Let's Fix the Internet, Guys!


Sit tight, daddy-o’s. I totally figured out how to fix the internet, dig?

As all you hep, young cats are aware, SOPA and PIPA are some major bummers that almost happened but didn’t, because a lot of groovy websites did awesome things that made congressmen realize that they are all crusty old squares. I mean, obviously there’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s really all you need to know for now.

So, question: why were these two acts introduced in the first place? Well, obviously, like, the corporations, man, had something to do with it – lobbyists doing what they do best, and the various production companies wanting to protect their investments and all – but, me, I’m an optimist, and to the non-tech-savvy, they sound like pretty good things – ending piracy and all. (Yes, I know not everyone feels that piracy is inherently bad. I’m getting to that.) Most people are of the opinion that piracy is bad, and that some method of preventing it needs to be implemented. Just, y’know, a better one. Remember Google’s “End piracy, not liberty,” slogan and all that?

So, the argument in favor of file-sharing. Basically, it goes that the free distribution of files allows consumers to experience the song/movie/whatever before buying it, which allows good artists to gain positive word-of-mouth (and sell more) and bad artists to gain negative word-of-mouth (and sell less). The idea is that the consumer decides whether or not to pay for something after having experienced it. They assert that not every illegal download constitutes a lost sale (unlike with physical media), and thus that file-sharing is not stealing.

Now, I agree with that last bit. Not every illegal download is a lost sale. Let’s face it, if I couldn’t watch Legion for free (for my Christmas movie list), I wouldn’t have watched it at all. And it is definitely true that free things can build up an audience, which then pays for things. When I was first introduced to Muse, for instance, I took a couple of their CDs out of my library, gave them a listen, liked what I heard, and bought the rest. And now they’re my favorite band.

But I do have a problem with this argument. If you already have a given file on your computer, and you got it for free, there’s very little motivation to then pay for it, outside of altruism. You already have the file, so you wouldn’t gain anything from legitimately paying for it other than a sense of well-being. That sends the message that the song/movie/whatever in question is inherently valueless, and that any money the artist makes off it is contingent upon the milk of human kindness. Artists are made into beggars playing the acoustic guitar outside of subways, hoping that passers-by drop change into their cases. Which is bad, because it takes quite a bit of hard work to make art. Even Joyful Noise, which looks like it just might be the worst thing to ever be created, took work to make. Camera operators had to operate cameras, editors had to edit, and even Dolly Parton had to take some time out of her busy schedule to shit onto a microphone.

Some make the metaphor of file-sharing being similar to someone buying a book and lending it to a friend, which I disagree with. It’s a bit more like buying a book, making infinitely many perfect copies of it, storing them in your garage, and then inviting strangers to teleport into your garage, take a copy, and teleport away.

But others make the comparison to a library. And I do like libraries. But, again, there’s an inherent issue here. With a library, only one person can hold a book at once, and only for a limited amount of time. That makes library books poor substitutes for real ones, and means that someone who enjoyed a library book and wished to read it again very likely to buy it. Which would contribute to the “file-sharing as advertisement” argument, if not for the fact that the illegal files you can download are essentially the same as the real ones.

And that’s how I figured it out. Now, full disclosure: I know next-to-nothing about computers. But at the moment, I have a free trial of Final Cut Pro on my computer that’s going to expire in a little under a month. So if software can be made inactive a month after installing it, why can’t songs or movies? A month might be a bit long – especially given that modern pop songs only last a couple weeks on the charts, anyways – but presumably that amount of time can be altered.

Picture this: you log into itunes, or Amazon, or whatever your favorite mp3 dealer is. You see that the latest single from what’s-her-face is quite popular, so you head on over to her page. Next to the little Buy icon, there’s another one: Try. You click it, and you download the entire song, all three-and-a-half minutes. You can listen to it as many times as you want in the next 48 hours (roughly 822 times, if you keep it constantly on replay). At that point, the file does something bad to itself and you have to pay for the real one if you want to listen again (you’ll just download a completely different file, as opposed to paying for a code to unlock the free file. It’s neater this way, and we won’t have to worry about keygens). After you click on it, that song’s “try” button gets grayed out – you can only use it once, lest you just download it again once your copy runs out. To compensate, the 48 hours don’t begin until you either open the file or try to copy it (so that you can’t copy it before the 48 hours start ticking down and make a new copy every time your old one disappears). It’ll work with movies just fine, although not books, as someone could easily screengrab every page in 48 hours. Luckily, it seems that e-readers are super popular and financially successful, so I don’t think we have to worry about books here.

Now, we’d have to deal with the matter of how to make sure some unscrupulous individual doesn’t buy the legitimate file and then post it online for anyone to download. I’m not going to worry about people e-mailing the files to one another, or distributing them via flash drives. That’s small-scale stuff, it won’t make much of an impact. I don’t want to resort to overly-stringent DRM here, because if you’ve paid for something, I don’t want to tell you how to watch or listen to it. So I don’t want to jigger (technical term) the files to only work on one computer, or when played with a certain account, or anything like that.

This is where it gets sticky. If the files are just ordinary and unprotected, the only way to get them off the internet would be good old-fashioned lawsuits, which would take a very long time, because there would be a great many files to eliminate. Additionally, the only people who could afford the court costs would be the big-name artists signed to major labels – the ones who don’t have much to fear from piracy, because they’d be making plenty off of legitimate downloads. We can’t have the government go after them directly – the government’s busy.

Luckily, I think the situation will solve itself with time. If the “offer self-destructing files for totally free” strategy becomes widespread, there won’t be much sympathy in the courts for the guys uploading illegal copies – the “try it before you buy it” argument won’t fly, because there would already be a legal way to do that. So long as the lawsuits target those who upload files, rather than those who download, or the websites hosting them, I doubt there’ll be much public outcry. Suing for minimal amounts of money (plus court costs) would be more effective than the multi-million dollar affairs that we see today – the defendants have less reason to fight the claims, meaning a greater number of cases can be made, and more quickly – because the suits should be less about recovering “damages” (again: not every download constitutes a lost sale) and more about sending the message that they can’t get away with this. Plus, if the major record labels win more infringement cases more easily, then they’ll set precedents and make future cases faster, allowing the smaller artists to get in on the lawsuits (because the less time a case takes, the less it costs in legal fees).

The only problem with my strategy is that it requires a great number of people to act a certain way, such a way being contrary to their nature. Basically, people should just put me in charge of everything.