Internet Piracy 2.0

We’ve come a long way as far as internet piracy is concerned. I remember a time when people were clueless about from where to download a song. So they came to me and I was more than happy to charge them for a CD full of their favourite songs. Agreed it took me ages to download a single song from this website called “themusiclover”, but it came with the glory of owning (is that the right word?) a song or an album that no one else owned (and my own little booty of cash).

Themusiclover was a website that hosted all the latest songs on its own servers. This was well before the P2P days of Napster. And even before Napster, there was Audio Galaxy! Damn, I loved Audio Galaxy!

But when Napster, the big daddy of peer-2-peer (P2P) sharing, came into the picture that’s all people could talk about. Napster gave rise to the likes of other P2P clients such as – KaZaa, Morpheus, eMule.

When P2P networks came under all sorts of threats, people shifted their focus onto what is now probably the most popular method of online piracy  – BitTorrents. And somewhere in between the P2P networks and BitTorrent clients, there exists/existed a whole world online pirates in places such as Netpumper, IRC, FTPs, Usenet, file hosting services and those seedy “warez” websites. So, now I think I’ve pretty much covered the major portals of online file sharing.

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But let’s face it, all these services faced similar drawbacks. They were all clunky and not at all user friendly (IRC requires you to type old fashioned commands). They required installation of additional clients which came with their own bloatware. In addition, the networks were plagued with viruses, malware, adware, fake files, etc. etc.

It wasn’t until when my computer crashed a couple of times because of the viruses that came with all the “warez” did I learn the dangers of online piracy (dangerous, isn’t it?). Not just that, I remember downloading what was suppose to be the new Matrix movie from KaZaa but what it really turned out to be was, well, better left unsaid.

But I wasn’t someone who would give up just because his computer was infected and full of malware. As I tried moving closer to the source of the online “leaks”, I found myself learning more about the world of internet piracy. Learning about scene groups, rip quality and release logs made sure that every software, movie, song or game that I ever downloaded was top quality and free of any kind of malware or virus.

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All this knowledge came at a cost. I invested a lot of time and effort (and money) into learning about online piracy. I don’t know of too many people who had the patience or the inclination to learn the differences between scene groups and P2P groups or DVDRips and DVDScrs.

To a great extent BitTorrent made piracy easier for everyone. But even with it’s democratization, it wasn’t a perfect solution. For the most part, it over-relied on the downloaders’ magnanimity to continue uploading the the file after they had finished downloading it. Let’s be honest, most people are dicks when it comes to this.

Despite people being dicks, piracy was at its peak. To say the least, Hollywood and the music industry wasn’t too impressed. For years they cribbed about declining revenue and looked upon internet pirates as if they were the devil. Even if it wasn’t always true.

After several failed attempts, they realised that piracy was an unbeatable force! So instead of fighting a losing battle, companies began embracing piracy with their own new business models. Piracy was always about availability and price, and when you make content available everywhere, at reasonable price, people will stop pirating. And to a great extent, they were right.

iTunes, Spotify, Hulu, Netflix, Google Play, Amazon soon became the legal alternative to internet piracy. For a very reasonable price, users could now download a song or stream or a movie a TV show on a device of their choice. Legally. Yup, that was important.

Content is king (not customers, sorry). And content providers with innovative business models that appealed to consumers, became the king of kings…and saviours of the industry.

They even managed to convinced me! 15 Rupees for a song on iTunes (any song) seemed to good to be true! I’ve been eagerly anticipating the (never-happening) arrival of Spotify and Netflix to India. I suddenly realised the insignificance of all the hoarded, downloaded material taking up gigabytes of space on my hard drives.

But then, it all changed when developer pirates decided to make their own versions of these legal services.

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Showster is an app on Android that allows me to stream any TV show. It has practically all the shows in the world! TinyTunes does the same for music. Any song – available to download or stream. And now Popcorn Time let’s me stream any movie, in 720p or 1080p quality with subtitles, on my PC. It suddenly sucks to be Spotify or Netflix.

Popcorn Time
Popcorn Time

These apps are so simple and easy to use that they require no explanation. In fact, Popcorn Time is beautifully designed! Who would have thought that the saviours would become the next inspiration for the pirates.

There is so much pirated material on the internet and all these apps do is search and aggregate all that material in a simple and user-friendly front end. They make piracy simple!

It doesn’t even look or feel like you’re pirating any more! No more dark dodgy websites and thousands of pop-ups! Gone are days where one would spend hours searching for a good print of a recently leaked movie or scavenging through those shady Russian MP3 websites. And since these apps are all about streaming, you technically are never in possession of any pirated content.

We’ve entered into a new age of digital piracy, one where the pirates are drawing their inspiration from the best apps in the industry. And their value proposition is still unbeatable – Free! Forget downloading viruses or crappy camera prints of movies. Getting access to top quality movie prints, TV shows and high bit-rate songs has never been easier.

No! I’m not promoting piracy. I’m simply saying that the pirates just uped their game and the guys at Spotify and Netflix now have something else to worry about. Piracy can’t be killed – that’s just my opinion. And I think Google agrees with me.

It’s very difficult to compete with someone who offers the exact same thing for free. But that didn’t stop people from innovating with products such as Hulu or Spotify the first time. So now the proverbial ball is back in their court. Let’s see, where it goes from here.

Well played pirates, well played.


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