominees and winners prompting rises in illegal viewing in all corners of the globe, with the top ten offenders including Brazil,  India, Australia, South Korea and several European nations.

Rory O’Connor, VP of Services at Irdeto confirms: “Our data clearly shows that the rest of the world is paying attention to the Academy Awards and there is significant demand for new movies… leaving room for pirates to take advantage. ”

The challenge for creators and the movie industry is to beat the pirates at their own game, getting out in front of passionate movie fans around the world and reminding them that the best way to support even more creativity in future is to pay for the films they love and the music they enjoy.

Making titles available in good time and educating viewers about release schedules is an important part of this puzzle, as is the ability of viewers to make a moral decision that piracy is an act that only undermines the very thing that draws them to Oscar winners in the first place: a desire to create visual stories that excite the senses and compel repeat viewing.

 

 

A Glimmer of Hope in a Bleak Russian Music Market

Russia isn’t normally the first international location from which we expect positive news on copyright protection, so when it comes we’ll take it in almost any form.

Logo vkontakte.ru

Logo vkontakte.ru (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The positive in this instance is that the news involves VKontakte, the country’s largest social network and one that has come under substantial scrutiny from rights holders in other countries for its lax approach to preventing copyright infringement.

The negative is that the site is taking only the slightest steps towards rehabilitating its reputation, removing just one option that iPad and iPhone owners can use to access unlicensed content for free. The streaming function on the site allows any audio uploaded by users, including music that should be protected by copyright law, to be accessed across any device on which VKontakte is available.

Those Apple devices are now eliminated from that list, but it still leaves Android, Windows Phone, and any other computing device from which Russian citizens can log in to their main social network. That’s a lot of places they can still support pirated content, and not the most convincing move if VKontakte is trying to get in the good books of foreign rights holders.

The case itself is a microcosm of the wider piracy picture in Russia, where nods have been made to stricter copyright protection by the government but piracy remains a prominent activity.

As we reported late last year, the country made it onto the MPAA’s list of the world’s most notorious markets in terms of copyright infringement, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance has Russia blacklisted for similar reasons.

 

Vkontakte plays a large part in the country’s ongoing status as a rogue nation when it comes to piracy, providing a mainstream platform that presents content for free, without repercussions . If Facebook did the same thing in the U.S. it would be unthinkable, and we could only imagine the swift legal action that would bring a site of even that size to take swift action. To find a silver lining, though, we can at least say that VKontakte – and Russia as a whole – is slowly starting to move in the right direction.

Interestingly enough, the real motivation to become a legal player in a market that currently relies on piracy for its music and entertainment consumption, could lie just a fewborders to the west. In Scandinavia, the popularity of Spotify and other streaming services has coincided with a dramatic drop in piracy rates. Although it is early days for streaming, that success does seem to be slowly resonating in other markets around the world, pushing piracy to the sidelines in the wake of legal services that provide free and near-free access to unlimited music.

Flag of Russia

Flag of Russia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with Spotify eyeing the Russian market to the point of an eleventh hour decision to cancel its planned launch early this year, other services may see the potential to profit, even where piracy rules.

Spotify’s hesitance seems to be based on concerns for Russia’s economic stability and other regional concerns, but VKontakte already has stakes in that game and will play whether or not it looks to streaming music as a source of revenue.

Rumors abound that the company, owned by Mail Ru Group, has been in negotiations with major music labels in the U.S., which points to a plan rooted in more legitimate content distribution.

So even though the news is only lukewarm for the moment, the potential for legitimate streaming services to rush in and wash away piracy in one of the world’s most notorious markets for unlicensed content is much more encouraging.

Europe’s Safer Internet Day Casts a Broad Net Online

Yesterday marked the 11th annual Safer Internet Day, an initiative introduced by the European Commission back in 2004 to promote “a better Internet.”

Emphasizing more responsible use of online and mobile technology, especially among younger generations, the event enters its second decade in a significantly different tech world than existed at its inception. Faster connections and the rapid adoption of mobile devices means that far more people around the world are now connected and spending more time online than ever before.

Safer Internet Day

Against that unrelenting march of technology, the European Commission has continued to promote activities around SID and broaden the initiative’s appeal around the world.

 

A Broad Net for Online Safety

With its focus on young people and the way they interact with technology, the European Commission clearly sees early education as the most effective way to encourage better behavior online.

