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AppRising delivers insight into new broadband applications, exploring their impact on networks and their implications for public policy.

AppRising is written by Geoff Daily, who covers broadband applications and the business of online video. Based in Washington, DC, Geoff regularly advises applications developers, network operators, community leaders, and public officials on how to maximize adoption and use of the Internet.

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November 14, 2007 12:35 PM

My Wife the Pirate

I had a sickening realization last night: my wife might be a pirate.

Earlier this week I wrote about how the desire for content you can't find elsewhere can drive adoption and use of the Internet, in particular mentioning my wife's recent discovery of a site stocked with dozens of episodes of her favorite anime.

How'd she find this site? She Googled the name of the show, clicked on one of the first links, and started watching video.

But here's the thing: I don't know if the site she's using is hosting legal content. Sure it's got all the videos, and the show's name is plastered everywhere, but it doesn't seem professional enough to be from the show producers, and even though many of the videos include a disclaimer that these are "free fansub" it's surprising to me that multiple seasons worth of content can be legally available without the official involvement of the content owners.

So, I could be married to an inadvertent criminal.

I say all this juxtaposed against the background of a recent push to enact federal legislation aimed at further criminalizing the act of watching and sharing illegal content.

The PIRATE Act wants to force the Department of Justice to take up the task of pursing individual file swappers who engage in the illegal distribution of content. Basically that can mean anyone who uses P2P networks for moving around music and movies they don't own the rights to.

And the most recent education bill includes provisions the require institutes of higher learning to take a more proactive role in discouraging and prosecuting content piracy by students.

These two bills are more narrowly focused on the P2P space, but really what we're talking about is illegal content distribution, no matter how that content is being distributed.

So what about my wife? Is she a pirate?

I'd argue that much of what drives what's been labeled as piracy stems from analogous situations to my wife's: she was looking for content she wanted and started watching the first place she found it.

This problem was worse a couple years ago, when legal content libraries were severely limited. Today content owners may argue that there are many legitimate channels through which you can get content legally.

But that claim needs to be qualified by the fact that much of what's available online is saddled with complex DRM restrictions, which muddle the value proposition of what you're actually buying when you pay for a movie or song. It's not as simple as buying a DVD or CD and knowing you can play that whenever wherever you want.

Simply put, consumers are confused. They don't know what's legal and what's not. It's not immediately obvious on most sites if they're legit or not. Even if someone wants to buy content the right way it's a confusing mess.

And if that weren't enough, all the early adopters have become accustomed to the P2P environment where everything's free to download and free to use wherever and however they choose.

So who's fault is all this? The consumers? The P2P applications developers? Or the content companies for their inability to innovate and meet the demand for their content with viable online solutions?

We need to be careful about making criminals out of Internet users as before that should be a focus there needs to be more emphasis on finding solutions for this demand.

I mean, it's just common business sense; what should companies spend more money on: creating new opportunities for people to buy their content online, or throwing potential customers in jail?


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