In days gone by, living rooms around the world could be found stacked with video cassette tapes full of films and TV shows. Some bought, others recorded at home, these copies would need to be waded through, to find whatever content the owner fancied watching that day.
With the rise of digital technology, however, such physical collections have largely disappeared, replaced by copies that occupy virtually zero space, with thousands of movies, TV shows, music tracks, and photographs effortlessly stored on relatively cheap hard drives.
Paper-based indexing systems, for those who cared to maintain them in the analog age, have now been replaced by software that not only does all the hard work but also makes collections a thing of beauty. While there are alternatives, Emby for example, the clear market leader is Plex. However, the company behind the software is now facing a backlash for failing to control how people interact with its creation.
According to CreativeFuture, a pro-copyright coalition of more than 560 companies and organizations, Plex – which is basically a pretty media player – is helping to fan the flames of piracy. While there are some exceptions which we’ll come to shortly, people generally need to be in physical possession of movies or TV shows to watch them using Plex, with torrents providing the necessary material.
“[T]he problem now finds itself on a dangerous precipice where it could easily slip right back into becoming a crisis again, as it was in the mid-2000s – before streaming was all the rage,” Creative Future writes.
“Thanks to a rapidly growing media application called Plex, torrent-based piracy is back in vogue, and better than ever (for criminals who have no problem with profiting from content that doesn’t belong to them, that is).”
To set the scene, that Plex is some kind of ‘rogue’ application, CreativeFuture (CF) aligns the media player with another piece of software, one that has also suffered reputational damage as a result of its users’ activities. The choice of adjective to describe both is particularly interesting.
“To understand what Plex is and how it functions, it is helpful to look at Kodi – another dangerous digital media player that we have written about repeatedly here at CreativeFuture,” CF notes.
The claim that Plex is dangerous is supported by an article published in The Verge, which reported on so-called ‘Plex shares’. Without going into the minutiae, ‘shares’ effectively allow Plex users to access content on other users’ Plex servers which, in some cases, could have been obtained illegally.
That some Plex users allow others to access huge libraries of pirated content is a fact, with some being targeted by anti-piracy groups such as BREIN. But, in common with so many piracy controversies in recent years, CF feels that if Plex users are doing something illegal, then the company behind the Plex software should be held responsible for their actions.
In this respect, CF claims that like “most” tech platforms, Plex is doing what it can to avoid accountability.
“In turning a blind eye to its piracy problem, Plex has joined the ranks of internet heavyweights who refuse to take responsibility for the criminal behavior on their platforms,” the copyright coalition notes.
“With heightened scrutiny on the biggest platforms, lawmakers across the country, and abroad, have increasingly demonstrated less tolerance for tech companies that sidestep law and order in their relentless quest for user growth.”
Quite what CF believes Plex should do isn’t covered. If we take current industry strategies as a benchmark, we might guess that the organization would encourage the use of some kind of pro-active filtering mechanism, which would prevent Plex users from adding potentially infringing material to their own computers.
Of course, that would mean massive implications for end-user privacy, almost impossible calculations to determine who is allowed to add content to a library within the law in multiple jurisdictions, plus an inevitable backlash and migration to other platforms that reject such intrusions. It would also require the company behind Plex to get deeply involved and therefore acquire ‘knowledge’ of infringing user behavior, something that raises all kinds of red flags.
The piece, which deserves to be read in its own right, also accuses or Reddit of being a “notorious piracy-enabling outlet”. What it fails to mention, and probably should’ve done, however, is that Plex is already making progress with various entertainment industry groups to tackle piracy in the best way possible – providing users with easy access to licensed content.
In 2019, Plex announced it would begin streaming thousands of free movies, TV shows and music documentaries from within the app, after striking deals with relevant rightsholders. The content is ad-supported and the hope is to expand the offering in the future.
“Over time, we’ll be adding more stuff from different studios and creators — from Oscar-winning Hollywood movies to the latest from India, Russia, China, Japan, Africa, Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe to really cool independent movies fresh off the festival circuit,” the company said.
That Plex now finds itself in the firing line isn’t really a surprise – if Reddit is a “notorious” enabler of piracy, then any company with end users could find itself tarred with the same brush. TorrentFreak contacted the software developer for its opinion on the latest set of claims but at the time of publication, Plex chose to remain silent.