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June 28, 2005

Brave New World

I'm not going to get in the way of Matt's open-source advocacy, it's very much a heart says yes, head says no issue for me. I do think he's being a bit obtuse on the distinction between "making stuff" and infringement (it's fairly well understood that many of these programs are specifically made for the purposes of infringement but legally cling to potential legitimate uses, something Tim Lee explains well in this post), but his ultimate points are sound.

One thing, though, that confuses me. File swapping has always struck me as fairly easy to stop. The RIAA or the movie industry could simply purchase 15,000, or 30,000, or a million fairly cheap computers, pack their hard drives with audio files, hook them to the file-swapping networks, and flood every open file-sharing program with dummy files that, once downloaded, offer a symphony of top-volume screeching teenyboppers, yelping puppies, and sobbing children. If users had to sift through five of those for every usable file they got, the migration to iTunes would be so quick the UN would have to set up refugee camps.

Enterprising swappers, certainly, could create code names for popular songs and translators to find them, but each time those sneak-arounds became commonly known, the RIAA could easily shut them down in court or simply flood the programs with files corresponding to the new names. Surely this has been thought of, and I've even heard of it being done in some cases. So why hasn't the industry tried it on the necessary scale? It couldn't be too expensive to do.

Movie sharing, as Matt and Kevin note, is substantially more problematic, but not for the film industry. In the age of Netflix, no late fees, and pay-per-view, seeing a film in theaters, at $9.75 a ticket, requires a special desire to see the film in theaters. It's really not about an inability to access a rental for significantly less money and more convenience. Theaters are on the decline because they're prohibitively expensive and home entertainment technology is closing the gap, but that's not BitTorrent's fault. No, the folks who'll be hit by a future of high-bandwidth file-sharing are the Netflix and Blockbusters of the world, the companies competing in the convenient and cheap home movie market. Theaters already cost a lot and have a limited selection, renters compete on grounds of convenience, price, and selection. High-speed downloads can beat them on all counts.

June 28, 2005 in Web/Tech | Permalink

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Comments

The RIAA sort of tried this already. The thing is, there are a variety of ways you can defeat this sort of scheme -- say, by providing checksums that prove your rip is "authentic". Also it's not the computing costs that are the problem; the bandwidth costs of feeding out fake data outweigh any gains you might get in terms of loss prevention.

Posted by: Nick Beaudrot | Jun 28, 2005 2:17:25 PM

The Comcasts of the country (and world?) surely intend to be fighting with the Blockbusters and downloaders as well.

IMO, the issues here are mostly of classic supply/demand and price/volume.

The price for a song is somewhere between zero and $1.00 - that is pretty well established.

The price for a movie (when some more battles are won) will be somewhere between zero and $2-4.00.

All agree that movies cost lots to make, and music not so much. The question is how to make a profit (and a living wage) for either of those.

I have no doubt, but the media industry seems to have lots of doubt, that if I could see "War of the Worlds" tonight on my TV, downloaded or pay-for-view, that I'd pay $3.50 for it gladly. How many others would pay for this. Millions.

The whole music store/theatre thing is going to be passe real soon now - except for those willing to pay a premium for some benefit they see (and I don't).

When someone builds a distribution system that results in low prices, the volume will be there to make it profitable and equitable to the creators.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Jun 28, 2005 5:36:30 PM

Not a problem for the film industry? But if theaters go away, and DVDs go away, who's going to make films? Sure, NetFlix will go out of business, but so will MGM.

Posted by: Kevin Drum | Jun 28, 2005 6:07:43 PM

See, I think theaters will survive, just as they are now. They may decline a bit because other options have become more attractive, but the theater is still a night out, a destination, an activity. They'll be fine, though I expect they're going to have to evolve some -- more services or movie choice or something -- to remain competitive.

Posted by: Ezra | Jun 28, 2005 6:23:57 PM

First, about flooding the net with dummy files? It becomes much less of a problem with "swarming" technology like BitTorrent because a bad file will get deleted and not shared. Like evolution, popular files will thrive and bad ones won’t survive.

Second, about future business models for media and content distribution, the truth is that media companies are going to have to change to be able to survive. Two articles of interest are “How Battlestar Galactica killed TV” by Mark Pesce on how P2P technologies could offer an opportunity to media producer, and “The Long Tail” about how technology has given consumer the ability to zero in on the content they want instead of what companies want them to buy (if there’s and infinite space to put you merchandise people will buy stuff they never would have thought of in the first place).

Unfortunately, media companies can choose (and have chosen) to go another way, Digital Rights Management. DRM won’t just keep you from copying media you already own; companies could potentially decide exactly how you get to use it. Maybe that new CD will only play for a year or a month or 10 times. Maybe, at night while you’re sleeping, your computer might decide to erase any media to which you don’t have the digital rights.

The way we get our music, tv and movies is changing and media companies are afraid of loosing their bottom line.

Posted by: JR | Jun 28, 2005 6:46:57 PM

As other posters have pointed out, it's not so easy to overwhelm a file sharing network with bogus files.

It's also not as cheap as you might think. In addition to paying for the hardware and network connectivity, you also need to pay someone to maintain the software on all those computers. Unless you have experience with a large network, you might not realize what a costly pain in the butt that is :-)

Posted by: synykyl | Jun 28, 2005 9:57:42 PM

Used WinMX 'til the RIAA (or whoever) did exactly as outlined above. Realized I couldn't download the new Beck for a good reason. Abandoned for Limewire, where the problem doesn't yet seem much worse than a minor annoyance.

What are the chances either industry pursues more enlightened solutions? I have a feeling iTunes is the digital distribution equivalent of the Khatami presidency.

Posted by: SamAm | Jun 28, 2005 11:27:20 PM

in exactly how many theatres can you find a re-release of vertigo this year? psycho perhaps? how about 2001:ASO? that's what i thought...as long as netflix has access to their current catalog, they will do just fine.

now don't even get me started on the record companies. the music CD is currently the most successful scam ever pulled off by any entity. it's not like the artists benefit anyway... and while record labels play a parasitic role, big movie studios have, to their own misfortune, become quite complacent about the storytelling and character building in their projects and thus cut out the heart of the creativity involved in moviemaking. this has resulted in fewer people willing to spend their(already hard to come by) cash on something new that is more likely to turn out to be a waste of their time than not. as someone mentioned... it's purely utilitarian ;)

Posted by: adithemopur | Jun 29, 2005 12:08:13 AM

JR is correct. Software like Bittorrent makes the "flood the zone" standpoint obsolete. I encourage you to read up on it (not a slam, a serious suggestion).

Posted by: RW | Jun 29, 2005 9:37:10 AM

Rather than an expensive fix of flooding the market, why not just take a few pirate copies, attach really nasty viruses to them and send them back out into the wild. I have heard of file swappers swearing off shared files because they caught nasty viruses hitchhiking on shared files.

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Posted by: peter.w | Sep 16, 2007 9:04:36 PM

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