By Scott Nyman
We have all read news reports about lawsuits filed against individuals for internet piracy, the modern day term for the downloading of copyrighted materials. A few years ago, in an effort to thwart piracy, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) started massive campaigns threatening litigation against parties suspected of illegally downloading copyrighted materials via P2P pipelines. P2P is a common abbreviation for peer-to-peer networks, or networks that do not require a centralized server that could regulate and control the content being transmitted between the peers.
One of those threats actually resulted in the highly publicized trial, and two subsequent retrials, involving members of the RIAA and Jammie Thomas-Rasset over the downloading of 24 sound recordings through the Kazaa P2P software. After a damages awards of $1.5 million against the Minnesota mother of four, and staggering legal bills for both parties, the record companies came out looking somewhat like monsters. As a result, the MPAA and RIAA appear to have backed off from their avid legal campaign against copyright infringing individuals. However, the adult entertainment industry has been taking up the slack in docketing copyright infringement cases, at times naming thousands of John Does per complaint, but that’s a different story altogether.
So, without the impinging threat of litigation (other than for adult materials), is America on track to become the next China for internet piracy? Not according to a report from the NPD group, which claims that only 9 percent of US internet users engaged in P2P downloading in 2010. This figure is down considerably from the 16 percent reported to use P2P networks in 2007. The decreased piracy may be a result of increased ease of access to content via legitimate channels.
But, what can be done to further reduce piracy? In my opinion, the business model needs to change. Instead of focusing on how to sell ownership of more content, groups like the RIAA and MPAA should instead work with distribution partners to develop a way to monetize the leasing of content. And, perhaps most essentially, they should make it so easy that consumers won’t be bothered with acquiring their content via cumbersome, illegitimate channels.
Gone are the days when the best way to get the song you desire is by purchasing an entire album. Even the model of purchasing individual tracks online, cherry picked and constructed into playlists for playback on iPods or smartphones, is a becoming a relic of the past. Always available and easy to access leased content, playable across nearly all of a consumer’s devices, will likely become the future of content delivery.
Microsoft and Netflix both have provided decent solutions using this model, but both offerings are not without limitation. Microsoft’s Zune Pass allows users to download and access an unlimited amount of music as long as they continue to pay the monthly fee, but it’s restricted to Zune branded software and hardware only. Netflix offers access to huge amounts of content, which may be streamed to my living room via a large number of devices, but restrictions on which content is available (as required by the copyright holders) often place the movie I’m craving in the “disc only” category.
What is needed is instant access a nearly complete library of content that can be accessed or played on nearly all devices, wrapped up in an easy-to-use interface. Create this complete solution, and consumers will pay monthly for the convenience alone. If the service begins selectively disabling the availability of songs or movies to make consumers run out and buy a copy, it will only devalue the service as a whole. As for the pirates, some will continue pirate because they just enjoy pirating, but I’m betting a majority of them will also have an account with this proposed wonder-service.