On the Louis C.K. Experiment, Piracy & SOPA

Today’s post was contributed by GB’s Tyler Riewer and Dayn Wilberding. Enjoy! Surely, you’ve heard about Louis C.K.’s recent experiment. Last month, the comedian self-produced a comedy album and sold it exclusively on his website for $5 — skipping the distribution, DRM, ads and everything else that goes into the marketing and sale of a video. It was kind of a test. Louis explained it this way: “The experiment was: If I put out a brand new standup special at a drastically low price and make it as easy as possible to buy, download and enjoy, free of any restrictions, will everyone just go and steal it? Will they pay for it? And how much money can be made by an individual in this manner?” The experiment caught everyone’s attention — thanks in large part to Louis C.K.’s complete transparency. He even shared the screen shot on the left of his PayPal account upon reaching $1,000,000. The whole thing has been very fun to follow, and there are some great lessons to be learned here. To us though, the interesting thing about all of this is what it says about online piracy (and to a more poignantly, SOPA). Pirates determined to get and distribute content for free always will, regardless of fancy encryption or security measures. There is always a way around every system. The best defense against piracy is to make your content so valuable, unique, affordable and easy to consume that it’s actually more difficult to get it from a pirate source than it is to just acquire it legally. (Case in point: Radiohead’s release last year or Bjork’s iPad app.) Who’s going to hunt around pirate sites or sift through SPAM peer-to-peer sharing files* for the brand new Iron and Wine track when it’s only $.99 and available at a swipe? Sadly, if passed SOPA will have a profound impact, but not on the pirates. It stands to erode the free and open internet by giving control of the DNS system to government agencies. Shoot and ask questions later. SiliconFlorist and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden have more on SOPA and its chilling effect. *In fact, many argue that digging through all that pirated content actually enables discovery by new audiences, and eventually results in more profit for the content creator. Some companies have even released specially branded versions of their content to pirate networks, since they knew they will get the content anyhow. Imagine a version of the game HALO 2 where all of the characters have eye patches! Why not own the pirate space with a special “pirate” version?

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January 4, 2012
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