Leslie Stahl had a piece Sunday night on 60 minutes on the supposed impact of piracy on the movie industry. (You can watch it here .) Her piece was so slanted toward the Motion Picture Association of America, it was almost laughable (if it weren't so maddening).
At one point, Stahl explained P2P networking using Bit Torrent in a way that made it sound like it was used exclusively for movie pirates and that it was the brand new gee-wizz technology--neither of which is true. In fact, many mainstream media companies are using P2P technology to deliver their content, and have been for years, because it's cheap and efficient.
BitTorrent is Mainstream, Baby
BitTorrent , the software that Stahl shows off in the piece was developed by Bram Cohen , who is Chief Scientist and company co-founder of BitTorrent, the company. His company, the one if you listen to Stahl's piece is responsible for moving pirated content around the internet, has many media companies as its clients.
According to its web site, clients include Fox, MTV, Warner Brothers, Lions Gate and Paramount. If the movie industry is so worried about piracy on BitTorrent, it certainly has no problem using its 100+ million client network to distribute content.
The MPAA flacks interviewed in the piece who suggest that pirates are stealing their profits neglect to say MPAA members are using the same technology the piece was demonizing.
P2P (or peer to peer) networking is nothing more than a technology for distributing content across a network of peer computers, taking advantage of the computing power of each one. Like any technology it can be used for good or ill, depending on who is using it. I published an article for StreamingMedia.com back in July, 2007 about the mainstreaming of P2P. As I wrote at the time, quoting Monty Mullig , who was was SVP of digital media technologies at Turner Broadcasting System Inc.:
“I would say that P2P as a technology, per se, hasn’t been the problem for content and copyright owners. It’s been the use and the way some services that are based on P2P technology have been deployed. There are plenty of ways to use P2P distribution that don’t infringe on the interests of copyright holders,” Mullig says.
Imagine that. There are ways to use the technology that don't infringe on copyright owners. You would never know that from the piece broadcast on Sunday night.Stahl Unbalanced
Stahl's piece was flawed in so many ways, but she seemed to mix the up idea of pirates creating physical copies and selling them for money with those who were distributing movies for free over the internet. Meanwhile, she failed to acknowledge (while never even naming by name) that P2P technology has legitimate content distribution uses. Further, she had spokespeople from the MPAA and director Steven Soderbergh, but never saw the simple contradiction between the MPAA's position in this piece and the fact their members are partners with BitTorrent.
My fellow-DaniWeb blogger Davey Winder wrote the other day in a post, Hold the Front Page: Piracy is Not Killing the Music Business , a recent study found that people who downloaded music tracks illegally actually spent more on music than people who didn't. Winder suggests that it's not piracy that's the problem at all, but a failure to understand the way content is distributed in 2009.
He's spot on of course, and the same lesson applies to the MPAA. It's time for them to stop demonizing software and trying to tie piracy to organized crime and figure out ways to use the technology to sell and distribute their content. 60 Minutes has a long reputation for hard-hitting investigative pieces, but this piece did it a disservice. At least try to get a dissenting opinion next time. Wouldn't have been that hard to find.
Photo by hellochris on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.