Saturday, September 29, 2012

Let It Begin: More Piracy Discourse, Less Brutal Rudeness [EDITED]

Behold, the Swarm.
 If you're going to discuss piracy, then there are a few things I want you to understand. The first is that while the conventional wisdom is that piracy amounts to nothing more than theft, it actually represents a much more complex series of actions and subsequent reactions. I'm going to stick to recent events to correlate these facts for you, so that we duck discussing proto-capitalists boarding and taking over ships centuries ago.

  1. In recent years, piracy has occurred due to increasing technology and industry's decreased ability, or at the very least their denial of that technology, to take advantage of that sudden change.
Example A.: The MP3.

The MP3 is part of a long series of innovations in music technology that largely went unnoticed until the force of its appearance was pretty much forced the record industry of today to take notice. It's history is very interesting, and very telling:
The MPEG format was very clunky, like other digital music formats, and only terribly useful for adding digital tracks to movies prior to around 1998, when the first series of digital musical devices began hitting the market. I was actually in middle school around this time, and I still recall listening to my first MP3 between 1998-1999. What the biggest change to the format that the third generation of the series added was the ability to compress the size of the given music file without losing too much sound quality. These two things pretty much meant that digital music was forth-coming, whether or not anyone noticed them.

Initially, at least prior to the release of the first generation of iTunes software, MP3s were actually a pain in the ass to accumulate. The architecture to pirate them hadn't become all but ubiquitous, and therefore the individual who wanted a massive selection of digital music on hand would have to “rip” their CD collection one at a time. Some of the earliest MP3 encoding software could be best described as crap. Sometimes you'd rip a CD and find that your music track skipped too much because you didn't have enough RAM to encode a high quality product, etc, etc, etc. It was very annoying, and prior to P2P software there were more MIDI tracks on the internet than there were MP3s.

Napster changed that, by attempting to market the then newly arrived P2P software to create the “biggest music library on earth.” All went fairly well until Metallica and other bands/musicians discovered people were sharing their music. At which point P2P software mainstreamed, and a culture war emerged.

We will return to this later with my second point.

Example B.: Ebooks.

Electronic books have actually been around for a very long time. In fact, they follow a pattern of emergence right along side the internet as we know it today. Some of the first ebooks were released in the 1980s and 1990s, and hypertext files constituting a book have been around for just as long. They were not expressely popular except amongst geeks, or computer nerds, and thus they largely escaped notice except in some circles. Around 1998 certain libraries began stocking them for free.

Several things were happening at once at this time to keep in mind: first, printer and scanner technology (“digital photography and digital printing” if you will) was increasing at a fairly exponential rate, but not enough to gain notice right away. Second, Adobe and other companies (not to mention freeware programmers) were releasing programs like the Acrobat reader to allow for easier ebook reading (amongst other capabilities), and the PDF was heading on its way to emerge as the #1 used format. Third, almost all major traditional publishers that I'm aware of were doing their best to avoid the market and stick by what they knew best. You cannot entirely blame them.

The PDF actually emerged by 1993, but interest in it doesn't seem to have peaked – at least to me – until around the 2000s. By around 2006, publishers in the occult industry could have begun cornering the market on the files if they had just paid attention to what small cabals of occultists were doing. Namely? Sharing hard to find, extremely rare, almost impossible to buy limited edition runs of books in that format.

P2P software again emerged, allowing for even easier sharing of files too large to email. By 2006 it was already becoming relatively cheap to buy a scanner and scan one's favorite, almost impossible to find, books and give them to friends. These things didn't just appear out of the blue, is what I'm basically saying. Demand for them was increasing and those demands were pretty much ignored until around the emergence of the Kindle... At which point half my friends told me that they were selling their libraries and just keeping ebook archives.

  1. The failure of traditional markets to meet the demands of new technology and move with them, along with those markets demand to simply “stop piracy” actually increased the efficiency of that technology.

Napster was closed down, and the lawsuits that occurred as this happened taught “information pirates” lessons that they took to heart. The first was that a centralized network of peers was not only easy to shut down, but also allowed for individuals to sued for downloading a song like “Happy Birthday” to play at someone's birthday.

