SOPA Isn’t the Solution, But Can We At Least Agree There’s A Problem?

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) currently being debated in Congress is quite clearly a massive overreach. It gives the government the potential authority to effectively shut down major, largely legitimate web sites for hosting a minuscule amount of pirated content. It could threaten the very existence of sites that host a wide range of used-submitted content, and could easily be used by the government to stifle Americans’ free speech rights. The bill’s potential effects on the very structure of the Internet make it much too broad a cudgel for a problem like online piracy.

Yet online piracy is still a problem. And despite the myriad flaws with the legislation, I have to say I can kind of see where the Entertainment Software Association industry trade group is coming from when they say they support the law.

Game publishers are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to battling piracy. If they do nothing, they are essentially ceding a good portion of their sales to pirates who have no intention of ever paying them a dime. If they institute a simple DRM scheme to try and protect their games, some gamers will get annoyed and others will get to work breaking the protection within days or even hours, making it worthless. If they institute a strong DRM scheme, such as Ubisoft’s recent efforts to require a persistent Internet connection to constantly confirm the validity of a played game, it ends up negatively impacting a good many legitimate customers and also cause the esteemed, self-appointed “Internet Representatives of Gaming” to go into a collective hissy fit so large that it ends up costing more sales than it saves.

(This is the point where a large group of angry commenters will try to argue that allowing piracy doesn’t actually hurt sales, and that plenty of successful games don’t have DRM, and that pirated copies can actually serve as a promotional tool for a good game, and blah blah blah, to which I say: bull. While it’s true that not every single illegal game download represents a “lost sale” for the publisher, you can’t tell me that, in a world where illegal software copying was 100% impossible, that many, if not most, would-be pirates would instead dig down and spend money on the games they want.)

This is the untenable situation that game publishers in 2012 find themselves in. The law is on their side — software piracy is still illegal — and morality is on their side — game makers deserve compensation for the games they create — but the diffuse, decentralized and international nature of the Internet makes it nearly impossible to defend this moral and legal high ground with any meaningful weapons.

And so you get massive overreach like SOPA, which threatens to do the equivalent of killing a cockroach infestation by giving copyright holders the power to burn the entire house down. Which is not to say that the proponents of SOPA really want to burn the entire house down. As the ESA pointed out in a recent statement, their real target is:

Rogue websites – those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy – [which] restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs.

Again, SOPA’s most obvious flaw is that it gives copyright holders and the government the power not just to go after those rogue websites, but overwhelmingly legitimate websites that just happen to fall afoul of some copyright claim. But that overreach is obscuring the fact that these rogue, piracy-exclusive web sites are a bad thing for the industry and for gamers.

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18 Comments on SOPA Isn’t the Solution, But Can We At Least Agree There’s A Problem?

Jeremy

On January 6, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Trying to stop piracy is like trying to stop theft at a brick and mortar store. The only way to do it is to ruin things for everyone.

avrus96

On January 6, 2012 at 5:52 pm

So you’re arguing right now that you’d prefer to live in a world without piracy? Awww, I completely agree with you! ;-)
/patronization

Warez groups aren’t the problem.
Torrents aren’t the problem.
Tracking sites aren’t the problem.
DRM isn’t the problem.
Human nature certainly isn’t a problem.
Society is the problem; we are taught from an early age to WANT EVERYTHING. If a new game comes out that is better than the current game, what stops you from obtaining it? Strangers’ opinions? A poor demo? Your friends? Family? Amount of free time you have? Your financial situation? The game’s DRM? The law?

Any time we are prevented from buying a game, it’s because of these or other factors. If none do, then by obtaining the game we have fulfilled our duty as consumers and the game’s advertising department can pat themselves on the back. The real crime would be to want a game but choose not to obtain it – with nothing stopping you – because that goes against ‘Merican values.

Luther

On January 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I agree with kyle ( are you new to posting here by the way?, not familiar with you’re name being used here )

Pirating has gotten way over abused, when you start to see game developers making absolutely amazing games getting owned in the pirate scene it forces you to take a step back. I’m not for the bill that sopa is trying to pass but I think one of the reasons its so blatantly over the top is a normal strategy you often see, ask for far more then you know you would get and then slowly work your way down.

