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04.20.09

P2P Is About Instant Gratification Not Thievery

By James Cherkoff

'P2P is a demand signal from the market,' says Cory Doctorow. If that's the case, what are we to make of The Pirate Bay conviction last week? For those who don't know, Pirate Bay is one of the world's largest Bittorrent search engines. It allows people to search through the gazillions of TV shows, films and other entertainment that sit on the web.

This content is broken up into tiny parts and stored across distributed networks of computers, until someone makes a viewing request at which point Bittorrent or another P2P technology will draw the pieces together and put them back in the right order, ready to watch as a film or TV show.  The problem, of course, is that this distribution method is not sanctioned by the people who make and own the content, most of which appears without any advertising.  That's the advertising that pays the wages of the people who make the films and TV shows in the first place.  In the Pirate Bay case these good folk were represented by the IFPI (aka Hollywood).

So why does the world's entertainment industry persist with legal recourse, instead of listening to the 'demand signals' being sent to them through P2P?  The main reason is that P2P file-sharers have been seen as people who steal valuable IP. They must, therefore, be treated as thieves.  But that's misreading the signals.  The real driving force behind the growth of P2P is that it's convenient and gives people what they want, when they want it.  What if you don't want to wait a week to see the next episode of 24?  Or maybe a friend abroad has told you about a great new movie and you want to see it now so you can discuss it?

And, vitally, P2P is also a way for regular folk to distribute their own content and pursue the rock star dream.  Furthermore, with one third of all broadband users worldwide admitting they use P2P there's a massive network effect in place.  One that the entertainment industry will probably never be able to reverse.  However, the truth is that all of these signals are just too terrifying for people in the industry to listen to.

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As Mark notes about the latest Digital Britian bashola, many executives in the entertainment industry and beyond, 'are paid to keep the current model going and just don't want to see the digital technology as anything but a means to turbo-charge the current model. It's just too scary to contemplate anything else.'  And this is why Pirate Bay is just one part of the massive bout of creative destruction occuring in our time.  After all, there are plenty of others perfectly happy to listen to the market signals if the uncumbents are too scared.  And despite this court case, Pirate Bay and others like it just keep on rolling, allowing people to create personal media platforms and services of their own design.  As Doc Searls says, 'in networked economies the demand side supplies itself'.

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About the Author:
James Cherkoff is a Director of Collaborate Marketing, a consultancy in London which helps companies in Europe and the US operate in networked media environments. He is editor of the blog Modern Marketing and contributes articles to the FT, BBC, Independent, and the Guardian. James speaks at conferences and events around Europe and the US, including MIT MediaLab and Reboot in Denmark. You can here him here. When he isn't knee deep in the blog-world he is likely to be discussing Arsenal FC or playing peek-a-boo.
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