It seems like more and more people lately are coming to the same conclusion as Gabe Newell of Valve about piracy as a service problem. Paul Tassi has an op-ed on Forbes in which he points out that no matter what Hollywood and other media industries do, they will never manage to stomp out piracy through legislation. It’s already illegal in most of the world, but that hasn’t slowed it down much.

Right now, Tassi writes, pirates have a big advantage over commercial interests in how easy it is to download and view their media. The editorial mostly applies to movies (download a movie off BitTorrent in ten minutes and it’s yours forever), but it would apply just as well to music or e-books (perhaps even more so for e-books, given how fast they download, and how much more you can do with them without DRM).

The primary problem movie studios have to realize is that everything they charge for is massively overpriced. The fact that movie ticket prices keep going up is astonishing. How can they possibly think charging $10-15 per ticket for a new feature is going to increase the amount of people coming to theaters rather than renting the movie later or downloading it online for free? Rather than lower prices, they double down, saying that gimmicks like 3D and IMAX are worth adding another $5 to your ticket.

They have failed to realize that people want things to be easy. Physically going to the movies is hard enough without paying way too much for the privilege. Going to a store and buying a DVD instead of renting or downloading is generally an impractical thing to do unless you A) really love a particular movie or B) are an avid film buff or collector.

(A lot of these arguments could apply equally well to e-books; just substitute $15 e-book for $15 movie ticket.)

Tassi points to a reddit post proposing a concept for how Hollywood could end piracy: create an application like Steam that would sell movies digitally for less than blu-ray cost, include blu-ray features, and offer some of the benefits Steam uses such as periodical sales and the ability to gift titles to other people. It would also, the redditor suggested, ditch DRM (though even Steam itself does not do that).

In some ways this is similar to what Netflix does, Tassi notes, but Netflix doesn’t offer ownership and has a very limited selection. But what studios want is to sell you a $30 blu-ray with a locked-down “Ultraviolet” title that will play (if you’re lucky) on just a few devices.

Please, how about I’ll give you $10 for the new Harry Potter, and I’ll watch it whenever and wherever I want? This is a negotiation where at any time, your customer could just go download the damn movie for free, and they’re doing you a favor by even considering picking it up legally. And you have the nerve to think it’s on YOUR terms? That’s not how negotiation works. It may not be right, but it’s reality, and they have to face it.

A “Steam for movies” would be impractical for a number of reasons, Tassi writes, and it would undoubtedly kill off Redbox and Netflix and hurt stores that rely on DVD and Blu-Ray sales. But physical media are on the way out anyway, and at least it would show the movie industry was trying to appeal to consumers rather than pouring millions of dollars into passing draconian laws that will only make them angry.

I found the editorial to be interesting and thought-provoking (though, granted, that’s probably in part because I’m inclined to agree with it), but what I find more interesting is how many people have been speaking up lately saying these things.  How many of them is it going to take to get Hollywood (and, for that matter, New York) to listen?

(Found via Slashdot.)


  1. “A “Steam for movies” would be impractical for a number of reasons, Tassi writes, and it would undoubtedly kill off Redbox and Netflix and hurt stores that rely on DVD and Blu-Ray sales.”

    Really? Cause I have three such services available to me today. Zune Marketplace, Vudu and Cinema Now. I’m sure there are others as well, but those are the ones I’m familiar with. They provide on demand rentals and purchases. They are great services and I use them both for renting and purchasing movies on my Xbox and PCs. So obviously this is not impractical, nor does it seem likely to kill off Netflix or Redbox anytime soon. This isn’t a radical new idea, it’s been around and available for consumption for a while now.

  2. Having read some of the comments on Reddit a couple of other services I knew about but forgot to include: Amazon and iTunes. I’ll say it again, this isn’t new, it’s not revolutionary, it doesn’t effect Netflix or Reddit, etc. DRM is generally still an issue here, but as you point out, Steam still uses DRM as well. In the meantime, for many of us these services are far better than purchasing DVDs or even renting from Redbox or Netflix (if Netflix doesn’t have the movie for streaming). When renting the instant availability without the need to leave the living room trumps all other options. When buying, the fact that I don’t have to deal with storage concerns or have to leave the living room trumps DVD/Bluray purchases.

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