Usability and movie piracy

A few weeks back I received a circular 'joke' email, with a top ten list. In this case, it was the top ten reasons why pirated movies are better than legal copies. I read it, thought it was funny and pretty close to the bone, deleted it, and moved on.

Last night I hired a movie from my local store, sat down to watch it, and found myself thinking of that email again.

Let's start with a basic rule of usability though. Imagine this. Imagine a website that charges you for a service. You pay to join, and then you can watch movies. I want you to imagine that this is what happens to you:

  1.  You decide to join, as you want to watch this movie. You pay your money over.
  2. Once you've done this, the site shows you a message, which tells you how wrong it would have been of you NOT to pay. Okay, well, you paid, so you ignore that. This goes on for a minute or two, and you can't get round it.
  3. Following this you see another message, telling you that it's illegal to not pay for this website if you want to watch the movie. Again, you can't skip this.
  4. Next, the site shows you a series of ads for OTHER websites. These go on for even longer, and again you can't skip or change what's shown to you. You just have to wait it out. Again.
  5. Now you're shown a long ad for a new type of media player, which is supposedly superior to the media player you're using on this site (and therefore completely irrelevant, but hey). And yes, you guessed it, you can't skip it. Several more minutes drag by.
  6. Finally, after what seems like an eternity and no control over the process, you get to see the start menu, and can watch the movie you wanted to see.
  7. At the end of the movie, you see - yet again - a message telling you that it's illegal to not pay to watch this movie on this website, in your country. You can't skip this or go back to the home page. But that's not the worst part - oh no.... the worst part is, this is followed by another message, explaining that if you happen to be Spanish and living in Spain, it would also be illegal. Which is followed by another, saying if you happened to live in France, it would still be illegal. And on, and on, and on.... For long, long minutes you're stuck, your browser won't respond and you can do nothing but watch a seamingly endless stream of foreign messages scroll across your screen, each one giving you plenty of time to get angry over your lack of control.
  8. Finally, after all this, you discover something. You discover that if you'd decided not to pay for this website, then you could have skipped all of those messages in a heartbeat.

The question is, how would that make you feel?

The answer is pretty obvious; if that happened to us on the web we'd rebel. We'd refuse to pay, since the experience as a paying customer would suck big time in comparison to getting it for free.

It's not a direct analogue, of course, and I'm certainly not advocating piracy - I believe strongly in digital rights. But the point here is, look at the user experience we're offering to the paying customer, as opposed to the person who decides to take the pirate route. In effect these companies are penalising us for making the right choice, by treating us as sheep who can be penned up and forced through indoctrination time and time again, despite the fact that we made the right choice in the first place. Whereas those who don't get to pick a streamlined experience for themselves.

There is always a cost to poor user experience, and this case it's entirely possible that the cost is an increase in use of pirated material.

Gary Bunker

the Fore