Cyberclinic: 'Do the right thing' isn't a very sexy message

  • @rhodri

A new advertising campaign has been described (albeit by the people behind it) as "emotionally explosive". The kind of ads that make my emotions explode usually feature people battling valiantly with cancer, but this is different. Here we have footage of people sitting on comfy chairs while watching or listening to some pre-recorded entertainment, and being moved to laugh hysterically or weep unashamedly. The message is simple: these moments are worth a bit of cash. If a film has made you blub, a TV show has made you laugh or a piece of music has made you flail around wildly, the people responsible deserve some money. So cough up rather than grab it online for free.

I can't argue with the thinking. I like paying for entertainment and I've always been puzzled by scenester music fans who continually try to score free tickets to see bands they supposedly love. But does this guilt trip approach work? Liz Bales from the organisation behind the campaign, the Industry Trust for Intellectual Property Awareness, talks about persuading people to do "the right thing" – but we've shown a hilarious indifference towards doing the right thing for a decade or more. Entertainment just isn't seen as an essential utility, and the cash value we place on it has been hugely diminished by it being digitised and made easily available. We place more value on an HDTV set than the entertainment we might watch on it – even though forcibly downgrading us to non-HD would only elicit irritation, while depriving us of entertainment would reduce us to emotionless husks.

Does pleading with us pay off? According to the Trust, previous campaigns have stemmed the growth of copyright infringement by an estimated five per cent between 2007 and 2009 – although goodness knows how they calculate that when there are so many complex factors in the equation. The growth of streaming services such as Spotify has hugely contributed to the decline in filesharing (although not particularly enriching artists) simply by being less hassle than downloading things illegally. Widely publicised legal moves to curb filesharing probably have some effect; it's impossible to know how much, but it's telling that two-thirds of us would, apparently, stop illegally downloading content if we were asked to do so in an official letter.

Telling people to do the right thing can't hurt. It's a good idea. But you can't help feeling that kids with time on their hands, a thirst for music and video and no money in their pockets will just mumble that they've got no money in their pockets and do it anyway – and thus reinforce the point that every download isn't a lost sale, no matter what the creative industries might claim.

Geeks can occasionally display heroic attributes. After the BBC announced that some 172 of their websites would be mothballed, an anonymous chap spent $3.99 on server space, archived them all and made them available for anyone to download. This gesture has parallels with the activities of The Archive Team, who set about saving the 652GB of Geocities sites when Yahoo shut them down – or, for that matter, protesters who rally to prevent the demolition of old but much-loved buildings. But is web content really worth preserving like architectural masterpieces? The BBC isn't convinced; a recent blog reveals that it's nothing to do with saving money ($3.99?), merely that many sites are just clumsy, dated and lack quality. The argument is essentially about whether to chuck or hoard; I'm a chucker by nature, but if I change my mind and want to examine a clutch of badly-designed websites with outdated information, I suppose I can always download the torrents.