Sampling Or Piracy? Are Viewers Thieves, Lazy, Or Being Abetted?

For some, there is a fine line between sampling and piracy. For others, the goal posts keep moving. Where does marketing end and stealing start?

If you go to a disreputable website and get CBS' "Two and a Half Men" episode a day early, are you stealing? Yes, more than likely. But if you go to an honorable website, say Hulu or XfinityTV, and get the premiere of NBC’s new show "Smash" early, it’s not thievery, just marketing.

All entertainment marketers want us to eventually screen their products the correct way -- have consumers pay a fee, visit the proper digital areas, or pay those who support a piece of entertainment.

And yes, there is also outright big-time theft -- bandwidth stealers for scores of movies and other content are causing headaches to big broadband access services.



Getting Warner Bros.’ "Batman 9" movie months early from a website is a pretty obvious theft activity. But what if those early leaks somehow build strong positive buzz? Some might say, "That wasn't the original intention. And it's wrong to being with."

I always had mixed feelings about the movie marketing practice of offering a free late-night theater ticket to, say, an unadvertised movie starring Angelina Jolie. After all, they call it a "sneak."

Increasingly, broadcast network executives want to offer "free" stuff  as a tease or marketing ploy for new shows. It’s something cable networks have done for years to grab attention and create buzz. Now, viewer erosion has put broadcasters on more even ground with cable and forced them to make marketing changes. 

So everyone can now offer one free episode of a series, say the premiere.

All this is harder to do with film (or with music). There are long movie trailers, of course -- though more than one consumer has opined that those rare four-minute movie clips released occasionally are no tease. For consumers, it seems like they have "seen the movie.

Napster and the Internet are still to blame for some of this, by creating an additive habit. Obviously, many still believe plenty of entertainment can be found free on the Internet -- and that it's their right to access it. In recent years, research says that those who once used illicit file-sharing sites -- now older consumers -- have become paying consumers. 

How many times have you forwarded an article -- or some other bit of copyrighted content -- to someone? Maybe that's okay with, say, The New York Times. (Still, as an unpaying customer, the newspaper always reminds me how many articles I have left out of my allotted 20 per month.) 

TV networks encourage viewers to forward trailers, previews and other content of new shows to friends. What does that feel like -- versus viewers who are actually stealing?

2 comments about "Sampling Or Piracy? Are Viewers Thieves, Lazy, Or Being Abetted?".
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  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, January 23, 2012 at 5:03 p.m.

    I fall into the "lazy" category. I'd gladly pay a reasonable amount to watch something I would otherwise miss if it were made easily available by the broadcaster or producer ... emphasis on "easily". If it takes 30 minutes to find, register for, and access a 30 minute sit-com, it simply isn't worth the time or effort. One central access point, shared and managed by all legitimate content providers, is way past due.In other words, some people steal because that's the only way they can watch.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, January 23, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.

    1. Chuck hits a very sour and truthful note. Will the situation ever change ? Maybe and probably. Give it a few years. 2. If someone gives you something and you take it, did you steal it ? If you take something someone else owns without asking, did you steal it ? If you find a dollar bill on the street, do you look for the owner or keep it, then does keeping it make you a thief ? If you find a lost article with the owner's name and information on it, did you steal it if you don't return it unused ?

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