For more than ten years TorrentFreak has documented a continuous stream of piracy battles so it’s natural that, every now and then, we pause to consider when this war might stop. The answer is always “no time soon” and certainly not in 2018.
When swapping files over the Internet first began it wasn’t a particularly widespread activity. A reasonable amount of content was available, but it was relatively inaccessible. Then peer-to-peer came along and it sparked a revolution.
From the beginning, copyright holders felt that the law would answer their problems, whether that was by suing Napster, Kazaa, or even end users. Some industry players genuinely believed this strategy was just a few steps away from achieving its goals. Just a little bit more pressure and all would be under control.
Then, when the landmark MGM Studios v. Grokster decision was handed down in the studios’ favor during 2005, the excitement online was palpable. As copyright holders rejoiced in this body blow for the pirating masses, file-sharing communities literally shook under the weight of the ruling. For a day, maybe two.
For the majority of file-sharers, the ruling meant absolutely nothing. So what if some company could be held responsible for other people’s infringements? Another will come along, outside of the US if need be, people said. They were right not to be concerned – that’s exactly what happened.
Ever since, this cycle has continued. Eager to stem the tide of content being shared without their permission, rightsholders have advocated stronger anti-piracy enforcement and lobbied for more restrictive interpretations of copyright law. Thus far, however, literally nothing has provided a solution.
One would have thought that given the military-style raid on Kim Dotcom’s Megaupload, a huge void would’ve appeared in the sharing landscape. Instead, the file-locker business took itself apart and reinvented itself in jurisdictions outside the United States. Meanwhile, the BitTorrent scene continued in the background, somewhat obliviously.
With the SOPA debacle still fresh in relatively recent memory, copyright holders are still doggedly pursuing their aims. Site-blocking is rampant, advertisers are being pressured into compliance, and ISPs like Cox Communications now find themselves responsible for the infringements of their users. But has any of this caused any fatal damage to the sharing landscape? Not really.
Instead, we’re seeing a rise in the use of streaming sites, each far more accessible to the newcomer than their predecessors and vastly more difficult for copyright holders to police.
Systems built into Kodi are transforming these platforms into a plug-and-play piracy playground, one in which sites skirt US law and users can consume both at will and in complete privacy. Meanwhile, commercial and unauthorized IPTV offerings are gathering momentum, even as rightsholders try to pull them back.
Faced with problems like these we are now seeing calls for even tougher legislation. While groups like the RIAA dream of filtering the Internet, over in the UK a 2017 consultation had copyright holders excited that end users could be criminalized for simply consuming infringing content, let alone distributing it.
While the introduction of both or either of these measures would cause uproar (and rightly so), history tells us that each would fail in its stated aim of stopping piracy. With that eventuality all but guaranteed, calls for even tougher legislation are being readied for later down the line.
In short, there is no law that can stop piracy and therefore no law that will stop the entertainment industries coming back for harsher measures, pursuing the dream. This much we’ve established from close to two decades of litigation and little to no progress.
But really, is anyone genuinely surprised that they’re still taking this route? Draconian efforts to maintain control over the distribution of content predate the file-sharing wars by a couple of hundred years, at the very least. Why would rightsholders stop now, when the prize is even more valuable?
No one wants a minefield of copyright law. No one wants a restricted Internet. No one wants extended liability for innovators, service providers, or the public. But this is what we’ll get if this problem isn’t solved soon. Something drastic needs to happen, but who will be brave enough to admit it, let alone do something about it?
During a discussion about piracy last year on the BBC, the interviewer challenged a caller who freely admitted to pirating sports content online. The caller’s response was clear:
For far too long, broadcasters and rightsholders have abused their monopoly position, charging ever-increasing amounts for popular content, even while making billions. Piracy is a natural response to that, and effectively a chance for the little guy to get back some control, he argued.
Exactly the same happened in the music market during the late 1990s and 2000s. In response to artificial restriction of the market and the unrealistic hiking of prices, people turned to peer-to-peer networks for their fix. Thanks to this pressure but after years of turmoil, services like Spotify emerged, converting millions of former pirates in the process. Netflix, it appears, is attempting to do the same thing with video.
When people feel that they aren’t getting ripped off and that they have no further use for sub-standard piracy services in the face of stunning legal alternatives, things will change. But be under no illusion, people won’t be bullied there.
If we end up with an Internet stifled in favor of rightsholders, one in which service providers are too scared to innovate, the next generation of consumers will never forget. This will be a major problem for two key reasons. Not only will consumers become enemies but piracy will still exist. We will have come full circle, fueled only by division and hatred.
It’s a natural response to reject monopolistic behavior and it’s a natural response, for most, to be fair when treated with fairness. Destroying freedom is far from fair and will not create a better future – for anyone.
Laws have their place, no sane person will argue against that, but when the entertainment industries are making billions yet still want more, they’ll have to decide whether this will go on forever with building resentment, or if making a bit less profit now makes more sense longer term.