Consumption: Digital Piracy & the Rise of Paid Media
The internet has always been a free market, allowing for major profitability. We see this in the rise of streaming services these past couple years; most consumers pay for multiple music and video streaming services. The popularity of subscription-based models is causing many corporations to join in, and not only in media. Sure, iTunes has become Apple Music, but things like Notability and even dating apps such as Tinder are now performing based on subscriptions. It seems these days all companies are using this model. But this can become a major issue, particularly with media: what happens when you want to watch a movie that is only on a service you don’t already have? The consumer is unlikely to pay a(nother) subscription fee solely for one movie or show. This is where digital piracy comes in. Why sign up for any paid service if a simple search on 123movies or soap2day can get it to you for free?
Realistically, as media gets more expensive, piracy will become more abundant and common. It already is on the rise, always higher than the year before. However, among unexperienced pirates, it can seem scary and become inaccessible. Questions often arise: Will I get arrested? Do I need a VPN? I know friends who often avoid pirating not only for fear that they will get a virus, but also because they cannot watch a movie without reliable captions. Websites are riddled with ads, often inappropriate or fearmongering. Navigating pirating websites can be similar to walking through a minefield where if you click the wrong thing you risk “bricking” your device.
I envision an internet in the future where these scary questions and issues no longer create a barrier between the consumer and pirating, or rather consuming free media whether it becomes legal or not. Where free media—likely via piracy—is accessible to even the most inexperienced of internet pirates. Piracy has already become easier than ever as it has mostly switched to streaming based rather than file-sharing, and I only imagine it becoming easier and more well known among particularly young people as internet literacy rises. The internet has always been about making things easy for the consumer; profit must take the backseat in this case. If it doesn’t, at some point it will become impossible to navigate millions of paid services that only few elites could afford. The internet would become an unusable sea of paid services, too intimidating for everyday users. We are already getting there in some sense—only upper-middle to upper class households can realistically afford two or more streaming services for movies and television.
With piracy more widespread and extremely common in the future, corporations will lose more money than they ever have before. We’re looking at billions of dollars. This is unfortunate, I admit, but is needed to make internet media more accessible to users, who are arguably more important to the internet than the corporations that have begun to run it. Realistically, as they already lose millions from digital piracy, this doesn’t have to be a major issue of profit. Corporations will still have control over majority of the way media influences culture. In this sense, the corporations will still be able to generally control the representations, productions, and identities their medias hold, but rather softer regulation to allow for more consumption is what is required. All media produced follow this circuit of culture, in which the media is simultaneously being produced, represented (or advertised), forming identities, being regulated, and consumed. This is how culture continuously feeds off each other. I’m not suggesting corporations must change all these methods of controlling culture via media—but rather allow for more consumption at a lower cost. Because realistically, if they don’t, the users of the internet will just take it themselves, because if I can? You can too.