Tim O’Reilly on the Economics of Piracy

By Deane Barker on November 23, 2003

Piracy is Progressive Taxation, and Other Thoughts on the Evolution of Online Distribution: The O’Reilly Network is making great strides in e-book publishing with their Safari service. I’ve been a customer of Safari in the past, and I found it very good.

In this article from last year, Tim O’Reilly makes some really interesting points about the continual struggle between online distribution and priacy.

Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.

Think about that: I bet there are a lot of content producers out there that wish they had enough exposure to actually get pirated. If you’re being pirated, then at least people want what you have and you have the market penetration to be known as a good source of content.

“Free” is eventually replaced by a higher-quality paid service. A question for my readers: How many of you still get your email via peer-to-peer UUCP dialups or the old “free” Internet, and how many of you pay $19.95 a month or more to an ISP? How many of you watch “free” television over the airwaves, and how many of you pay $20-$60 a month for cable or satellite television? (Not to mention continue to rent movies on videotape and DVD, and purchasing physical copies of your favorites.)

He’s got a point. Network TV is free, but I still pay for cable. And there may be a lot of free content on the Web, but I’m still going to subscribe to Safari again on Monday.

Yes, I can probably track down pirated copies of O’Reilly books if I want, but Safari lets me search them all at once, and presents them in a much more convenient format than a 1,000 page PDF. The scales of functionality have tipped to the point where I’d rather just pay for a better service.