Here’s a story I’m quite certain we’re going to hear a bit about. According to the story, “the site was apparently seized by government agencies for reasons unknown. In all likelihood, the site was taken down due to intellectual property concerns including copyright infringement and trafficking in counterfeit goods.”
That story comes on the heels of another story here in the peaceful land of Sweden, home of Pirate Bay. In a nutshell, the Swedish court of appeals has upheld the convictions of three of the Pirate Bay’s founders. The member with the longest sentence is looking at 10 months in prison, and all are looking a fine of 46 million Swedish crowns/$6.57 million. By American standards, both the jail time and jail itself are light. Swedish prisons are nowhere near as brutal as the American prison system, but this American most certainly doesn’t believe that’s anything the Swedes have to be ashamed of.
I’ve pretty much always had a problem with folks on both sides of the file-sharing issue in this one.
The greed of some on the pro-copyright side is rather hard to deny. The success of iTunes and Amazon pretty much shows that. I can’t prove absolutely that sites like The Pirate Bay have helped iTunes and Amazon do well, but I’m willing to bet both are as successful as they are because they could point to file-sharing sites impacting entertainment distributors’ bottom line during crucial meetings, and offered a better-than-nothing solution that was pretty hard to beat. That the entertainment distributors couldn’t come up with such a business plan on their own is somewhat mind-boggling. Personally, I believe they were blinded by their greed, and couldn’t see the future. However, and not at all surprisingly, both Mr. Jobs and Mr. Bezos most definitely saw something. They saw the proverbial writing on the wall and made moves business geniuses tend to make. And, more importantly, at least to me, the consumer is better off for it. When the consumer wins, the phrase “long-term” has much more potential. Investors, of course, like when “potential” has the words “much more” in front of it, and here we are today with both Apple’s and Amazon’s stock value doing incredibly well (said the guy typing this up on a MacBook Pro with his iPhone to the left and his Kindle to the right). Universal, Warner Bros., EMI, and the rest must be green with envy at this set of circumstances. Let’s hope they’ve learned something from their hard and costly lesson.
Of course, the anti-copyright/file-sharing folks aren’t without fault, despite their rally cries of “Liberty!” and “digital freedom”. I’m often pretty amazed at how creative we humans can become when we are able to get something for free, even if the means are questionable. I recall TV interviews and articles from some criticizing the rising costs of CDs and DVDs, and I was one who wondered out loud why there wasn’t more of an outrage at the rising costs. However, like most, I did it at either at the cafeteria or dinner table. That all changed quickly once Napster and the like hit the scene. People started to taste the forbidden fruit of free digital entertainment and loved it. They were hooked. Did they know they were doing wrong? Yep. Did they care about it? Not the folks I knew. Before we knew it, the file-sharing war shifted gears here in Sweden with The Pirate Bay, who definitely took things to a whole new level that entertainment distributors didn’t appreciate. The bad guys were now the peace-loving, non-confrontational Swedes! I most certainly didn’t see that one coming, despite knowing full well how talented Swedes are in the IT business. It wasn’t long before a sort of national pride was sweeping through the country. Yeah, most Swedes knew what was going on was “wrong”, but was it really wrong to take from those greedy American music companies who charge too much for their product anyway? From the folks who would sue their own family for another buck given the chance? It wasn’t long before plenty other folks in Europe started to see things this way as well, and the fever spread globally. The Chinese and Asian black markets reaped even more benefits than they had before thanks to a vehicle that offered free downloading access to a product they likely obtained by other more costly means. Yep. The world got hooked quick, and the rationalizing went into overtime.
Fast forward to 2010. iTunes is what it is — awesome, IMHO –, and so is Amazon. A lot of the folks who complained about the pricing of music and videos can now find them (though not so easily in Sweden, mind you. But that’s another blog post waiting to be written) at quite reasonable prices. The steam that powered the engine of file-sharing has decreased due to the affordability. I think the 25-44 year-old demographic has stopped downloading illegally significantly. It’s as if most of these folks have woken up from drunkenness of the downloading party, and let their better sensibilities take over.
Regarding the court cases and the seizing of sites, my guess is folks won’t pay nearly as much attention, and while some in Sweden will be somewhat surprised by the court’s decision, there won’t be nearly as much outrage as when the forbidden fruit was first tasted without an alternative and threats were made. I also think entertainment distributors and pro-copyright folks are well aware of this. I bet they have learned more than a little since this all began. Their lawyers have had plenty of time to study up on the developing digital rights laws. Their lobbyists have had plenty of time to lobby their cases in Washington, D.C. as well as European Parliament. If their lobbyists are as good as I think they are, then sites being seized will get little more than a glance from most folks, including the media.
Things have just got interesting in a totally different way.