With all the controversy over SOPA, there has been a lot of attention lately on the so-called “piracy” of music and movies. The practice of downloading copyrighted content illegally - i.e., without paying for it - is at the heart of the issue. The MPAA and RIAA have been vilifying the practice, and the so-called “pirates” (except for their own people) for years, ever since the days of Old Napster, back in the late 1990s/early 2000s.
More and more, however, evidence is surfacing that people who download content via file-sharing services like BitTorrent, Limewire, and others are nowhere near the threat to the entertainment industry that the MPAA and RIAA would have us believe. Today TorrentFreak is reporting that an independent film called The Inner Room has begun circulating on BitTorrent. Five thousand people downloaded illegal copies of the movie in less than a day. While many in the entertainment industry would be shocked and horrified at such an event, producer Mark Diestler is actually excited. He says that his production company, Red Giant Productions, even considered leaking the movie themselves after seeing the benefit of piracy on Ink, another independent film that was pirated in 2009. Ultimately, the attention garnered by pirates pushed the movie into into the Top 250 on IMDB. Though it has since fallen somewhat, it remains in the Top 500 as of this afternoon.
This is just the latest in a long string of events that suggest that the "piracy" so despised by the entertainment industry might actually be good for them. Earlier this month, we ran a story about the Swiss government declining to change its copyright laws, which currently allow people to download copyrighted content for personal use. The country’s grounds for refusing the change - which had been requested by entertainment industry lobbyists - was a study the government had conducted that found that those who download content for free also spend more on content than those who don’t. This supported comments made over the summer by Douglas Merrill, formerly of Google, then of EMI, that Limewire users were among the iTunes Store’s best customers.
This past spring, Adam Mansbach’s parody children’s book entitled Go the F--k to Sleep skyrocketed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list before it had even been published. Prior to the book’s publication, a pirated PDF began circulating, which led to massive pre-orders of the book on Amazon, driving it to the top of the list. Though Mansbach said that he couldn't condone the practice, he also admitted that it had been a major factor in the book's success. To that we can add the fact that Neil Gaiman, author of a number of bestselling novels and graphic novels, has said that sales of his books - particularly in foreign countries - have increased dramatically after electronic copies began cirulating. Gaiman has likened the practice to lending books, and called it “an incredibly good thing.”
All things considered, then, it looks like the downloading of music, movies, and books is not the boogieman that the MPAA and RIAA would have us believe, nor will it be the downfall of the entertainment industry as we know it. Quite the opposite, in fact. As has been shown repeatedly, the kind of activity the industry hopes to suppress with the passage of SOPA and PIPA could easily be turned to profit if they could be convinced to embrace the march of technological progress rather than trying to hinder it.