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Piracy: How to Fight Back

Preface:I'll out myself as a college student and say that I've been doing research for a class involving piracy in the video game industry. This class includes several small blogs that have to be made about my topic, and I felt like sharing some of what I've been digging up. If you want to read, awesome! If not, that's okay too. It is just here to allow it to go to a more public location. If you have something to add or talk about, by all means do!

Blog Entry 3

How should piracy in the video game industry be handled? There are a ton of arguments on both sides, and I haven’t really chosen mine yet. One of the more common arguments is that because piracy is a crime and close to(but not completely) equitable to theft it should be handled by the government. This argument is fair, but, as software pirates are pursued by the government currently and piracy is still an issue, we can say the current approach isn’t working. Texas House Representative, Lamar Smith, recently made his ideas on the issue known by penning the Stop Online Piracy Act(SOPA). It was Smith’s thought that by giving corporations the power to declare what websites are hosting their copyrighted material and then forcing Internet Service Providers to block the offending websites DNS, we could stop online piracy. While this may or may not have been true, the bill itself had enough vague wording that it could be misconstrued and cause many websites (such as Wikipedia, Youtube, and Facebook) to come under scrutiny. This vague wording lead to the bill being protested by such prominent sites as Wikipedia and Google; who both essentially stated that the bill had the power to limit the first amendment (“Sopa protests planned,” 2012). This method of stopping piracy can be labeled attacking the offenders. However, there is another method.

Gabe Newell of Valve Software has a different idea. At DICE 2009, Newell gave the keynote speech where he talked, among other things, about piracy. It was Newell’s idea that pirates are essentially underserved customers and that by turning the process of buying video games into a service, rather than it just being a sale, you could incentivize being a paying customer. Essentially, Newell is saying that by making buying games attractive, you can minimize the number of pirates that download your Intellectual Property (Remo, 2009). He reinforced this by showing statistics about the sales of one of Valve’s games called Left 4 Dead. Newell used his digital distribution platform, Steam, to discount the game. During the small amount of time Left 4 Dead was discounted, it sold 3,000% more than the game did at its launch (Leone, 2009). This kind of price flexibility is viewed as part of treating the games as a service. Along with this was Newell’s idea of breaking down the consumer-producer barriers and providing new material to existing games to incentivize sales and to retain customers.

One great argument against Newell’s idea of breaking down this consumer-producer barrier and providing games as a service comes in the form of the Humble Indie Bundle. This pack of independently made games had one truly unique quality: You could pay whatever amount you wanted for it, even 1 cent. They also provided the game with no Digital Rights Management software, which is used to monitor customers in an attempt to stop pirates. This is a great example of breaking down the barrier between consumer and producer, where the producers are just interested in spreading their Intellectual Property and sharing it with the consumers. Unfortunately, over 25% of the downloads of the Humble Indie Bundle in 2010 were illegally gotten and this doesn’t even include the people who used a torrent program to obtain the bundle (“Reflections on the”, 2010). It would seem that better service alone is not enough to stop pirates.

This does bring up one of the great fallacies used to defend Software Piracy: “The problem isn’t poor morality on the part of the pirates, it’s that the price of video games is too high!” The case of the Humble Indie Bundle helps to expose this as a False Cause. However, policy makers that view the issue of piracy as being solely related to an individual’s poor morality are exhibiting a fallacy in Overlooking Alternatives. There are some people who live in countries where certain video games cannot be obtained. They pirate the material because they cannot buy it, not because they don’t want to. Most often, you will see False Cause occur in arguments about piracy, as the first thing you have to do to stop piracy is examine why it occurs in the first place.

I feel the strengths and weaknesses of both sides of this argument are clear. Government intervention is overpowering and can lead to abuse, but it does go far in ensuring that piracy will stop. Treating entertainment as a service is less invasive and inviting to the customer, but it provides no guarantee that it will stop piracy (Though it may curb it). This is just the start of my research on the issue, more to come.


Leone, M. (2009, February 18). Left 4 dead on steam sold more last weekend than at launch. Retrieved
from http://www.1up.com/news/left-4-dead-steam-sold

Reflections on the humble indie bundle piracy. (2010, May 26). Retrieved from http://www.plagiarismtoday.com/2010/05/26/reflections-on-the-humble-indie-bundle-piracy/

Remo, C. (2009, February 19). DICE 09: valve's newell on 'using your customer base to
reach new customers'. Retrieved from http://www.gamasutra.com/php-

Sopa protests planned by google, wikipedia and others on jan. 18. (2012, January 17). Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/sopa-protests-planned-by-google-wikipedia-and-others-on-jan-18/2012/01/17/gIQALKBL6P_story.html
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About jbokingone of us since 4:20 PM on 10.19.2009

I am a law student in my final year. I've spent my time studying Intellectual Property Law (Copyright, Trademark, etc.). I like writing on those subjects.

Note: I'm not your, nor anyone's lawyer. Don't take anything I write as the word of law.
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