Do I think it’ll pass? no I don’t, but later on I’m sure it will once it becomes more reasonable.

I look forward to the day when chan sites are gone and pirate sites are nuked. There will be a underground world when that happens like in the old days but the impact ill be big enough that balance will be restored.

If you can’t afford to buy the game then wait tell its on sale or find a new hobby.

PS – There is nothing wrong with wanting everything, the problem is the feeling like you deserve everything like entitlements, some Americans believe because there American they deserve health care and big houses they can’t afford but then reality catch’s up to you later on unless you are obama then I guess you drag everyone down with you. Thumbs up if you love being owned by the Chinese… thanks obama for making it worse…

lol

On January 7, 2012 at 2:49 pm

nobody cared until video games started beating sales for movies and music

everyone thought video games were a joke, now look at it.

something should of been done a long time ago (Napster days) long ago.

Anarca

On January 7, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Unfortunately, copying is not stealing. Hence copyright is just pure old plain corporatism and there’s nothing righteous about it. It’s just certain interests using your government to fine you or worse.

Todd

On January 7, 2012 at 5:18 pm

No, piracy IS NOT a problem. If it was, the industries we’ve been told we’re destroying via piracy would cease to exist. Yet, here they still are, telling us how piracy is bad. Horse . You know what I think this all boils down to? it’s not about the artists or lost sales or any of that crap. What it really is, in my opinion, is that as long as mediums that allow piracy exist, mediums that allow unknown, non-RIAA/MPAA sponsored media will also exist, which puts the big corporations at a disadvantage. What it boils down to in my opinion is that they don’t want equal promotion or equal access. They want THEIR artists to be known and no others because that’s hwo they make their money. The more people that make and sell music on the internet without dealing with stupid agencies, the more people will realize that they don’t need the agencies, and the more business said agencies lose. Then they’d have to find a real job instead of making money off of someone else’s success.

Luther

On January 7, 2012 at 8:50 pm

@ Anarca – It’s not the government that is fining you but the industry that you are stealing or borrowing copy righted materials from.

@ Todd – http://www.vg247.com/2011/11/29/cd-projekt-estimates-the-witcher-2-has-been-pirated-over-4-5-million-times/

Key points of that article is the ratio of every one legal purchase of that game there is 5 people pirating it. Now the people that are buying the game are helping keep the company stay a float and keeping the banks happy from there business loans they most likely needed to pay for the production of that said game. Let’s see you put 5 years of time and effort into something awesome and get paid almost nothing in return and see how happy you are.

Look back at 2011 and read up on all the game developers that lost there jobs, I have never seen so many layoff’s happen in such a short time as in 2011.

Maybe you guys need to stop digging up bogus reasons trying to justify the abuse being done.

Robert

On January 7, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’m regularly surprised how willing folks at work are to pirate electronic media of all types. Usually I’ll talk about something, and they’ll casually say “yep, copied. It was OK. Beat it. Won’t buy it.” They’ve taken an “us vs. them” stance against publishers as much as devs. It starts with a stereotypical lack of respect for authority – don’t see the value in healthy record labels or publishers – but they aren’t able to see a line even between that and respect for devs. The distance between consumers and devs is getting shorter and shorter every day, and in many cases devs are publishing directly to consumers, and I think it’s easy for folks to direct their disrespect for authority straight at the devs…

Stewart

On January 8, 2012 at 11:04 pm

The whole need for anti piracy is really a shame. Torrents and acquiring a game without paying for it are useful tools. I regularly torrent a game before I buy it for one reason. Dishonest PC Spec requirements. Many games will claim their game takes low specs to run when you will only really pull off 10 fps in the game unless you shut off EVERY LAST PROCESS on your computer. Even stuff I would rather keep running such as Steam. Other times a company will claim their game requires very high specs to play, when a slower computer can play it just fine at the lowest settings.

