Hey Ari Emanuel: You Can't Stop All Piracy, So Move On

Yesterday at All Things Digital 10, Walt and Kara interviewed talent agent Ari Emanuel. While the conversation weaved into various topics, the topic of stopping piracy was the highlight for me. I was hoping that Ari would demonstrate an understanding of where the television and film industries are headed because of the Internet, but as usual I was disappointed.

For some reason Ari is convinced that the way to stop piracy is to have search engines and ISPs try to make it more difficult for pirates to distribute stolen content. The reality of the situation is that pirates are stealing and distributing content with or without the help of Google, AT&T, and Verizon. Napster wasn't a successful piracy solution because of Google. Sure, AT&T, Verizon, and other ISPs could be monitoring their users activity, but there are ways to pirate on the Internet without Google or ISPs being involved because they don't have the infrastructure (or the incentive) to monitor everyone.

During the Q&A, Joshua Topolsky of The Verge questioned the idea that Google, AT&T, and Verizon should be monitoring users' activity in order to find people who are pirating material. Ari argued that since Google filters out child pornography results, they should also filter out results that help people steal content. If he thinks that's the solution to piracy then he clearly doesn't understand how the Internet or computers work (which seems to be a trend with higher ups in media companies). Josh was right that Ari's solution is the equivalent of destroying the road so that people can't get to your house to steal from you. The analogy goes further than Ari's insanely rude interruptions would allow - destroying the road doesn't stop people from getting to your house. If Google was filtering results and ISPs were monitoring activity (who is going to pay for that massive infrastructure, by the way?), that doesn't stop piracy. Josh pointed out that though Google filters out child pornography, that doesn't mean it's impossible to find on the Internet (if you missed Josh saying that, don't worry - Ari did too because he was busy yelling about the wrong anticipated argument). Destroying the roads (filtering results) makes it more difficult to find pirated material, but not impossible.

If you haven't watched the video clip on All Things Digital that I linked to above, go watch it now (the last 5 1/2 minutes at least). When Ari brought up the filtering of child pornography example, he tried to anticipate Josh's argument (and failed). Ari thought Josh was going to retort that child pornography and stealing content aren't the same thing, so he angrily yelled over Josh to announce that stealing is wrong. No one who is seriously talking about content distribution and piracy would deny that stealing is wrong, yet content producers and executives (and apparently even talent agents) continue to have a chip in their shoulder because they think they're special. They're not. The risk of theft is a part of every business, especially digitial business. If you're going to distribute content on the Internet then know that there's a risk someone will steal it. No one is saying that it's right to steal it, but pirates inevitably find a way to steal just about any digital product.

Content creators and distributors are in love with the pipe dream that piracy can be stopped; it can't. I don't like piracy and I think it's wrong, but just because it's wrong doesn't mean I think it can be stopped. More importantly, I have a hard time believing that it's ISP and search engines' jobs to try and stop piracy. They can help, but it's not what they're around to do. Like Josh said, ISPs and search engines aren't policemen.

Media companies need to face the reality that piracy exists and try to combat it a different way. If piracy cannot be entirely stopped, then the best solution is to try to get the largest amount of consumers to pay for the largest amount of content. Some piracy is inevitable because some people just don't want to pay for content, but other piracy is a reaction to insanely restrictive distribution methods like HBO's distribution of Game of Thrones, which is the most pirated television show this year. When people can't get the content they want when the want it in the format they want it, they steal it. Is it wrong? Absolutely, but content creators and distributors job is to get the most people to buy the most product. The problem of people downloading content like Game of Thrones because it won't be released in a civilized format until a year after its TV run is solvable: give people access to the content immediately at a fair price in a good format.

It's extremely frustrating to me that Ari was so dismissive of Josh. He didn't want to engage with the actual problem and apparently Walt and Kara didn't care to have a decent debate. Your paid guest shouldn't be allowed to berate guests. Hollywood needs to stop being so hurt that people are stealing their material and fight the fight they can win. As I've said in the past, you cannot stop all piracy. Media companies need to focus on getting consumers to pay for content instead of trying to change how the Internet works.

This post was originally published on ronoffringa.me.