Becoming irrelevant one bit at a time

Dear Entertainment Industry,

If you belong to organization whose name ends in AA, this post is for you. I’m writing this, because I would like to introduce you to this relatively new concept of Internet. You see, this globe spanning computer network was designed for one thing – and one thing only: to move bits of data from one machine to another. Despite of what misconceptions you have nested in your underdeveloped brain, all that Internet does is move small electric charges between computers. These charges encode various types of information.

Now, you may think that you own some of that information – some songs or movies protected by copyright law. There are even laws that let you exercise control over that information. Unfortunately the very nature of information is that it flows freely, and expands like a viral infection. Given proper conduit channel, any piece of information, no matter how complex can travel the globe and be copied millions of times in a matter of seconds. Internet is precisely such a conduit. Once you make something publicly available on the internet you no longer have any control of how it is distributed.

Conversely any time you make something publicly available it will eventually end up on the internet. Why? Because information flows and expands – people have natural tendency to share knowledge. This natural urge to exchange data allowed us to build civilization, develop technology and create empires. The fact is, we can measure progress of mankind in the efficiency in which we transmit and share information. We continuously research ways to communicate faster, more efficiently and to share larger amounts of data. As sharing data becomes easier, protecting special kinds of content becomes more and more difficult. And there are no indications that this thread will ever stop.

The only way to stop the free flow of data is to fundamentally change the way internet works. As it is right now, any attempts to censor or control the way content is distributed online are bound to fail. Why?

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” John Gilmore (EFF)

For every instance of content you manage to take down using DMCA or a lawsuit, there are 15 new ones uploaded by people all over the globe – mainly out of spite. When you try to contain content locally, it simply moves off-shore to foreign lands. And it will continue to move around, until it’s too expensive, or virtually impossible for you to control it. The global community routes around silly things such as one countries information suppression laws.

You can target each file sharing protocol in turn, but there will always be new ones that we can use. The only way you can be a 100% sure no one is sharing your copyrighted data digitally is to kill the internet. But, that would only resurrect the bootleg market.

Lawsuits and threats against individual citizens? Don’t make me laugh! How many people have you sued so far? Few thousand give or take a few? How many of file sharing cases have you won? One? It’s a drop in the bucket my friends. A drop in a bucket. There are more file sharers than there are IP addresses currently in use. On average you will get 2 or 3 sharers per household. And this statistic will only continue to grow with every generation. Sure, today many senior citizens do not own, or know how to use a computer. But hey, one day the current largest file-sharing demographic (which is teenagers, and 20-30 crowd) will be senior citizens.

Ever day few people who do not know how to share data online die. And at the same time, few new people are born into a world where transmitting bits of data across the globe is as natural as breathing. Our numbers are growing, and so is our bandwidth. Your resources are limited, and you will never be able to sue everyone who owns a computer. Statistically, getting sued by RIAA or MPAA is akin to winning a lottery. It’s a really crappy lottery, but the odds are similar. So in most cases it’s a fair gamble that most people (not counting the overly paranoid) are more than willing to take.

Yes, protecting copyrighted content is a noble idea. But it becomes less and less practical every second. Anyone who bases their business model on outdated notions about intellectual property and copyright that were formed in the pre-intenret era is heading towards complete and total irrelevance at the speed of Moores Law. Every cent you spend towards the goal of stopping the flow of data, brings you closer to eventual bankruptcy.

The sooner you learn to embrace this new reality, the faster you can learn to monetize it. There is money to be made in a world where your distribution costs are exactly zero, and your market penetration is measured on a global scale. Your customers already know this and so do artists and content creators you claim to represent. One by one they come to a conclusion that they do not need you. You are the third wheel in the relationship between the content creator and the customer. Your services are outdated, your distribution models are flawed in the digital age, and your prices are obscene. Oh, and you treat all the customers as filthy thieves. Your customer base is already slipping – but it’s mostly your fault. You fail to adapt, you insult the customer at every step, and spend millions of dollars to make his life harder. When an illegally downloaded copy of a product is easier to use and provides a better customer experience than the original, you are doing something wrong. Your talent base will slip too – as soon as they realize what how horribly you treat their fans, and how little you really do for them.

You can call me naive, demented, idealistic or stupid. You can claim I’m wrong. This changes nothing. You can’t be that blind. Just look around. Copyright was a great idea, but we sadly moved past it. It still has application with regards to physical media. Owning a nice looking album or a DVD you can put on a shelf is still very nice. People will continue to buy physical things because we like to collect crap like that, regardless of online availability of the data they store. But stopping the flow of information is a fool’s errand.

You are in a losing position. There is nothing you can do to change this. You can’t stop technological progress, you can’t change human nature and you cant censor all electronic communication. You must adapt or perish. And for one, I’m not going to miss you when you are gone. So for your own sake please get with the program and stop making such asses of yourselves.


[tags]copyright, copyfight, internet, data, riaa, mpaa, copyright law, infringement, file sharing, p2p[/tags]

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