A nerdly angry post today. One thing that never fails to make me angry (I've posted about it before) is when big companies screw over ordinary consumers in the name of "copyright". I love writing and I would love to earn a bajillion dollars through some creative endeavour. Obviously I need some level of protection for work I create or the only money I'd ever make from this sort of work would be from donations. At the simplest level, the idea of copyright and patents are good things in a capitalist society.
Essentially, this sort of proposition (at its best) is a type of bargain. You, the inventor, are given a certain set of protections for your creation so you can make money out of it which will encourage you to create new things which may in turn inspire others to create so they can similarly profit. Eventually your invention will be put into the "public domain" which means anybody can copy it and/or modify it then re-sell it without giving you any money. The wheels of commerce turn. Where this all goes wrong (and this is going to make me sound like a commie) is when big companies (or greedy individuals) get in on the act. They see massive commercial potential in saying I own that and controlling your access to whatever "that" may be.
Over the years these big companies (through politicians they have bought and paid for) have extended copyright and patent terms with the simple goal of trying to prevent things from ever returning to the public domain. It's a simplification, but essentially a true statement, to say that the driving force behind the continual extensions of copyright terms in the USA is Mickey Mouse. By any historical standard, Mickey Mouse should have been public domain years ago. We could all be making our own Mickey cartoons and, if we were good enough at it, making pots of money.
On the face of it, many people think that sounds fair enough. Disney should be able to protect Mickey Mouse – I don't want my kids getting confused by the existence of a Mickey porn film. The arguments against copyright are complex and I won't go into them here; but here's a simple reason why it's wrong. The entire Disney empire (Mickey included) is based on other people's work. All their big movies are public domain stories, by their own standards they make their millions by "stealing". To be polite, their arguments for copyright are disingenuous and hypocritical. To be a little more direct, they're a bunch of two-faced lying fucking thieves.
So, I'm about 500 words in and I haven't mentioned Warner Brothers or BitTorrent. Who are they and what do they have to do with each other? Okay, Warner Brothers = big publishing company, ditto for them everything I said about Disney. BitTorrent = very clever software for distributing and downloading large file over the internet. I won't bore you with the technical details (geek out with a Google search on BitTorrent if you want to know) but essentially BitTorrent solves the problem of large files (e.g. full-length movies) taking a long time to download, even over broadband.
Warner Brother have just announced a deal where they will be using BitTorrent to distribute movies online. This is in contrast who uses BitTorrent to download pirated copies of everything under the sun via Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks. This legitimisation of BitTorrent has been coming for a while, BitTorrent's founder, Bram Cohen, has been working towards cutting this sort of deal with a big studio for more than a year. On the surface, this is a good thing. A big studio is finally facing the reality of the net being a distribution platform. BitTorrent is getting some deserved recognition as a valuable tool with legitimate uses.
So why do I think this could kill BitTorrent?
It all depends how it plays out. Warner Brothers have not released a lot of details yet. How much will they charge? What digital rights management (DRM) will be applied to downloads? In short, how are they going to screw us, the consumers? Rumours so far (and, being rumours, these could turn out to be completely wrong) are that downloaded movies will cost the same as a DVD and have a lot of restrictions placed on them. Restrictions like you can't burn them to DVD, you're only allowed to watch them on your PC. And you can't move them to other devices; not your 2nd PC or laptop, not your iPod and not your PSP. While throwing in the "rumour" disclaimer again, based on the historical behaviour of the big studios, this double-barrel blast of cost and restrictions is likely to be the way things turn out.
In business terms, this is doomed to fail.
Who is going to pay the price of a DVD with no physical media and a bunch of asinine restrictions on what you can do with a movie you purchased legally? The idiocy of this approach is mind boggling but the record of movie and record studios in recent times is a combination of stupidity, lies and greed. So I don't hold out high hopes for this deal. Making the download cheap but with a bunch of restrictions might work. Making a download a similar price to a DVD but including a bunch of restrictions might work. But there is no way offering a consumer a shit product at a shit price is going to work.
So what happens when it doesn't work? Well, maybe they'll get smarter and offer a better option. I'm not holding my breath. More likely they'll say it failed because the net isn't a viable legal delivery system, there's no point in trying to make it legal, let's keep suing our biggest fans instead of giving them what they want.
It seems obvious to me that there is someone in Warner Brothers who is forward-thinking enough to see how many billions they could make if they do this right. But I'm just enough of a conspiracy theorist to believe that there are stupid, greedy people who see this as an opportunity to kill BitTorrent by "proving" it can't work. And I think the greedy fuckwits outnumber the smart people.