Letter to Lloyd Shepherd re pirate downloading

May 15, 2012

in Featured Articles, Letters, Opinion

I don’t have any images in this letter because I really wanted to post this cartoon, but it was insanely long. So you should just look at it there.

Hi Lloyd,

I read your article about the chap who tried to pirate your book with interest. As someone who downloads a lot of pirated stuff, I thought I would write to you and explain why.

Like other people have said, a lot of it is about trying out new products. I’m not willing to drop £8 on a film that I’ve never seen before, nor spend £9 or up on a book that I might not like. I find ebooks very ephemeral and I just won’t buy an ebook that costs above £3 – but I’ll happily download an electronic version (or a sample chapter from Amazon) and then make my decision about whether to buy the book from there. In the last twelve months I’ve bought about 15-20 physical books and pirated about 5-10. And is there also really a massive difference between the books I download from Project Gutenberg and a sixty year old book that went out of print but which is still just about generating cash?

When it comes to TV, I had a premium account on Megaupload before it went bust. But I watch primarily American TV shows that I would have to wait up to six to nine months to air on a television I don’t own. Torrents give me instant access to entire seasons I can watch over the course of a month. Buy the DVDs? I own enough crap, why would I buy more physical objects I have to physically unpack and select from when I can just open my downloads folder? I actually sold all my TV DVDs a few years back when I realised that they were gathering dust on my shelves because I was watching stuff that was already on my computer. I contribute virtually nothing financially to the television industry because they don’t give me any viable option to. I would happily pay within reason for a legal streaming service that gave me access to the same amount of television that Megaupload and its successors give me, but where is it? Hulu is US only. There’s a massive potential market right there of people who would pay the equivalent of a TV licence a year for instant and good access to TV shows that mean we don’t have to bounce around all the TV links databases hunting down streams that haven’t been taken down in between all the fake websites trying to load our computers with viruses.

I think that ultimately people pirate because that’s the terms on which they want to use content, or because they wouldn’t shell out for stuff anyway. I used to download a lot of music, then my computer exploded and I lost everything. Instead of redownloading it, I use Youtube and Grooveshark (used to use Spotify, but they had a poor selection) entirely legally. I don’t mind sitting through adverts (that aren’t rubbish). If I had to choose between buying an album, and not having access to most of the music I listen to, I just wouldn’t bother and listen to the radio instead. I think much of the angst of the music industry about “lost revenue” is guff, they’ve got millions of people like me who are ambivalent about music still discussing their artists with other people and promoting them on their behalf.

As my approach seems to be that of my friends, and we’re all in our 20s, I think a lot of piracy is going to drop off the radar as the entertainment industry finally gets a grip on the idea that maybe they should produce products that we want to buy instead of expecting us to fit their business model. I don’t know how much you know about blogging for money, but the entire blogging business model is largely based around providing lots of great quality content for free and then leveraging the fans you obtain from that work to buy optimum stuff. People like Darren Rowse make hundreds of thousands a year.

I think publishers and media companies should realise that a lot of piracy is like a lending library – people get out your work and check it out for free, and have no intention of paying for it. Maybe they don’t like your work, and put it back. Maybe they like it enough to get their own copy. And maybe they go, “meh”, hand it back, but then tell all their friends that they read it and what they thought of it. It means that a lot of bad stuff that used to make money anyway because people had to buy to see it won’t anymore. People have to up their game, and I think ultimately that is going to be a good thing. The original copyright laws only lasted five years, after all. Then you had to go make something else. Keeps creativity going.

Anyway, just thought I would let you have a more reasoned perspective than just “I want it, and I want it free, and I don’t care”.


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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Lloyd Shepherd May 15, 2012 at 6:26 pm

Hi Sarah – thanks for this, very interesting and huge amounts of food for thought. I’m going to ponder what you say, but wanted to push back on one thing. I saw the Oatmeal cartoon and thought it very fine, and I hear what you’re saying about wanting to access content on your own terms, but this ignores the fact that the content you want to access was paid for and made by somebody else. In return for paying for it and making it, they get to choose how it’s distributed. They may well make stupid decisions on that, but they also have to live in a world without global copyright, where different broadcasters offer different contracts for different windows of use. Without those contracts, the stuff wouldn’t get paid for.

