On one hand, you have the copyright industry, now content thinking it won the war against the net generation – or net generations by now (plural). File-sharing has stopped growing, the copyright industry observes, and controlled streaming is growing exponentially. New technology has produced a better offering that outcompeted the inferior pirate alternatives, and in the end, people wanted to do the legal thing, the copyright industry argues.
But this is very far from the truth. The only true part of it is that the number of people sharing culture and knowledge is no longer growing exponentially, but that’s because the habit is saturated. One-third of young people in the US and Europe today share culture – in violation of the copyright monopoly – daily or almost-daily. A phenomenon can’t keep growing exponentially forever in a finite population: eventually, everybody’s doing it, and that’s the point we have arrived at now.
Apart from that, it is true that the copyright industry has produced better offerings: Pandora, Netflix, and HBO streaming. But so have the people who manufacture their copies without a license. The Pirate Bay is ten years old; almost as old as Microsoft’s Windows XP, to put it in context. (Anybody remember Microsoft?) Yet, despite HBO’s successful and profitable subscription model, record numbers of us get our latest fix of Game of Thrones delivered automatically directly to our desktop the instant it is available, courtesy of RSS torrenting and EZTV, or your own favorite supplier.
And if we don’t like torrenting, but actually like streaming? Turns out that the pirate equivalents of the commercial offerings far surpass the simplicity, accessibility, and ease of use of the copyright industry’s technology – and that’s not even going into selection and absence of laughingly stupid “not available in your country” messages. From Popcorn Time to Zona, the happy amateur sharers are miles and leagues ahead of the copyright industry. The technology that the copyright industry claims “already has won the war” for that obsolete industry? Well, it turns out that the net generation could use the same technology to build a lot better services still. Teens today make absolutely no distinction whether services are “legal” or not; they just grab stuff from where it’s easiest.
In this environment, people on the other side – the people manufacturing unlicensed copies of knowledge and culture, and sharing those copies in turn – have also taken a victory for granted. We’re getting our Game of Thrones, we’re getting our movies and porn as we always have, what’s the big deal? The Pirate Bay team was sentenced in a mock trial five years ago to largely no effect whatsoever (except for those poor individuals), the site itself is still up, and new great services for manufacturing our own copies of knowledge and culture are appearing by the month. Why bother fighting? This is long over, right?
Not so fast. SOPA and ACTA was just two years ago, in 2012. They were struck back, but their obfuscated spawn are already appearing. We’ve seen and heard the acronyms TPP, TTIP, CISP, CETA, and others. The copyright industry keeps working, it just does so out of the sunlight.
In the end, this is about the power of narratives, the greatest power anybody has ever had. And the copyright industry isn’t giving it up without a fight.
The file-sharing wars are far from over. There may be a bit of silence on the fronts at the moment. Enjoy it, and prepare for what’s coming.