Online Piracy: Why aren't there more boycotts?

Those who advocate in favour of online piracy often talk about “punishing” content holders into doing their bidding. If that’s the case, why don’t the pirates actively boycott that content instead?
There’s no one single “solution” for piracy, and I’m all too well aware that the arguments can get massively circular incredibly rapidly. Here, I’ll save you some time and rip through a few of them. “It’s not piracy, because nobody loses anything”, “They never would have purchased a copy anyway”, “They’ve already made plenty of money, and I couldn’t afford it”, “They’re asking an unfair price for it”, “they never adapt to new models”, and so on, and so forth. It’s been argued in the Internet’s many echo chambers for years now, and shows no signs of slowing down.
I’m not going to debate those points – knock yourself out if you must – but a thought that’s been rattling around in my head for some time keeps resurfacing.
If those who pirate are so fussed about the way that the big studios operate – and it’s nearly always the big studios that they “target”, although works from smaller bodies can and do get pirated on wide scales – then why do they persist with tactics that not only reiterate to the studios that their content has value (in the sense that people want to watch it), but also more or less forces them into the kinds of exclusive deals that the pirates rail so very hard against in the first place?

Let’s take Game Of Thrones, because it’s current right now and it’s nearly always the poster child for all sorts of piracy arguments. While the first four episodes leaked a little early, it’s certainly true that individual episodes hit torrent records every time they go up. As I’m writing this, episode six has yet to appear on the torrenting web as far as I can see, but a cursory check finds more than 20,000 connections to a torrent offering episode five, which aired a week ago. For the record, no, I didn’t connect and download to see if it was legitimate, but let’s argue for the sake of it that it was.
HBO angered a lot of people when it signed an exclusivity deal with Foxtel a few years back, putting an end to other legitimate avenues of access, such as next-day iTunes or Google Play purchases. That, for the record, was my preferred way of viewing Game Of Thrones, but those days are gone, and with them, it’s fair to suggest, have gone a number of folks who now torrent the episodes instead.
Episodes often end up with download numbers in the easy hundreds of thousands, possibly higher. That’s a lot of folk essentially saying to HBO “Yes, we do want this content, but we’re nicking it”. That, to HBO, signals that the property has value. You can argue about the relative quality of the current season – I think it’s showing itself a little tired, frankly – but there’s clearly still demand.
At the same time, however, those are all “potential customers” who are instead downloading it for nothing. It’s hard to compete with “free” when you’ve got the expenses of millions of dollars per episode to pay, so what’s the logical position for HBO to take?
That would be to sign contracts with those who are willing to pay, namely Foxtel. Which, sadly, puts us right back into the same position we were already in, except that HBO’s certain that it should charge a premium for the show, because, hey, lots of people clearly do want to watch it. They know they won’t entirely stop the pirates – some folk will always want something for nothing in parasitical fashion – but they’re still keen on staying in business.
Which is why the boycott question keeps springing to mind.
If, instead of hundreds of thousands of people torrenting a show, hundreds of thousands boycotted it and made it perfectly clear that they were doing so on the grounds of access and pricing, wouldn’t that send a rather clear and pertinent signal to HBO (or, insert-name-of-whatever-you’ve-pirated-here) that their current business model wasn’t one favoured by consumers?
Right now, pirating content just makes it more likely that content will be locked up in exclusive deals while rights holders chase what they can make, pointing to wider popularity. Make the content less popular – but make it explicitly clear why this is so – and you could, perhaps, force some actual change.
That’s the thought that rattles around my head, anyway.
Somehow, I doubt it’d be a popular one, because it’d involve pirates having to miss out on something that they want in the short term. All too often, that’s really the central premise behind a lot of this kind of activity. What do you think?

Author: Alex

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

4 thoughts on “Online Piracy: Why aren't there more boycotts?

  1. There are plenty of older movies available legally online that have low current demand.
    Yet the studios are still expecting people to pay $10-15 to buy a digital copy of a film they already made millions from over 30-50 years of cinema box office, VHS and DVD sales.
    You can often buy the DVD, or even Blu-ray, for the same price or less.
    Digital has none of the packaging, shipping or storage costs of DVDs, yet the same or higher price is charged.

  2. That was my point.
    Your article claimed a lower demand created by boycotting would entice studios to be more realistic with pricing.
    I pointed out there’s a ton of lower demand titles, that the studios have already made a fortune from, and yet the prices for digital are still no better than hard copy.
    Yes, you may as well buy the DVD.

    1. For digital yeah, I think we agree; there’s some serious issues with pricing for older titles. Returns have been made (or in some cases, not, but that’s the risk of business and the interesting craft of Hollywood accounting for you) on those titles, and in physical copy form, they’re much cheaper (and better value – you can resell a DVD).

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