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.

New site, new design, new purpose

July 31st, 2011 by Ivo

I started blogging back in 2005. Blogging was the method of choice to get your message across and to let people know what you were up to. But the past 2 years, things have changed. The growth of social media such as Twitter and Facebook have created new and more efficient ways to communicate. Many blogs, including mine, have become neglected. I've written just a single post in the last year, when I had something to say that didn't fit in a tweet. I lately asked myself; should I pick up blogging? Should I start writing more content? I've seen other people do this and fail: after a short revival they would simply stop writing again. So I figured that reviving the blog would be the wrong approach. Instead I realized I had to change the site, put less emphasis on the blog and embrace the fact that social media IS more efficient for day to day communication. The purpose of the blog is to provide background or opinions that don't fit social media. The purpose of the site as a whole should be to explain to people who I am, and guide them to the social media outlets where most of my communication takes place.
Read the rest of this entry »

Those who pay attention to my occasional seemingly random tweets may have noticed this tweet, back in March. It's the first line of the Bob Dylan song "Times they are a'changin", and it marked the start of a long thought process. I had a '10 year itch': I was at Ibuildings since january 2000, back then a 5 person web development shop in the south of the Netherlands, and over the years I had helped Ibuildings grow into a 110+ people PHP service company with 5 offices in 3 countries. Very proud of what Ibuildings had become and my own role in the company, I had a growing feeling of 'what next?'.

In my enterprise PHP book I mentioned 5 major goals I wanted to accomplish in life: one of them is to found and build a company of my own. And although Ibuildings has always felt a bit mine, that's not the same. So I slowly started thinking about starting from scratch and building a new awesome company. Over the course of the next few months I searched for reasons to leave and reasons to stay, but eventually I knew that in my heart I had already made the decision in March, and all I was doing was finding reasons to validate that choice. There's a saying that in the end, you'll only regret the things you DIDN'T do, so finally I made the decision to go for it.
Read the rest of this entry »

It's been a while since my last post. My blog pattern these days is that I write a blog post when I have an opinion that doesn't fit in a tweet. :)

There's been a debate in the PHP community about the use of public, private and protected. Apparently the Symfony project has decided that private is Evil, and should not be used. I don't care much about Symfony as I'm not a user, but it turned to a discussion on OO theory when Stefan defended the position by claiming that you 'should have the right to extend a class's methods if it doesn't support the use case you have'.

On Twitter, things got worse. Marco Tabini mentioned private has no role in open source code insinuating that it's about who can read the code and Travis Swicegood mentioned that protected code indicates code that is in the wrong place and later that it prevents unit testing because it creates un-testable units of code.
Read the rest of this entry »

Twitter Takes Tweetie. Good or bad?

April 10th, 2010 by Ivo

Yesterday Twitter announced it has acquired Tweetie, the popular Twitter client for iPhone (and Mac desktops but the move seems to focus on the iPhone app).

Disclaimer: I love Tweetie; dispite it not being free (it will be free from now on), I liked it much better than the free alternatives.

For Twitter, this is a good move. It will finally give them an 'official' client for phones. They also announced a Blackberry app yesterday, and you can easily see that they needed one by looking at their 'Using twitter with your phone' page. It explains how to use Twitter using SMS, something that never really caught on as a main twitter use. With this move, Twitter fills a hole they had in their product offering. It is very similar to what happened in 2008, when they acquired Summize, which is now search.twitter.com.
Read the rest of this entry »

Location Based Services are hot

Ever since phones have been equipped with GPS devices it's been possible to provide applications with information about the user's location. I used to have a Nokia N95. It had a GPS but other than Google Maps, I never did anything useful with it. When I switched to the iPhone a couple of months ago, I started to use more and more apps that are location aware. The main reason why it works for me on the iPhone is that the iPhone just always seems to know where I am, whereas the N95 only knew where I was when I asked for it. How is this different? If I'm inside a building where GPS signal is blocked, the iPhone still knows where I am, because it remembered the last time it had a GPS signal. The N95 on the other hand would only start to read its GPS device when I started an app, which worst case meant I didn't have a location at all and best case meant I had to wait up to a minute before it had a fix. Usability win for the iPhone.

How is the location generally used? The basic premise is that applications now know where you are, so the most common application is to display maps and your location on them. But what is also fun is that games you play can now compare your score against the score of people in your neighborhood, search engines can show more relevant results based on where you are, shop applications know what shop you are near, travel applications know where you are located so you don't need to enter your start address; the possibilities are endless.
Read the rest of this entry »