Thursday, January 10, 2008

ISPs to play big brother ?

Engadget reports that AT&T is talking with the MPAA and the RIAA about implementing network level solutions to filter pirated materials. This is a very parental position, where it has become a matter of "if you can not control your own behavior, we are going to control it for you". Studies continue to show that the majority of traffic on the internet is P2P( with some numbers as surprisingly high as 80%), and the majority of that is video. As far as I am concerned, video has the majority of the share merely because the files are so much larger. There is no good data ( nor a good way to get it) to tell if the number of music or video files is larger. Number of files would give you a better measure of the incidence of file sharing in each format. But governments, large companies and the RIAA and MPAA look at those numbers and say to themselves "there is no way that is all legal...." and are thus motivated to go after the offenders. Here is where we get into murky ground in my opinion video is split between TV and movies, with often equal splits between the two.

In my mind, Movies are easy. If you buy a movie, you should have the right to copy it to a digital format and watch it in your own home on whatever platform you want. But this in no way gives you the right to share that digital copy for use anywhere other than on your equipment. That is, you are not allowed to then give copies of that movie to your friends, neighbors or strangers on the street- no matter what the format or media you share it in. The only way you are allowed to share is if you lend them your originally purchased disc. It never ceases to amaze me that people who are very loudly supporting the writers strike also think they should have the right to give away copies of movies. Is the irony of this not obvious to everyone else?

TV is trickier. Not trickier according to the written law, of course- trickier in figuring out what the real solution should be. To understand the culture of what is acceptable and how we got here, you have to go back to VHS. The industries had complete meltdowns when home recording equipment was first released on the market, and predicted the end of all time. This end did not, as we see, come. But what happened was the birth of time/place shifting. People started recording the shows they love and watching them later. After some debate, it was determined that recording shows for your own individual usage was completely legal. But then you were at work ( or school) and talking to someone about the big episode that just aired and your cube mate says "dang, I missed that episode".
"well, didn't you tape it"
"no, I have not figured out how to work the programming on that yet, and I was not at home"
What is your response?
"well, I taped it- you can watch it and then return the tape to me".

Returning the tape in those days was important- they were not cheap. Technically, this was illegal. But should it be? Most people would answer no. Their gut tells them this is fair use. What was the difference if they came to your house and watched it with you or if they took it to their house, watched it and then gave it back? There was not much the industry could do to intervene in this sort of activity, so although it was technically illegal it was ignored.

I would contend that that TV portion of P2P is mostly this sort of behavior. Those who know how ( or who have the equipment to) recording TV shows and sharing them. Is it illegal, Yes. Should it be- probably not. The only reason that the industry is pushing for this to be controlled is that they are convinced that if people could not download, they would buy more TV shows on DVD. I contend this is not true. It does not lose them cable subscribers, because 99% of the ISPs out there who provide cable internet require you to subscribe to digital cable TV in order to receive cable internet. if you do not have high bandwidth connections, you are not going to be downloading video files- it is just too painful. The other reason for file sharing of TV shows is unavailability through normal broadcast. Our water cooler has gotten very large. It is not just folks who live in the same neighborhood- it is a global water cooler. And when people are discussing tv shows they watched last night, they want they same things everyone else is talking about. If your teammate at work now happens to be in another country ( mine are), and you are discussing tv, the whole "here, borrow my copy" issue comes up again. Only this time the copy is not a video tape, it is bits and bytes on a hard drive. Be certain, it is not just folks in other places wanting current US shows.. the folks in the US are busy downloading shows from BBC and India and China and....
If the TV portion of video sharing ( about half, give or take some depending on the region) were considered legal, how do we tackle the other half?

Why do people illegally distribute copies of movies? I can come up with a list of reasons why people might download them.. but what is the motivation for uploading them? Have you ever uploaded or illegally shared a movie you own? What was your reason/motivation?

There is a lot of discussion on this still to be had... but I need to bolt to work. Comment and let me know what you think.


  1. I think that whether it should be legal or not, file sharing is either going to have to be made impossible or it is going to have to be legalized at some point, with the business model changing somehow.

    TV is such a gray area... People don't buy DVD sets of TV series because a show was on at a different time than they normally watch. They buy DVD sets because they love the show and want to have it to keep it forever.

    Of course, with TV, time shifting itself is being called "stealing" since you can easily skip the ads that pay for the production of the show.

    Music is certainly going to have to go to a new model within the next few years. I think CD sales are going to bottom out but not disappear. I think revenue is going to be made more with concerts and special extras (merchandise, for the most part) and songs will be released for free or cheap online... as ads for the bands as a brand.

    Movies are kind of trickier. They are the actual product, and probably can not get the budget they do on advertising or product placement alone. I don't like the Big Brother approach. Perhaps if it were easier to get the movie legally in an online PPV for a reasonable fee, file sharing wouldn't happen.

    Just thinking out loud.


  2. Here are some interesting updated thoughts and observations... the whole thing is evolving before our eyes.
    The shift to watermarks on music is likely to happen for downloaded video soon as well ( may already be true in video rentals... not sure). If that is the case, then it will be easy for ISPs to set up rules that filter- video with a certain registered watermark can only come from a certain IP or Domain name, any other transfer of that is illegal ( so you better not be downloading @work and then emailing to yourself at home...). If the Video ( or music or software or...) has no watermark, it is not filtered. What will be interesting is to watch and see if the companies put in watermarks without telling, then have the ISPs watch for illegal transfers and use that to snag people.