This is infuriating to those, such as yourself, who possess the capability to download this stuff instantly. But I would ask you to look at this from the other side. Just because you *can* do this doesn’t mean you have a *right* to do this. Just because you *want* this stuff right now doesn’t mean you have a *right* to have it right now. And if enough people download the stuff for free, immediately, then broadcasters will stop paying big chunks of change to have the stuff made. At the end of that line is the cancellation of Games of Thrones. Pure and simple. End of story.

Now, somewhere somehow this will get figured out. But there will never be a world (I don’t believe) where a piece of stuff as great as Game of Thrones will be available INSTANTLY to whoever wants it. Someone is going to have to wait. And if they’re not prepared to wait and compensate the programme maker in some way, the programme won’t get made.

A rapid, ill-thought-out response to your thoughtful post, but wanted to say something.


sarah May 17, 2012 at 9:32 pm

Hiya Lloyd,

cheers for stopping by to give your thoughts. I appreciate what you’re saying but in a market economy, it’s not producers who get to decide what people should or should not want to buy, it’s the consumers. Even Apple with all its obsessive DRM and monopolies can’t stop its customers from jailbreaking its products to do with what they want.

The fact is that people *are* making money, right now, off being able to download Game of Thrones instantly – but it’s megavideo, putlocker, filebox, etc. If it’s copyright laws that are holding back the ability of HBO to use the business model that the pirates are using, clearly we should get rid of the copyright laws! The viable business models are already out there, Channel 4 must have an analyst somewhere that told them they would make more money if they put every episode of the IT Crowd available for free on 4OD with advertising than if they just forced everyone to buy the DVD boxset. South Park also does the same thing, and gets round copyright restrictions by having different websites for different countries with the same content, and MTV even admitted that though they were doing it in response to piracy, they had noticed that viewership had gone up and ratings remained stable. People were still engaging in their previous behaviour, but were willing to give the legitimate owners their attention rather than the pirates. Monty Python put up high quality HD clips of their shows in response to pirates and told everyone to buy their stuff to say thanks.

And had I not watched Game of Thrones (on the recommendation of my mother, who also pirated it), I would not be in the middle of buying every ebook in the series – a series I had never heard of prior and most likely would never have seen if I had needed to buy a television and watch it at the same time every week. So George R. R. Martin has already made more money from me than he would ever have done if Putlocker didn’t exist.

So, there’s already alternative ways of raising revenue being explored that match what consumers want rather than what the MPAA wants them to want. I think this is a good thing, diversity of income streams is an important thing for television especially given the increasing number of channels dividing viewer loyalty. What the television industry should do is stop harrassing people for watching pirated shows and recognise that that part of their audience would never watch their show anyway, and part are very happy to cough up for their viewing pleasure but not to change their consumption habits, and to focus on monetising the latter. As I said in my original letter to you, I am very happy to pay my bit to the geniuses who write Game of Thrones (which I’m buying the books of), and Glee (which I am planning to see the concert of), and Saw (pirated the first three films, subsequently saw the next four in the cinema having been hooked) – but I’m not willing to change my life to jump the hoops of an industry that has failed to keep up with technological progress. And we know that a lot of people feel the same way because when Apple first decided to deal with music piracy by launching iTunes, it gained millions of users, and now we even have sales charts measuring legal internet downloads. I imagine that eventually television will catch up in the same way.



Lloyd May 18, 2012 at 8:54 am

Hi Sarah – yes, your points are very fair and very wise. But there is a problem here. You cite the example of Channel 4 – well, I worked there, and I know a bit about it, and I can tell you that if the *only* channel for The IT Crowd was an ad-supported window on a website, that programme would *never* have got made. It can be funded because there is a terrestrial broadcast window, with millions of viewers, and therefore hundreds of thousands of pounds in ad revenue. Without that there’s no way the show would have got made. Same with Monty Python. And same, cubed, with Game of Thrones. It’s fine to exploit content you’ve made like this when you can’t exploit it any other way, but it’s like an upside down pyramid. The big bucks are to be made in an exclusive window near the top (pay TV, terrestrial advertising). Ad-supported web stuff is really at the bottom of the pile; it’s like mopping up the last bits of money from a thing you’ve already exploited in lots of other places.

