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Date Fri 25 January 2008

Well, the semester is starting to heat up, and I have a bunch of personal stuff I haven’t posted yet. But I’ll get to it this weekend.

In the mean time, I feel the need to comment on an article I read online, in Conde Nast Portfolio. It’s a lengthy piece about “Ethan”, the malicious user (I take great offense to the article using the term “hacker” in the media-popularized sense) who broke into MediaDefender’s network and publicly released internal emails and even phone calls (I guess there’s a downside to VoIP).

First, let me say that while I utterly hate what MediaDefender does, I don’t view Ethan’s highly illegal actions as being any different from physically picking the lock on their office door and photocopying stuff from file cabinets. It’s theft of information. It’s burglary. No matter what the motive, it’s illegal. And even worse, this wasn’t a socially-minded attack on one specific “evil” company, but some script kiddie randomly compromising corporate networks. He happened to find something interesting, of social value, and let the rest of the world know about it. He deserves to rot in jail.

That being said, I have two main comments on the article. First, one of the entertainment industry execs flat-out says that P2P file sharing, and BitTorrent specifically, have no positive qualities. Obviously, he’s not a Linux user. But the very idea that there are companies out there trying to unilaterally crush the medium (BitTorrent) which lets me download an OpenSuSE image in record time is disturbing. But I guess nobody takes the time to tell these people that there’s lots of software on BitTorrent and, believe it or not, much contrary to the Microsoft and entertainment industry view, there are actually people out there who produce software and *want* people to be able to get it for free.

Secondly, and most importantly, is the flat-out ignorance of the entertainment industry. Traditionally, it’s an industry that’s been full of what I call BS; focus groups, surveys, and customer feedback. Did any one of these guys take the time to have a focus group agency sit down with a hundred *anonymous* P2P users, and ask them why they use the technology? Obviously, either they haven’t, or they don’t want to listen to the answers.

I can only speak for myself and a few friends who I’ve discussed this with, but for us, it’s not about getting something *free*. It’s about getting it how we want it - which most importantly means NOW. If I want to watch a movie, I really don’t want to drive to a video rental store. I have a 5Mb internet connection, so I want to use that. I want to have the movie *here*, now. Or not here. Maybe on my laptop, or on my Nokia tablet. Or on my cell phone. Would I pay $5 for that? Sure. And there’s no reason why that’s not a realistic price. If I can buy a DVD, in a nice printed box, in shrink wrap, that had to be shipped to my local Best Buy, for $10 or $15, then surely it would be reasonable to buy the *content* of that DVD for $5. The same goes with songs. I can’t count how many times I’ve looked at a CD, realized that I only want to hear one song on it, and not purchased it.

Also, perhaps more important, is the idea of options. People are used to being able to use what they buy however they buy it. I’ve heard many times that the recording industry tries to push the FALSE notion that simply ripping an MP3 from a CD - for your own use, or for backup purposes - is illegal. More to the point, I use Linux. I can’t buy music from iTunes, or any other source that includes DRM. By including DRM, I’m being told that whoever sells that music doesn’t want my business. It’s that simple. But this isn’t an issue that’s just limited to Linux users. What if you own (gasp) MP3 player that’s not an iPod, and just shows up on your computer as a USB mass storage device? What if your car stereo plays MP3 CDs? DRM is designed to tell these people that their money isn’t wanted.

If I could pay $5, or even a bit more, for a movie or TV episode that I could download, copy to my laptop or cell phone (I have a Treo 700p) or tablet computer - or whatever else - I would. In an instant. It becomes the retail industry’s most powerful sales too - an impulse buy; instant gratification. If I could pay $1 or $3 for a single song, of my choosing, and play it on my Sansa MP3 player, on my laptop, on my desktop at work, and on an MP3 CD in my car (truck), I would in an instant (one viewer at one time = fair use). When will the entertainment industry wake up and realize that a new distribution medium - the Internet - will *help* them… if they realize what people want, and provide it?


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