While copyright owners test the legal limits of website takedown processes and push legislation greatly expanding powers to limit file sharing on the open Internet, a company that helps corporations protect intellectual property argues there is a better way: create more user-friendly services for acquiring legitimate content.
Envisional, a firm familiar to Ars readers because of a study funded by NBC Universal 12 months ago, has produced data that content owners might say is an argument in favor of pending legislation like Protect-IP and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which have been criticized by many advocates of Internet freedom.
But in a presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show titled "The State of Digital Piracy," Envisional's head of piracy intelligence, David Price, said the large levels of pirated content downloaded on sites and BitTorrent proves something else: that content owners aren't offering enough legitimate, user-friendly avenues to get content.
There are basically three approaches for content owners, Price says. One is to sue sites out of existence, which has worked in some cases. Another is to push legislation such as the aforementioned bills. But in the long run, the most effective method is to simply compete more effectively, something Netflix has already achieved to great effect.
Despite the content industry's success shutting some sites down, piracy still flourishes through BitTorrent, cyberlockers, peer-to-peer networks, and video streaming, Price argued. While piracy is unlikely to ever stop completely, many Internet users will turn to legitimate alternatives if the price and service are right.
"The content owners are really fighting the tide of the Internet," Price said. "They're trying to fight the flow of the Internet which is all about making content as widely available as possible, as easily as possible, as quickly as possible. They're trying to hold back the 1.4 billon users of the Internet from doing what the Internet wants them to do."
As far as SOPA and Protect-IP, Price says lobbyists he speaks with "are fairly confident at least one of these bills will come into law in the next six months or so."
Price does not like the way the bills are drafted, potentially causing major technical and free speech issues. "When I talk to content owners I try to tell them this is not the way to go," he remarked. "You don't want to hurt people. You want to try and go with a compete approach, put the content out there and hope people will come to you."
As pervasive as BitTorrent is, accounting for about half of online piracy and about 13.5 percent of peak Internet bandwidth use in the US, Netflix has more than doubled that with 29 percent of peak downstream traffic in the US, Price said. In Europe, BitTorrent accounts for 28.4 percent of peak bandwidth use, while services like BBC iPlayer (which offers less content than Netflix) accounts for 5.5 percent. With Netflix's launch in Britain, Price expects those market shares to change dramatically. But the stark differences between US and European data show that compelling alternatives to pirated content can shift the market in the favor of copyright holders. (Most of the data Price presented is from his year-old report, which he said he is in the process of updating.)
There are other examples of effective competition against pirated content, such as iTunes, the Steam video game service, and Hulu, Price noted. The music industry is also shifting away from DRM-restricted content because of user backlash.
The "sue them until they shut down" and other legal approaches are more difficult to implement than simply offering better service, he argued. For example, the owners of file sharing sites like FileSonic and FileServe are unknown.
"The question is, if you have these sites which are distributing enormous amounts of pirated content and you have no idea where the owners are, who they might be, and how you can get hold of them to try and sue them, how can you actually take action against these sites and shut them down?" he asked.
Although BitTorrent offers a good user experience, content owners don't have to copy that technology to offer a compelling alternative, Price said, noting that iTunes and Netflix both use various CDNs (content distribution networks) to get movies to consumers. "Netflix has a very good approach that is adaptive to your bandwidth," he said. "I think rather than just using BitTorrent [to distribute legitimate content] there are other commercially available methods for content owners."
Still, while content owners have made strides in the US, they've done little overseas. US-produced content like movies, games, music and software is largely what Internet users outside this country want to download. It turns out Russia is the world's heaviest user of BitTorrent on a per-capita basis, and cyberlockers containing pirated content are a part of daily life in Brazil. Yet, "legitimate alternatives such as Netflix are not widely available outside the United States," Price said.
Price has been tracking digital piracy for a long time. He shared an interesting anecdote from nearly a decade ago, when he wanted to watch season 2 of the science fiction show Farscape, and it wasn't available in the UK. Price tried downloading TV episodes shared via IRC, but "it was painful; you really suffered for your download."
Eventually he discovered BitTorrent, which had been released in 2001. "It was astounding at the time to be able to download material at that sort of speed without any major complications," Price said. "I sent an e-mail around to the whole company and said 'I have seen the future, and its name is BitTorrent.' I've been trying to convince content owners we work with about the virtues of this kind of distribution ever since."
From: Ars Technica