Game of Thrones is SUPER expensive. It’s got a brilliant cast, brilliant writers, brilliant source material, amazing production values. If everyone took the same view as you (I want it now, I’m gonna get it, even if I have to steal it), the chances to exploit those brilliant assets would ebb away. It’s fine to say “not everyone is like me,” and they’re not, but that’s shaky ground logically. And I believe you when you say you’d buy it if you could. But I go back to what I said in my first comment: if HBO decide not to make it available to you when you want it, they have their reasons. Those reasons might be dumb, but they’re the people who made the financial risk, and they get to make dumb decisions. The consumer might be in charge, but not all consumers are the same, and a great many of them are still consuming this stuff in more traditional ways.

Good discussion, this! Thanks for putting up with me.


CrunchyGreenHerbiage May 19, 2012 at 12:16 am

Tell me Lloyd, if someone has no way of obtaining and paying for Game of Thrones legally, what exactly has HBO lost if they watch it anyway without paying for it?

Answer, nothing at all, because that consumer never would have been a paying customer, HBO obviously do not want their money since the series was not made available to them. On the other hand, they may well make extra money in the end, because when the DVD finally comes out, the person who has already watched it may well want to watch it again and buy the series, even to the point of importing it from another country where it has been released.

I ended up with all the Buffy and Angel Series like that, as well as some delightful Japanese anime that simply wasn’t available in the UK. I have also bought a lot of CDs by artists I had never heard of thanks to random MP3s being flung around by my friends and recommendations from people I have talked to online.

However, since the rage expressed by the MPAA and RIAA, the British PRS, and their ilk, involved suing their customers, and all the other rubbish they are trying to inflict on the consumer, such as wrecking the internet, (even though I have never been anywhere near The Pirate Bay, I am absolutely outraged that corporate interests have resulted in internet censorship and sites being blocked at source by my ISP – not that it would restrict me in the slightest if I really wanted to download illicit content, the blocking approach is laughable in its naivety), I have stopped bothering with any music at all by artists from the main record companies, and now either listen to the radio or stream early music from Magnatune, where at least the artists get paid a reasonable amount of my cash for their efforts. I will also buy tracks directly from the artist, such as Jonathan Coulton where available.

The TV exploded and I didn’t replace it – the rubbish on TV nowadays isn’t worth the license fee, and even a top notch TV series like Game of Thrones is not worth a year’s cable subscription to Sky in order to get Sky Atlantic (sorry). (Honestly now, would YOU pay hundreds of pounds a year to watch ONE TV show?), I just don’t watch TV any more, unless there is something specifically I want to see on catch up and I have found I don’t miss it. If GoT wasn’t available ‘elsewhere’ I simply wouldn’t watch it, end of story. In fact I wouldn’t have heard of it at all, since it was only an American friend telling me about it, and watching his copy, that introduced me to it in the first place. I also now have most of the books, legally bought.

As for films, well, I used to download them, but when, about 7 years and two computers ago now, I realised that I had 42 films sitting on my hard drive that I hadn’t bothered to watch, and that some of them had been on the TV where I hadn’t watched them either, I came to the conclusion that films just weren’t that compelling any more. If I want to see a film, I go to the cinema, and even then it has to be something very special because cinema is stupidly expensive. Frequently I’ve wanted to see a film because of the hype, Avatar being one, thought about the price and then not bothered, it is quickly forgotten. In the case of the last Harry Potter film, that was special, I tried to pre-buy a ticket online (not queueing up with thousands of other people only to find they’ve run out of seats, as has happened to me before) at both Odeon and Cineworld, and the websites tried to add £10 to the ticket as a booking fee. Result? I didn’t go. Similarly with HP and the Half Blood Prince, which I still haven’t seen. Make it difficult for the consumer and they will either pirate, or (more likely), they won’t bother with your product at all as there are plenty of alternatives to occupy their time.

