Piracy has been much in the news of late, be it off the coast of Somalia or amid the lakes and forests of Sweden.
The verdict in the Pirate Bay trial has been a long time coming and has mesmerised supporters of the site, but at the end of the day the legal eagles from Hollywood appear to have won out. So is this in fact a significant win in the piracy wars.
Well, yes and no. On the plus side for the industry the case drew an important line in the sand against piracy. Just as Napster found out, the courts are taking a dim view of people who hold information about piracy on their servers, even if they aren't hosting pirated material themselves.
However, if Hollywood is expecting a sudden increase in DVD and CD sales and a reduction in the amount of pirated material on the web then it's in for a disappointment. Piracy is alive and well on the web and no amount of court cases is going to change that.
Yes, the Pirate Bay site is one of the most popular places online to find out information about torrents, but it is not the only place by a long shot. There are a multitude of torrent sites out there and the action against Pirate Bay will, in my opinion, actually increase that number rather than reduce it.
After today's verdict the Pirate Bay site is still up and running and the organisers have posted up a message of defiance. But it seems likely that at some time in the future the site will be taken down. That will leave a lot of people searching for torrents from new sources, and a lot of torrent sites eager to take their business.
Torrenting is not going to go away and if some seed sites can get a lot more traffic after the Pirate Bay shut-down then they'll take it. More traffic means more advertising revenue and therefore money to be made.
But there's another reason why the Pirate Bay shut-down won't matter – torrenting is becoming out of date. Instead, faster web access times have opened up a new front in the piracy war in the form of streaming.
Pirated material is increasingly being posted up on sites and viewed via streaming video. This means the viewer doesn't have to download anything and this switch is going to make the process of shutting down pirate sites even harder. Simply finding the hosts is going to be tough enough, and shutting all of them down is going to be impossible.
Media companies are going to have to recognise that their business model has been profoundly changed by the internet. Any form of media is easily pirated, DRM technology has failed and the battle against piracy has been lost, despite this verdict. An entire generation of internet users is now used to getting material online rather than paying for it, and destroying that culture is nigh on impossible.
What is needed now is a fundamental rethink of business strategy from media owners. The days of being able to charge $20 for a DVD or album are over. People will pay that if they have no other choice but when there are other sources available they will use them.
This is especially true for downloads. It is ludicrous to charge people the same amount, or just slightly less, to download a song or film as to buy it on physical media. People aren't stupid; they know it costs much less to distribute media online and expect to see those cost reductions passed on to them.
The same goes double for software. Linux and the open-source movement have shown that downloadable, free software is a reality and companies are going to be forced to charge less for their code and make up the money on services.
Despite what some of the more hysterical media commentators have been saying, the vast majority of the buying public are not natural pirates, just as not every Somali is happy to be riding the ocean's wave in pursuit of profit. Give people sensible options and they will use them.
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