Monday, April 20, 2009

The State of Internet Piracy

The Pirate Bay Ruling

I think that this whole hearing with The Pirate Bay has created the most buzz about online piracy since back when Napster got busted. It's considered by many people the largest site to get illegal torrents in terms of number of visitors. They probably have some legitimate content but let's not kid ourselves: it's a haven for illegal content. You can make all the arguments in the world about how they're only hosting the torrent files, the fact of the matter is that they host a ridiculous amount of torrents for copyrighted material.

In Sweden, copyright laws have typically been laxed, but under pressure the government eventually had to go after the Pirate Bay, and the founders were sentenced to a year in jail $3.6 million in damages. The Pirate Bay has been pretty cocky about turning down takedown notices for years now (and to the entertainment of everyone), so you can imagine that this news was probably shocking to a lot of people. The site is still up though and the founders are still adamant that what they're doing isn't illegal. The Pirate Bay is living in a gray area if I ever saw one. Google readily links to sites that host illegal content and we think nothing of it, so why not shut down Google? You could say that Google doesn't specialize in illegal content, but theoretically neither does The Pirate Bay (you have to forget their title entirely to truly believe this). People can post whatever torrents they want and having to police them would be as hard a burden on them as it would be on Google. I have to admit that the site has grown a lot since I first encountered it one fine day in high school and provides recommendations and all kinds of supplemental content with the torrents. This could either help or hurt their case. They're refusing to pay the fine and are planning to drag this on for years in appeals courts while they continue to replicate the site across the globe so that getting rid of it will be harder than quelling a fruit fly infestation.

What's really interesting is that the Pirate Party (yes, they seriously have one of those) in Sweden has swelled with supporters in the wake of the ruling. There's even been a major demonstration in Stockholm. You have to love the irony that in signing this sentence the court has essentially given rise to a movement that is far bigger than just piracy. It's not quite that these people all support piracy, but rather that they don't think their government has any clout to stand up to other nations in the interests of its people and that this could lead to a slippery slope of sites getting shut down with tons of perfectly legitimate content but a certain amount of copyrighted content that they don't own and can't afford to police. YouTube has been trying really hard to police itself and yet they're never going to succeed because there are more people uploading copyrighted content than YouTube police.

I have no idea how this is going to play out, but I can't help but be fascinated by what this means for the future of piracy and torrents. I mean there are even ISPs out there now that are trying to optimize themselves to speed up torrent downloads! Things like this would've seemed unthinkable a couple of years ago. It has brought these issues to the forefront of the attention of a much larger audience than it had been before, and that's what changes things.

The Wolverine Leak

I'm sure you've heard by now that X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked on the Internet recently, over a month before its theatrical release. As such, it's an unfinished cut of the film, but it's causing a lot of mixed reactions. Some are just excited to see it early while others are condemning the like and there was even a reporter who got fired for blogging his review and that he saw it illegally. What's really crazy is that there are more people condemning it than anything else. Popular blogs are agreeing with the MPAA's campaign that this costs the jobs of the crew members who aren't filthy rich and really need the money they get from these films. This is one of the biggest movie leaks ever in terms of how far in advance of the release it is and how high profile the movie is. What a crazy time to be an online pirate - some Swedish guys just got arrested and people don't want to see a leaked movie.

To add to all this: Miramax is apparently keeping an eye on Twitter and offering free movie tickets to people who are considering pirating a movie and end up not doing it. I don't think that this will accomplish anything other than boosting their PR though - though I do think it's a smart PR move if more people notice it.

Time Warner Backs Down

If you don't know about Time Warner's plan to tier their services based on bandwidth usage in select cities then just pick a post I've made in the past month and start reading it. It's kind of been a big deal.

Time Warner has received a lot of heat about it from angry customers, impassioned bloggers, and even the press at large. It got to the point that a New York congressman wanted to ban download caps entirely. Then things really came to a head when Time Warner asked the FCC to stop talking about net neutrality because (I kid you not) "now is not the time." They just wanted the government to hand them money as part of Obama's recovery plan before they're antagonized by the FCC in an issue that could choke online innovation in this country and possibly have a worse ripple effect on the rest of the world. As far as I understand what Time Warner intended to tell the FCC: they're concerned with the definition of "non-discrimination" in the FCC's advisory.

Anyway, Time Warner decided to finally put a halt to these tiering plans, at least for now. They think that the public is mis-informed about this issue, and I'm sure many are, but their prices for their caps is still unfair and needs to be tweaked. To be honest, if I could get 250 GB of bandwidth for $60 a month with a fast speed (like no less than 6 megabits per second, at its worst), I'd be fine with it, but $75 for 100 GB is really pushing it. What they probably ideally want is for everyone to meter their usage and see how little they may be using right now, but that's not going to happen because people aren't going to put forth the effort just to prove Time Warner right (potentially). In areas where Time Warner is the only game in town, this tiering is a huge issue and I hope that Time Warner reconsiders it carefully and actually improves their plan.

I don't know what they thought was going to happen though when they quietly announced the expansion of the bandwidth cap program. For an Internet Service Provider, they don't know the Internet at all.

Final Notes

Ok, it's past my bedtime and I'm exhausted. Let's wrap this up, shall we?

ReadWriteWeb has a little article with links to videos and more information about Ubiquity - a Firefox project to try to re-think how we browse the web. The demo actually kind of blew me away in how simple it was and conformed to how we actually use the Internet.

Popular Mechanics has a great article about how to cut your cable bill without giving up television. In the end, the tradeoff (as is often the case in life) is price versus the convenience of always-on TV and DVRs.

YouTube has started hosting full-length movies including Fast Food Nation, Carrie, and even Heri Pheri. Yep, it has Bollywood films, old films, and movies that people never saw, but there are some gems hidden in there. The movies seem to be in High Quality but not High Def, and they automatically start out in a big size.

Apple has bought a bunch of 16 GB NAND Flash memory chips from its main iPhone supplier indicating that they could be preparing for a 32 GB iPhone. It's a pretty strong likelihood at this point.

Function has an incredible article on how to spot good web design. It's a total joy to read and I highly recommend it for people who appreciate good visual design.

No comments: