The movie studios think this is a good thing. They’re wrong. P2P is the Content Industry’s worst nightmare…. to date. But it just keeps getting worse from there.
Mark Pesce (inventor of VRML, which, despite completely failing to take off in any meaningful way, is still really frickin’ cool) has an extended rant about it, which is worth reading.
Here’s what I think it boils down to – a simple choice. We, as a society, have to choose one of:
1) Copy protection.
2) General purpose open computing.
They are not compatible. Copy protection (and everything else that goes along with being able to perform copy protection) simply cannot be enforced in a world where the end user has control over their hardware and software. (Update: I wrote a longer piece about this.) Everything else is a thin sugar layer on top of that, disguising the fact that we’re heading for one of two worlds – where all entertainment (and consequently, all other computing) is viewed with industry-mandated black boxes, or the content creation industry (movies, music, games, etc…) learns to live in a world where they can’t force people to pay for their product. Currently, it’s a weird mishmash, but eventually, It’s one or the other.
Fortunately, there’s still a looong way to go before general purpose computing is outlawed, and there’s not a long way to go before technology makes it possible to anonymously copy whatever you want. Two things work in favor of that outcome – 1) storage keeps getting cheaper, and 2) because everything’s digital, a distribution mechanism that works for one kind of media can be easily adapted to work for all kinds of media. Eventually, there will be enough storage out there that the entire music library of the human race will be able to fit on a card or disc that’s small enough and cheap enough that it will be practical to just hand them out with a cup of coffee. Then, eventually, the entire movie library. Then, without the cup of coffee. All radio. Recordings of every live performance. P2P is just a way station on the road to constant on-demand availability of all digital media. It may be over the wire, it may be on cheap storage, it’ll probably be a combination of the two. But how it happens doesn’t matter – it will happen. Eventually, it isn’t about “piracy” vs. “legitimate usage”. It’s about facing a world where copying is not only widespread, it’s simply unavoidable.
What will the music and movie industries do when faced with the prospect of such a world? It’s tricky. They can try to fight it, but, sadly for them, these enabling technologies are also really good, and in some cases necessary, to all kinds of other interesting (and interested) parties, industries, and countries. I think fighting it is doomed to failure, and any attempts to do so only prolong the agony of all concerned, make criminals out of legitimate users, and alienate any goodwill towards actually saving these industries by paying for their product in some other way. They can try to make money off of live performances, but eventually those will all be available as recordings immediately after the fact. It’s already starting to happen. And that doesn’t help the movie industry much – although it’s been longer in coming, the movie industry is going to do much worse than the music industry out of this – they don’t have live performances to fall back on and their main revenue model is built around staggered, restricted distribution.
But here’s the real point – these industries are going to have to find other ways to make money. Many people will pay voluntarily, if they think they’re giving their money to people who are working hard to produce the content they like, and they don’t think they’re being taken advantage of by asshats who don’t respect them. Suing them doesn’t help. Trust me on that one. Maybe we need a voluntary entertainment pool, where people pay in (say, monthly), then they get to vote on media they’ve seen. If you make good content, you get a bigger piece of the pie. Maybe we need to return to a patron model. Maybe it becomes much more difficult to be “a professional creator” (and maybe it becomes MUCH more difficult to be “a professional content distributor”). The argument “if you can’t make money off it, no one will create” is just wrong. People will create because they need to, and the consequential technologies that increase the distribution of content also make it cheaper and easier for everyone else out there to express their creative energies. We need to find a way to pay them (us), and they (we) need to find a way to convince us (them) to do so.