Covering everything from respect for others and understanding online dangers to malware and ID theft, the initiative quickly spread around the world thanks to activities like the SID blogathon and universal media interest in the subject. Even complex, constantly morphing challenges like illicit sites and the fraudulent tactics they use to make money fall within the remit of creating a better and safer Internet, though such issues will undoubtedly require more than isolated awareness programs to significantly reduce their threat.

Trustworthy Accountability Group logoCoincidentally, Safer Internet Day aligned with the announcement of a major initiative against malware and fraudulent online advertising in the United States.

The TAG program, entitled the Brand Integrity Program Against Piracy, takes aim at one of the major concerns for brand advertisers and content creators alike: the funding of sites that engage in copyright infringement  by advertising networks unable to control where their ad inventory ends up.

Although it might seem like the world’s biggest brands should have the resources to control exactly where their ads appear and, accordingly, which sites they support, the reality is that online advertising has been something of a crapshoot until now. Advertisers buy up space across broad networks that place their messages on a variety of sites, many perfectly legitimate but some with less honest business models. The latter often involves making content available without its creator’s approval, in a bid to attract users whose pageviews make the site money via the adverts.

Clearly, this is no good for either the brands, who want to maintain a trustworthy reputation, or the creators whose work is being taken as bait by such sites. Where Safer Internet Day intersects with this issue is the types of ads being displayed and the potential dangers that they can transmit. If it’s reputable brands being displayed by the rogue site, the user may feel more comfortable using it even though its content is fraudulently obtained. If that increased trust results in a click, not only does the site benefit from extra ad revenue, the user could easily be railroaded into downloading malware that damages their device, or adware that tracks their online activity for future ad delivery.

In either case, this is validation of piracy and privacy invasions by unintentional association. 

Even when household name brands aren’t involved, the content of the ads placed can be questionable, such as those that promote gambling or pornography, which clearly aligns with the European Commission’s goal to educate users about the dangers such sites pose.

Between the EC’s awareness drive and the U.S. ad industry’s new commitment to weed out , Safer Internet Day in 2015 becomes a rallying point for anyone seeking to improve the online experience of consumers and creators alike.

Has Norway Provided a Blueprint to Beat Piracy?

English: Map showing two of the common definit...

English: Map showing two of the common definitions of “Scandinavia”;  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scandinavia has been the leading light of streaming music services for many years, and now some believe it will provide the blueprint to beat music piracy for good. (Or at least make it a marginal issue.)

In the space of just five years, the number of Norwegians under 30 – the demographic most likely to engage in piracy – who admit to illegal file-sharing has dropped from 80% of respondents in 2009 to just 4 percent last year. These are levels that industry analysts say amounts to piracy being “virtually eliminated” in Norway.

The significant shift is inextricably linked to the rapid uptake of streaming services, which are now used by some 1.7 million Norwegians. The ease and convenience of platforms like Deezer and Spotify is credited with making illegal downloads a much less attractive activity, with similar stories seen across the border in Sweden (where Spotify first started).

Piracy in Scandinavia, it seems, is rapidly going out of style.

Of course there are various caveats to highlight, even against the backdrop of this overtly positive report.

Firstly, not everyone is inclined to tell the truth when faced with a survey. True, a large number of people were unafraid to admit to the practice back in 2009, but it’s also a long time to allow for a change in user attitudes, as well as behavior. A certain amount of the reduction might simply be that it’s less acceptable to admit to piracy in public now than it was five years ago. In the intervening period there have been major criminal cases against file-sharing sites like Megaupload, which was shut down by U.S. authorities in 2012, and more recently The Pirate Bay.

Such high-profile shutdowns could easily influence illegal downloaders to steer away from their bad habit or, at the very least, not admit that they do so when questioned by a stranger.

 

Another factor lies in the small sample size.

Norway has a population of only a little more than 5 million people, of which those under-30 translate to another small sub set. Although the target group is the most important to consider when it comes to online music consumption, the assumption that this relatively small group’s behavior would naturally extend to their counterparts in developed markets around the world is open to question.

Finally, the early results in other major markets don’t appear to stick to Norway’s blueprint. Even with a number of streaming music services now operating in the U.S. market, torrent activity remains a prime concern for anti-piracy groups, while file-sharing sites continue to see plenty of illegal content activity. The fact that most legitimate services have only been operating since 2011, and that North America is a much larger market, means that we must allow some additional room for the adoption rate to grow, but again the question mark remains over whether a majority of consumers will choose streaming as their music solution.

Even so, advocates of both streaming services and intellectual property protection will be hoping that the underlying expectation of the Norwegian model holds true for the rest of the world. If convenience really can kill piracy, the wheels are already in motion for Spotify and its peers to move major markets further down that road.