As such a new form of decentralized network began to emerge, the resultant sum of which is the Torrent. Torrent technology actually solves several problems at once: first, it allows for a decentralized network of peers to share files (whether legitimately gained or illigimately gained). Second, it over comes the “whole-file-peer-to-peer” basis of the first wave of P2P file sharing. By sharing “bits” rather than whole files, the files can be downloaded at a much, much faster rate than was seen with Napster. Where once an Ebook or even an MP3 could take half an hour to hours to get, now this rate could be cut far beyond “in half”. In short: it's now very easy to download a large number of files quickly, and broadband connections have made this even faster. It's hard to argue with how the Torrent system of peers in a swarm works. It's actually nothing short of brilliant, but so far no one but pirates are seriously making use of it. This is very saddening to see.

Had the RIAA and others jumped on the MP3/Digital music market faster, they would have secured a place and eased the reasons that pirates first turned to each other, which was to share music they'd bought and taken time to painstaking “rip” into their libraries. Instead, they did precisely the opposite and made just about every geek on the internet increasingly infuriated. The lawsuits which came of this resulted in better technology, more people using it, and drastic losses in profits whereas initially there were gains (albiet ignored).

The best example is Metallica's S&M, one of the albums that launched the culture war I'm currently discusing. S&M was actually selling better than previous albums the band made when they began raving about piracy and losses. Why? The answer is one which will repeat itself in a moment: people shared the music, liked it, and bought it despite the “conventional wisdom” regarding piracy and losses.

Of all the companies to take advantage of this, the first one to cross their t's and dot their i's was Apple with the iTunes market... Which has made them massive bank, despite the belief that digital music would never sell that was encountered prior to their emergence. Who would you rather be right now, the RIAA or Apple?

The MPAA shares a sordid history with the RIAA when it comes to this discussion. There emerged in the 2000s the DIVX (freeware = XVID) file format, which allowed for high quality digital reproduction of films and high quality sound reproduction (often using MPEG audio formats). Demand began emerging for these files which was ignored, and they spread across Napster (and later torrent and other systems) like wildfire. Rather than acknowledge this and corner a market, the industry again sought legal methods of suppression. I've already discussed those results several times. This same technology would come to be used for “fan favorite” T.V. Shows (I admit to downloading plenty of Invader Zim as a teenager).

The conventional wisdom again concluded that this was nothing more than theft, and for suppression. Enter Mark Pesce and the Battlestar Galactica aspects. As he points out, Battlestar Galactica's initial first episode was leaked to the pirate crowd, largely composed of computer nerds and geeks, and the result of this incident was... Well, it was actually damn good ratings. This situation repeated itself with the emergence of the new Dr. Who series...

Which, despite being pirated, ended up with some of highest ratings for the show at that time.

Go back and re-read those words if you're shocked or suffering from cognitive bias. Hell, let me repeat it painfully slowly.

Some. Of. The. Highest. Ratings. For. The Show. At. That. Time.*

These shows didn't just do well: they went on to do very, very well. Why? Pesce proposes this is because Geeks love to talk to each other about Geek things and recommend them. Plenty probably downloaded the episodes. Plenty more waited and watched with baited breathe. Battlestar Galactica went on to be one of the best rated shows that the then SciFi Channel had, and Dr. Who continues to remain running strong.

This, despite piracy. Perhaps even fueled in part due to it.

Is a pattern emerging to you? Suppress the right to share files and people will evolve even greater and harder to stop sharing architectures. Furthermore, they will pirate more and more and buy less and less. Leave those same individuals alone and they will speak of you gloriously, if you give them a decent product, and tell their friends to read/listen/watch/buy your product.

In short? Alienate a group of people and call them nothing but thieves and they will be sure to remember that, and remember that you're out to get them. Leave them alone and let them market for you, and they just might turn around and make some of your wildest dreams come true.

There is an emerging need to balance these two poles in the occult community. Very few people have done it, and fewer have tried to be experimental until they've been more or less forced to consider it. But we do need new forms of experimentation, both with emerging technologies and the way we see the industries.

But who on earth will do that? Well, I suppose it's left to those of us who aren't so old that we think nothing ever changes, and shaking fingers at people will get anything, at all done. Except ensure more losses and far, far more hostility.

Be seeing you,
Jack Faust.

PS. I can link the shit out of this stuff if you ask me. I've just rehashed what's actually in my head from many, many, many long years of reading – from my teens to this point.
PPS. Think of this as my way of apologizing for being an asshole to a vast amount of people, in large part due to seeing the same crap happen all over again. I should have known better. I fucked up. I'm sorry for being such a rampant dick. Except to that one guy. He really seemed to want my angry response.