My point is, when I “pirate” a game. I’m doing it expressly for the purpose of seeing if I can run it before buying it. The last game I did it with was the latest Dues Ex. I was happy to see that it ran quite well and proceeded to buy the game at the full price. Of course, games with demos remove the need for this entirely but many games seem to be choosing to avoid releasing demos for some reason.

Anyways, I know that many people aren’t going to purchase a game after pirating it because they aren’t honest. But in my case I could have easily blown several hundred dollars on games (I purchase roughly 10-15 games a year) and not even get to enjoy the games I purchased because my computer wasn’t fast enough. On the other hand, I would have never purchased a game like Dues Ex for fear of its high specs being too much for my poor machine. So in that case I actually purchased something I wouldn’t have.

I guess what I’m saying is that I personally need to be able to copy files in order to enjoy the media in one form or another period WITH a full intention of purchasing it if I can run it. So SOPA would put a serious halt on my gaming.

This whole post up to this point applies only to games of course, I never do this with movies.

On the flip side I think pirating without paying for a game is one of the most disgusting habits of modern society. I have some friends which have bookcases full of thousands of stolen movies and games, and frankly it isn’t fair. I have thrown my hand at programming and have made some projects here in there (mind you they were nothing special) and can say that it is an incredibly difficult endeavor. A lot of people don’t realize that when you torrent or steal a game, you are stealing a lot more than music and in some cases movies. All games (good ones anyways) have not only high quality graphics that can encompass a team of graphics artists which resemble that of a movie, but they must also have physics engines which must be optimized to run on the average computer such as mine. On top of that, they need memorable music, interesting story, and some soul put into the game to really make it a best seller. So when someone torrents a game, they are stealing a very expensive and intricate item.

So what is my point in all of this? SOPA doesn’t consider the vast quantities of media out on the web and all the things people are using it for. Although I understand that my situation is a very tight niche which no bill can really seek to compromise for, I think that SOPA is too harsh all around the board. And if you REALLY want to get down to the hard reality of it. Many rogue sites are not hosted in the US but other countries, so SOPA would have no effect on them. In addition, even if you remove the ability to access the site with a URL, any serious pirate would record the IP address of their favorite rogue site before the bill takes effect and could access it even after SOPA would be fully enforced. It really is just a flawed bill all around but it does speak to the urgency that media conglomerates are going through to try and boost their profits to pay their workers and keep everyone happy.

Brandon J. Clark

On January 10, 2012 at 11:35 am

I used to pirate, but with Steam sales so low it really doesn’t make sense. Who gives a if you have to turn off all processes (time to upgrade, FYI) on a game you paid ~$5 for?

I too believe it has something to do with the medium. Programmers, Publishers, Artists, etc.: they all depend on a medium that is easily copied from/to. That’s THEIR choice. It’s like wanting to charge a house downstream for using water that is bottled up river.

If you want to secure your game only release it to secured kiosks, otherwise stfu and quit wasting dollars fighting it. In fact, USE IT!. Figure out a way to attach to it as part of your distribution network or something. Figure out a way to tax it, something!

Now that I think about it, this sounds all too familiar. War on Drugs, anyone?

Andrew J

On January 11, 2012 at 7:29 am

I think this article and some of the comments are looking at it the wrong way. As usual in this discussion, the easy instinct is to start moralizing. “Pirating is disgusting. It’s stealing.”

The more productive response is to look at what pirates are telling the industry. The message being sent is that the $60 up-front per-user license to play a game is not necessarily optimal. If you stop separating gamers into two categories (honest and dishonest), you’ll see that, in fact, pirates have allowed the market to reprice AAA video games.

While publishers insist on the $60 up-front per-user license model, the market has repriced this into something similar to a pay-wall model or maybe a bizarre F2P model. Instead of honest/dishonest users, you have paying/non-paying users.

It’s not at all that $60 is too much money for people to spend. The point is that different people put different value on a product being offered and usually aren’t willing to go above that. Some minority of people value all games at $60 up-front. Some minority of people value games at $0, no matter what. The majority are in-between, depending on the game being offered.

