How to Deal with Content Theft

Calvin Correli

By Calvin Correli June 11, 2014

As info-preneurs, we're faced with the reality of content on the internet: The internet makes copying digital content extremely easy - in fact, every single bit of data that's transferred across the internet is being copied, not moved, to get from the server it resides on, to the customer who has paid to access it. In other words, copying is at the root of the nature of the internet.

So how do we prevent people from just copying our content and giving it to all their friends or uploading it to big sharing sites for the entire world to download?

Thankfully, we're not the first industry to deal with this problem. We can learn from the software industry, the music industry, and the movie industry.

What not to do

When I was a kid, my mom had a software company. They made DSI-SYSTEM, which was the equivalent of what Microsoft Office later became, but for MS-DOS (the character-based computer interface that preceded Mac and Windows), and they were market leading in Denmark.

They did all sorts of things to try and prevent theft. They'd write to a special sector of the 5¼" floppy disk, which couldn't be copied, and require that disk to always be in the drive or the program wouldn't run. Or they'd buy a proprietary hardware device and require that to be inserted into one of the ports on the back of the computer or the software wouldn't run.

What would inevitably happen, though, was that some cracker somewhere would find a way to disable the copy-protection, and distribute a version without it. It only takes one person to do the work, and now it can be shared with everyone.

The net result always ends up being that you're punishing your honest, paying customers by making it more onerous for them to use the software or content, while people using the pirated copy don't have to jump through hoops like dongles and floppy disks that have to be inserted in drives.

One industry that has gone way overboard with this is the movie industry with their braindead DVD region system. A DVD bought in one region will not play on a player bought in another region. In 1999 I was living in the US and bought several DVDs because I wanted to be able to watch those movies again years later. In 2002 I moved to Denmark, and all of my legitimately bought DVDs were useless.

On top of that, they added the annoying piracy warnings and other self-congratulatory bullshit at the start of the DVD, and they'd manage to cripple their own product so much that an illegal download was way preferable to the legitimately bought product. That's called shooting yourself in the foot.

Another bad solution that the movie industry has come up with is to only allow streaming videos. But streaming is an awful experience compared with downloading. You frequently get poor image and audio quality, you'll wait for the content to buffer because of congestion, rewinding a bit to see some clip again can take a long time.

Or if you want to sometimes watch just a few minutes while on the can or brushing teeth, as I like to do, forget about it. By the time the stream starts playing, you're already done with your business. If you're traveling, it quickly becomes useless, either because of poor internet connections, prohibitive wireless data pricing, or geo restrictions.

In fact, even though I do have a Netflix subscription which for the $8/month I'm already paying provides access to all five seasons of Breaking Bad, I opted to pay Apple a total of $145.94 in order to download them instead. The streaming experience is that bad.

So while Simplero does allow you to prevent people from downloading your content, we strongly recommend against it. Don't cripple the customer experience for your honest paying customers in order to punish or make life more difficult for the rotten few, who are probably going to find a way to work around it anyway.

So what works then?

It turns out we human beings generally like to pay for stuff, provided we feel like we're being treated with respect and that the exchange is fair. So when you make it easy enough and advantageous enough for people to pay, they'll happily do it.

That's what Apple showed with the iTunes Music Store. People pay for songs because it's cheap, convenient, and superior - they know they're getting the right song, at a good quality, and with all the metadata like cover and album and track information.

Louis CK is another great example. He's selling his comedy shows direct, online, for just $5. You can stream or download, with no copy protection. That's such a fair deal that people do it en masse. Anyone could upload it to BitTorrent, and I'm sure someone has, meaning anyone could download it from there, for free. The exact same product. But they don't. Because we're human. We like to pay for stuff when we're treated with respect.

Another option is to bundle services with the product. Service contracts, free updates, support, live group coaching calls, one-on-one time, an online Q&A forum, etc. That way the offering includes things that cannot easily be copied, and that are only available to paying members.

Finally, you can do simple things that don't degrade the experience of your paying customers, such as putting a little text on each page of a PDF that says "Prepared exclusively for (customer name)". This won't hurt the experience, but will discourage that person from distributing the file too widely. This is, of course, built-in to Simplero.

Copy protection and infopreneurs

So how do you as an infopreneur deal with this issue?

The answer is, you don't. You just don't worry about it.

Instead, you focus your energy on creating excellent value and an excellent relationship with your customers.

To break it down, what you do is:

  1. Make sure that you've identified an Ideal Customer that will happily pay what you're asking and isn't likely to pirate your stuff. If you haven't, identify a new Ideal Customer. You cannot build a business on a customer base that won't pay. It's not going to work.
  2. Put half of your energy into attracting as many Ideal Customers as you can or need.
  3. Put the other half of your energy into serving those customers as well as you possibly can, providing great value, and building great relationships in the process.

Here's the thing: People who pirate their way to your content probably wasn't going to pay you anyway. So you're not losing any revenue, and they don't cost you anything, either. You don't lose anything at all because of it. Don't worry about it.

In fact, it's likely you may gain something. If you know who your Ideal Customer is, and you're providing great value for them, there's a pretty good chance that the person who got your content for free will either become a paying customer themselves later, or they'll recommend you to others who will then become paying customers.

Especially because of the trigger of reciprocity, along with guilt. Reciprocity says when you get something from someone, you'll want to get something back. So if they really got value, they'll want to give back, either by paying or by advocating. The guilt will make them want to make up for their crime somehow, for example by paying or advocating.

Bottom line

The bottom line is:

  • The thieves cost you nothing but may well end up generating revenue down the line
  • Any measures you implement to prevent theft will only hurt your paying customers and won't really prevent theft anyway

And don't forget that what you focus on tends to grow, so focus on what you want more of, not what you want less of.

So our advice is: Don't worry about theft, and instead focus all your energy on the honest, good people, and all will be well.