Farewell piracy. The future hath (almost) come

If you want to skip all the story and find out what services I use, scroll down to the services list :)

Have you read The Oatmeal's comic on pirating game of thrones? If you don't want to click that link I can give you the gist of it. In order to watch Game of Thrones in a legal way, the character of the comic goes from one site to another to try and find some way to purchase the show. Netflix doesn't have it ready yet. iTunes lets you buy only some featurettes for now. Amazon doesn't have it. Hulu forwards him to HBO where it asks him to buy a cable subscription! At the end of it, he simply two-click grabs it from a Torrent site.

The Beginning

Years ago Gabe Newell of Valve made a prophetic comment on piracy and DRM.

In general, we think there is a fundamental misconception about piracy. Piracy is almost always a service problem and not a pricing problem. For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country 3 months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable. Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty. - Gabe Newell, Nov 24 2011

That argument that if you make it convenient for people to get their desires through legal means, they'd happily pay for it instead of pirating turned out to be spot on. Even though people still pirate, the fact that Netflix has grown every month with its streaming service and has seen more growth after opening itself globally is current proof of the trust Gabe placed in people. Valve's platform, Steam, which disrupted the gaming distribution industry is a defining piece of proof that Gabe was ready to put his actions alongside his words. Of course, that statement was years ago. And the story of the future begins many more years before that.

Back in the day of 2 disc VCD cases that I'd buy for a few hundred rupees from a shop in Majestic City or gleefully borrow from a friend who had gotten it first. In those days the Internet ran on noisy 56 kbps dial up connections that made it a miracle just to see an image download on Internet explorer. There was no downloading of games. Hardly any original copies of movies or games or music came down to Sri Lanka, and those that did were obscenely marked up to cover taxes, salaries, showroom overheads, shipping costs, and profits.

In those days, the only reasonable option to gain access to media was piracy. Cracked games, bootlegged VCD's which would occasionally carry the sounds of people walking in and out of a darkened mini cinema room, and ripped music CD's were all we had and that was all we consumed.

When 512 Kbps connections rolled around, a magical gateway of being able to play games online opened up. Obtaining music online became realistic, but even then, for us plebs in Sri Lanka, there didn't seem to be a way to actually get this music. I never had an Apple device so I can't be entirely sure when iTunes allowed music purchases, but it wasn't truly available to us. Also, I wasn't allowed to use my father's credit card except for exceptional cases. This might be the only hazy part of the history I remember.

Fast forward through the years and in 2011 I finally had a job. That same year that Gabe made those remarks about piracy. With the job came a credit card and a promise I made myself.

I promised myself that I would always attempt to purchase a digital good and only if there was no other way would I resort to piracy.

The Journey

In 2011 the only thing I could access legally to pay for was the Steam digital tore. There was nothing else available to me.

Soon after, I got myself a newer generation Kindle for reading books. Prior to this I did have an old Kindle but I didn't have the means to pay for books, so I would pirate as many books as I could. I've since then bought all the books that I ever pirated which was expensive, but also saved me of a guilt trip.

It took a few more years for other industries to catch up but Hulu was certainly a good start. Except, Hulu was and still is at the time of writing this, a US only service. No matter. I got myself a VPN connection and was able to access the site. This was technically illegal as per their terms and I soon stopped since it was such a poor experience at the time.

There were more services. Netflix for movies. Spotify for music. Again, all of these had some strange terms and conditions. Netflix's digital collection was rubbish. Spotify was great, but like Netflix it was accessible only to the US. I continued to pirate or just watch movies in the cinema. Sri Lanka was doing much better in bringing newer movies down quickly so my pattern started to shift heavily towards just going to the cinema.

Somewhere along the line, I found unlocator.com which wasn't exactly like a VPN. It used its own DNS entries to allow me access to those sites. I never looked into how it worked, but I really enjoyed using it. It allowed me to use Spotify. While this still wasn't technically legal, at least I wasn't supporting the piracy industry.

Netflix remained the elusive one. Locked away behind a paywall that I couldn't pay for without a US registered Credit Card, I simply chose to ignore whatever was on its site until, it finally opened up globally. I think I signed up one month later and it's been my favourite subscription since then.

Which brings me to present day where I finally got music out of the way. I've been playing between Apple Music and Google Play Music. I just discovered that Google Play Music gives me a free YouTube Red subscription (more on that in a bit). So I'm sticking with Google Play music. Most importantly, Google Play offers a web player.

For some context, I tried to pay for Spotify first since I enjoyed their experience so much but again I was told that unless I have a US registered CC, I wasn't welcome on their site.

With music, TV shows, books, and games all done I had just one item left to tick off. Movies. Google Play Movies came to the rescue for this and I couldn't be happier.

The final list

This is the final list of services I use to completely avoid piracy

Service Purpose Price (USD)
Netflix Streaming lots of good TV shows and some movies 9.99
Google Play Music Streaming Music 9.99
UFC Fight Pass Streaming lots of good TV shows and some movies 7.99 (annual sub)
Steam/Origin Games No Sub
Google Play Movies Almost all movies and shows No sub. Can rent or buy
YouTube Red Some good shows showing up on YouTube Free with Play music sub
Audible Audio books 14.95 (grants 30% off on all purchases also)
Kindle E-Books No Sub
Comixology Digital Comics No Sub
Marvel Unlimited (cancelled) Full Marvel collection. Anything older than 6 months is there 9.99

Every single digital requirement. Covered.

The shortcomings

The most frustrating shortcoming that remains is the idea of region locking. This is such an antiquated idea and to see even people like HBO say that their originals are unavailable around the world to be streamed feels absurd. The shows are mercifully available on Google Play Movies and I've purchased Westworld, Silicon Valley, and Game of Thrones from them. And the frustrating part? Game of Thrones season7 won't be available till the season is over. Why? Don't you want me to watch this? Don't you want me to not pirate it? I can understand releasing each episode an hour or even a day after it airs around the world. But waiting till the season ends? Why? I literally have no legal means by which to obtain the show in HD where I can watch it when I want. I can't even subscribe to HBO Now's streaming service. I even tried purchasing the channel through Amazon but it requires a prime subscription which is pretty useless in Sri Lanka.

But I am being glib here. It's been only 12 years since I would wander around in the shops of Majestic City to purchase a DVD or music album and I've already got almost everything I want in terms of digital convenience.

The future is here. Almost. I can wait