Red tape makes saying 'no' to piracy hard

A few weeks ago, a friend posted a minor social network rant that caught my eye.

His recent Blu-ray and DVD purchases from Amazon had arrived but half his order was missing.

Both copies of Frozen and One Direction: This Is US arrived undamaged, but the Media Development Authority had taken two of his other purchases and refused to let them go.

The missing titles? The Amazing Spider-Man and season four of The Good Wife. One is a superhero movie while the other is a TV drama which is currently airing on the cable channel Diva Universal Asia.

(As another friend pointed out, the inspection officer made the missing titles move in one direction before freezing them in transit. Get it?)

But the comment which stood out for me was in his last sentence. He said that, on top of paying money for legitimate copies of shows, he will probably need to pay more for the two titles to be classified and returned to him.

"People who torrent, you win," he noted.

For as long as I have known him, he has supported the movie and TV industries and spent quite a bit buying titles.

If there is no local version available, he orders them online, so that his kids can enjoy the latest Ultraman movie or Disney cartoon.

For years, he has resisted the cheaper - and illegal - alternative of downloading movies to save a few dollars, because he wants to be a good role model for his children, and support the industries which have entertained his family for so long.

But lately, he has had to sell off older titles because he no longer has the space at home to store them all.

It does not help that movie pirates can store thousands of episodes and movies in a hard drive the size of a paperback novel, whereas he needs to find shelf space for his collection.

The point of his rant is that the bureaucracy here makes supporting legally obtained content just too difficult. Each time he buys titles from Amazon, he wonders if the authorities would come after him for owning unclassified movies, even though the ones he orders are clearly meant for a mass audience.

Fortunately, he now has an alternative in the form of streaming content services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant Video.

For a monthly fee, these services stream movies, documentaries and cartoons directly to a TV, tablet or smartphone.

This includes the latest movies and the hottest TV shows, as well as some exclusive titles which are unlikely to air on local channels or be released on local DVD and Blu-ray formats.

The bad news is that these US services are not targeted at Singaporeans.

The good news is that there are ways to access these services (see cover story). And because these content providers are not targeting consumers here, their offerings are not bound by local content classifications.

Lawyers have suggested that by signing up for such services, subscribers are breaching the terms and conditions that state that such services are for users in the United States only.

But at US$7.99 (S$10) a month, it is a low risk, especially for those who want access to content immediately.

Here is what I think. If Netflix decides against releasing exclusive shows, such as House Of Cards, in this region, it means it is foregoing the revenue. So if anyone in the region downloads the show, Netflix suffers no loss.

Subscribers here are actually adding to Netflix's coffers, so it is in the company's best interests to look in another direction, and let it go.

This article was published on April 16 in Digital Life, The Straits Times.

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