I should imagine that, by now, you’ve heard Stephen Fry’s podcast on the subject of piracy, copyright, DRM and the like. If not, it’s worth a listen, as it makes some good points and raises some interesting issues which are worthy of discussion.

I point you towards it, not because I’m going to discuss any of the issues within it, but rather because I was thinking that there’s one area of copyright infringement and piracy which rather tends to be overlooked in these discussions, and probably because it has next to no commercial impact; that is, items which are not commercially available. I’m mainly thinking here of things such as radio and TV shows, but it also applies to albums and films to a slightly smaller degree. I can’t claim to have the most wild and esoteric tastes, but I find that certain things I’d cheerfully pay to own are no longer available, due to never being released on CD or DVD or whatever. Examples would be Victor Lewis-Smith’s Radio 1 shows or the first self-titled album by Animal Logic (for some reason, Animal Logic II is available as a download, though its predecessor isn’t).

So, if I want to own these things, and be able to play them whenever I want, the only real route is to see if I can find them online, and then download them there – which invariably means getting them for free and the original creators getting no money. Which, in the case of items such as the above, I’d actually be happy to pay – and as commercial releases are often of higher quality and contain extras which are missing from copies thrown onto the ‘net, I’d certainly welcome the chance to do that (not to mention the conscience aspect of things).

Now, I’m painfully aware that the vast majority of music and film which you can download from t’web is commercially available – new films and CDs are often there to download within hours of release (if not before) – but I have to say that I feel slightly less bad about downloading material which isn’t available in a commercial form; yes, I know it’s copyright infringement in the most literal sense, but much of the argument about this topic seems to focus on the fact that doing so is taking money away from the appropriate parties, which in the case of non-commercial downloads of non-commercially available material, doesn’t apply. To give an example, before there was a full release of On The Hour, a BBC radio series which was both influential and spectacularly funny, many comedy websites and discussion boards would provide links to places where you could download the series. Now that it’s available to buy through the usual routes in its full form, those sites have removed those links, which seems only right and proper.

So, I think this is a bit of an overlooked area, and as one who’s always keen to replace cassettes and VHS tapes wherever possible (let’s face it, mp3s and DVDs just take up less space), I may simply be trying to justify questionable behaviour on my part as a means of enabling my obsessive-compulsive collecting tendencies to be satisfied. But I like to think there’s something worthy of discussion here.

Incidentally, thinking about the non-availability of items which are owned or produced by the BBC led me to wonder if there isn’t a commercial opportunity for a hybrid of iTunes and the BBC iPlayer whereby one can pay a sliding scale fee to access items which have been broadcast but are no longer on iPlayer; for example, 50p to download an mp3 of a radio show which is over a month old (and which isn’t going to be released commercially), £1 for a TV show or documentary, with the prices increasing depending on DRM issues and whether you can download them to keep or just to stream or whatever, and upwards to the point where downloading the stuff just becomes less attractive than buying the DVD.

I appreciate that the BBC has to balance its public service and commercial thinking, but given that they sell millions of DVDs each year, I would have thought there was some way to ensure that people could get to listen to the Afternoon Play they thought sounded interesting, or see the episode of Mastermind in which someone they knew was a contestant, even if they took place outside the ‘iPlayer timespan’, for a fee which is small enough to be appealing to a punter but useful enough to justify the service.

Just a thought…