You see, despite the claims of the studios (the same studios and organisations who have ruined DVDs by putting crazy numbers of piracy warnings and adverts for other products at the start and making them unskippable, thus making the legitimate product experience significantly inferior to the pirated version), people only have a certain amount of income to spend on entertainment, once it’s spent, it’s spent, and no amount of download prevention is going to change that. Most of what is downloaded is not a lost sale, indeed, it may well be an advertising opportunity, since someone who can’t afford your product could then go on to rave about it to someone else who may have some of their entertainment budget left and so purchase a cd/dvd/cinema ticket that they might not otherwise have done.

As an example of what happens where piracy has been successfully prevented, look at Germany, where Sony and Universal have been raging against GEMA, the German equivalent of the BPRS which has been particularly effective at takedown notices on You Tube. Those takedowns have cost the companies an absolute fortune both in lost advertising revenue on the videos, and loss of free advertising for their musicians and products, now THAT is a real, demonstrable, loss to both company and artist, but hey, it hides the work and forces people to buy it if they want to listen to it or watch it, yes? No, actually, people don’t buy stuff they know nothing about.

First we had ‘Home taping is killing music’ with a suitable little skull and crossbones cassette tape logo, then the VHS recorder was going to kill the movie industry, neither of which came even close to being true, perhaps if the studios and their organisations would stop fighting their potential customers and worked with them to provide content in ways their customers want, feel is of good value for their money, and in a fair way, they would make more sales, more profits, and everyone would be happy.


sarah May 23, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I think Crunchy Green Herbiage has said everything I was going to. But I would add that you are right, advertising on online streaming is the last part of an inverse pyramid, but making programmes available that way doesn’t threaten broadcasting rights, in my view. People who watch television programmes in one way will continue to do so, and others who watch it a different way will do so. Streaming Game of Thrones online will catch the people who are using putlocker to watch it now, not the folks with HBO or the people who watch it in autumn when it comes to the BBC.

I think, essentially, all content creators need to see the people who are pirating their work in two groups: people who would pay for it if they could, and people who won’t. The best approach I think is to provide the first group with ways of paying, and to treat the second as part of the advertising budget. The guy who wanted to just read your book might not have wanted to pay for it, but he might well have gone off and recommended it to someone who would. Game of Thrones, after all, has one avid fan in the form of me enthusiastically telling everyone to watch it as a direct result of someone else pirating the work. And I know at least one person who’s going to watch it on the BBC as a result, others buying the books etc. You can’t buy that kind of publicity, but you can let me off not waiting six months to wait for terrestrial. Similarly with books, although I think people should just buy the sample chapters from Amazon, quite frankly, they are free.

They used to say that VHS would kill television and cassette tapes would kill music and DVDs would kill the film industry, and internet downloads would destroy everything – and in every case the industry has turned round and co-opted the pirates’ own skills and made money out of it in the end. I am reasonably confident the same will happen here.


Jeff W May 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm

So you think the world owes you something and you can steal whatever you like? Big deal.

Where are the articles that matter to the regular readers of your Blog ?

Today is International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Where is your article on this ?

Where is the latest installment for the PR / Clear Hate Campaign ?


sarah May 17, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I had an exam today. I have had coursework all semester. Blogging is not my priority in my final year of university.

I have written about Peter Reynolds and CLEAR when there is something going on that people want to know about. There has been nothing of note since the leadership election, and to be sure, I don’t think there will be now that NORML UK has been established and everyone’s attention is turning to that, dimming the likelihood of further controversy. There’s nothing worth reporting.

I’d have thought you would be pleased, not demanding I write more on the subject. Your previous comment was held for moderation by the system, but as you have decided to post on the same topic twice in two days, I shall delete your previous one.



when does game of thrones start July 26, 2012 at 3:48 am


Edit: You will note that I have removed your website. That’s because in order to watch Game of Thrones, you require people to sign up to special offers. This makes you evil. Go away.


homesecuritycoloradosprings.webs.com May 16, 2013 at 11:16 am

Hi there just wanted to give you a brief heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading properly. I’m not sure why but I think its a linking issue.
I’ve tried it in two different internet browsers and both show the same outcome.


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