4 times a customer, 4 times a criminal

March 16th, 2014 by Ivo

I don't mind paying for content, at all. This should be very clear from this post. I buy and rent movies, visit concerts and cinema, buy music through iTunes, have a Netflix subscription.

However, despite being a paying customer for a lot of content providers, I also steal from them.

Here are my confessions.

Hollywood, I steal from you.

I liked Inception, a lot (one of the best movies since The Matrix). I've seen it in cinema. I then downloaded it illegally to watch it 2 more times before it became available for purchase. I did genuinely wanted to own it so when it became available I ordered it on Blu-Ray (despite already having the download). I don't really like plastic disks and rather have everything digitally, so the fact that it came bundled with a digital copy made sense. But then it turned out I couldn't use the digital copy: it required windows. Neither my media center, nor my Apple TV, nor any of our laptops at home run windows. I sent an email asking for a mac version but never even got a reply.

So I watched the Blu-ray disk. Once. It took ages to load and it featured un-skippable FBI warnings treating me as a potential criminal.

I ended up going back to my illegal download of Inception which is stored in my digital library. Quality is lower than the blu-ray, but at least I can watch it conveniently when and wherever I can and it doesn't treat me like a criminal.

I kept the Inception disk and the receipt, so I don't feel a criminal so much.

It could be so simple. Make movies available widely, easily and quickly and I pay you for it.

TV Industry, I steal from you.

I was a big fan of Breaking Bad. The season 5 finale was the most anticipated season finale of a series ever, and September 29, 2013 will be remembered as the days where everybody in the world was talking about Walter White. It was great TV. It was great to be able to be a part of it and experience it with everybody.

Except, I had to steal to be a part of it. I would have paid to watch Season 5 when it came out. I would probably have paid significantly. But there just wasn't a way to do it. I live in The Netherlands. The first time the second half of season 5 will be on TV here, is in a few months (they start with the season this March). Netflix added the second half just yesterday (March 14, 2014). The blu-ray release was in february.

That is a window of 5 months where the only way to be part of the phenomenon is to steal. I feel bad for having to do that, but I really wanted to see it and you gave me no ways to do that legally. I'm glad that it's on Netflix now so I don't feel bad about it anymore.

(Look at HBO for how to do this right: as of season 3 their Game of Thrones is available in Europe just 1 day after the US release. I have an HBO subscription because of it and haven't downloaded Game of Thrones illegally since).

It could be so simple. Make tv shows available widely, easily and quickly and I pay you for it.

Subcription services, I steal from you.

I just mentioned how I only watch Game of Thrones legally.

But I'm still stealing from HBO, too. I recently learned that True Detective is worth watching. It wasn't on TV anymore so I decided to watch it on HBO GO. This was a lousy experience. First I had to log in through my Cable provider's single sign-on interface every single day, because the HBO GO app is unable to remember that I'm a paying customer. Second, the interface is so horrible that I have trouble finding the next episode of the series I want to watch. (Where Netflix remembers everything and conveniently offers me the next episode in a few clicks, HBO GO keeps returning me to episodes I've already seen and requiring too many actions to navigate to the next episode). After watching the third episode of True Detective via airplay and having the app crash twice (without remembering the play position!), I decided to download True Detective from usenet and watch it from my media box. Of course I'm keeping my HBO subscription because I don't really want to be a criminal.

It could be so simple. Make your apps simple, intuitive and focus on ease of use for your existing users (instead of shiny parts for new users) and I pay you for it.

Publishing industry, I steal from you.

Leoni owns a Sony e-reader. It supports e-pub with DRM, so last year I bought her an e-book at an online retailer. I thought it would be easy for her to get the book on her reader, but she couldn't do it. I'm a geek, so I had a look and was stunned. How hard can you make this? To get the book on her reader I had to do the following:

  • I had to install some software from Adobe on her mac and get her an Adobe ID.
  • I then had to open the book in Adobe's software and validate (?) the DRM.
  • Then I had to export it, find it on disk and import it into the e-reader software.
  • The Sony reader software crashed during sync, even after upgrading it to the latest version.
  • I installed Calibre which managed to sync it, so finally I was able to sync the book to the reader.

Best of all: after going through this procedure, it still didn't work. The reader gave a validation error which, after some Googling, meant that the DRM wasn't validated properly and I would have to just try all of the above again from scratch.

I gave up. I stole the book. I downloaded a DRM free copy via a torrent, put it in Calibre and onto the reader in minutes, and Leoni could read the book. I have kept the DRM file and the receipt so I don't feel like a criminal (but I haven't purchased a DRM epub since).

Ironically, I was lucky that the DRM doesn't actually prevent pirating at all, because we wouldn't even have been able to read the book at all if DRM was in any way effective.

It could be so simple. Make books available widely and easily and I pay you for it.

(Oh, and I also read the book after Leoni told me it was good. Your terms state that I would have to pay again if we both want to read it, which is silly, so technically I stole the book twice).

Music industry: I do not steal from you any more!

The music industry is missing in my criminal confessions because I hardly have to steal anymore. Music is easy to find and purchase, and because iTunes is DRM free, I can enjoy it on all my devices and everywhere I go.

In the past I downloaded music illegally if I wasn't sure I would like it long enough, but these days I can easily listen to contemporary music on Spotify. Spotify and traditional radio are for my day to day music enjoyment, and iTunes is for the stuff I'd like to own/keep. This works really well. The only times I tend to steal something from the music industry is when I hear something I like, but it's unavailable in iTunes or Spotify (typically old stuff or very niche stuff). In those cases, I still download music from torrents.


It would be great if the movie, tv & book industries learned from the hard lessons the music industry has already learned. Sure, the music industry is plagued by piracy too, but at least for people who do not want to steal, they've made their content usable and accessible. After all, who are more important: pirates or your paying customers?

Only after writing the above post it occurred to me that I didn't mention 'price' as a factor anywhere. That's because apparently it isn't. Like I said, I don't mind paying for content, and HBO, Netflix, on demand movies, music are all reasonably priced these days (e-books are insanely expensive by the way, compared to their paper versions). The pricing makes me want to buy things, so that's something done right. For me, it's mostly about availability, crippling features such as DRM and ease of use. Apparently the illegal download industry is a lot better at making things work for end users than the content industry is.

P.S. In The Netherlands the act of downloading is not illegal (only the act of uploading), so technically the above does not make me a criminal at all. This is quite exceptional however, so even if the law allows me to download, I still feel like a criminal every time I have to fire up a torrent or usenet client to enjoy content.

One Response to “4 times a customer, 4 times a criminal”

  1. March 16, 2014 at 3:12 pm, Dirk Engels said:

    Good blog post.

    I totally agree! It is too much work and hassle for me to view entertainment way the media business expects me to do it according the rules they made!

    I wish there was a different way to do it more effectively and effectively.