Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Losing the Copyright Wars


Pssst! Anyone want to watch the Warner Bros. blockbuster hit 300 for free online? If it's taken down by the time you read this, some other site will be streaming it for free. Guaranteed. Try here for instance. Or here. It cost $60 million to make, but it's yours for free, apparently. (Disclosure: WB is owned by Time Warner, which pays *my* salary...)

300 is only the latest movie to be pirated and given away online at sites all over the Internet. And it's graphic proof that the worst thing that ever happened to the TV and cable networks and movie studios was Google buying YouTube, and Viacom suing Google. Why? Because the Digital Diaspora has begun. Content, which was so easy to police when it all flowed to one place—YouTube—now is moving everywhere, at hundreds of video-hosting sites all over the globe.

What's going on now, in fact, makes the early days of Napster, when it was possible to download virtually any song for free, look downright innocent. Nearly any movie you'd like to watch, and any episode from any TV show, is now freely available online. Where there was once one YouTube, now there are hundreds—many in places where it's impossible for U.S. content creators to enforce copyright laws.

That's because as soon as Google bought YouTube, copyright holders had a real company, with very deep pockets, to sue. Not surprisingly, GooTube has been extremely receptive to take-down notices from TV networks and movie studios. But that only caused the content—already ripped and easy to upload elsewhere—to flow to a million little sites you've never heard of.

And it's all YouTube easy. All streamable--not downloadable. For years, ever since the advent of so-called peer-to-peer networks such as BitTorrent—kids have been ripping DVDs and swapping pirated files online. While that no doubt rankled the movie and TV folks, it was probably considered a manageable problem because, well, most people don't know how to use BitTorrent and its ilk. It's too tricky for non-Geeks. Now, however, thanks to the proliferation of easy-to-use compression software and other tools, movies and tv shows are showing up increasingly as point-and-click streams. No need to download.

The cat is out of the bag. Not only is the cat out of the bag, he’s mated with other cats and is spawning so many kittens, crawling out of so many bags, that the entire issue of copyright looks like lost cause. And not just for the video people either.