Pirate.  Depending on you look it brings up images of Jack Sparrow and Captain Hook or four dorky looking guys in Sweden.  Or maybe bands of murderers in Somalia.  Either way the point is that piracy exists and it’s illegal, but is it the end of the world as we know it, like the media conglomerates would have us believe?

The answer is yes and no.  Certainly the large pirate systems like in Russia and China aren’t helping and they should be the real targets of the MPAA and the RIAA.  Unfortunately, due to the obvious fact that those operations are in Russia and China and not in the US where the RIAA and MPAA have bought off enough politicians can force them to shut down, the piracy continues.  It’s definitely hurting their bottom line and anything that hurts the bottom line of the mega media conglomerates usually ends up being bad for us geeks.

But wait, didn’t I say yes and no? 

 

I did, and it’s the no that I really want to talk about.  Here’s the thing, what most companies want is viral marketing.  The whole word of mouth phenomenon that made My Big Fat Greek Wedding and The Sixth Sense such a run away hits at the box office.  They want everyone and their sister talking about movies, music and all the things, that lets face it, we’d be talking about anyway.  This usually isn’t a problem for mainstream shows.  Shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Law and Order already have a good fanbase and people talk about them all the time.  Hell, the industry talks about them all the time.  Someone in Grey’s sneezed, we totally have to talk about it.  That’s a great thing, since that means that those shows get advertisers and time and bigger budgets and better writers and well, you see where I’m going with this, even if you happen to hate the show. 

 

Where this is a problem are what the networks and the industry call “genre shows.”  Those a the ones like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, X-Files, and Firefly.  They’re the quirky shows that are awesome but probably are not going to generate mainstream appeal.  Unfortunately for us geeks, that’s most of the shows we watch.  This is a problem as networks that create the shows, not to be confused with the networks that air them as they’re two totally different entities, are leery of genre shows in an already iffy market.  If a show has been “green lighted” so to speak it might only get twelve episodes to prove itself worthy.  That can be difficult when the creator doesn’t know if they’ll be getting another season or hell even another four or five episodes to create.  So how do you generate a buzz when you have a production company that’s leery, a television network that’s leery, but the creator thinks this is the next greatest thing since sliced bread?

That’s where the piracy comes into play.  Back when Dr. Who and Battlestar Galatica were resurrected and brought back to the small screen, it was only being shown in England.  This is because of marketing and rights and all that.  Fans of the show in England were raving about them, about how awesome and cool they were and like all good fangirls, the fangirls in the US and else where in the world said “gimme!”  The English fangirls did just that, bless their fangirl hearts, using technology like bittorrent, sendspace and plain old DVD creation.  They send over the product so the fangirls overseas could salivate. 

 

 And what happened when those shows finally did air in the US?  They had the highest ratings of any show on the Sci-Fi channel ever.  They were huge hits because the fangirls knew what the product was, but instead of watching in on their computer screens this time they could watch it on their huge (or not so huge — that entirely seems to depend on if there’s a man present in a house) television screens.  They wanted to support the show that they already loved and so watched and made sure the ratings were good.  Dr. Who and Battlestar Galatica are only the start of this phenomenon.  Torchwood had similar results as well.  Going the other direction, Supernatural has had some stellar ratings when it’s finally aired overseas because of US fangirls sharing out the content.

All of this is great, but there is a definite danger to downloading content off the Internet.  The production companies right now don’t seem to be correlating the data between downloads and ratings.  Or if they are, they’re not saying anything.  Why?  Mostly because of how trademark and copyright is in the US.  They have to fight to protect their copyright and trademark or lose them.  That would be bad on many different levels, no matter what the average fangirl thinks.  So of course, they’re going to go after piracy.  Also, don’t forget there are very very large operations outside the US, where copyright laws are vastly different and it’s much more of a gray area.  By going after the users, they’re hoping to stop the producers.  Which is all well and good but not helpful.

Still, things are looking up.  There’s been a rash of legal sites going up over the last few years that give access to shows and extra content.  Right now most of them seem to be country specific, meaning that the CW doesn’t allow you to come into their site without an US based IP address.  This also pertains to Amazon.com and iTunes.  Both of those companies, while they allow you to download your fix, won’t allowed you to do so if you’re overseas.  Which, coming from someone that’s a US citizen that usually works overseas, sucks big donkey balls.  The reason is pretty basic.  Overseas downloads don’t count toward ratings and it’s ratings that advertisers like to see.  More advertisers, more money from the network that’s airing it, which means more money for the production company that’s producing it.  Since advertisers are usually different overseas, the US advertisers don’t really care how popular Chuck is in Spain.

Chin up though, this is a step up from where we were just four years ago.  With the economy spinning, we might just see more innovation as the major production companies and networks struggle to keep their businesses alive.  Here’s hoping to the day that everyone can get the show they want, when they want it, regardless of the country.