According to the recently-published 2008 Digital Entertainment Study (PDF file) by Entertainment Media Research, the lack of choices and alternatives contributes more to piracy than than the fact that bootlegged wares come free or cheap.
At least 70% of respondents in the UK study says that legal sites don’t offer as much downloads than their illegal (or doubtfully legal) counterparts. One-third of the respondents have admitted to have knowingly downloaded software and media illegally one time or another. As cited by TorrentFreak:
This claim, published in the 2008 Digital Entertainment Survey (pdf), is only reiterating what has been said many times before – that trying to promote the artificial scarcity is what is fueling piracy.
In total, 70% of those who admitted to piracy agreed that “legal sites just don’t have the range of illegal ones” (try looking for Beatles tracks) whilst almost as many said they would pay for downloads, if what they wanted was available. This is probably also one of the main reasons why half of the BitTorrent downloads are TV-shows.
For most of the respondents, it didn’t matter if a piece of software or media is free or paid-for, but they will choose according to ease of download and availability. In simpler terms, people opt to download copyrighted material via Torrent or through warez sites because these are more easily available there than through the legal channels.
But why are some software and media unavailable through the legit sites? This may be for varying reasons. For instance, the above-mentioned case of difficulty in finding legal Beatles downloads could be brought about by the fact that the Beatles are not listed in Apple Co.‘s (the computer/media company) iTunes store because of long-standing legal issues with Apple Corps (the music label).
In some cases, geographic restrictions prevent users from accessing or purchasing from legal online retailers. Where I come from, I cannot make iTunes store purchases without some hack or tweak that makes iTunes think I’m from the US (or any other place with access).
Or it can simply be a case of timing. Not all TV shows have online releases that are close to the actual air date. Popular TV series, for one, are usually released via DVD a few months after the end of a season. If one misses an episode, then should he/she have to wait for a rerun or a legal DVD after a year? Most popular shows are uploaded on YouTube or seeded via BitTorrent as soon as the actual airing is recorded.
So perhaps this could be a message to producers of media. Much of the Internet-using generation comprises individuals who what their stuff right here, right now. So whether it’s free, or whether it would cost a nominal amount (as long as it’s not highway robbery), they will choose to pass the path of least resistance.