A week or so ago I posted and asked about the available options for buying music legally across the Internet. I discovered that the alternatives seem to be quite limited in Australia; there are some pretty good sources, but the biggies like iTunes and Napster don’t offer their services here yet.
It seems extraordinarily foolish of the big music industry corporations, given that they’re apparently spending so much time and effort tracking down and prosecuting people involved in illegal file-sharing (Kazaa, Morpheus etc). Even if you want to behave legally (as I certainly do), it’s quite difficult.
One of our comment box contributors made mention of a file sharing system called BitTorrent that seems to be all the rage at the moment. Some estimates suggest it is now responsible for the astonishing proportion of 30% or more of total world-wide internet traffic!!! Apparently that’s because of the way BitTorrent segments and uses the upload capacity of its “members'” PCs to deliver very large files (especially movies and TV programs) at high speed. See this long-ish article including an interview with BitTorrent developer Bram Cohen.
Unsurprisingly, the music and movie companies now have BitTorrent in their litigious sights. They raided a Perth ISP yesterday which was allegedly involved in some way in the BitTorrent ‘network’. And coincidentally or otherwise, Bram Cohen also released a new version of BitTorrent today, boasting that it’s even more blindingly fast than the existing one. I wonder why the big corporations aren’t targetting Cohen himself? Is it just because he apparently isn’t attempting to make money out of his invention, except by way of a Paypal donation button? Or that he’s been much more careful than Sharman/Kazaa and others not to say anything that could possibly be construed as encouragement to users to swap files illegally? Or is it that BitTorrent is open source software, the source code for which is now held by thousands of people if not more, so that there’s no real point in targetting Cohen because the horse has already bolted?
I must be in a curious mood today, because all this raises various other questions that puzzle me, but which readers may be able to answer:
What effect does BitTorrent have on users’ bandwidth usage? By the sound of the description in this article, it would gobble large amounts of it, which would be a major worry even for people with an Australian-style “unlimited” bandwidth ADSL broadband account. These accounts are’t actually unlimited at all; your download speeds drop back to 55k modem snail’s pace after you reach a designated monthly usage figure (typically 6-10 gigabytes depending on the plan and ISP).
Why don’t the music companies make more strenuous efforts to facilitate legal music purchasing across the internet in markets like Australia? You would think it would be more cost-effective than spending a fortune on lawyers and private investigators.
Why don’t music and movie companies more universally incorporate anti-copying protocols on their CDs and DVDs? I gather those sorts of measures are fairly readily available, so again, why not use them instead of spending a fortune on lawyers and PIs?
Or do the corporations secretly want people to engage in a certain amount of illegal file-swapping, because it’s an effective form of costless marketing (a bit like giving out free samples to market opinion leaders), as long as the quantity of illegal copying is kept within tolerable bounds by frightening the crap out of ordinary law-abiding citizens (like me) with highly visible aggressive prosecutions of a tiny number of scapegoats?
And lastly, why do so many ordinary Australians think they’re doing nothing wrong/criminal by illegally downloading music or movies across the Internet? Do they see it as somehow different from shoplifting at Woolies? Or is there some other reason? For example, a belief that the music companies are greedy and unreasonable in the way they handle their intellectual property rights? Or is it simply that most people obey the law only out of habit and fear of getting caught, and that they have an illusion that they won’t get caught because they’re stealing from the privacy of their own homes? I suspect that last factor might well be a part of the picture, because criminology research highlights the incidence of large numbers of generally law-abiding citizens who steal from shops when there is a police strike or prolonged blackout.
I’d be most interested in readers’ observations on any of the above questions.