Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Piracy in Japan versus piracy in Korea

In my daily news troll, I ran across this article in the Los Angeles Times that suggests South Korea gets movies like Iron Man 2 in theaters ahead of Japan because of an effort to earn money before pirated copies take hold online and ruin the opportunity to make money off eyeballs:
As Moore noted, one of the countries that has the least amount of piracy is Japan. "There is a very low social acceptability in Japan for stealing copyrighted work -- you just don't see movies showing up online right away there," he said. So with that in mind, Paramount is holding back the release of "Iron Man 2" in Japan for several weeks, having little fear about the country being swamped with bootleg copies of the film.

However, when it comes to Korea, it's a different story. "For better or worse, there are certain countries -- notably like Korea -- where it's culturally acceptable to download movies online pretty much right away," said Moore. "By the third week of a movie's release, you're starting to see a large part of the audience who will start consuming the film online. It's why Korea has almost no home video business anymore."

So Paramount knew it couldn't afford to wait. It released "Iron Man 2" in Korea this weekend -- and is hoping for the best.
An interesting theory, one that seems to be uncritically accepted over at The Marmot's Hole, which also highlighted the article.

An interesting theory except that it may not be true. Or at least it's misleading.

I'm sitting right next to "M," a fellow public health student who hails from Kansai, to whom I asked, "Do people in Japan download movies illegally?" To which she answered, "Yeah, a lot of them do," and then she told me about sharing services like Cabos. That the movies may not pop up there immediately may have less to do with "social unacceptability" of viewing illegal downloads than the drive to be the first to get it online.

Given the often months-long lag between the US release and the Japanese release, a lack of publicity in Japan for a given film may also dampen demand for it to be seen online: You're not going to look for something which you don't know exists.

In fact, "M" and I had been discussing just a few weeks ago not why Korea gets movies so quickly, but why Japan gets them so late, often long after their North American, Korean, or European release dates. There's your question.

I also am a little disinclined to believe the boo-hooing of media companies that make grand claims of losses supposedly over piracy. A loss as they define it is full ticket or rental price for a movie viewed illegally. To me, a loss is the money they would have earned in a venue the movie would have been watched if the illegal download did not exist.

Those are a very different set of numbers. For starters, when something is "free," people experiment by viewing things they would not necessarily plop down money for. I have a legitimate Netflix membership that allows me to view many of their movies on line, and I'll tell you I "try out" far more movies than I would have if I had to pay for each one or can get them for free but have to wait to receive them by mail. People might also "re-view" something they had paid to see, or even check out something ahead of time that they plan to see.

Furthermore, the movie-going experience in Korea is incompatible with downloads, legal or otherwise. People in Korea are avid cinema-goers who like to watch movies for dating purposes or as group activities, and it's doubtful that that can be replaced by downloading. So the notion that they have to get the movie out quickly before the pirates take over is, well, highly suspect. As with many things involving Korea, I think we're looking at a facile interpretation for something that requires a far more complex explanation.


  1. I would think the movie downloads would be higher in Japan because of the late release. Today thanks to the internet everybody knows whats going on at every single second.

    Why they don't do simultaneous releases is beyond me. They can send the actors on the junkets ahead of time.

    I for one am glad korea is so download happy because I fit right in.

  2. This is a very interesting subject to me. My interest in copyright/intellectual property rights is more on the music side, but I am frustrated by how much the laws are lagging behind the technology.

    For example, I can't join the US iTunes store (or other overseas MP3 downloading sites) to download my favourite music, because I'm not a US citizen. The reason is, the distrubtion rights in my country for the songs I want were bought and paid for by one company and I have to go through them if I want to buy them. This made sense when we were dealing with physical products and there was considerable investment (and associated risk) with bringing in the goods.

    This is the same as a lot of imported product - you have to go through the approved dealer. I can understand this to a certain extent - the company wants to protect (and control) how their products are sold because they want to protect their reputation, profits, etc., etc.

    There are, however, some things I can get that are 'parallel' imported - i.e. not brought in or sold by the approved importer/ditributor/reseller/or whatever. I understand that, in this case, perhaps there will not be such good (if any) after-sales service, and perhaps any standard warranty will be void as a result. I know that and I'm free to choose whether or not I want to risk it just to save a few bucks.

    The biggest thing that bothers me, particularly with music, is how the old laws are being abused by greedy record labels (and iTunes! Grrr....) that want to charge us the same amount for a digital product (and heavily restrict how we can use it - I'm still looking at you, iTunes/Apple) as we did when it had to be shipped, stored, packaged, and marketed in a physical way - with posters in record shops, and the like.

    I resent being asked to pay for overseas freight for a digital product. Why should I pay more because it USED TO cost more to send records to my country?!

    Another thing, record companies are so overprotective of the material in their catalogues, that they won't let other companies sell it. I get ticked off that I have to join multiple sites to download music I like... because the artists were signed to different labels - well, I would if I ever bothered to join any at all)

    So, I feel reluctant to join any 'legitimate' MP3 download sites.

    Movies are a little different as the production costs are huge. But still, I think (like projected/estimated losses, as you mentioned, Kushibo) prices are inflated.

    Check out this article about how the business works and how buying music the 'legit' way is not helping artists that much.

    Here's an interesting talk about copyright (DMCA - the digital millenium copyright act, and so on) that is also worth checking out.

  3. Preemptive apologies - the preceding comment was made in a sleep-deprived state, and was, perhaps, excessively long, harsh on Apple/iTunes, vague, and the evidence in the links are a few years out of date.

    I do enjoy being extra-critical of anything Apple, as I know Kushibo is a big fan-boy. ;)

    I also wanted to add a couple of points. (And yeah, I know - I'm in long-winded rant mode and I'm sorry to drone on.)

    First, MP3s are, in addition to being over-priced, an inferior product. As I mentioned before, they're over-priced because you're still paying a price that is based on a physical product that requires manufacturing, packaging (and packaging design), distribution, etc. (And at the same time, the artists often receive no more money even though the record company is making MASSIVE savings - for the reasons just mentioned - by selling their product digitally.) MP3s are, to finally get to my point, lower quality - compressed audio.

    That just adds insult to the injury of already being asked to pay too high a price.

    The second thing I wanted to add is related to DVDs. The region codes are intended to aid in controlling distribution - for reasons including the ones I mentioned in my last message. The problem is that, once again, choices are limited and the quality is of the product available to those living outside the US is lower. The quality of the packaging is often lower and the there are fewer 'special features'.

    Blu-ray discs have fewer regions. Perhaps this is a sign that moves are slowly being made towards a distribution model that provides equal access to the higher-quality products.

    And perhaps, as is argued in the TED talk I linked to in my last comment, illegal downloading of movies (and TV shows, music, etc.) will force change in the way we can get access to movies, in much the same way as independent radio stations did in the past.

    Damn! There I go ranting on for too long again... I just couldn't help myself!


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