Legality aside, the inescapable truth is that file sharers on the Internet are currently delivering a product superior to what you can purchase from where you’re supposed to.
This isn’t to condone piracy, and file sharing is not just about the free ride. Let’s consider for a moment the available options for enjoying a feature film in the comfort of your own home:
- Rented or purchased DVDs are region-locked, riddled with DRM and often require viewers to sit through ads for other DVDs before they can get to the content they want to watch.
- Movies or TV shows downloaded from the Internet are DRM-free, have no geographical restrictions or arbitrary file limits and can be enjoyed on a portable media device, personal computer or even this cheap and cheerful set-top box from Western Digital:
In the realm of music things are a little better, as smaller file sizes enabled file-sharing in the days of dial-up connections and got the music industry’s attention that much sooner. Yet even today the iTunes Music Store still sells files with DRM, and DRM-free storefronts like the excellent 7digital are still subject to the same region/market restrictions imposed by the music industry. Meanwhile, MP3 search engines can find virtually any song you’d ever want from any artist anywhere in the world.
If it’s starting to sound like I’m excusing theft here it’s only because the traditional media companies have fallen so very far behind in delivering what their customers actually want. In fact, their very business model is set up to fail in the digital age. In his book The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It Jonathan Zittrain scored a telling quote from a movie industry executive:
Our core mission is to protect our library of films, and earn as much as possible from that library over time… So that means focusing our efforts on what’s proven — i.e. the DVD — and only dipping our toes into new consumer technologies. We simply aren’t programmed to move quickly.
If they (television broadcasters in this case) don’t make it available in the online environment there are other people who are going to make it available for them.
What are your thoughts on file sharing? Do you consider yourself a pirate or an activist? Let’s discuss!