Originally posted on November 22, 2011
The mere presence of a free and open internet and the enormous opportunities a resilient and open network offers are simply mind boggling. I’ve mentioned this before on my blog on how the internet has and will continue to disrupt other traditional modes of business. I am definitely not the first individual to make that observation, but I will continue to echo that sentiment, as quite simply, there is no escaping this phenomenon.
The technological shift of a network being able to connect billions, happened a while back. UGC happened, web 2.0 happened, after a brief sputter or two (myspace, orkut) a true social networking scene came into existence. This amongst many other mini movements, could only be possible if there was an (pay attention) open and all-encompassing platform available for all to play. This really is, what the internet has offered all this time. Well, at least in the Western Hemisphere.
I’d like to come back to the “traditional modes of business” that I was referring to earlier on. Just to give this discussion some ‘semblance’, we’ll focus on the developments in the North American region, as a) I have no idea what’s going on across the pond. And b) if you look around the world, then intellectual property and copyright laws are being ripped to pieces every single passing moment. So not much of a discussion there. So from the perspective of content generation, these “traditional modes of business” obviously have had a lot of control on what gets created, how it’s distributed, the whole supply chain cycles, the works basically. All of it has always translated into profits. Now, this disruption that I was referring to happened a long while back. Napster vs RIAA, can be attributed as the first public clash of this new vs old distribution model. Since it’s launch, Napster grew like wildfire. And once it did, the music industry (RIAA) and the movie industry (MPAA) immediately took notice. Actually and ironically, I believe it was the actual lawsuit by RIAA that launched Napster from a service being used by dreary teenagers to more of a cult status, where everyone and their granma were soon leveraging the benefits of p2p sharing.
Enormous studies were conducted, most of them funded by these two industries themselves with a basic intent to proclaim that piracy had hurt these industries and continued hurting them. And that they were losing billions each year to Piracy. On the other side of the spectrum, there were also some studies conducted by researchers at Harvard /MIT that actually advocated the fact that piracy directly supports the music industry. What was the outcome? Finally an injunction was brought against Napster and the court ordered the service to be shutdown. Napster complied. Sean Fanning (founder) of Napster, enjoyed his brief stint in front of the media. Sean Parker (co-founder) started taking his baby steps towards becoming the next Picasso of the Silicon Valley. I am sure a lot of executives from RIAA/MPAA breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that this was it and everything would go back to normal. Little did they know.
I think it’s worthwhile to take some time and really detail what happened back in those days. As Napster was the epitome of his movement, if you may call it a movement. Not to be confused with OWS . I believe that everything that emerged in a post-Napster world that tried to mimic the same p2p offering, was really just a transient embodiment of the service that Napster provided. The cat really was out of the bag.
They have been quite a few contenders that have eagerly wanted to fill the void that Napster left. You had Kazaa (shutdown and the founders moved onto creating skype), limewire, emule. Fast forward a couple of years and we saw the emergence of The pirate bay. A service originally offered out of Sweden. Now elusive. Elusive in the sense that it’s pretty darned hard to get this service shutdown. Unless you tinker with DNS on the root level. And that’s where it starts getting scary.
On the other side of the spectrum, companies like Apple noticed the enormous opportunity that existed. They were quick in addressing the two key points of i) users want dont’ want their media in a particular format, not just CD’s or through a streaming website and ii) they (Apple) didn’t want to piss off the big guys and wanted to offer a service that everyone could agree upon, without having to infringe any kind of a law, profit sharing mechanism, the works. iTunes was born and the rest as they say is history.
Now this blog-post has taken a very media centric approach. Not by choice. But because of the fact that the two institutions (if you may call them that) running after all these ‘fringe’ offerings were RIAA and MPAA themselves. In the past decade or so, we’ve had raids on educational institutions for failing to combat ‘piracy’, There must have been a gazillion seize and desist orders handed out in the US. Plus there is also the unintended consequence of a revolutionary technology like the p2p being demonized for being the vehicle for all of these emergent distribution models.
Fast forward to the present day context, and you even have some of the tech giants backing up some of the elements being proposed within the SOPA, Protect IP bills being introduced in the House of Representatives. These businesses claim that they are losing billions to pirated software practices each year and with the way piracy is so prevalent. Same goes for the other media industries.
I am not even going to get into the debate relating to piracy, whether it is eventually good or bad for the business, economy. Well I won’t do it in this blog post as it’s getting pretty long and I am getting a little tired.
But what is important is to understand this time around is, that:
I wonder if this debate is all related to the fact that no one has been able to emulate the Silicon Valley in it’s shape/form/size. Don’t enact such a draconian law that it brings the entire engine to a grinding halt.
I leave you with a quote from Richard Stallman:
Geeks like to think that they can ignore politics, you can leave politics alone, but politics won’t leave you alone.