Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Rethinking Piracy

Have you ever noticed how, for all the pa-pogi posturing of Edu Manzano and the Optical Media Board, it's still embarrassingly easy to grab a P60 compilation of the latest Hollywood hits? Just step over to your nearest sidewalk or downscale bazaar and talk to your nearest dibidi suki.

To call it intellectual piracy is fair enough. Producers, cast, and crew that rightfully ought to be rewarded for their work are robbed of the royalties due to them. Extend the argument further and you get a dire prognostication. Piracy makes it unpalatable for investors to put their money into the entertainment, hence the industry would collapse.

It all sounds logical but it's hardly true, is it? The situation bears it out. Hollywood still churns out movie after movie and local theaters continue to operate. The movie industry persists despite all that piracy. Just why is that?

For one thing, despite the easy availability of bootleg videos, people do still prefer to catch a movie on the big screen...if it's worthwhile. Moviemakers have learned to create "event" films. You can watch a blurry copy -- complete with bobbing heads and applauding audience -- on your itsy-bitsy 14-inch screen, or you can watch it on all its digital glory on the big screen. Enough people prefer the latter, it seems.

When it comes to theater releases, piracy, in fact, seems to have brought us two upsides: first, we now get the movies in local theaters on the day of their worldwide release; and second, there seems to a lot less drivel coming out of Hollywood nowadays.

Simultaneous worldwide release is a pre-emptive action on the part of the producers and distributors. Hold back on the release and they risk losing more box office sales. Release it at the same time and they can at least ride on the movie's hype and on the enthusiasm of the fans.

If nothing else, piracy has at least squeezed out much of the grade-C and -D charnel that Hollywood used to crank out. You know, the kind that stars Lorenzo Lamas and Michael Dudikoff (Who? Ex-aaactly....) Dibidi connoisseurs know what movies like these are worth -- watch over beer, then throw away. Producers now at least know to keep their money on bankable blockbuster bets.

Producers and distributors also do have new channels by which they recoup their costs, like cable TV and legitimate video outlets.

Part of what you pay for in your cable subscription goes to the likes of HBO and Cinemax, which in turn goes back to the movie distributor. Surprisingly, the omnipresent dibidi has done little to curb the channel subscriptions. Dibidi regulars most likely have subscriptions, too; and the funny thing is cable may actually be showing the same programs that the corner vendor is selling. And since the value of the program is in the viewing rather in the possession of the media, might it not be said that the movie has already been paid for? (Of course, cable theft is another matter....)

What about legitimate video outlets? Isn't piracy hurting them? If it is, how do we explain that so many of them still remain in operation, even thrive in the face of bootleg competition?

In recent years, legitimate outlets have had to drop prices to compete with bootleggers. Prices are in fact somewhat higher than compared with the corner dibidi market, but at least they're much more reasonable and much less inflated; and for that we have the dibidi to thank.

So why do legitimate video outlets continue to operate? Their selections are somewhat better organized so it's easier to search for a title, something a semi-mobile dibidi vendor can't be bothered with. With legitimate vendors, there's at least a higher guarantee of quality, something not always possible with the dibidi. There are other factors, too: packaging, location, and perhaps even the occasional conscience buyers. All these combined add up to value that customers may be willing to pay for.

Piracy exists because a desired product is artificially scarce or its price is kept artificially high. Ultimately, piracy is an untenable enterprise because of its illegitimate nature; it's really only a matter of time before the economics catch up with it. If legitimate channels like movie theaters, subscription media, and video stores continue to operate in the face of blatant piracy, then doesn't that point the way to which the economics need to be addressed?

In the meantime, though, we can all enjoy the comedy value that Edu Manzano and the OMB provide.