UPDATED 11:27 EDT / DECEMBER 10 2010

Warner Bros. Changes Tack on Internet Piracy, Seeks to Make More Customers

6-10-08-warner_brosCopyright infringement has actually been a mainstay of all media ever since the concept of copyright was introduced—way back about the time of the printing press. Now, people only notice because large media corporations have been painting giant bulls-eyes on their very own customer base for trading in their content (copying it) without permission. This activity has actually earned collectives like the RIAA and MPAA a lot of bad press and painted them as the villains of the media marketplace.

Warner Bros. seems to have taken a bit of a hint from the past decade of recoiling annoyance from their consumer base and now looks to work towards getting them on board rather than beating them with the legal stick.

It doesn’t hurt that most Internet pirates are already consumers, and as a result some of them are actually customers, some of the time. According to  paidContent.org this means that Warner Bros. intends to look into what makes pirates tick by combing the data on their behavior and see if they can recruit them to buy more content.

Pirates Make Purchases: Few subsist on copyright infringement alone; typical pirates steal in addition to making legitimate entertainment purchases like boxoffice, DVD and even online transactions. Even the most diehard pirates spend some money, though less than more casual infringers. “One of the main things we’re doing is looking at why they do things legitimately on certain products and not on others,” said Karakunnel.

My two cents: WB’s recognition that pirates are legal consumers too may bolster the theory the piracy not only doesn’t necessarily replace entertainment revenues, but may in fact serve as marketing for legal consumption. When footage of WB’s latest Harry Potter film leaked online last month, some theorized that the studio did it intentionally for publicity purposes.

The study has also revealed some interesting trends in gender when it comes to television. Where most Internet piracy takes place between males, 18-24, a great deal of TV shows get ripped from streams by the female constituent who want to hold onto content like the CW’s Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries. Not too surprising, just like someone could use a VCR to record what’s playing on TV so that we can watch it again in ten years, a lot of people who enjoy extremely long running series will want to keep episodes just for the purpose of nostalgia.

Movies, of course, take the download cake over television episode piracy: 65.31% of peer-to-peer piracy of Warner Bros. content appears to be films, compared with only 34.69% for TV.

Finally, there’s an interesting effect caused by the global nature of the Internet and the release schedule of films across continents. As a film might some in North America one day and take a few days to reach the UK, a powerful audience for piracy crops up looking to see the film early. This may stir many studios instead to prepare global releases and to spend more time refining their distribution. No longer can they rely on poor communication across the world to make themselves more profitable at the expense of audiences who would like to see the movie when it comes out. In fact, movie studios can use the same technology the pirates do in order to make sure they can distribute faster.

It looks like Warner Bros. has taken a fairly good tack to helping curtail (or at least contain) what piracy it can by not alienating those who partake of piracy who will pay them. Otherwise, like the dim view many music lovers have taken of the RIAA as bullies, they might just push their own consumers who do have disposable income further away. Bringing them back and giving them a reason to be part of the media community, treating their customers like customers, they might just fare a lot better.

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