Digital Slob
Curt Brandao

P2P ruling clears way
for yard sale

On June 27, the Supreme Court ruled against Internet file-sharing services, saying they can be held liable for winking and nodding their customers into illegally pirating music and movies.

Since then, most Hollywood and recording industry execs over 50 have been jumping for joy, while most pirates under 35 have been too busy downloading "War of the Worlds" to be aware of the decision.

Still, the court has a point. If someone opened a brick-and-mortar store called "Hot Stuff" with a sign proclaiming "If we don't have it, tell us and we'll steal it for you," someone at your local Chamber of Commerce would probably make a call or something, though certainly not until after lunch.

But Big Media should understand pirates don't want to be pirates -- it's just a means to an end. Blackbeard couldn't get past a glass ceiling as a simple seaman. All Captain Hook wanted from Peter Pan was an apology, but I guess that would've been a too "grown up" thing for him to do.

Likewise, file-sharing, or P2P, pirates just want instant access to the world's complete supply of high-quality music and video entertainment -- it just so happens that the first way (and for a great while the only way) to do that was through theft.

Old habits die hard. Old free habits die harder.

Imagine if the only fast way to get microwavable popcorn was to steal it off the Web. You can bet Orville Redenbacher's estate would have sprinted to the Supreme Court as well.

But long ago, in his infinite wisdom, Orville decided to sell his merchandise where his customers frequent -- grocery stores. So now, unlike the music and movie industry, ConAgra can sell popcorn for $6 a box without having to compete with a black market that gives it away to anyone willing to suffer a few pop-up ads from Netflix.

Only now, after its entire inventory has been bootlegged at light speed, has the entertainment industry started to catch on. They've licensed some downloading services, like iTunes and the new peerimpact.com (a kind of buy-first-then-share-for-credit pyramid scheme). It's a start, at least.

At this point, though, the best economic model for it to follow might be the yard sale.

My mom has exactly 1,014 items of clothing that she refuses to donate to charity because she's convinced it can still be traded for hard currency. If she can just lug it all to her neighborhood association's bimonthly yard sale, she claims she could easily get 25 cents per unit. Even if she's only half right, that's $126.75 in unrealized revenue. I told her she'd get much more psychic income by just willing it all to the child she loves least (only because I know that's not me).

But a similar yard-sale approach would also give Big Media something (when it was getting nothing other than unanimous Supreme Court decisions), while giving pirates bargain-basement amnesty. Imagine online dialogue like this millions of times a day:

Customer: How much to watch "Matrix: Revolutions?"

Video industry: $3.99

C: Are you kidding? It was the biggest letdown of 2003! I'll give you 15 cents.

V: Well, it cost $110 million to make -- how about 50 cents?

C: Make it a quarter?

V: Done. While you're here, would you be interested in the Paris Hilton-Carl's Jr. ad?

C: How much?

V: $79.95. Mint condition.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.
Also see www.digitalslob.com

Curt Brandao is the Star-Bulletin's production editor. Reach him at: cbrandao@starbulletin.com

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