Piracy and poor countries: Big Content wants to have its cake and eat it too

My latest Guardian column, "Why poor countries lead the world in piracy," discusses the groundbreaking independent research presented in "Media Piracy in Emerging Economies," a 400+ page report that took 35 researchers three years to compile. The project's lead, Joe Karganis, is giving a free talk tomorrow in London:

So why do it at all? Karganis and co explain that the entertainment industry's dilemma comes, fundamentally, from wanting to have its cake and eat it too. The entertainment industry can't afford to set its price to locally appropriate equivalents. Not because it can't profitably sell software or games or other intangibles at much lower prices – after all, the incremental cost of a new copy of Windows or Toy Story or Spore is the pennies necessary to transfer it over the net or burn it onto a disc. But if you could fly to Sri Lanka or Morocco or Mexico and buy a legit, licensed copy of Windows for a few pounds, you might be tempted to pick up a couple of dozen copies for your friends, or for the local car-boot sale. The entertainment industry fears this kind of arbitrage, so it sells its commodity goods at luxury prices in countries full of starving people and acts alarmed and hurt when people choose not to pay full freight.

But by asking taxpayers – here in the rich world and also in the poor world – to foot the bill for trade sanctions, enforcement, new civil and criminal penalties, even global treaties like ACTA, the entertainment industry can still get a profit out of the poorest people in the world by externalising the costs and reaping whatever sliver of legit market they can drag out of the poor world by brute force.

As good a read as Media Piracy is, many people might find the idea of getting to grips with more than 400 pages of research at home. Luckily, there's an alternative: Karaganis is on tour with his report, heading to Brussels where he'll be presenting the work to the EU. On the way, he's stopping in London to give a free lecture on Wednesday morning, presented by the Open Rights Group and the LSE.

Why poor countries lead the world in piracy