How to lose the Web and alienate users.

Piracy has plagued the entertainment industry for many years, and there are no real solutions hitherto. The ongoing battle saw the demise of file-sharing giant Megaupload as similar sites ostensibly took a step back.

But as time passes, it is clear that the takedown did little to stop downloads through other means. That is even if Megaupload founder Dotcom may face a jail term of up to 50 years, a charge more severe than criminal cases that cause bodily harm. (x)

We are now seeing sweeping legislations in ACTA (Anti Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). Yet few are as concerned about these as they should be. The Internet is a free space for expression and the acceptance of such legal intervention piles onto the surveillance culture.

As such controls govern and bound the Internet, free information is at stake. Our online privacy faces a huge threat. To find the right solutions, the real problem needs to be identified. We must take a closer look at downloading as an issue on the whole.

Is the advent of the ‘Download Age’ a boon or a bane? The term ‘piracy’ carries a negative connotation, implying theft and crime. But to have a fair debate, we need to look at both sides of the story.

“It’s like if a friend of yours had the DVD of my movie — gave it to you to watch one night is that person doing something wrong? I’m not seeing any money from that, but he’s just handing the DVD to you so that you can watch my movie, that he bought… I think that’s OK, I mean, that’s always been okay right? — You share things with people and I think information, and art, and ideas should be shared.”

– Michael Moore (x)

In the digital age, the Web technology grants you free access to a sea of information. This generation grew up inundated with pop culture, exposed to an impossibly wide range of media through file-sharing.

Admittedly, file-sharing and torrenting platforms are harmful. They eradicate the need to pay creators for our entertainment – movies, television programmes, music and books. But the media industry chooses to ignore the other truth – we find content that we would have otherwise never seen.

More importantly, most of us (including myself) do go on and purchase a legal copy. Acclaimed author Neil Gaiman has experienced the power of the Web first-hand. He gained book sales in countries he would not have been known in, if not for the web and what is supposedly called “piracy”.

“Very few of them bought the book. They were lent it. They were given it. They did not pay for it, and that’s how they found their favorite author. And I thought, “You know, that’s really all this is. It’s people lending books. And you can’t look on that as a loss of sale. It’s not a lost sale, nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

– Neil Gaiman (x)

Indeed, it is not a lost sale. People who have never discovered your work, would never have purchased it.

That is not to dismiss the impact of such actions. There is no doubt the music and movie industry are still losing more money each year. But piracy is not the only problem. Many people download, because they simply cannot afford to buy everything. A DVD costs around over $20. A movie ticket, up to $15. One season of an average television programme costs $60.

Adhering to currently available legal means, we will be watching fewer films and buying fewer albums. We will be choosing basic necessities over entertainment fodder. It can be argued that without piracy, there are fewer choices for the consumers. There is also lesser exposure for the content creator.

We are so consumed by commercial profits that we sometimes forget that having an audience is as important, if not directly correlated. Downloading lets you watch, listen, and read content that you could not have financially afforded to discover. This access increases the likelihood of someone making a purchase.

Think of it as a preview. A discovery platform. Imagine, an affordable monthly subscription for legal access to media libraries. Does it sound familiar to you? The solutions may not be perfect, but are already at hand.

“Just look at stuff like Netflix, Spotify, ad-sponsored Youtube content and project pledge websites. These are some great examples of how you deal with online piracy. What is not a solution is restrictive policy from the government.”

– Myles Dyer (x)

Art is made easy to discover, and be discovered. The Internet has allowed budding film-makers, musicians and writers to reach fans from all over the world, a feat previously impossible to accomplish without it. Each CD costs an approximate $30 and a concert ticket, up to $200. Still, we each own a collection of works from our favourite artists.

What laws such as SOPA and PIPA hold is an outdated view on file-sharing. Governments are choosing not to work with the Web, but against it. The industry has evolved. The prevalence of file-sharing cannot be the reason to allow a restrictive move with vague provisions.

Filesharing may still a problem for the industry. However, killing the source is not the answer. Curbing it must not be at the cost of freedom of expression and privacy. What we need is not restrictions, but the reinvention of the industry.

So, artists and studios don’t earn enough from Netflix and Spotify. Improve the model. Find alternatives to earning your keep. Bands are selling merchandise, and gaining profits from concerts. Paid streaming services are doing reasonably well.

But do not impose bills that are at best, a temporary solution. If the removal of sites or added surveillance deters filesharing, so will it deter consumers.

“It’s an analogue business model in a digital era. The business model has to change. You’ve got to licence out more music. Have more Spotifys, more websites selling more music. You’ve got to make it slightly cheaper to get music in order to compete with the peer-to-peers.”

– Ed O’ Brien, Radiohead (x)

Update: Poland has just signed ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) despite a 20,000 strong protest march. They are but one of many countries who would allow this act to go into full effect.

The agreement, which has already been signed by the US, Australia, Canada, Japan, Morocco, New Zealand, Singapore and South Korea, has been criticized by human rights groups for the secrecy, in which it has been developed, and the potential for abuse it poses.

(x)

ACTA will be a much more expansive threat which will implicate all of us. Apathy will cost our freedom of expression and our rights to privacy. You can help stop ACTA. Spread the word. sign the petitions, and stop the biggest threat to Internet freedom.

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