So Google bought Youtube for 1.65 ba-ba-billion dollars. The deal helps Google by essentially replacing its own largely irrelevant Google Video service, and it helps Youtube, since Google’s massive legal muscle will help Youtube deal with the vast, vast quantities of copyrighted material on its site. Have I mentioned how much I love the old Even Stevphen clips?
Between the billions of dollars changing hands and the unprecedented legal contracts with major media companies, this is clearly a watershed moment in the history of online entertainment. Not only does this in many ways legitimize internet video, but more importantly, the contracts with the likes of BMG, Sony, and Universal represent a tacit acknowledgement that Youtube is not a hive of piracy.
I think this change in attitude has been building for the last few years, ever since broadband internet really took hold and BitTorrent solved the technical problems that were the root cause of slow downloads. Granted, the vast majority of material available through the big BitTorrent sites is illegal. Full albums, newly aired TV shows, commercial software, etc. The key difference, however, is in the experience of obtaining such materials.
Years ago, the world of illegal software was a minefield of dead ends and viruses (I am, of course, speaking in the hypothetical here). I once asked a friend how you would go about obtaining files illegally, and here are the steps he outlined:
- Surf to Pirate Site X.
- Be sure NOT to click on any obvious looking links, as these invariably lead to some naughty sponsor site, a chain of endless popups, viruses, or all three.
- After figuring out which links are real (and maybe rebooting your computer after an initial mistake), click them.
- Realize that the most promising looking links don’t have anything to do with the content you’re after, or have been invalid for several weeks.
- Repeat steps 1-4 with Pirate Sites Y and Z.
- Realize that this is a fool’s game. Download mIRC and enter the world of Pirate Chatrooms.
- Determine, out of the thousands of servers and millions of chatrooms, which ones might have the stuff you’re looking for. Pirate Sites X and Y, but not Z, may actually be helpeful here.
- Log into the chatroom.
- Be immediately kicked out of and/or banned permanently from the room for asking publicly about the content you want.
- Try again in a similar room. Realize that all real content is being served by automated “bots”.
- Search the various bots using an arcane language to find the one that (probably) has the files you’re after.
- Request the files from the right bot.
- Wait in a virutal queue for hours on end just to begin downloading the files.
- Download the enormous files at speeds barely better than a dial-up modem.
- Are the files split up? Repeat steps 11-14.
- All files now downloaded, unpack/unzip/unrar them, find the readme, and then follow any instructions. Pray that it all works. You’ve got a 50/50 shot.
As you can see, it’s not a great way to spend an afternoon. However, thanks to cable modems, BitTorrent, and the increasing popularity of digital media, the new set of steps goes like this:
- Download this program.
- Use the built-in search feature to find whatever it is that you want.
- Click the “go” button.
- This isn’t really a step, but it’s worth mentioning that the files are virtually guaranteed to be valid and virus free.
In short, with each passing month, piracy looks less and less like piracy and more like on-demand cable or iTunes. This is the inevitable, inexorable evolution of a once clandestine technology. Perhaps now, with this major acquisition of Youtube, major media companies will at last come to see the word “download” not as a talisman of illegal activity, but as a lucrative way to distribute their content. Whether they do or not, I would like to emphasize that despite all the lawsuits, obtaining such content on the internet has never been easier, and it’s here to stay. Lawsuits are expensive, even for a megacorporation like Sony. There’s much more money to be made by embracing this technology than trying, futiley, to shut it down. Sony makes easy cash, looks hip, and we all get what we want much more easily. Everybody wins.