Saturday, December 17, 2011

Download this 1of2

Why the impact of digital media is hyped up and why banning the use of digital file services like bittorrent is not a solution.

The world is going digital. Has been for some time. And along with that digitization is the prevalence and proliferation of pirating—the process of downloading and sharing copyrighted content illegally. While pirating is dubiously illegal—all suits filed by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) are civil (read not criminal)--my focus will be on the perceived negative impacts of this practice and how it has changed our intake of media.

First and foremost, it is important to note that not all pirates are the same. There are many versions of illegal materials available online with a wide variety of qualities. Star Wars Episode III was available as a rough cut and without finished special effects before its release in theaters. Most movies are almost immediately available to download or stream on the web within a couple days of a movie's release. The most polished version comes in the form of digitally freed files off the released blu-ray or dvd. These usually provide the highest quality for videos. Similarly, music follows a pattern of available files—the music can be low quality with tracks missing from the final album until the album is released, and there is usually a perfect copy available for download.

Why are the unfinished products popular? Because people want a sneak peek. Fanboys especially. Science-fiction movies and indie bands typically have early releases of their work and have some of the highest numbers of illegal downloads. Not only is that community technologically gifted but they are also devoted. The second demographic is young people. I am part of a generation that has grown up around technology. I am able to master computer interfaces with ease, understanding the intuitive logic that is necessary for computer proficiency. My entire generation is used to texting, blogging, on-demand media, cell phones, instant messengers, and the fusion of computers with our social lives. The young people not only know what they want, but how to get it.

So that brings me to the question I pose to the RIAA and the MPAA. Why should I buy what you make? In a world where youtube, megavideo, bittorrent, and grooveshark give me what I want for free, why would I ever want to play by your rules. Let me reframe this a little. This isn't about pirates; this is about the rise of a culture of free. I can find plenty of clips on youtube that provide me with just as much if not more entertainment than the MPAA's big budget stuff. I still go to theaters, I still rent movies, but I rarely purchase anything. And that's because the profit model is outdated.

There are adequate if not better substitutes for their product out there and a big budget movie has become indistinguishable from the many homemade videos that exist. I do still play by their rules to some degree but to another I have completely shunned them because they don't fit in the modern era. Information is freely available. A copy of a cd or movie is equal in quality to the original yet easier to obtain and has zero cost associated with it. There is nothing lost but the time I put in. Now, look at what has been successful. Transformers and Avatar were two of the most downloaded movies online yet still raked in record profits. So there are two arguments: sales of desirable products are not hindered by illegal downloading and free availability of products serves as a lower risk investment than the traditional method. Despite my 'illegal' viewing of products I still manage to go to the theater often; sometimes I see movies twice in the theaters.

This, of course, serves as anecdotal evidence, but what I'm trying to say is simple. Don't give the public crap products and be surprised when they don't sell. One of the major things you see on the comment boards of cds is, “these guys are great, go buy the cd when it comes out.” More than anything devoted fans are just that and want to see those they perceive as good succeed. Fans support their artists.