When Did The Anti-Piracy Movement Get Like That?

Remember the old SPA (now SIIA) public service announcement and cheesefest, “Don’t Copy That Floppy?” (I was going to embed it, but apparently I can’t, so you really should follow the links.)

Image copyright SPA, 1992. Please don't sue me.

Did you know they made a sequel?

I was going to start by saying “Well, we’re a lot less ridiculous now than we were in 1992,” but rewatching the sequel…no. No, we aren’t. (Klingons? Seriously?)

Seriously, though, you can see that the anti-piracy movement has developed a vastly different tone in the past 18 years. The first video makes a reasonable, albeit brightly-colored argument: If you don’t buy games legally, the employees won’t get paid for their work, and the companies will stop producing new games. When they start talking about actual copyright law, it seems off (one copy for one computer? So if my computer breaks, I have to not only buy a new computer, but new copies of all the software I own?), but it doesn’t focus on the law. It focuses on the relationship between game developers and game players and how, by copying software, the latter are giving the shaft to the very people who are developing the games they like so much. Basically, it’s appealing to the viewer’s goodwill.

The second video, although it stars the same guy, barely gives a nod to the “if you like games, you should support them” argument. Instead, virtually the entire thing is devoted to one point: It’s illegal! You’ll get sent to jail and be violated by gang members in orange jumpsuits! OMG THE FEDS WILL COME AFTER YOUR MOTHER IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT!!!!11!! Yes, it’s pretty much impossible to summarize the argument without hysterical screaming. This video appeals to the viewer’s fear.

I think that at the core what we’re seeing here is a shift in the attitude of anti-piracy advocates (SIIA, RIAA, and others) towards pirates and potential pirates, a shift from treating them as people to work with towards seeing them as people to work against.

In the first video, the pirates are presented as two ordinary kids with good intentions and reasonable motivations: there’s a game installed on their school computers, and they want to be able to play it at home too. By the end, DP convinces them and they decide to buy their own copy instead. In the second video, the pirate is running a downloading site and making mass copies that he sells. No remorse out of him, just head-shaking and eye-rolling. What a hardened criminal.

The trouble with the newer approach is that it’s likely to backfire. Watching the vilification, the exaggeration, and the promised dire consequences, a reasonable person would be as likely to come to the conclusion that we need a complete overhaul of our grossly overreaching copyright law as to agree that piracy is as bad as depicted.

In Britain, it’s apparently the same thing multiplied by a thousand, according to this video, which oddly asks you to report instances of piracy, even though you presumably only knew about the instances of piracy because you were one of the participants. This approach may scare first graders, but it’s unlikely to convince many adults, and it will instantly alienate anyone who has ever illegally downloaded anything (that is, 98% of the under-25 crowd) by making the SIIA seem overbearing and out of touch with reality and presenting no real reason why anyone would comply with their requirements.

Obviously piracy is an issue and it needs a solution, but anti-piracy organizations are doing themselves a disservice by vilifying and antagonizing people that they actually need to win over. They’d do better to go back to the 90’s hip-hop.


There are three kinds of PSAs: cheesefests, nightmare fuel, and both. See some more.



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3 responses to “When Did The Anti-Piracy Movement Get Like That?

  1. Ian

    My favorite anti-piracy ad: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALZZx1xmAzg

    Warning: British humor.

    • katz

      Heh! I wanted to do one along the lines of “You wouldn’t make your girlfriend wait…you wouldn’t make your boss wait…you wouldn’t make your grandma wait…so play the %$#%@ movie already!”

  2. Pingback: DRM and Piracy: Trust Begets Trust « Chimaera

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