As most fans already know, Phil Hendrie is concerned about piracy and has launched a campaign to stop it. Phil is absolutely justified and right to be concerned about it. He has created an incredible comedy “universe” and deserves to be recognized and paid for it. The problem is, Phil doesn’t know his enemy or how to stop them. He has targeted the wrong source, and in doing so has turned his most loyal and passionate fans against him. Goodwill is a weapon against piracy (more on that later).
Bootlegging Vs. Piracy
In the music world, “bootlegging” and piracy mean two very different things, and I think it also applies to radio. Bootlegging is when fans record and share live concerts; piracy is when people share or sell the “official” releases (albums, singles, videos, concert films, etc). Piracy can hurt the artists ability to be paid for their work, bootlegging has been proven over and over again to help the artist promote their work. That is why many artists actively promote bootlegging, and the vast majority support it. Bootlegs are good for artists, because it’s a great way for their most loyal fans to share and promote them for free without cannibalizing their “commercial” products. It also makes it very clear what is permitted and not permitted.
U2 is the biggest and most commercially successful band on the planet, and they allow fans to tape and share shows everywhere ( including YouTube), but they go after people who share their “commercial” product. This distinction earns U2 ( and other artists with the same policy) tremendous goodwill, because fans see it as “fair”. Visit any U2 forum, and it isn’t the bands management shouting down pirates, it is the fans. For many fans, buying the album is a way of thanking the artist for their work (goodwill). I hear from people all the time, you tell me, they have Phil Hendrie Show audio collections that dwarf the backstage pass, but they subscribe to “support” Phil.
The “Phil Hendrie Show Flashback” podcast is not piracy. It is a small sample of the “bootleg” or fan recorded material that is out there. The podcast always avoided material that was available commercially on the site, and none of the the audio was taken from Phil’s site. It also gave Phil full credit for the work, and promoted where people could find the official product. Fan created YouTube videos are also not piracy. Almost everyone I’ve seen, was short, and contained a link to Phil’s site.
There are sites out there, that have every Phil Hendrie Show available (including last nights) and they don’t credit or link back to Phil, that is piracy.
Learn From Past Mistakes
The music and TV industry fought piracy for years by calling their customers “thieves” and suing them. They also made the “official” content hard to get and use. This didn’t work, piracy only got bigger. If you think about it for a minute, its pretty obvious why: Running commercials about stealing and filing high profile lawsuits, draws attention to all the free content out there. (Many people discovered “file sharing” sites because of this tactic.) You also lose the battle for “hearts and minds” when you call fans thieves, and sue single mothers who download a few songs. And you encourage people to get pirated material, when it’s better quality and easier to use then the commercial product. When I got my first iPod, I had to illegally download mp3s of albums I already owned, because of the copy protection. Copy protection doesn’t stop the pirates, it just makes the product harder for your customer to use.
The other issue with piracy is that there are no borders on the internet. There are many countries in the world with no copyright laws or no enforcement. The lawsuits almost always fail to shut down pirate sites, and when they are successful, ten more spring up. Technology is also making it easier and easier to share stuff anonymously with large numbers of people you don’t know. The reality is, you can’t stop piracy. Phil Hendrie is one of the few who still believes he can. He will eventually reach this conclusion on his own, but it will cost him a lot of money and fans in the process.
So what does this mean? Is intellectual property dead? Will artists lose all ability to profit from their work? Luckily, the answer is no. There is a really simple solution, make piracy irrelevant. TV piracy is way down, because the TV industry is starting to make it irrelevant. They did this by simply making the content available. They still have a long way to go, but you can now watch a lot of TV on sites like Hulu for free. Customers are happy, because it’s easy and free. The networks are happy, because they control it, and they selling very lucrative ad deals.
Here’s how Phil makes piracy a non-issue quickly and for free.
Make the distinction between “bootleg” and piracy. All Phil has to say is “all audio from this website is my “commercial” product and is off limits for sharing online. He could also add that “bootlegs” or fan recordings from October 1999 to the present are also off limits.
He then sets an official “bootlegging” policy. For example, people can use “fan recorded” audio that is not available on the site for non-commercial purposes. He could add as many rules he deems necessary. For example, must have a disclaimer that this is “fan recorded, edited, material”, must give him credit for the material, must link back to his site, etc, etc.
He makes all the audio on his site downloadable, and makes sure its unedited and fully tagged. All of the audio should also be made available as an actual podcast.
These three simple things completely eliminate the issue. The fans would instantly be back on his side. All the recent negativity towards Phil is about the history of broken promises, and his attack on a community of fans.
It would also make the piracy of his show irrelevant, because his material would be better quality and easier to access.