*EDIT:  Initially I said that it lead to the highest ratings on TV at the time. That is wrong. The ratings were still hiiiiigh. 10.81 million viewers high.


Morgan Eckstein said...

I have heard a few occult writers threaten to quit writing public material because of piracy. Personally, I just do not see piracy going away--the technology exists. Therefore, I am hoping to figure out how to get piracy to work for me.

Lance Michael Foster said...

Piracy and the struggle against it is just an extension of a natural process seen in nature, as well as all of human history. Basically something creates a good (something desired or needed), like a plant makes calories from sunlight, or an animal makes and enriches its blood from its food, or an Indian mines gold, or an author writes a book. It's not that the plant made sunlight, or the animal made the food, or the Indian made gold, or the author didn't get their ideas, thoughts, experiences from another teacher or god or spirit or tradition. It's just that the plant or animal or Indian or author added their own hard work to transform the sunlight, food, rock, and knowledge into a "good" desired by another. In those cases, a cow comes along and wants the energy so it eats the plant, killing it and stealing the sunlight. A parasite lives in the animal's digestive tract and extracts the blood for the nutrition from the bloodstream. The conquistador comes along and enslaves or kills the Indian and takes the gold. The kid comes along and rips the book or movie or music into a digital format and steals revenue from the author.

It's been this way since before there were human beings. The problem for, let's use the parasite in this case, is, how does one extract the good without destroying the host or enfeebling it so you get diminishing returns? How do you get the golden egg without killing the goose? The "best" parasites are the ones that actually provide some kind of "kickback" to the host, perhaps an added immunity, or battling other parasites. And especially not weakening or even killing the host. So in this case, you mention though people use these movies, etc. for free, they actually BENEFIT the "host" through a kickback of "marketing"....

So that's the thing. In nature, parasitism works in the big picture, but it is ultimately unsustainable as far as INDIVIDUALs go (the parasite is shit out, or the host weakens and ultimately, slowly dies). What is needed is more in the direction of mutualism (symbiosis) where, as Bob Seger sang, "I was using her, she was using me, but neither one of cared...we were getting our share..."

Lance Michael Foster said...

Another thought, especially for occult writers. Piggybacking helps. Let's say you write a book. Besides the visible material that can be read, there is nothing that prevents you from piggybacking with something unseen, ala Trojan Horse. I'm not just talking about putting curses etc. to be applied to anyone who pirates, but more interestingly, what can you get from those who pirate... a send me extra money sigil that is invisible on the cover, or inside the pages, not necessarily even seen. People do that all the time on used books, which is one reason I shy away from them. Or less selfishly, hidden aspects that get the reader to do things helpful to society, like grow your own food, help another person in some way, etc. that can also benefit the author through the play-it-forward reaction ripple effect :-)

verification: kestbu

Jack Faust said...

Note: I say that Napster made P2P sharing of ebooks possible... I suddenly recalled last night after watching Dr. Who that such was not the case. I actually combined several "Napster-based programs" (Kazaa, Morpheus, etc) in my head. My apologies to anyone I confused. I'm pretty sure, in retrospect, that Napster was just for music. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Lance: You are one sneaky... Anthropologist, right? LOL. Man... Lemme think before I respond. Wouldn't want people dripping venom over some comment of mine.

Morgan: Yes. Precisely. You can't magically make the technology go away now... So we have to consider it.

Rose Weaver said...

@Morgan: That's the trick; getting piracy to work for you. From personal experience, and from what I see happening with others, piracy actually assists those who write/publish quality material. I don't want to read an electronic book on my computer. It is far too cumbersome, hurts my eyes, and usually a migraine begins.

I'd much prefer that quality book be in my hands as a standard paper book for a variety of reasons. Piracy is only one way of checking out the book to see if it is worth purchasing in hardback or paperback to keep. Further, I can't write my own notes in the margin of e-books on my computer; though to be fair, those I've purchased for my Kindle have the ability for me to make notes. However, it is still not at all convenient to look at those notes on any e-book format.

Like cassette tapes, VHS, and CD's; downloads and links to books on the internet isn't going to stop. And as Courts have ruled, much of the file sharing which is occurring falls under "Fair Use" so long as nothing is used for commercial purposes.

My gut feeling is you can only profit from those who are "pirating".

@Jack: I do believe you're right. Napster was for music only.