Am I suggesting that publishers change what they’re doing? Again, not necessarily. Publishers offer one major thing over pirated copies and that’s a feeling of “doing the right thing.” It may be the case that this has tremendous value and if publishers were to drop prices or institute some alternate payment scheme they would end up making less money. I don’t know — you’d need to do a study.

I do know that Steam regularly drops prices like a rock and revenue tends to go through the roof overall. Most people want to do the right thing and they’re willing to pay for that privilege. But, like the game itself, each person has their own price attached to doing the right thing and, for a lot of people, $60 up-front is too much.

Kandinsky

On January 11, 2012 at 8:19 am

Piracy is an inescapable part of capitalism. Whenever and wherever there exists a demand for a product that is not adequately filled piracy will emerge. Piracy is simply a reaction to unfilled demand. Period. Example, you charge $60 for a AAA game title that is in huge demand. A certain segment of potential consumers will pay and have their demand filled. Likewise a certain segment of potential consumers cannot or will not pay the market rate but still have demand. Enter piracy, cost is lowered and demand gets filled. Andrew J points out appropriately that the price of a game can be considered a barrier to entry for sales. When you make the barrier too high you get fewer paying customers but demand is unaffected, so more piracy. Steam regularly reverses that position by putting titles on sale… they lower the barrier of entry and suddenly there are now paying customers who were unwilling to pay at the previously higher rate… they lower the barrier and artificially create product demand. This is a well understood economic principle, it isn’t magic… what content producers dislike is the idea of lowering their profit margins. There is a sweet spot somewhere in the pricing range for every title at every point in its lifecycle that will generate maximal sales with minimal piracy… its just very unlikely that the sweet spot is also the maximal profit price which is more attractive to publishers.

James

On January 11, 2012 at 8:30 am

Wow, two considered opinions in a row that are based on economic principles as opposed to moral principles. I am shocked and pleased. On top of Andrew J and Kandinsky I just want to say that the US is trying to legislate their way out of a market failure (an invalid pricing model), which is not something that would work, even if the technological hurdle that is the internet weren’t in the way. The only thing that SOPA and ProIP could lead to is a clampdown on humans with little affect on any criminal activities anywhere, and with little to no revenue/profit boost to the media industries.

x.x

On January 11, 2012 at 9:43 am

Piracy is a problem?

Gabe Newell (Steam\Valve) and his 20M PAYING CUSTOMERS beg to differ.
Hell Valve even dared getting into the Russian market and they’re SUCCEEDING. So please drop the piracy is a problem excuse. There’s a SERVICE problem, not a piracy one.

Hollywood is making billionaire profits, the record industry is making billionaire profits as well… I honestly don’t see how piracy is destroying the industry… A downloaded file doesn’t necessarily translate in a lost sale, some times it actually helps divulge the product and it actually translates on a sale. Piracy is a non issue, the issue here is old men who know nothing and don’t want to know about the Internet who refuse to adapt to a new potential market.

Parallax Abstraction

On January 11, 2012 at 10:19 am

Yes, piracy is a problem. For all the excuses and rationalisations I’ve seen posted here, this comes down to one fundamental problem: Most of the people who pirate content are entitled idiots who think they deserve everything for free.

If you are actually downloading something to try it out or see if it runs on your PC (which I doubt is true in most cases but let’s assume it is) and you legitimately buy it after, you are not the problem. If you just see an opportunity to play something for free that someone has asked you to pay money for, you are no better than a common thief, you are simply cowardly hiding behind your monitor to steal money from people you wouldn’t if you had to do it in front of them.

DRM is stupid, suing fans is stupid but there is no reason that justifies pirating a game instead of just not playing it. This isn’t stealing a loaf of bread to feed your starving family, this is an entertainment product and if a product isn’t worth the price being asked of you for any number of reasons, then it’s also not worth you playing. You don’t get to have it both ways and not be akin to a thief.

Where do you people think AAA games are going to come from if this keeps up? Every publisher who isn’t Activision is losing money right now and costs are only going to increase in the next generation. Ever wonder why everyone who loses their job/studio in the AAA industry right now is writing iPhone and Facebook games? Because no one knows how to turn a profit in AAA anymore, in part because for every sale they make, half a dozen or more entitled twits are playing it for free. Clearly you’ve never had to spend 3 years of your life slaving to create something, only to lose your shirt on it because a bunch of people feel they deserve everything for free that they can take without having to look the creators in the eye. Think about that next time you go to pirate that new game you “deserve”.

