In my childhood, books and bookstores used to be my romance (yes, I am that old). Particularly, stores and second-hand book shops were a world of fantasy unto themselves: sifting through yellowing, aromatic volumes, you never knew what gem you may stumble on to.
Then, in the late 90s, computers became ubiquitous and many bookstores started allocating a separate space for CDs and other peripherals. Soon, they turned into CD stores with a nook reserved for books.
The objects of my desire changed, so mine had to as well. I became increasingly interested in games and software. I knew all about piracy, but preferred not to care. After all, who would pay thousands of rupees for software? Having spent a few hundred bucks, I would merrily walk out with Photoshop, Office, FIFA, Need for Speed, Half Life, Crysis, and whatnot. Often, both my computer and I lacked the ‘memory’ to even install all of it, but we all were hoarders back then.
With the advent of the internet, content exploded. Songs, movies, books, dramas – everything was a download away. However, people like myself still liked to browse CD stores for our content fix; the internet was painfully slow and wasn’t worth the trouble.
I once decided to dabble in digital calligraphy. While halfway through my first Quranic verse, I was struck by a thought: here I was, using pirated software, installed on a pirated operating system, using counterfeit hardware. Everything I was using was in effect stolen intellectual property while writing about Quranic verses, ethics and doing the right thing no matter what. Something was not right. There and then, I made a decision: I would go legit. I would use legal content whenever and wherever I could.
The first step was to buy a genuine copy of Windows. It was expensive, but oh so satisfying, as the OS installed flawlessly, without errors or delays. These days, Windows usually comes free with laptops and is a relatively cheap purchase. The second step was to install Microsoft Office. I discovered that Microsoft offers something called Office 365. For $80 a year, a user can access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, Publisher, Access and OneNote on 5 PCs or Macs, 5 iOS devices and 5 Android devices. That is right; you can install and run all this legally and fully up to date for a year on a total of 15 devices. There are options to purchase the software outright, but it costs a lot more and is usable only on a single device. Now there is also an online version of MS Office which is usable on any web browser and is completely free.
That sorted, I moved on to games. I am a PC gamer and installing games from several discs (any of which can malfunction), looking for cracks (which worked only half the time) and incurring the risk of viruses and malware in the process was becoming a pain. Enter Steam. Steam is an online content delivery service by Valve. Here, you can find almost every game, install it online and keep it updated. The service is reputed worldwide for its seamlessness and stability. There was only one problem: the top-tier games cost upwards of $60.
We are not in the habit of paying for intellectual property. We even pirate our own locally printed books. We have no qualms about giving pirated books to our children for their studies. It will take a concerted marketing effort by content creators and establishing pricing more in line with our income levels, to prevent piracy. They need to do their part first.
No worries. I started adding games to my wish list. I discovered that if one waits a few months, the games could be had for half or one third of their retail price. This means that a game which would cost Rs7-8,000 off the shelf, becomes available for Rs1-3,000. One just has to wait for Christmas, Easter, Cyber Monday, Black Friday, Summer Sales, Winter Sales, publisher sales –you name it.
There is another service from Electronic Arts, called Origin, and it works in a way similar to Steam (please note that most EA games are not available on Steam). Two years ago they came up with a game-changer: a service called Origin Access. For the price of one game, you could access several dozen games in their library for a year. I discovered that most of their leading titles took a few months to make it to Access, but never mind, I would rather wait a few months to use something for free legally rather than steal a person’s hard work.
EA now plans to introduce Origin Access Premium, which enables you to play any game, new or old, in their library, for a yearly price of $100. Setting aside the quality of EA games (the subject to much controversy recently), I believe this is every gamer’s dream come true. If you end up spending several thousand rupees a year on pirated DVDs, this is a no brainer.
All is not rosy. Amazon does not deliver to Pakistan (not even their content). Our internet speeds and data packages are still not optimised to enable 50-60 GB downloads. However, it is a start.
Moving to content creation, my next stop was Adobe. In my opinion, no photographer can work without Lightroom and Photoshop. They have a subscription service which provides access to both for $10 a month. Guess what: it is not available in Pakistan and guess what I did about it!
For films, Netflix is available in Pakistan and doing phenomenally; however other services such as Hulu and Amazon Prime are absent, limiting consumer choice. For magazines, there is a service called Zinio which can deliver virtual magazines to your desktop or phone for a very reasonable price (and much lower than the paper versions). For ebooks, there are services, such as Kobo and Amazon Kindle but they limit their content in Pakistan. No major music streaming services are available in Pakistan.
This leads me to believe that while all these companies complain about rampant piracy in Pakistan, they are doing very little to push their legit services. With the advent of credit cards and online payments, and several companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google using them to the fullest extent, there is no excuse for other publishers. Even today, hardly anyone knows about Origin or Steam. Similarly, I don’t see people taking advantage of Office 365. I don’t see any ad of digital content delivery services on our websites or TV channels.
Yes, I accept that we have been spoiled, growing up on pirated content and often go for the ‘free’ option (with viruses and guilt thrown in) even with legit options. We are not in the habit of paying for intellectual property. We even pirate our own locally printed books. We have no qualms about giving pirated books to our children for their studies. It will take a concerted marketing effort by content creators and establishing pricing more in line with our income levels, to prevent piracy. They need to do their part first.
Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night.