Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Piracy Could Make a Comeback in the Streaming Age

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

Look, I’m not saying piracy is good, or even justifiable. I’m noting that the pop-culture industry is once again re-creating the conditions that allowed piracy to flourish in the first place. Piracy declined because the legal options for consuming media became easier than the illegal options. iTunes aggregated all of music within one storefront and eventually sold it DRM-free, and it made digital film rentals cheap. Before it started making its own stuff, Netflix aggregated thousands of films and shows and made them watchable at the push of a button (between 2010 and 2018, the number of films available on Netflix dropped 40 percent). Now the legal options for media consumption are once again becoming overly burdensome in both a financial and logistical sense. Even paying for a cable subscription won’t fix it. The best centralized place to find media is, once again, through piracy.

For a while there, it seemed like media companies had figured out what worked. They kept making music and movies and TV shows, and tech companies distributed them in a customer-friendly way. People loved it and paid for media again. But now that studios want to cut out the middle man — and since many of them are owned by ISPs who have cut out that middle man, too — they’re going to shoot themselves in the foot. They’re once again trying to control and restrict the whole stack, and it will have predictable results.

Update: I published too quickly here. Feldman doesn’t provide any evidence that piracy is coming back, only that it likely will due to the increasingly isolationist distribution policies of media companies. I have updated my headline accordingly.

One more thought that I had after publishing is that the media environment of 2019 is vastly different than that of 2009 in large part because of YouTube. Making videos for YouTube is, far more now than then, a legitimate career choice, with bigger budgets and audiences, and more credibility, than ever before. While people are unlikely to pirate public YouTube shows, channels that operate paid memberships with exclusive videos — whether through YouTube itself or a third-party platform like Patreon — might now be pirated as well.