Now that we’ve established that physical media piracy is still a very real problem, the next question that comes to mind is, ‘who buys this stuff, and why?’.
For sake of convenience I’ll use pirated DVD’s in the examples that follow. This shouldn’t be taken as an indication that the problem of piracy is limited to the motion picture industry. On the contrary, piracy is a problem for the music industry, the publishing industry, the apparel industry, and just about any other industry that manufactures goods that can be easily replicated.
Here are a few obvious reasons why consumers buy pirated merchandise:
- Price: Pirated goods are substantially cheaper than the legitimate products. Undiscriminating consumers frequently base their purchase on price alone. Given the choice between buying a legitimate licensed edition of Cowboy Bebop for $28.48 per disc (the full series would cost $170), or the unlicensed complete series for $27, it’s pretty clear which option many consumers will choose. In fact, most consumers will assume that they’ve done nothing wrong because they’ve actually paid for the product. As I argued yesterday, these sorts of purchases actually hurt the industry more than illegal downloads because it’s easier to demonstrate that an actual sale has been lost.
- Availability: There are many instances where the legitimate product simply isn’t available, or is available in an altered form that’s been botched by the studio, thereby creating an opportunity for pirates. Using the Cowboy Bebop example above, Bandai apparently made the decision to limit the production of the official Cowboy Bebop box set. In the meantime, the program became a huge hit in the United States and bootleggers have been selling untold numbers of knock-off box sets ever since.
The same is true of the the Complete James Bond box. The original “collectible” version of the set has been off the market for some time. In its place MGM has released re-mastered versions of all the films as a series of mini-box sets that mix and match Bonds from different eras (these newer sets are so mixed up that Dr. No, the first Bond film, ships in Volume 4). Given the choice between buying a crazy mixed up assortment of Bond boxes and the bootleg with all 20 films, a lot of people will choose to buy the bootleg at a fraction of the price, even though the quality will undoubtedly be substantially worse.
- Cluelessness. Consumers who buy bootlegs often aren’t aware that they’re buying counterfeit merchandise. This is especially true if the consumer is buying online and hasn’t had an opportunity to inspect the product they’re purchasing. Consumers who shop on price alone will always buy the cheapest product, all the while thinking they got a great bargain. It won’t occur to them that something is wrong until they notice that Chinese subtitles are on by default.
Given the fact that bootleg media products are widely available through legitimate online marketplaces it seems pretty clear that more consumer education on this issue is in order. Surprisingly, the best source of information on spotting pirated DVDs is not published by the MPAA, but rather an anime fan site. The Pirate Anime FAQ is a comprehensive overview of the issue, with great advice that applies to mainstream media products as well as anime.