Piracy in the Online Age

When one hears the term “Pirate” our mind immediately conjures up images of scoundrels, murderers, and thieves on the high seas during the 17th century (or modern Somalia).  But the term “Piracy” has almost taken up an altogether different meaning.  We all remember Napster and LimeWire and all the other file sharing websites that have been shut down by the government.  But it seems that whenever one is shut down, another takes its place.  In fact, I recently read an article concerning the arrest and possible extradition of Megaupload founder, Kim Dotcom.  It begs the question, who will create the next big online file-sharing site?  The “War on Online Piracy” is quickly becoming as never-ending as the “War on Drugs.”  The question we should be asking ourselves is, why is file-sharing so widespread?  The obvious answer is that “It’s Free”.  But, while I do see an increasing trend to get things at no cost, that answer only scratches the surface.

The real answer is that people want stuff online.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “yeah…so what?”  Let me explain.  Take a look at the “Golden Age of Radio”.  Many American families gathered around the radio in the evening to listen to Benny Goodman and his orchestra or

American family listening to the radio

theatrical radio programs like that of Orson Welles’ “Mercury Theatre on the Air”.  Once you bought the device to listen to the programs, the rest was “free” (Really it was just paid for by an advertiser).  Television worked the same way.  You bought the device and the programming was provided for the user by an advertiser.  For decades people became accustomed to this “free” content.

But then came Cable!  With it’s promises of ever increasing content and a higher quality image, people really didn’t have much of a problem paying a “small” fee for the service, after all there was more infrastructure involved.  (There’s still an awful lot of commercials though) And so it came to be that fewer and fewer people watched “over-the-air” television.  Radio, however, remained intact though now relegated almost exclusively to automobiles.  In fact, this has been true for almost my entire life, with the exception of the past decade or so.

But we are now in the “Online Age”.  Nearly everything is connected to the internet.  No longer do we need a stationary desktop computer with a wire sticking out of it to get online.  We can use our laptops,phones, tablets, TV’s, and in the near future our cars. That being said, we must take note that Television and Radio programming of days long ago had one truly unique appeal.  It went where the people were.  That is what audio and video content today must do as well.  However, those that are providing that content seem to be holding it back.  The “Pirates” are, at the very core of it, trying to take it to the people. There is progress in the fight against piracy but it’s not found in any government agency.  It’s through services like Pandora and other online radio services (some are even focused on small localities like WPCR & WPIB), as well as streaming video providers like Netflix and Hulu. These are all legal ways of enjoying content online and, with the exception of Netflix (which has no commercial advertising) are FREE.  Yet, there still seams to be people who don’t get it.  For instance, during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver I tried to watch live coverage online.  Shouldn’t be a problem, right?  NBC, the company that provides all the television coverage for the games is providing live feeds on their website after all.  Not quite, there’s a hitch.  In order to watch a live feed you must first select, from a drop-down menu, the cable provider you are with.  Well, I use cable internet and there was my provider at the top of the list, but my access was restricted.  Why?  Because I don’t have a “Cable Television” account, only a “Cable Internet” account.  So my next question is, “IF I HAD CABLE TELEVISION, WHY WOULD I BE TRYING TO WATCH IT OVER THE INTERNET?!” (Can you sense my frustration?)  There is valuable marketing space that was lost by not allowing some people to stream their content.  But more importantly, those types of decisions lead to the pirating of streaming video.

Recently, I found out that Starz has pulled all of their titles from Netflix.  Much of this decision was due to issues concerning compensation but it seems like a step in the wrong direction.  Meanwhile, Hulu seems to be going strong with their ad supported selection of films and television shows but, like Netflix, lacks recent content.  Right now everyone is up in the air trying to figure out how best to utilize the internet and that is basically done by trial and error.  Until then expect to see a lot more disgruntled internet users sharing content with one another.

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