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Piracy is Unstoppable (Like MySpace)

tina-fey-amy-poehler

On Tuesday, Swedish officials shutdown the notorious illegal file-sharing website The Pirate Bay, striking a serious blow against the content thieves that have sucked millions of dollars out of the U.S. economy. Rushing to defend The Pirate Bay, however, was Caitlin Dewey, a blogger at the Washington Post focusing on Internet and digital culture. On her the blog The Intersect, she wrote an article alleging that the removal of The Pirate Bay from the Internet will do nothing to stem the rise of online piracy. Indeed, she argues that The Pirate Bay, “has done something a bit more significant, and a bit more permanent, too: It’s made digital piracy a casual, inarguable part of the mainstream.”

First, her argument that because piracy is common today, it will be common tomorrow reflects a surprisingly poor understanding of the history of the Internet (especially for a tech blogger). If there is one lesson from the Internet economy it is that nothing is permanent. This applies not only to website like MySpace, but also online behavior: how often are you instant messaging these days?

Second, by alleging that piracy is an inevitable part of the Internet culture, Dewey is basically shrugging her shoulders and saying “nothing we can do.” Great attitude. Hope people trying to resolve the Gamergate controversy have the same attitude.

Third, Dewey ignores the broader point that copyright infringement is still a crime. And Pirate Bay offered a peer-to-peer file-sharing service designed to infringe on copyright laws. Using what is called BitTorrent, users transferred millions of large files carrying music and movies, bypassed copyright laws and deprived the proper owners of that content of profits. The existence of the Internet does not magically make content costless to produce just because it is costless to distribute, and this pervasive belief that because you can access a product in your own home should make it free is not only unfair, it’s downright lazy.

Perhaps most condemningly, Dewey asked what all users of the Internet might do to watch TV now that Pirate Bay has been shut down. Well, unless she’s been living under a rock for the last five years, there seems to be a pretty easy answer to this question: literally anything else. Netflix, Hulu, VUDU, cable provider on demand services, HBOGO, Google Play, iTunes, Amazon streaming…the legal options are actually endless at this point. And if you’re stuck on where to locate a particular show or film, it’s easy to check out aggregator sites – like Wheretowatch.com. By simplifying the search process, WTW allows consumers to find exactly what they are looking for exactly when they want it: it marries accessibility to content for customers with protection of the intellectual property for creators of the content.

Even the numbers are not on her side. Just a few months ago, KPMG released a first of its kind study assessing the availability of movies and TV shows online. It found that as of December 2013, 81 percent of the 808 unique films studied were available on at least 10 of the 34 online video-on-demand (VOD) service providers. Only 50 of the films studied were not available on any of the 34 online video offerings that KPMG reviewed. The study also found rapid growth in the number of TV viewing options available to audiences. Overall, 85 percent of the most popular and critically acclaimed TV titles were available in the United States through legitimate online video services.

Given the ease with which consumers can stream content, especially for broadcast, cable, and online TV, it’s almost offensive that some people can’t just cough up the cash to watch. And with 2014 coming to a close with awards (Golden Globes, Oscars, etc.) ceremonies in the next few months, many people will feel the pressure to catch up on all the content they missed. This should mean that individuals watch more online legally, but undoubtedly, many will see it as a chance to pirate instead because it’s just “how we do things”. Ask yourself this though as you prepare for the Golden Globes: how would Amy and Tina feel about that?

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About the author

Michelle Wein is a Trade Policy Analyst at ITIF, specializing in the connections between international trade, innovation, intellectual property and economic productivity.