I am starting to like the French!


I remember a time when people didn’t buy consoles. They bought home computers made by firms like Atari, Commodore and Sinclair. These were great general purpose machines that had a wide variety of uses, including game playing. Unfortunately it was extremely easy to copy any commercial software, so everybody did. Thus dooming these devices.

Then came game consoles. Initially, using ROM cartridges, they owed their success to just two main advantages. Firstly games were not easily copied, thus making game publishing a viable business again. Secondly they were much easier to use, just plug the game in and go. Unfortunately the industry became complacent in it’s security so when piracy became rampant again at the end of the original Playstation generation a lot of companies were very badly hit.

Now we live in the age of broadband and games can be transferred on the interweb quickly and easily. And so they are, with companies making a revolutionary switch over to digital distribution. But the pirates got there first, for some time now it has been the distribution method of choice for these thieves. We are potentially getting ourselves into exactly the same position that we were in with home computers and with the original Playstation.

And it is not just us. The film and music industries are suffering very badly. They have reacted in very clumsy ways with Digital Rights Management (DRM) and by totally disproportionate punishment of individuals making illegal downloads. It is a very messy situation. What should be a straightforward transition to a far more elegant distribution model is being ruined by thieves and the industry reaction to those thieves.

Earlier this year we were in France during a general election when the hidebound older generation were relegate to history, to be replaced by a dynamic new regime led by the charismatic President Sarkozy. It is a breath of fresh air as he sweeps through French public life, dragging the people, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. Interestingly he was personally unpopular in pre election opinion polls, but people voted for him because they realised that he would bring the medicine that they needed.

And so it is, he is the new Margaret Thatcher and France is a very interesting place these days. So it was really impressive to see his solution to online IP theft. He has created a very powerful anti piracy body to oversee a totally new philosophy. ISPs will now be responsible for monitoring traffic and warning pirates, disconnecting them if they persist. In return the IP owners will work towards getting rid of DRM and excessive persecution.

This is so pragmatic and has a very good chance of being the solution that works. The level of traffic created by illegal IP traffic is immense, cutting it off has got to stop the theft. This will give the IP owners the confidence they need to progress into the exciting new age of digital distribution that will benefit everyone. Except retailers.

IP pirates are fundamentally stupid. If everybody steals then who is going to pay the wages to provide them with the IP that they want to use? It is the pirates that killed off home computing by destroying the business model. And they could just as easily decimate the modern games industry precisely at the moment when we are finally becoming mainstream. So the French move is something we should study with care and replicate worldwide if it is a success.

Meanwhile it is nice to see the pirates squealing.

Please add any comments you may have below.

1 Comment

  1. Minus the part where the Internet bill goes up and a lot of privacy goes out the window….

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