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The end of the free ride?

15 June 2017

For as long as we've had the ability to reproduce copyrighted material there has been piracy.

As a young lad, I recall with great pleasure, the hours I'd spend on a Thursday night listening to the "Top 10" on the radio and cuing up my aged reel-to-reel tape recorder to catch my favourite tracks. Yes, this was the era before even cassette tapes were common and affordable.

Unlike most others, who simply thrust a microphone into the speaker of their transistor radio, I had a wired connection that eliminated the echo and slight reverb that an "open air" connection would create.

Of course it was more academic than effective -- since we are talking about the days of AM radio and crappy, budget tape recorders. The quality was, shall we say, missing in action.

But I was a pirate and amassed a sizable collection of top-10 tunes over the months so that, instead of spending my valuable pocket money on 45s and LPs, I could invest it in far more sensible items -- like solder and wire and valves and resistors.

Of course these days, being a pirate is a whole lot easier.

All you need is a computer and an internet connection. No tape recorders, no microphones, not even any CDs or DVDs are required.

And, that computer need not be a "state of the art", all bells-and-whistles gamer platform with liquid cooling and enough fans to start a mailing list. A Raspberry Pi will do the job very nicely thank you.

As a result of this ease and low cost, tens or probably hundreds of millions of people around the world are now pirating movies, TV shows and music -- much to the fury of those who create and (legally) distribute this material.

The rise of Kodi and its plug-ins has really changed the face of piracy around the world and almost every day I'm gobsmacked when someone who I never expected to be a "pirate" asks me if I've heard of this Kodi/Exodus they're using and starts extolling its virtues.

To be honest, I think we are in the period of "peak piracy".

Although piracy of movies, TV shows and music will never disappear, I have a feeling that we're going to see a decline over the coming years.

Why?

Well the answer is complex and has many factors but one of the biggest factors will be the very success of things like Kodi/Exodus.

Those who use this platform will have already discovered that a growing number of the "sources" are now requiring authentication before they'll give up their content. Yes, you must actually log onto the relevant website and "pair" your device (your IP number actually) with the site before it will allow downloads or streaming.

Why is this?

Well I guess firstly it's to try and prevent copyright owners from running scripts that simply seek to identify their content so as to file DMCA take-down requests (which explains the CAPTCHAs that are on most pairing pages) but secondly, it's probably a way to generate some revenues from all that traffic they're spewing out at great expense.

I strongly suspect that many of the drop-box sites on which the pirated material is stored had no idea that, by 2017, a huge percentage of their traffic would come from people running Kodi and a plugin. This probably screwed up their business model quite significantly because if you're running a $60 RP you never get to see the ads on the respective dropbox sites -- ads that used to pay the bills. In effect, you're leaching if you use those dropbox sites to stream your illegal content.

Now while the illegal (and non-revenue-generating) content was originally quite a small percentage of the total dropbox site traffic, nobody cared too much. However, these days the effect of tens or hundreds of millions of people streaming and downloading all that content is pushing some sites to the brink and I expect we'll soon see a dramatic thinning of the ranks (of "sources"). This will put huge pressure on those which remain and that will in turn give the remaining sites more incentive to find a way of charging or just pull out altogether.

If the dropbox sites start charging then there's little point in not simply signing up for a service like Netflix and doing it all legally -- hence, I predict we've reached "peak piracy".

Now if there was a really smart cookie out there, they'd see just how much potential there is for a service that has almost every movie ever made and almost every TV program ever broadcast -- all online and available to be streamed at the drop of a hat.

In effect, I'm talking about legalising and commercialising the service that people currently get from Kodi/Exodus. Wow, that'd be a real winner!

I'd gladly pay $25 a month for that service -- almost twice as much as Neflix -- even more if some of the crustier rips could be replaced with decent quality ones.

Sadly, that's just never going to happen -- even though it would be the single greatest move the recording, movie and TV industries could make to kill piracy.

The problem is that they're all too greedy. Instead of selling their content for a fair and reasonable price -- they'd much rather hold out for "top dollar" and restrict the rights in an attempt to get this. These companies are cutting off their noses to spite their faces but their greed blinds them to this.

Of course the beancounters have their reasons. If you own the copyright on a tired old series such as Gilligan's Island and you set the broadcast/streaming rights at $500K per series then the five series you have effectively give you an asset worth $2.5m, at least that's the way the accountants see it. When calculating the net-worth of the company, all those seemingly "valuable" rights represent a fortune and make the shareholders very happy. Now if the company was to accept a fair and reasonable rate for streaming, the value of those old, tired series would plummet and so would the value of the company. Shareholders would revolt!

So you can see that the media companies don't want the illusion of their immense worth to be destroyed by the forces of reality -- hence we will never see them putting those old series online for their true value.

And finally, it looks as if the copyright owners and broadcasters are about to get very serious about clamping down on pirates and those who consume their offerings. There have been several press releases in the past week which clearly show that they're prepared to invest huge sums to slam the door on piracy and they're busy lobbying politicians for stronger laws and harsher penalties.

It will be very interesting to see what the scale and form of piracy looks like in another couple of years but I'm picking we'll see less rather than more.

What do readers think?

Am I way off-beam with this prediction or have services such as Netflix with its sensible pricing and good content selection already put a dent in the desire/need to pirate?

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