Why should this even be a goal? Maybe the goal should be to make enough money to fund further work.
It's not so much that 'reducing piracy' is or should be the primary goal, but rather that even when you look at it that way the evidence shows that enforcement doesn't work.
If enforcement was highly effective in reducing piracy and creating opportunities, while innovation was only effective at creating opportunities, we'd still argue for innovation, because reducing piracy is ultimately not the point. But the reality is even more stark than that: enforcement is effective at neither, and innovation is effective at both. We're making the point that even if the entertainment industry is going to stubbornly stand by its insistence that reducing piracy is vitally important, it should still give up on enforcement and focus on innovation.
But also think about this. Let's say you came up with an idea, promoted it and made it a success, and someone else started using your idea without your permission. Without even asking you. Would you be so eager to let it go?
Oh gosh, ol' Frank down the street is copyin' my small business!
Give me a break. Let's "think about this" in realistic terms:
Let's say you came up with an idea 20 years ago. That idea became insanely popular -- a massive global phenomenon -- and made you filthy rich, and grew into a huge company that did $2-billion in retail sales alone last year. You have millions of fans all around the world, many of whom have grown up with your idea their entire lives, and consider it among their favourite cultural artifacts, and continue to make you rich by celebrating it and buying expensive merchandise and continuing to play every new iteration. Then one of those fans decided to throw a party for your idea, for all the people who have spent lots and lots of money on it over the years, to express their love for it.
Under the "different situation" you envision, where a service provider is obliged to review and consider proposed contract modifications from its users, would it be possible for any kind of service with a billion users to exist? And how? Or is your vision that there would be no large services with users/customers numbering in the billions or even millions?
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But that's all a separate question to whether or not it works, and the truth (sad or otherwise) is that it does, even on you, even if you're sure it doesn't (in fact, being convinced that it doesn't work on you just further empowers the advertisers).
You can't just boil advertising down to "tooting the horn" for some given product - it's way more deeply ingrained into society than that, for better or for worse. There are some industries, such as fashion and decor, that have very few objective standards of quality, and thus swing entirely on public perception which is heavily influenced by media which is heavily influenced by advertising; there are times when advertising has tapped into much huger trends, such as the fact that the entire American tradition of a large breakfast with bacon and eggs is largely the result of a single marketing campaign in the 1920s.
Then there are all the ads for things that aint so bad. Is a museum that puts out posters with photos of an exhibit in order to catch the eye and entice you to come see the real thing "lying"? Is it only doing it because its product is inferior?
I'd also add that "On the menu" is not separate from advertising either — McDonald's puts huge amount of thought into how to design its signage and huge amounts of money into shooting the photos advertising limited-time sandwiches in-store; now most locations have the digital screen menus, which rotate in various item promos. Plus, the menu itself is designed from the ground up with an advertiser's eye -- there's no simple, straightforward list of every item available and its price; rather there's a carefully calculated set of featured combos, with ancillary menus themed for things like healthy choices or cheap items, all carefully calculated to push customers towards the products they most want to sell.
It's more complex than that though. "How you found out" is not the only measure of an ads success, and word of mouth is not always borne out of a vacuum.
The McRib is a great example: it has this weird, cult-like status where people get super excited about its availability and start buzzing to their friends. Do you think that's because it's transcendently more delicious than the rest of McD's menu? Nope - it's because of the advertising, which includes the choice to make it a limited-window deal that keeps going away and returning. Remember, that distribution method itself is part of the advertising - and it works like a charm.
It's a very complicated thing, but Michael is right - there is far too much evidence that ads work to ignore. But you're also right that in almost no case is there any extremely clear, causal measurement to be made. It's a mess, to be sure, but it definitely matters. This is also very supportable on the psychological side - you question whether it's really so easy to effect people via advertising, and it absolutely is. None of us are as clever as we think we are, and all of us are influenced by advertising on an extremely regular basis.
Indeed, but that's a different thing from what I said was impossible, which is user-level settings tracking. A URL string would be repeatedly lost for people who arrive at the site via links that don't include it.
It's actually quite complex - the AdSense ecosystem has all sorts of factors determining what you actually get paid. Clicks and conversions have a big effect on the revenue, but it's also not tied directly to them, and volume of impressions still matters a lot too.
IP addresses are a possibility but we have a lot of users on TOR or with otherwise non-static IPs - plus, it feels a bit like using such indirect methods would be engaging in precisely the sort of user tracking that ad networks employ and which people object to. I know cookies are bothersome to some people, but they are at least a consensual form of tracking - I'm not so sure we want to get into the game of trying to uniquely identify all our anonymous users whether or not they want us to. That would still amount to "mandated tracking" I think.
No matter how you splice it, it's fundamentally impossible to offer persistent settings at the user level *without* being able to identify users in some way.
Unfortunately there's no real alternative way for us to store individual user settings. If you sign up for an account, then they will be attached to your account and no cookies are required - but for logged out users, "settings" and some form of "tracking" are inseparable, because we need a way to associate you with your chosen preferences!
"Social justice warriors" are a bogeyman you almost entirely made up in your own head, as evidenced by comments like this. For everyone one person who actually crosses the line into ludicrous with their pursuit of social justice, there are a dozen utterly invented ideas like this one from people who are terrified of social progress. The disturbing thing is it'll probably evolve into an accepted truth - right now it's your weak jibe, within a few days it'll be gleefully mocked on MRA forums as if it's a real thing, all without anyone ever sincerely raising this objection.
I'm no fan of PETA, but I do need to point something out to everyone: the reason you think all they do is publicity stunts is because those are the things that get publicity, and thus the things you hear about. But PETA is actually a pretty loose organization and there are people within it who do good work (or even if you disagree with it, real and not insane work).
e.g. in college I interviewed a PETA lobbyist who spent all his time just pursuing one simple, direct and sensible goal: he worked to bring new non-animal endocrinology tests that had been approved and adopted in Europe to the US and Canada, by encouraging the EPA and other agencies to usher them quickly through the regulatory approval process. Switching to the non-animal tests had basically no downsides and would result in thousands of fewer animals being experimented on, and all it needed was some regulatory attention.
Stuff like that seems entirely reasonable and even admirable to me, and I really wish PETA would focus entirely on that kind of thing and not on their ridiculous antics. But it is important to remember that there is some real work happening behind the publicity stunts.