Filesharing is the act of using programs like BitTorrent, uTorrent or Limewire to access files that other people have chosen to upload. Filesharing rocked the online world when it first came out because it was a revolutionary legal loophole - the Internet was still reeling from the loss of Napster, which had been shutdown for blatantly assisting people to infringe thousands of copyrights. The BitTorrent protocol and the websites set up to support it basically had one thing different: these websites hosted torrent files, which were essentially directories of where to find the pieces of an illegal file. Importantly, they did not host illegal files themselves!
Common carrier status is a legal status that is afforded to some companies which acknowledges the fact that they cannot be held responsible for material they host because they accept material non-discriminatorily. Imagine a post office. Two hypothetical people, Alice and Bob, are communicating via correspondence and sending each other pictures of child pornography. Eventually the police catch on to their organisation and arrest the two of them. In this hypothetical, the post office suffers no legal consequences because it has common carrier status. The same status applies to YouTube and is the reason that it hasn't been sued into oblivion; the only proviso is that if the copyright holder contacts the common carrier and requests the content be taken down, the common carrier must either dispute the claim within 14 days or take the material down.
The Empire Strikes Back
These days, copyright infringement, with regards to music especially, is rife. The younger generation have embraced torrenting technologies due to the fact that they are easy to use and they provide fast, free and primarily convenient access to music. Music labels, movie producers, software programmers and computer game programmers have all reacted negatively to this change in consumer channels, albeit to differing degrees. "Fair enough," you may say. "Let them rant and rave." But they have started to go further than simple tantrum-throwing. The solutions being employed by each sector have ranged from technical to legislative to moralistic. The music industry has taken to using "Digital Rights Management" (DRM) technologies. These are inserted into digital song files and are designed to prevent the propagation of music through illegal music channels that bring no profit to the music labels. The methods used to do this vary though; iTunes, for example, will not let you play songs bought through the iTunes Store unless you can access the Internet and prove that you bought those songs legally (as I discovered when I went on a holiday with a friend and found that the majority of his music on his laptop no longer worked). The other downside of DRM is well illustrated by this comic:
Taken from http://xkcd.net
That's right. Your collection is lost if the slightest thing goes wrong. Furthermore, the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act) prevents circumventing DRM. Even if you legally bought the music in question, and something goes wrong and the DRM doesn't let it work, removing the DRM makes you just as much of a pirate as if you'd stolen the songs in the first place.
There have been other attempts, such as Ubisoft's attempt at making Assassin's Creed 2 uncrackable. Their idea was to make the game stop functioning unless the player is connected to the Internet at all times. I won't deny that it's a logical solution, it just didn't work so well for them: First the game servers crashed for an entire weekend, meaning no one could play during that time. Shortly after someone cracked the game anyway. Bad luck, Ubisoft! The problems with a solution like this is that it tends to hurts consumers. I live in a backwater suburb of Australia where Internet access is somewhat...intermittent. Had I been a fan of such a game, I would have been reduced to tears as disconnect after disconnect rendered my game just about unplayable.
So who's getting shafted?
Where I live, there's recently been a new ad campaign against piracy that I thought I'd share:
But wherever you live, there's always a stream of advertisements telling us about who piracy hurts. Piracy hurts musicians. Piracy hurts moviemakers. Piracy hurts hardworking Australians (or whatever your nationality is) in the entertainment industry.
To this, I would like to say two things.
Firstly, there have been a lot of studies done into illegal filesharing and its effect on both the movie and music industries. The general gist is that there is no strong correlation between the level of filesharing of a certain film/album and the number of copies that are sold (obviously higher selling albums/films result in more downloads due to the fact that they are more popular). This is because there are a number of external effects. The fact that I’m downloading something could mean many things. It could mean:
- I’m too poor to afford this game. You won’t get my money anyway, whether I download it or not.
- My friend recommended this album to me. Rather than spend $20 on an album I may well think is absolute shit, I’m going to download it and listen to it a few times, then buy it if it’s good. If it’s really good, I may buy the other albums by the band as well!
- I bought a copy of this DVD legally overseas but, being the idiot I am, I didn’t check to see if it worked on my DVD recorded back home. You got your sale, I don’t think this justifies purchasing a second copy now that I’m back at home, so I’m downloading it instead.
Secondly, everyone knows somewhat anecdotally that the music industry in particular has a shocking track record of paying those who are actually the cornerstone: the musicians themselves. For those of you who haven’t read this, I strongly suggest reading it now:
The long and short of it is that For every $1000 that a band actually earns in record sales, it receives...$23. Except it doesn’t actually receive that money. Any new band signing a deal with a record label will typically require a $1,000,000 loan. For music videos, recording, etc etc. So instead of repaying the loan with the $977 of every $1000 that the record label is taking for itself, the band must repay it with the measly $23 out of every $1000 that is theirs. A quick calculation reveals that my band must make in excess of $43 million before I start earning any money at all. So I ask you: who’s getting shafted?