The people power of Game of Thrones pirates


Game of Thrones still

Last week's Game of Thrones series four premiere revealed Melbourne as the pirate capital of the world. An analysis published on the website TorrentFreak shows Melbourne, followed by Athens and Sydney, as the top city in the world for downloading the show without paying.

It's debatable whether it is technically illegal to download media content from sites such as Pirate Bay, rather than purchasing, in this case, a $35 per month minimum Foxtel subscription. Choice magazine says it's a grey area, but gives qualified sanction to consumers who circumvent the strategies of online media companies and retailers that play hard ball to squeeze consumers in small markets such as Australia, where it's easy to create monopolies. 

With this series of Game of Thrones, the Murdoch half-owned Foxtel negotiated exclusive, or monopoly, rights, so that it could charge what it wanted. But Foxtel knows that it doesn't really have a monopoly because it is competing against the likes of Pirate Bay. 

The downloaders make a 'people power' claim to moral legitimacy because they think Foxtel's business model undermines the access they believe they are entitled to. Meanwhile Foxtel corporate affairs director Bruce Meagher says 'that's like justifying stealing a Ferrari on the basis that the waiting list is too long or the price is too high (maybe it's because you don't want all of the features)'. 

Perhaps they're both correct. 

It appears Meagher fails to appreciate that the human act of telling and listening to stories is essentially organic, and that the ability and right to buy and sell stories cannot be assumed. Since the beginning of human civilisation, stories have defined our identity and brought us together as social animals. Stories are not a cultural form of terra nullius, and human nature will not allow them to be wholly appropriated by business interests.

What the downloaders don't understand is the difference between a story and its telling. Story tellers don't own the stories but they should be paid for telling them. 

The commodification of stories is in itself a product of human industry and the dignity of work. It's fair to expect us to pay a reasonable price to access particular 'tellings' of stories. Media production creates work for actors, writers and producers, and expands our horizons with a greater range of stories. It is a matter of regret that globalisation has killed many languages and folk traditions, but a fact of life that mass media products such as Game of Thrones have displaced ancient forms of story telling in the lives of small groups and tribes.

Regulation needs to ensure that everybody has access to the telling of stories that are considered culturally significant — including pop culture — at a readily affordable cost. Given the mass global interest it has generated, this would have to include Game of Thrones. 

Until now, the Federal Government has used its anti-siphoning legislation to ensure that certain sports events remain accessible to all by stipulating that they must be shown on free to air rather than pay TV. Unfortunately these rules could be scrapped by the Abbott Government's proposed media regulation changes. Anti-siphoning should instead be expanded to include other culturally significant genres such as Game of Thrones. If it's not, the people power of the downloaders will prevail.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. 



Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Game of Thrones, Foxtel, pay TV, Abbott, piracy, Pirate Bay



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Existing comments

I'm certainly glad I didn't pay for this particular story from Mr Mullins. It might, I suppose, be of marginal interest to those whose minds dwell on 'business models' and matters of similar import. But the real story is the popularity of 'Game of Thrones' itself, which programme is a running sore of sensual violence and sadistic sex, presented with high production values, excellent effects, tight plotting and good acting. The chiaroscuro camera work of the interiors is a new benchmark for TV. All this is expensive; up to US$8 million per episode apparently. The 'G o T' world is one completely devoid of morality, as far as I can see from my limited exposure to it. The question is, is this a baleful influence on the mostly young people who watch it, or is it just a reflection of the post-religious, might-is-right world they inhabit?

J Vernau | 11 April 2014  

Someone pointed out that in fact what Foxtel is trying to do is make us purchase 10 Ferraris in order to get a single car. In that case, it's a much different prospect when it comes to a person's desire for luxury transport. I actually think most people understand that if they want quality storytelling they have to pay for it. It's just that they also know there are convenient and efficient ways to pay for that storytelling that are being ignored in order to protect an outdated and inefficient system. It's market capitalism at work - except, sadly, it's the rich and powerful who are losing out.

Joseph Vine | 11 April 2014  

Go pirates. Go anything or anyone who interrupts the business model developed by the greedy people who control the content. Why should i pay $18 a month for 12 months to watch football when I only want to watch it for 8 months? Pay TV is a rip off.

John | 14 April 2014  

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