“Angry Birds” Maker Says Piracy Isn’t All Bad, Can Generate Business

With big media groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America crusading against piracy via the anti-piracy bills flying around as of late, it seems odd to hear anyone say that the act of piracy could be a good thing — but Rovio dared to say so.

Angry Birds creator Rovio criticized the music industry’s approach to piracy recently at the Midem conference in Cannes. Rovio CEO Mikael Hed said his company has learned a lot about how not to handle piracy through the music industry’s actions.

“We have some issues with piracy, not only in apps, but also especially in the consumer products,” said Hed. “There is tons and tons of merchandise out there, especially in Asia, which is not officially licensed products. We could learn a lot from the music industry, and the rather terrible ways the music industry has tried to combat piracy.”

The recording industry has certainly made some bold moves in the past in the name of piracy. For instance, the RIAA scored $105 million USD last March from Limewire, which it attacked for piracy.

While Hed thinks that piracy can be harmful if it rips off fans or somehow hurts the Angry Birds brand, fighting piracy the way the music industry has seems to be ticking consumers off more than getting them to jump onboard. In fact, Hed even said that piracy can be a good thing at times. For instance, Rovio may not make any money off of products that are not officially licensed, but it spreads the word in regards to the product and creates a larger fanbase, which is what really counts.

“Piracy may not be a bad thing — it can get us more business at the end of the day,” said Hed. “We took something from the music industry, which was to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans. We do that today — we talk about how many fans we have. If we lose that fanbase, our business is done, but if we can grow that fanbase, our business will grow.”

It seems Rovio’s Angry Birds already has a healthy fanbase. Last November, Rovio announced that it hit 500 million downloads. By that time, it had already launched merchandise like plush toys and T-shirts, where a million of each were selling on a monthly basis as of September 2011. Rovio also struck film deals and planned its first Angry Birds retail store in Helsinki.

Also, last March, Rovio’s Peter Vesterbacka proclaimed that console games were dying in favor of mobile games like Angry Birds.

Despite Rovio’s criticism of the music industry, Hed also noted at the conference that his company may be getting chummy with a few of those associated with the industry. More specifically, Angry Birds might be getting a soundtrack if deals are struck with music companies.

“We have some discussions with labels about what we could do together to give access,” said Hed. “It is possible to promote music content through our apps as well…we are positively looking for new partnerships, and we have a rather big team working on partnerships, so it’s just a case of getting in touch with us and we’ll take it from there.”

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