View web pirates as competitors, not just enemies

TV companies, film studios and record labels should spend less time fighting those engaged in piracy and more time competing with them, a leading anti-piracy expert has said.

Dr David Price told technology law podcast OUT-LAW Radio that many people turn to piracy because officially-sanctioned songs or TV programmes are of poor quality, arrive late or come with restrictions that make them hard to access.

Price is the head of piracy intelligence at Envisional, a company which monitors piracy for content producers.

"There have to be legitimate alternatives, and not just that but they have to be really good legitimate alternatives," he said. "You've got to offer as good a user experience legitimately as people can get through piracy. We can't just offer something that is so restricted that people aren't going to bother."

Price said that many users of piracy services would happily switch to legitimate ones but are attracted by the more usable, more readily-available pirated services.

"Once you get involved in downloading things illegitimately the user experience is so good it's compelling," he said. "You really get high quality content, there are so many advantages to doing it over what you can get legitimately in a wide range of countries."

Companies should learn from pirates, said Price, and embrace some of the methods of distribution they use. He said that Norwegian broadcaster NRK achieved impressive results when it seeded peer-to-peer networks with legitimate copies of one of its hit programmes.

"Because [people] were coming to the network, the network's whole traffic to the website went up. People were downloading other shows from them, people were watching other things from them and there was a big effect from simply offering that good quality content," said Price.

Companies would not have to give up on revenue to compete with pirates, Price said. They could earn money through advertising.

"It's not necessarily about paying. Something like [legal online TV service] Hulu is funded by advertising. You don't have to pay to use Hulu; almost all the major television networks' content is available on Hulu, or if it's not available on Hulu it's available on their own website," he said.

A large number of the users of pirated content could easily be converted by making material more easily and quickly accessible, said Price, but he admitted that there would always be people who used pirated content and made it available.

They should not be targeted individually, he said, but sites which make it easier for users to gain access to pirated material should be the subject of legal action, he said.

"We have always advised against targeting individuals, I've never seen a value in going after those people, it comes off as vindictive, it comes off as mean," he said. "But on the other side I think there is a great value in taking action against the large facilitators."