I was listening to Cory Doctorow at the Tor Podcasts and he talks about copyrighting and emerging technologies. What occurred to me is that piracy today is perhaps no better than piracy say, thirty years ago. Sure, mp3s weren't available, but we had mix tapes. For TV shows and movies, there was Betamax. Books on the other hand has often been loaned to other people, bought at secondhand bookshops, or even outright photocopied. Accessing media may be more convenient today but I don't think there was really any foolproof protection against piracy.
Piracy also has been used as a tool to promote the text as much as to deprive money away from its copyright owners. Photocopying a chapter of a book for a friend might be illegal but sometimes, that's a way of hyping up a particular book, persuading your friends to purchase their own copies. Of course naturally there will be people who'll refuse to purchase their own copies, thinking that they got the better deal at getting something for nothing. But then again, are these people really customers? Even deprived of copies or a particular media, will these people actually spend money to watch or read or listen to something? Of course those are two extreme examples. Certainly there's room for people who's curious enough to purchase a product but have not yet allotted it in their budget. Obtaining pirated copies can go either way: persuade them to buy the original or convince them not to.
My take on it is that perhaps instead of clamping down on piracy, publishers and media moguls should work around it. How do they do that? Well, ads are one example. Incorporate it in the media itself. I don't want ads in my eBooks for example but publishers can easily sneak them into the footers of every page where it's unobtrusive yet undeniably present (making it unobtrusive is important--we want hackers to think it's not worth the time to remove). And if this sort of media is really spreading around the Internet like wildfire, the advertisers gets their moneys worth (and hopefully the publisher has the mind to charge a huge sum depending on the popularity of their media). Of course that system isn't applicable to all media types. That's kind of hard to do in music files where it can easily be edited out if it's placed in the beginning or end of the song (perhaps a logo of the company in the mp3 file?).
Well it's either that or subliminal messages.