Contextual Understanding of ‘Time is Money’ in a Digital Internet World 2014 and its relevance in the ‘Copyright-Piracy’ conflict..

Man has felt the need to ‘share’ and ‘receive’ since Time immemorial. It was even before the birth of ‘Copyright’, ‘Creative Commons’ or even money. It was called the Barter system, where someone exchanged a physical commodity in exchange for another commodity.

This system had continued for hundreds of years, before someone, somewhere, realised that this form of exchange had a problem. What if a person A had a good A1 to offer to a person B in exchange for his good B1, but the person B was ready to offer B1, but did not need A’s physical good – A1? This was a problem, and need a ‘standardized’ solution. A solution standardized to make free flow of economics, and the concept of a standardized currency that was based on Numericals was born. So, based on this concept, a Man could sell a Cow in exchange for 10 goats, keep five of the goats and sell the remaining five goats for twenty chicken. It made things a lot more convenient. The same note which was supposed to represent a standard value in the economic chain passed through millions of hands. This function of money continues to exist today, although a substantial portion of it it being transformed into a digital world, via the Internet, Computers and Technology.

Most of us understand this function of money, right from a very small age. But we also hear the age old proverb – Time is Money ( Alternatively, ‘Money is Time’) . But how do you make sense of this proverb? Can someone spend Rs.1000 and get a few additional hours in a day? Or add a few zeros say 100,000,000,000 and extend his life time by a few hundred years? It doesn’t make any sense, and this why ‘context’ becomes a very important word, and this understanding plays a very important role in today’s dilemmatic situation in the ‘Copyright-Piracy’ Conflict.


(Image source –

Consider the above picture. It is a 1000 Rupee Indian currency Note, that exchanges hands when physical or digital commodities worth Rs.1000 are exchanged between a buyer and a seller. Sometimes, the same note may get broken into ten smaller notes with value of Rs.100 each. But, its value as a purely ‘economic function’ remains same. i.e The ‘Value for Money’ definition remains constant, across anyone who uses this note.

But, While this note provides the same ‘Value for Money’ does it provide the same ‘Value for Time’ for all classes of people, across India, for whom this same 1000 Rupee Note passes hands through? Let us see some practical examples.

To understand this abstract example, we need to make a differentiation between commodities that are purchased/used in our daily lives. The commodities can broadly classified into Essentials and Non Essentials. Any House Hold or individual budget first allocates money towards the ‘Essential’ class of Items. The surplus money ( sometimes called as ‘Disposable Income’ in Corporate Terminology) is what is pushed towards the Non Essential Items. Having defined the basic terminology, let us see the effect of the Rs.1000 note on both these class of Items.

  1. Non Essential Commodities –
    1. For instance, a ¬†family of 4 or 5 in a city spends this 1000 Rupee note in an AC theatre and this amount might include not just the ‘theatre’ experience, but the interval ‘foodies’, ‘fuel for transport’ etc.. So, in 3 or 4 hours, the value for this Rs.1000 has been obtained, as far as this family is concerned. But this note may change hands, millions of times, before it reaches the hands of a Rural labourer, who might use this same note in an entirely different situation. The labourer is likely 50+ in age, and he can get a basic mobile feature phone for less than the same amount of Rs. 1000, which will provide him value for over 3-4 years. Clearly, the value for Time that the same Rs.1000 can provide across different economic classes of people is different, although the economic value for the Rs.1000 note, remains constant. Understanding this ‘Value for Time based upon Money’ in a largely fragmented economic and social class, across India is important to understand piracy in India..
    2. Let us consider another example, and use the same labourer, here as well, and compare him with an urban college student. Again, the same Rs.1000 note is taken into question.
      If an urban college student has Rs.10,000+(upto 50,000+ in some cases, based on Brand loyalty or economic affordability) to purchase a phone, the likelihood is that he would purchase a smart phone ( or an Iphone) rather than a basic 1000 Rs.feature phone. This is not only because he can afford the phone’s cost, but he can also afford the subsidiary relatively high periodical maintenance costs associated with the Smart phone. In this case, it could be a periodical Monthly Data plan that costs Rs.300 or 400 along with the Wifi that he likely has at home, for which he may spend anywhere between Rs.600-2000. Most importantly, the phone provides a ‘sea of added functionality’ that the feature phone can never provide, whether it is ‘Social Media integration’, a ‘Good Video camera’, ‘GPS’ or whatever. But in the case of the Rural labourer, having a Rs.10,000+ phone provides him no additional advantages over the Rs.1000 phone, because he is less likely to even afford the periodical data charges. For him, the phone is merely an instrument to communicate at 1 paise/second, or in some cases, just give a missed call. So, this understanding is very important, that people will not pay extra for something that provides them no additional value in their life is very important.

