The year was 1999. I was 14 years old. I lived in a small town on the outskirts on New Zealand’s capital of Wellington. It was essentially, the bottom of the earth. My family had a Pentium III computer, connected to the Internet, through our 56k dial-up modem. Through the Internet, I experienced many things. I often visited the web page of my favourite sports team, refreshing their ‘live score’ page for up to the minute results. I used chat clients like Yahoo! Messenger to talk to my friends from school, and quite frequently, looked at pictures of naked ladies on free porn galleries. Without realizing, my life would change forever. A free software application, known as Napster, became available to download and use, for anyone on the planet with an Internet connection. With this application, I was able to search for any music I knew of, and download it from another napster user, regardless of my country of origin, race, gender or sexuality.
Peer-to-peer file sharing was born.
Taken completely by surprise, record companies around the world imploded after catching wind of this revolution. Countless acts to shutdown these applications were attempted. Legal action against Napster, banning users who download specific music etc. Many attempts at restoring order to the music world were made, but the damage had already been done.
It was the year 2000, and I was 15. I loved my Napster. I downloaded many files, from songs to stand-up comedy routines. I was living in the online world. Until one day, I open my Napster application, and a dialog box appears, informing me that Dr. Dre had terminated my username. Understandably, I was devastated. So the next day, I took my Dr. Dre CD, which I bought for $29.99 at a record store, a long with a hammer, to my school. During lunchtime, I made everyone of my friends gather round, while I completely destroyed a Dr. Dre album. After that day, I never ever supported Dr. Dre, ever again. I went home that day, Google searched “Un-ban Napster username” and within 10 minutes, I was back online, downloading music.
As we all know, Napster didn’t last for long. Although, in 2001, Napster became a paid service, in order to give revenue back to the artists and record companies, other software applications, such as Kazaa, Sharezaa and Limewire were born. This time, Peer-to-Peer sharing was no longer limited to music, but Movies, TV Shows and computer games were all widely available, for free, from someone else across the globe.
Napster was wildly considered a cancer by many record companies, and like a cancer, it was about to spread, big time.
The demand for online connectivity was up, and in New Zealand, ADSL was about to hit the market in full force. With speeds almost 7x faster, file sharing across the globe was in full force. Though most of file sharing was illegal, it opened up a global acceptance in legal file sharing; in a world that was terrified of viruses wiping hard drives.
10 years later, sharing files over the Internet is a daily occurrence, and for a large majority of the western world, a necessity in order to do business. 10 years is a long-time, and in that time, connection speeds have become faster, bandwidth has become larger and Telco’s are now some of the most powerful companies in world. 10 years later, it is still just as easy to illegally obtain content as it was back in 2001, but what has happened to those pirates? Are they still manning their online ships, stealing gold, or have they evolved?
Internet piracy has made our world a better place. It has pushed TV and Film studios to create platforms like Hulu and Netflix, it has pushed Games companies and Cinemas to release products simultaneously, and it has pushed Apple technologies to develop Hardware and software, that gives us music, on demand, anywhere in the world, for a fee. A fee, that is significantly less than $29.99, for a Compact Disc. A compact disc that I may of eventually smashed with a hammer, and left as waste, to rot in a landfill till the end of time.
10 years drove us to a point in time where technology is king. Connectivity is everywhere, and demand means right now. Not tomorrow, not by the end of the day. Now.
In those 10 years, cinemas have risen up to once again be an experience, not just a portal to see a film. Inserting a mod chip into your XBOX may guarantee you free games, but the online experience has made it easier for setbacks to occur. TV studios in the US have given anyone the ability to stream a TV show instantly, and directly after it aired on television, and iPhone’s are constantly updating their firmware with fun and amazing new options, that only become available for pirates a few weeks after.
What is driving piracy out the door? It’s demand. If I want the new modern warfare game as soon as it comes out, and guaranteed that I can instantly play it online without being found out and banned by my console provider. It’s easier to buy it.
If I’m on a 1-hour train commute and I want to listen to the new Brittany Spears album, I’m going to just buy it on my iPhone and be listening to it within 5 minutes.
If I want to watch the newest episode of Gossip Girl, I want to watch it now. Do I care if it has ads pasted all over it? Do I care if the show stops 5 times to tell me about the newest revolution of Laundry detergent. No. I don’t. I will sit there and watch it, if it means I can view my TV show as quickly as possible, on any platform, on a train, on a bus, on a plane.
Here is a quote from Gabe Newell, Co-Founder and CEO of Valve, the games company responsible for Half-Life:
"For example, if a pirate offers a product anywhere in the world, 24 x 7, purchasable from the convenience of your personal computer, and the legal provider says the product is region-locked, will come to your country three months after the US release, and can only be purchased at a brick and mortar store, then the pirate's service is more valuable.
"Most DRM solutions diminish the value of the product by either directly restricting a customers use or by creating uncertainty," Newell added. "Our goal is to create greater service value than pirates, and this has been successful enough for us that piracy is basically a non-issue for our company.
"For example, prior to entering the Russian market, we were told that Russia was a waste of time because everyone would pirate our products. Russia is now about to become our largest market in Europe."
Currently, Film studios have the toughest challenge. Demand is king and they are not willing to give you Films in your home on their global release date. For a lot of good reasons, all of which I agree with. Cinemas should be a place that people get out of their computer chair and breath fresh air. As someone who appreciates the art of filmmaking, I’m not going to ever watch a copy of film that was recorded in a cinema. Unfortunately, a film needs to be seemed good enough to get me to the cinema. If it has one whiff of being average, I may just say, I’ll wait till it comes out on DVD, and then I’m probably going to illegally download it.
This is a problem, and just like every problem, creative thinking can solve it. I don’t have the answer, but if we allow movie studios to stop us from illegally downloading content, they might also be stopping the next push in technology, that sees us live in a more connected fantastic place. Instead, we just walk to JB Hi-Fi and buy a disc…. That slowly destroys the earth.
If you want to hear the latest on the Piracy fight in Australia, visit Delimiter.com. By far some of the smartest articles regarding the current shape of the tech market in OZ.