Monday, May 19, 2008

Mininova Faces Legal Action: Filter or Else

No torrent site on earth is more popular than Mininova. Surprisingly, however, all the legal pressure seems to have been focused on sites such as The Pirate Bay. Mininova - against all the odds - appears to have stayed under the radar. All that changed today as Mininova is now facing legal action by Dutch anti-piracy agency, BREIN.

Is this the beginning of end for downloading our favorite movies and shows for free on the internet? It seems like every other day I read another article about the same thing; first TorrentSpy closes down, then the Pirate Bay gets sued, and now Mininova too. While I am sure nothing is going to change overnight, I am getting a feeling that the piracy gravy train is slowing down and one day our kids are going to be jealous that we downloaded all this stuff so easily without getting caught. The double 00's will surely go down in history as a golden age for internet piracy.

I have to admit though, that I feel conflicted over this issue. On one hand I enjoy having all this content available for free. I also think it's nearly impossible to limit spread of digital media. It is so easily copied and transferred from one computer to the next, why should we (or they) fight it? However, I also realize that if the people who are responsible for creating the content that we all enjoy do not get paid, we will see less and less quality content being created in the future, and that hurts everyone.

So what is the solution? Should the RIAA go around suing random people, one by one until widespread internet piracy comes to an end? It seems like that solution is never going to work. While these organizations can surely sue a lot of people, the scale of the problem is so large that the very best they could do is to successfully sue 1% of the people downloading, - which would be probably more then 100 000 individuals - meaning that anyone who wants to download illegally stands a better than 99% chance of getting away with it. Clearly these lawsuits are not much of a deterrent to anyone.

They can shut down Mininova and the Pirate Bay, but something else exactly like them quickly take their place. After all, Mininova is just a meeting place, it's the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of anonymous users that make it work. Where there is a will there is way, and the people who want to pirate will just meet somewhere else.

I think the solution has to come from the content providers, and it has to address the main reasons why people illegally download and also address the main problems illegal downloaders face. People put up with a lot of crap to download off Mininova, and despite it's popularity, only young, net-savvy individuals are doing it. For someone who knows that this stuff is out there but doesn't know where to start, pirating movies is a complicated, daunting task. First, you have to download and install a bittorrent client program. Most aren't exactly user friendly and it takes a while to get used to how they work and what the associated terminology means. Then you need to find a site like Pirate Bay or Mininova, which is another challenging step for a noob. Once your are there, you then have to sort though hundreds of potentially bogus torrents to find the one you want. And pirate beware if you download the wrong one and follow the "instructions" to open it, you will likely end up installing a trojan or virus on your computer that fucks you up for weeks.

So why do people put up with this? Well yeah, because it is free, of course. But they also put up with it because the legal solutions are expensive and mind bogglingly even less accessible then the illegal ones. People have been downloading DVD rips for at the past 5 years at least using bittorrent and P2P, but it was just 6 months or so ago Netflix started letting people rent downloadable movies. What on earth took so long? The studios where so against letting people pay to download their movies, in fear of them copying and distributing them, they just stuck to their guns and tried to blow online piracy away. This response was despite the fact that the industry and been down this road before. There is little to no conceptual difference between copying a VHS tape, ripping & burning a DVD or sharing a file over the internet. Before downloading was an option, people bought plenty of VHS movies, and plenty of DVD movies even though they could likely get illegally pirated copies for free if they tried hard enough. At the time there was a scare that copying tapes would hurt the music industry, but it didn't happen.

Why not?

Because in the end, why go though the hassle of stealing, when what you want is easily affordable and easily obtained?

If I could pay 40 to 50 bucks a month to download unlimited movies and music I would sign up right now! Why would I go through all the work, trouble and risk to pirate it for free, when it wouldn't cost much for me to enjoy the ease and accessibility of purchasing directly from a legitimate source? Who cares if there is not enough seeders for my torrent? Who cares if the guy with the album I want just logged off Soulseek half way through my download? I can just download it directly from the source - no muss, no fuss. Why am I going to call my friend and bother him to send me a copy of the movie he just downloaded, when, for not too much money, I can just go get it myself!

The only reason this solution has not been implemented yet is because there are about 20 middle men between you and the artist and under this sort of system there would be just one. This means a lot of big business, who for years have been making a killing buying intellectual property off of record labels and movie studios, just to turn around and sell it to retailers (or in the case of retailers, directly to the public) would need to find another stream of revenue or face the music and fold their hand.

In my mind, the perfect distribution system is easy to envision:

iTunes and similar services work out a fifty-fifty split of revenues with record labels and movie studios and call it a day. Artists work out deals with labels to get a proportionate amount of cash based on the number of downloads they get during a specific time period. The end result would be piracy going down, subscription sales going up, the internet service gets paid, the label or studio gets paid and the artist gets paid. For the online distributor, such as iTunes, their business would model the cable industry, where the goal would be to increase subscriptions their service. They would compete for customers on the basis of who has the better media playing software or music playing device. Studios, labels and artists carry on with business as usual, expect they stand to make a bit more money because they are closer to the end user and would get a higher percentage of the total industry sales as there are no big price mark-ups between them and the customer. Everyone is happy except for the distributors, who unfortunately are no longer needed, but hey that's life and things change!

At some point, content providers will need to stop blaming end-users for piracy and realize it is their inefficient industry system that allows it to continue. Then they must effectively address the root causes of piracy by providing easily accessible downloadable content at a price affordable enough for most people that they would rather pay then deal with the headache of piracy.

read more digg story