Really, to articulate this point best, just watch this: http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/piracy

Andrew J

On January 11, 2012 at 11:55 am

Yes, Parallax Abstraction, you are on the moral high ground. Congratulations. Now, what are your suggestions for actually helping this industry that you yourself admit may no longer exist in the future?

saluk

On January 12, 2012 at 10:41 am

Parallax: I don’t think you quite understand how piracy works. A dirty pirate with entitlement issues who downloads a game for free would, in most cases, not be a paying customer under different circumstances. Neither you nor I can say what economic effect on any given company piracy has had, because there is no accurate measurement of which pirated downloads constitute theft.

For some titles, it may be that the demand is high enough that many of the downloads would have been converted to sales if punishment for piracy was more steep. However, titles with high demand generally have high sales, even in the face of piracy. The most downloaded movie of 2009 was also the movie that made the most money of 2009 (Avatar). In theory, piracy only limits the already exorbitant grosses of products which make money.

So yes, piracy is a problem, and morally unsound, however the actual effect it has is not to cause publishers to lose money and developers to lose jobs. The recent job and profit issues in the game industry have more to do with business types not accurately gauging demand (yes, people WILL keep buying the same guitar hero engine year after year), and other industry factors such as devaluing employees, and an obsessive focus on marketing.

If you truly want to analyze the economic impact of piracy, you can’t lump all pirates together. Downloading software you buy later when you like it, downloading software you would have bought if it had been offered at a reasonable price sooner, downloading software that you wouldn’t ever have bought, downloading software that is not offered in your region, and downloading software you would buy if there were stronger anti-piracy schemes, are all completely different things.

Note that when I say something like “downloading software that a pirate would never have bought”, it’s not like you could ask someone if they would have bought something and get an honest answer :) But in an objective sense, there are certainly titles that people download which they would never, under any circumstances, have paid money for.

If you are addicted to games, you want to play EVERYTHING. And if you are addicted to games, you probably don’t have much time for a job which would allow you to play everything. It’s chicken and egg there. Make piracy impossible, suddenly the addict can’t afford games. Now they get a better job so they can afford more games, but they are no longer addicted to games and still don’t buy any :) I used to pirate a ton of games. Then after I got a job, I bought a ton of games. I have bought something like 500 games in the last few years. I think I have bought more games in the last few years than I pirated in the years after high school. But how many have I played? Not that many. I’m probably going to go down to just buying a couple a year.

That’s me giving the industry on average the same amount of money when I stopped pirating as I was when I was pirating. Interesting. And I know from my friends that my story is not that unusual. Piracy does not have the economic impact industry types think it does, on average anyway (individual titles or jobs may have been hurt).

Dennis

On January 12, 2012 at 2:03 pm

“they are essentially ceding a good portion of their sales to
pirates who have no intention of ever paying them a dime”

HUH?

I mean, “HUH????”

If the pirates have no intention of ever spending money, then
money isn’t lost. Reality is, people have limited money to spend
on entertainment. If I buy a particular CD, I can’t afford that
new DVD. If I go to the movie theater, I’m not going to the
basketball/baseball/soccer/football/hockey game.

The industries aren’t in touch with reality. Remember a few
years ago when an RIAA spokesperson said the consumer had to
own separate copies of an album for each player owned? How about the companies that charge the same price whether you download or buy
the boxed software.

Bootlegging, where somebody sells copied
movies or music, eat into profits, but 8 year old Johnny
downloading a song doesn’t cost anything until they waste
the court’s time suing him.

I want the government to focus on manufacturing jobs for
AMERICANS, not sucking up to Japanese, German, French, Canadian,
and Arabian owned companies. I want the drug wars stopped. I
want to be able to afford medical care. Screw the RIAA, MPAA,
the ESA, the SPA and all their members.

America for Americans!