With the phenomenal success of Angry Birds, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Rovio would be anxiously protecting its core product from every instance of piracy imaginable. As the company’s CEO explains, however, the opposite is actually the case.
Bucking conventional wisdom, Rovio CEO Mikael Hed recently told a crowd of conference-goers,”Piracy may not be a bad thing.”
He added, “It can get us more business at the end of the day.” The key to this thinking, Hed explained, was to learn from others’ mistakes: “We could learn a lot from the music industry, and the rather terrible ways the music industry has tried to combat piracy.”
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Instead of lumping all piracy into one bucket labeled “bad,” Rovio separates the unlicensed Angry Birds product into different categories. Explaining that Rovio’s piracy issues include “tons and tons of merchandise out there, especially in Asia,” Hed said that Rovio only pursues pirate product that is seen to hurt the Birds brand through quality or pricing. Everything else is looked upon as something that will eventually push new customers towards the core product.
“We took something from the music industry, which was to stop treating the customers as users, and start treating them as fans,” he said, explaining the importance of the brand above what might be seen as traditional approaches to piracy and trademark control. “If we lose that fanbase, our business is done, but if we can grow that fanbase, our business will grow.”
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Graeme McMillan is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @Graemem or on Facebook at Facebook/Graeme.McMillan. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.