And while I'm relatively geeky in many ways, I'm not a geek. I discovered torrents just after Napster was shut down, and have hardly ever used them. I hadn't used them for years, like about 5 years, until I needed a patch to fix a bug in a game and couldn't find it through the legitimate source. Went to the torrents, there it was, quick 2 min dl and I was playing. I had BOUGHT this game, legitimately, but it didn't work till I made an illegal download and at that time, illegal downloading was my only option to get, you know, what I paid for. So torrents were useful if slightly dodgy, nothing more.
But then, I ran across geographical restrictions and my opinion on torrents changed.
The first thing I did when trying to grasp why these things exist was go to Google. I found this explanation, which relates to eBooks.
Essentially, geographical restrictions came about through a combination of differing copyright laws in different countries and the physical nature of the products at the time. So an author writes a book in England, sells the publisher the right to publish and sell the book in England, the book gets sold in England. It's likely that people in Australia wouldn't hear about the book at all, and everyone's happy. If the publisher thinks Australia might like the book, they buy the rights to sell it there, send it off, folks there buy it and the publisher and author both get more money. All good. If the publisher doesn't think Australia might like the book, they don't buy the rights and the book is not available in Australia, and nobody's any the wiser.
Nowadays though, we are not talking about physical things. Books and other media can be written and published in England but the second they hit the internet, most of the world knows of their existence. So the Aussies know about the book, but the author/publisher may not think Australia is a lucrative market so they don't buy the rights to publish it there, and the panting Australians are plumb out of luck. Until someone else comes along and pays for the right to let Australians download the book - which, incidentally, no longer has a per-book capital input relating to its production because duplicating files is infinitesimally cheap and fast compared to making books.
So the Aussies may or may not be allowed to buy this eBook depending on whether the publishing folks think it will make them money. If they don't think so, it isn't available to buy in Australia. Enter torrents, where a buyer can get what they want but can't actually pay for it.
So much for books, what about things like movies and TV shows?
Well, it seems that it's pretty much the same deal, only a bit more complex.
My secret shame is Supernatural. I freely admit I'm an addict. And I'm not really ashamed either. But anyway, this show is into its 6th season. Seasons 1 through 4 are available to buy on DVD here. Season 5 is not. It's on all the usual websites as 'Currently Unavailable'. If you try to buy it through Amazon, they say "FUCK OFF NO SUPERNATURAL FOR YOU" the minute they discover you're in New Zealand.
Because Season 5 is only up to Episode 11 airing in NZ. TVNZ bought the rights to show it here and nobody else is allowed to see it until they've gathered the advertising revenue from showing it on TV. Which is kind of sad because I don't watch TV, and I don't watch TV specifically to avoid being shouted at by people wanting to sell me crap I don't want. I want to watch Supernatural, not the Briscoes lady and her ridiculous enthusiasm about toasters.
I can totally understand why TVNZ doesn't want people to be able to bypass their showings - after all, they paid for the right to be first. But in the internet age, everyone who's a fan of the show knows that the Americans are nearly finished watching Season 6, there are spoilers everywhere, and you can get up to S06Ep16 through torrents.
Meanwhile, you can't legitimately buy Season 5 in New Zealand. It won't be available till it's finished airing on TV and at one episode a week that's another 11 weeks.
Now, I'm guessing TVNZ bought those rights at a discount price specifically because the season would have been seen by everyone else in the world before they could show it here. TVNZ being a TV station in a tiny nation where there's never going to be huge money made because there are less people here than there are in many of the major cities in the US. Our entire population is about 4.5 million, for those in LA (4 million) or NY (8 million) playing along at home. So yeah, our main TV station probably can't afford to buy the rights to air it before it's finished airing everywhere else. And nobody else is going to pay for the right to distribute shows in New Zealand because there's no profit in it for them.
Consequently, this happens to us a lot. We get to hear about the existence of things like Supernatural Season 6, but we don't have any legitimate way of purchasing them until a couple of years after everyone else.
I WANT to pay for this show. I WANT to give money to the people who put money and effort into creating it. I WANT to show my support for the concept, the actors, the guy who throws the cheesy buckets of blood for special effects. I really really do. But the profit-driven distribution/copyright limitations won't let me. They think they'll get more money by making me wait a year after everyone else.
Sadly, they won't. Because this is the digital age and I can get access to the shows now if I want. Sure it's dodgy. Sure I know it's 'cheating the makers'. And you know what? I don't fucking care. Because when it finally does become available, I probably will buy it - for the reasons I gave above. But I'm not prepared to wait to see it or be forced to watch it in a format that includes having invasive bullshit shouted at me, for the sake of lining someone else's pocket first.
I realise that TVNZ needs to make money to keep going. I realise that if they bought the rights to distribute the DVD alongside airing the show they'd lose advertising revenue and probably shut down. I don't know what the answer is in terms of changing their business model so that they can provide better service to more people without losing money. I realise that the majority of New Zealanders still watch TV with advertising and think that's an acceptable way to consume media.
But until there's a model that allows me to legitimately purchase the media I like in a timely manner, I will resort to pirating.
I know there are people here who know more about this stuff than I do. If my understanding is wrong, please let me know. I don't like pirating, but fuckit I am so sick of the fact that we're small and a long way away limiting my choices and making things harder and more expensive.
And before someone says it, no, a free trade agreement with the US will not improve this situation - in fact the 'intellectual property' clauses in there would actually make it harder (read: more expensive in what is already almost a monopoly) for NZ to legitimately get hold of contemporary media, and give the US distributors legal rights to sue individuals and ISPs in New Zealand for using alternative means to access it.
Dear makers/distributors, please get your shit together and realise that if you make it available for us that don't watch TV, WE WILL PAY FOR IT. If you don't, we'll take it anyway.
No love, Tats