March 2012

Walk the Plank

Piracy is a business that hurts many industries. After all, how will the guys who worked to make their product get their money if their product is going to be pirated. Many companies try to combat it, usually ending in failure. Bolivia too seems to have a big issue with piracy..

By: Tom Van Vledder
Projects Abroad volunteer
Utrecht– Netherlands

Play Station Pirate copies
Photo: Tom Van Vledder

For all the people who think I am talking about those guys with wooden pegs and eye patches, piracy is something completely different. If the world’s most trusted source, Wikipedia, is to be believed, piracy is the unauthorized and prohibited use of someone else’s content.

To put it in language that most people understand, it means that people steal stuff and then give it away on the internet for a far lesser price, meaning that the companies who worked on these products will not see a dime of what the pirates earn.

This has been a problem many industries have suffered from. The music industry has seen a massive downfall in profits. Even the death of Limewire has not stopped dozens of tweens from downloading all the songs from Glee via Youtube and other music programs. Even with the huge popularity of ITunes, it is still fighting a losing battle (don’t feel sad for artists like Rihanna, Lady Gaga, and Justin Bieber, they still get a ton of money). Then there is the gaming industry.

While still one of the biggest industries in the world right now, it is also suffering from piracy. Pirate site TorrentFreak posted a list of the most pirated games of 2011.* Crysis 2 eventually came on top with almost 4 million downloads. How much did the game sell? Not counting the 360 and PS3 versions (which together sold around 2 million copies*), Crysis 2 on PC sold only 500,000 units.* Meaning it was pirated eight times more than it was bought.

This does not mean that the game industry has been sitting back and letting it happen. It has tried a lot of things, mostly ending in defeat. French company Ubisoft has done funny things like replacing the music of Michael Jackson: The Experience on the DS with vuvuzela noise. Others, like the DS version of the SNES classic Chrono Trigger, have you stuck when you first enter the first Time Gate (meaning that you can only play for half an hour until the game freezes).* However, these only require very few changes in the code to bypass, so it is not a permanent solution.

Then they are the things for the PC crowd, the biggest place of piracy to date. Game companies have tried everything, from checking IP addresses (something that can easily be changed, leading to innocent people being charged with crimes they didn’t commit), constant Digital Rights Management (but it is necessary to be online), and special bonuses to make sure that buying a game is better than pirating it, though that’s only a cheap and superficial option.

Legal music CDs
Photo: Tom Van Vledder

Then finally, we have the online movie market, the biggest industry in piracy. As movie tickets become more and more expensive thanks to 3D, and the movie theatre experience going downhill (thanks to annoying people who talk or text in the theater when they shouldn’t), people instead pirate the movies.

The list of most pirated movies of 2011 is made up of many movies that could take the loss of money.* Fast Five, which cost 125 million to make and made 625 million at the box office, was the clear winner with nine million downloads.* However, Fast Five still made a profit at the box office. Less lucky was the movie Source, which while costing thirty million to make and made 123 million, was downloaded nearly eight million times.* But the biggest loser out of the list is, without a doubt, the movie Sucker Punch. Costing eighty-two million to make, and only barely making eightynine million in theaters, the movie was downloaded 7.2 million times.* Granted, the film was not all that good (the movie review site Rotten Tomatoes gave it 23%*), it was still a heavy financial blow to Warner Bros. Studios.

While online piracy is a huge industry, it is a topic for another day. In Bolivia, the piracy industry is made up of illegally copied DVDs and games. They are everywhere. I do not think I’ve ever seen an actual DVD or game store in the three weeks I have spent so far in Bolivia. How did the problem become so rampant and out of control?

It did not used to be this way. Once upon a time, most of the pirated goods were imported from Bolivia’s neighbour, Peru. However, Bolivia caught the piracy bug and ran with it. Reproduction equipment became very low in cost and Bolivia’s piracy market grew bigger than the genuine, but more expensive, DVD market. In just those few years, Bolivia became ranked seventeenth as one of the most pirating nations in the world.

Some people, like former Sony Music employee Andres Lopez, claim that is was Bolivia’s economic crisis in 1999 that eventually tipped the scale (Los Tiempos Del Mundo 2000). While major music companies made around two million each year, that number shrunk to 0.6 million, which led to many studios closing their Bolivian branch.* Now, only one music company (Discolandia) survives, thanks to releasing glossy informative covers that you simply cannot get via piracy.

Why does not the government do anything about it? A stronger law based on intellectual property (IP) may not completely destroy piracy, but at least tone it down. Well, that is mainly because the government has not shown a lot of interest towards protecting IP.

Both the Bolivian government, and the Bolivian people themselves, do not show a lot of sympathy for the American companies (America and Bolivia have a rocky relationship) who they are stealing money from. Also, the revision of the IP Act has taken a backseat to Bolivia’s many other problems.

In addition, the problem has simply become too massive to fully deal with. About 60% of Bolivia’s economy comes from its street vendors, and a lot of those sell pirated material. If Bolivia were to take massive action, it would deal a massive blow to their economy, all in the interest of a wealthier country, America. So they simply say, ‘Why bother?’

Can piracy be stopped in Bolivia? It is hard to say. The fact remains that piracy has grown out of control, and cannot be taken lightly. Piracy exists around the world and we have found the answer to why it has grown so much. The answer to killing it is another issue entirely. As someone firmly opposed to piracy, I hope something can be done and that IP will be better protected in the near future.


The “joy makers”of Cochabamba

But who are they? Where do they come from? And is it actually an affordable job to make other people smile? In the final profile of our series of The “joy makers” of Cochabamba we have Christian, who is 100% blind and who regularly sets the cafés in Cochabamba on fire by playing the piano.

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