    So, now, let us draw the relevant conclusion from the above 2 examples and the Rs.1000 note, that we used.

    1. In the first case, the Rs.1000 made value for the urban family, because the value of Rs.1000 was invested not merely in watching the movie, but in the time that the family bound itself together and strengthened its bonds. It served its likely purpose, as long as the movie experience was good, in the Disposable Income segment. For the labourer, Rs.1000 is a way of cheap telecommunications, and for him, the phone is a long term investment that is expected to last for several years and for him, the phone falls into the ‘Essential category’.
    2. In the second example, we see that for the student, the 10,000+ phone is likely to be with him, almost entirely, as long as he is awake, through out the day. He is either likely to be on ‘Facebook’, ‘listening to music’, ‘WhatsApp’, ‘Watching Videos on YouTube’, ‘taking Snapshots on a vacation’, ‘Working on official documents via the cloud’ etc. Since, the device occupies him entirely where ever he goes, and it is light and mobile to carry around, and that he can likely afford the #2g or #3g charges everymonth, it makes a lot of economic sense to the urban student. Moreover, the student knows that the more money that he pays for the phone ( which is now an essential commodity in his perspective, it is likely to provide him a much better experience. A phone for 14-15,000 is expected to work much better than a phone for 3-4,000), and since it is a long term investment (2-3 years), it makes a lot of sense to him, to spend a little more to buy a costlier, but better phone, if he can afford. But to the labourer, a smartphone makes little sense. For the urban student, a phone call is only one of the hundreds of uses the 10,000+ phone may provide, but for the labourer, it is the sole and likely only function.

Having spoken phones, gadgets and a theatre experience, all that have to do with in a certain sense, non essential commodities that may not impact everyone through out India, let us compare the same scenario to some other examples, where Money solely exists as a function of True economics and has no bearing with the concept of ‘Time’.

Let us say, that the cost of alcohol was raised. Alcohol is a niche segment and it will affect only those people who consume it, and based on their economic status, this may have varied impacts. But, if it is a truly essential commodity like Rice, Dal, Sugar, Milk, or Fuel whose prices are raised, almost 95-98% of the Population of India is definitely going to feel an impact. These items come under the most essential commodities, commodities that are needed for survival, and the economic aspects of these commodities have stronger bearing that any copyrightable commodity like Books, Music or Movies, which in an Indian context do not fit the essential commodities aspect as described in #2. This is one of the important factors that need to be understood. Only, and only if users have disposable income, that tends to overflow from budgets, that they can accomodate towards NonEssential commodities like Copyrightable Goods/Entertainment, or if they find some sort of ‘value for Time*’ and ‘Value for Differentiation**’ for spending towards such commodities, will the people be ready to pay for such non Essential commodities.
*Value for Time – can be seen in the urban family that spent Rs.1000 on watching a movie in an urban theatre.
**Value for Differentiation – Can be seen in the student who consciously chose to pay a much higher price for a smartphone, not only for its brand value, but simply because the likely experience that he would get would be much more smoother than a cheaper phone.