News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Future Wants: Digital Distribution Over the Internet


The pirates won.

BitTorrent is a file distribution program used to share data files between computers. BitTorrent now makes up more than one third of all Internet bandwidth usage. This surprising find illustrates a major trend…everything, text, images, music, and video, is being digitized and shared on the Internet, and it is happening at the grassroots level. If you miss your favorite television show, someone has digitized their VCR or TiVo copy and put it on the net. If you don’t want to pay for the latest CD or DVD release, start looking online. It’s there. Robin Hood is looking out for you.

So is the world full of thieves? In a word, yes. Pirates are by definition thieves. Copyright laws exist to protect copyright owners for unauthorized copying and use of their work, work an artist has put his blood, sweat, and tears into. Guess what? Most individuals don’t consider pirating a crime and they don’t think much about the artist’s effort when the results are free. This is the Internet Age’s version of lending your friend a VCR tape, if your friend happens to be the global Internet population. People, young and old, poor and rich, of every color and from every background are sharing. Just like our kindergarten teachers taught us. Pirating saves you money and makes you feel good. How do you fight that?

If you are the RIAA and MPAA you combat pirating of your members’ music and movies, respectively, by suing individuals and developing digital rights management (DRM) software to encrypt data for legitimate (i.e., paying) customers. You try to force the consumer electronics companies to include preventative measures within their devices. You put together advertisements of favorite bands, movie actors, and the no-name film worker begging the public to stop pirating.

None of that will work. Like it or not, pirating is a competitor enabled by the most efficient and fastest media distribution network in history, far surpassing retail stores, warehouses, and postal services in scope. Internet users caught on to this early. When all is said and done, all content will be available legitimately via the Internet. Content providers can do very well in cyberspace with slick online interfaces, merchandising, high-quality copies, and value-added services like liner notes for CDs and extras on DVDs. People will pay, even if pirating continues.

Embracing new technology pays. Look at DVDs, now so successful that a movie might bomb at the box office but make back all its money and more through DVD sales. This holiday season Target is offering old movies and episodes of old television series on DVD for only US$1.00. Yes, just one dollar. Stuff that in your stocking. Look at Netflix, Blockbuster, and Wal-Mart, engaged in a price war over their next-day mail delivery DVD rental services. Amazon is going to jump into the fray soon.

These and other companies are looking into the eventual distribution of content via the Internet. Apple’s successful iTunes service and a plethora of competitors already offer digital music to the paying public. CinemaNow and Movielink offer studio movies for download or streaming, held back from success only because they have such limited selections.

Meanwhile, fan and independent content is exploding online, from:

We want this, whether we are pirates or not. We’ll have it all by 2010. Instant gratification.

By then, Internet connections will be as fast as 100 Mps and over one billion humans will have access to the Internet. Consumer electronics like televisions will connect over wireless home networks with computers, allowing this content to be played anywhere in or around the house. Wireless broadband will blanket large areas of the world, allowing the same content to be played in our vehicles, on portable devices, and in remote areas. There will be no need for physical media. In fact, look for HD DVD (coming next year) to be the last major physical media format released. Wherever you are, at any time you want, the Internet will be your library. Digital media will be everywhere.

We all win.

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