Piracy seeds alternative market

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A recent survey by Media Technology Monitor reports Canadian Netflix subscribers have increased by approximately 13 per cent since 2012. The numbers suggest that roughly 25 per cent of Canada’s English-speaking population uses Netflix regularly. The service costs $8 per month, resulting in annual payments of just under $100.

Even if cable companies allow people the option to select their own channel inventory, is it too little, too late for them to compete with Netflix? Cable has little advantage over Netflix. Do you even have time to watch the show during its scheduled air time? A season of your favourite TV show on DVD can cost $40 to $60 plus a trip to the store. With a good Internet connection, and the ubiquity of torrent and streaming sites, you can illegally download it for free in minutes. Why wouldn’t you choose the faster, more autonomous option?

Comedian Louis CK has opted to sell his downloads on his own website for $5, a far cry from the typical retail prices of $20 to $30 for the purchase of a comedy special on physical media. The digital files aren’t bound by regional or device restrictions, so they could easily be pirated. However, fans want to pay—when the price is fair.

So it’s strange that more companies haven’t followed suit. Clearly, it’s what the market is demanding, and the service isn’t particularly difficult to supply.

The recent forced closure of the torrenting site isoHunt at the request of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) was another attempt to send a message to the torrent community that piracy is wrong and those involved will eventually be held accountable by the law. isoHunt was only a drop in the bucket of the online torrenting deluge: 167th in Canadian traffic (423rd globally), according to Alexa.com. The MPAA called the settlement with isoHunt “a major step forward in realizing the enormous potential of the Internet as a platform for legitimate commerce and innovation.” The statement reveals the MPAA’s ineptitude in engaging with new mediums, as well as a degree of malice toward torrenters.

The Internet is already a platform for commerce, even for films and other media, and there are a number of platforms, like Netflix, that have been doing well. When a group of companies is unable to cope with these new models and realize a business without first litigating the horizon clear of competitors, the lawsuits are less about intellectual property rights than about market landscaping to ensure monopoly. Since when was business so risk-averse?

Services such as Napster or isoHunt that skirted the law were useful because they disrupted a stagnating entertainment industry, creating a more accessible way to consume media. The model for the iTunes Store was born from the ashes of Napster, and Netflix might not exist if not for the popularity of peer-to-peer sharing sites. The business world needs prompting, and not reliance on the courts to level the playing field.

Torrenting services are innovative. This is a service. The entertainment industry needs to change how it delivers its products, how it considers pricing, and how it engages with the demands of the consumer market. Until the entertainment industry at large develops a model with mass appeal, torrenting sites and the few innovative legal entertainment services available will continue to thrive.