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Joaquin Jares Just another geek's blog

Last week started the spectrial, a trial between some international movie, music and tv producers and The Pirate Bay. In case you've been living under a rock for the past few years, The Pirate Bay is one of the biggest torrent trackers in the world, run in Sweden by a number of people. The spectrial (so called by TPB members) was announced more than a year ago, and now it's here. The folks at TPB want to make it as public as possible. The producers are used to making this trials very secret and introducing all sort of semi-truths and outrageous lies. They won't be able to if too many people are watching.

First let's take something out of the way: I'm absolutely on the side of TPB in this trial. That doesn't make me an anti-copyright zealot. I think producers have a right to enforce their copyright. But this is much more than that. The trial on TPB is not about copyright, it's about technology. Many people around the world are seeing that TPB is winning, and they think this is a great news for anti-copyright movements. Let me tell you, it's not. If TPB wins, nothing will happen. No international laws will change and the ruling will probably be appealed. If TPB loses the site will not go down. It'll get moved to a place where this trial hasn't set a legal precedent (as a matter of fact, it already is). But the blow on technology will be great.

Content providers have a right to enforce their copyright, but they think they have much more than that: they think they can dictate which technology is good and which technology is bad. In this case, they think that anything related to torrents is bad. And they want to ban it. No private company with partial and focused interest should be able to do that. It's as if horse raisers many years ago when the car was first introduced could have said "cars may be a danger to the horses we sell, we should get to dictate which car is ok" and then imposing all sorts of artificial limitations on what cars can do not to make the public safe but to make their business safe.

They did it before, also: your dvd has a "region code", which is an artificial limitation on where you can use your dvd because it affects the content provider's business. And the fact that the region code is enforced is not a business contract between hardware producers and content providers, it's the law. If this were a business contract, money will exchange hands. As it is the law, hardware providers all over the world are forced to do it with no compensation. And if you try to bypass it (as you should, since you legally bought both the dvd and the dvd player) you're also a criminal (in the US at least) thanks to the DMCA. And that's not the only case. You might have heard of Spore's DRM. Limiting what a legal owner can do while not stopping piracy at all. Or the infamous betamax (Sony vs Universal) trials where content producers wanted to stop you from getting a video recorder because you could potentially pirate their content.

They have a right to enforce their copyright, they don't have the right to state that a technology capable of violating their copyright must be illegal. At some point in time, they will find out that the internet can help violate their copyright and they'll try to ban the internet. It's not like they're not trying.

What I really don’t get is why the recording industry is not seizing this opportunity. The distributors may be at risk (partially) since distributing is now close to free. But the recording industry should be benefiting from this reduced cost. And benefiting for worldwide reach without international contracts. And benefiting for millions of extra eyes. And benefiting from social networking and the new fans they can get out of that. But they aren’t. Instead, they’re treating their fans as thieves. Just watch the academy awards, where they were proud of a very big wall they put in place to avoid outside people from watching what was happening in the red carpet. Got that? You’re a fan, you love a show/director/actor/whatever. You go to the ceremony just to catch a glimpse of one of these guys, and they love you so much that they put a wall there so you can’t.

That’s what the producers think of their fans lately. There is a barrier today between established producers and their fans. The fans are trying to tear it down. The producers are building a higher wall. That just doesn’t add up. And as soon as a quality content producer with quality content comes up and tears the wall the fans will go to him. There’s no doubt about that.

If I had a say, I’ll follow two very simple rules:

1) Don’t charge for something that can be had for free, either legally or illegally. When your fans can download your music/movies/etc for free and you’re charging over $40 dollars for the same content with no added benefit, they feel cheated. You know there’s other ways to make money out of the content. You’ve been doing it on TV for as long as I’ve been alive.

2) Don’t be greedy. These other ways to make money come with an added cost: they may hinder the artistic quality of your content, turning it into more business than art. Don’t do that. You’ll loose your audience, and that’s not good business.

I don’t get why content providers are not doing this, specially TV content providers. Is it that hard to place a few ads on top of the action in Prison Break, in a non-invasive way, and charge private companies for them while knowing that the series will be seen by millions of people because it’s freely available on the internet? Is it that hard to place ads that people will actually enjoy at certain points in the show, in a non-invasive way, etc etc? I simply don’t get it.

And then there’s the issue of statistics and previewing. Content on internet is very easy to publish, and it gives a lot of good feedback. Content on TV/theaters is far more complex and it doesn’t provide good feedback. Imagine a world where the content gets to the internet first, gets “prescreened” by true fans, and then goes to the regular media where lots of people will also watch it, but you already know which content had a bigger audience and you can plan accordingly.

TV is not going away anytime soon. I know producers think it is, and that worries them. We have the WGA strike from last year to prove it. But we still have a lot of good TV years. The internet is not that accessible for the average user and it’s transmission quality is yet not on par with cable TV. We technical folks do not yet have a clue on how to make it accessible for the average user. That’s the content producers’ head start. But they are not getting it. Instead, they try to turn the internet to a TV. But the internet is not (and hopefully will never be) like the TV. The internet is like a high quality video phone. The TV allows a monologue from the producers to the viewers. The internet is a dialogue. Producers should be benefitting from this dialogue.

So in conclusion, producers may be able to win this trial (although it doesn’t look like that right now), but they won’t be defending anything. I sincerely hope TPB wins, but not because of copyright. I just want the studios to wake up, and this trial may help. The betamax trial did help. The future lives in these sharing systems and sooner or later someone will notice. And when they do, producers will tell them “there’s no way that someone that’s not us can provide a quality product”. But someone will. And when he does, producers will be dead. Hopefully they realize that this is inevitable before it happens. And then copyright will die, and then we will have our flying cars and live in the future (at least in the future of media distribution).

Posted on Tuesday, February 24, 2009 1:09 AM | Back to top


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