OCSM Blog - Oceania Centre for Social Media
 A behaviour linked to the rapid growth of social media is the direct sharing of copyright material, especially music and movies.

Some people think “peer-to-peer” is intellectual jargon for copyright theft.  Certainly Time magazine (December 6, 2010) suggests this is its view by its headline, “The men who stole the World”. 

TheTime article began its historic notes with the year 1997, when Justin Frankel wrote the free MP3 player Winamp.  The story continued in1999 with Napster, written by Shawn Fanning, plus a programme, written by Jon Johansen and two others, that decrypts commercial DVDs for copying.  All three men were in their late teens.

File sharing on the Internet was boosted further by Bram Cohen in 2001 when he released his file sharing application BitTorrent, which facilitates the distribution of large files.  BitTorrent is still favoured today for large packages of data.

Napster has been superseded by iTunes, but it still exists, while WinAmp was bought by AOL.  We all know that now the very-simple-to-use iTunes is currently winning the popularity contest with MP3 users, and Time magazine deduces from this that the best way to compete with being free is by being easy. 

Most intriguing is the determination of those youthful Internet pioneers to remain outside the big companies.  Johansen, for instance is in his own company doubleTwist, producing software which can interpret and organise files from hundreds of files and combine them on a single interface.  Time reports that, in June 2010, doubleTwist introduced an Android app and around half a million people have downloaded it.

It is interesting that Fortune is equally fascinated by Internet entrepreneurs, but in its December 6, 2010 issue this was more about the success of Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, whom it named number one business person of the year.

It did so because, during 2010, Hastings cannibalised his own $2 billion-in-sales DVD-by-mail business and streamed television and movies to customers over the Internet.  This was so successful that the company’s shares have risen 200%.

It was also easy, as in the United States video can be delivered within 30 seconds over a high-speed connection.  It is not stored on a subscriber’s hard drive, but viewed immediately on a range of devices, including video game screens.

Again, Hastings’ answer to what the music industry and Hollywood call piracy, is to make it so easy for people to pay and view movies that they don’t flout copyright.  And, while iTunes has provided a similar solution for music, other positive results of file-sharing have been that musicians are staging more live performances to make money, and independent musicians are able to compete with “pop music factories”.  Indeed, some say peer-to-peer sharing no different from lending a friend a book and that it has helped support better music.

Finally, despite its headline and use of terms such as “piracy”, the Time article concludes: “The pirates never wanted music and movies and all the rest of it to be free – at least, not in the financial sense.  They wanted it to be free as in freedom”.

Posted by Joseph Peart