The death of online piracy: the end of the Internet as we know it
Summary:Piracy finds its way into just about every legitimate avenue on the Internet. As such, the death of online piracy via shutting down otherwise legitimate sites and services could mean the end of the Internet as we know it.
The death of online piracy: the U.S. government wants it and copyright holders want it, but at what cost? As we've seen from SOPA and PIPA, the government would be willing to completely cripple the Internet to see to the death of online piracy; and now, the shuttering of MegaUpload by the U.S. government (as a result of pressure from copyright holders) has caused waves in the file-sharing business; a business that -- amongst perfectly legal profits -- is rife with HUGE profits that come as a direct result of the sharing of pirated content. Yes, the death of online piracy as we currently know it is going to happen at some point; but to severely cripple (never mind completely obliterate) online piracy would come at the cost of the current freedoms the Internet enjoys -- be it from an end-user perspective, a service provider perspective, or both.
You see, I am more fascinated with piracy than most. It's a topic that has captivated me for many years and the debates sparked on the subject are absolutely riveting when intelligible people opinionate from either side. Plus, my security consulting endeavors and Google hacking escapades have opened my eyes to more avenues of piracy than are readily apparent to most. As such, to effectively end online piracy, I see that FAR more will have to be done than simply shutting down file-sharing sites. I fear that the most significant changes will be brought forth by legislation, and it WILL happen one day if the piracy war continues as it has thus far.
To give you a small and scary sampling of what obliterating online piracy might mean for the Internet, I present the following points for your consideration:
1 - File-sharing site censorship: Put simply, a complete restructuring and lock-down of file-sharing sites would have to occur for them to even exist. And though it could work just fine in theory, it couldn't work without handing over a certain amount of freedom and convenience. Every file uploaded to a file-sharing site would have to somehow be guaranteed to either not be copyrighted, or the uploader would have to provide credentials which, under certain guidelines/legislation, show that they can share what they're sharing -- most likely with an intended number of receivers who might also have to provide proper access credentials. As it currently stands, it's FAR too easy to fly in under the radar of current file-sharing sites that try to auto-detect copyrighted files. Gone would be the days of file-name obfuscation and password-protected 7-zip files.
Ultimately, even if file-sharing sites weren't as locked down as this scenario suggests, it's quite clear that the DMCA system is broken. Yes, even sites like Rapidshare and Hotfile -- who react promptly to DMCA requests -- are still slam-PACKED with copyrighted files that are being furiously downloaded this very second by paying members who can afford $10 a month for a super-fast and convenient way to download copious amounts of copyrighted movies, music, games, and more.
2 - Government-mandated deep packet inspection: Though it wouldn't matter where you downloaded from, deep packet inspection would massively reduce piracy from torrents, P2P, newsgroups, IRC, and everywhere else. Naturally, it would be easy to circumnavigate this type of thing with a combination of file-name obfuscation (changing the name of a file to something unrelated) and password-protected compressed files, but that simply brings us to the next point...
3 - Tiered Internet access and data plans: Do you have a cell phone with a data plan? Imagine if you had to follow a similar plan with your home ISP. Even worse, what if ALL Internet access was bound by a pay-as-you-go plan? That may sound ridiculous, but after some of the generalizations suggested in SOPA and PIPA, it sounds about par for the course! I could also see an Internet restricted by a type of certification process, whereby a Web site must undergo an inspection to be allowed onto the "freely accessible" Internet -- a tier that you could access without getting charged. And if a site that was allowed access failed to abide by the rules after being approved, then the site would be removed and the owner (and possibly even the hosting company) would be severely reprimanded. Again, this all may sound ridiculous, but I'm shooting for some worst-case scenario stuff here to spark debate.
4 - Search engine censorship: If you want to see to the death of online piracy, then you must also consider nixing all the paths that lead one to pirated content. Yes, that means Google, Bing, and every other type of search engine would have to be censored and severely crippled so as to not return results leading one to downloadable copyrighted content they don't intend on paying for. For someone like me who is absolutely in love with search, I can't imagine a worse fate than this since it would surely mean severely lacking search results on some level.
Does that all sound crazy to you? Some of it does to me, but I have no doubt that all of the above has been brought to the table as a serious consideration by copyright holders and/or the government at some point. The reason I have no doubt about that is primarily due to China. Just have a look at the details of Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China and marinate on all of that for a bit.
Now, why am I even bothering to write an article about this? What's the point? Well, my point is to show that an Internet without at least some amount of piracy is an Internet that lacks some portion of the freedom it currently enjoys: the more piracy is obliterated, the more locked-down the Internet will become. Or so that's how I see it, at least. The fight against piracy is a full-on war in the eyes of copyright holders, and in war, there are always casualties. Unfortunately, I think the casualties would come in the form of Internet freedom.
And now that I have you feeling like the world as you know it is going to end (it is 2012, after all... *wink, wink* *nudge, nudge*), there is a scenario that very well might play out which I would love to see happen: the influential seats of government and big money corporations being turned over to intelligible, competent Internet lovers who can come to reasonable/logical conclusions. I'm talking about people who use Reddit, understand what a meme is, make usage of Google's advanced search operators, and -- most importantly -- know when legislation is presented that seeks to censor or threaten the freedom of the Internet. Hopefully, this would happen long before the Internet was stripped of said freedom.
So, am I saying that online piracy is necessary? Well, no, but if the Internet is to remain free, then accepting that piracy is going to *always* happen in *some* part is something that's going to have to be done by copyright holders who are seeking legislation as an action to prevent it.
To close, I'd like to note that I understand there are PLENTY of loopholes present and counterpoints to be made to much of what I've said above, but it would take a novel to accurately portray the entirety of my opinions and observations on this matter. Not only that, but statistically speaking, only a fraction of you have read this far anyway (this article is just shy of 1500 words -- a miracle for most to read through these days) -- and besides, I want to see what you all think based on what I've said thus far. I want to see some REAL discussion happen on this matter. Also, I understand that the Internet is a global network and not all of the points listed above pertain to all governments, but the battle of piracy extends well beyond the borders of the U.S. government, so discussion is relevant on the topic no matter where you're reading from.
And now, I turn it over to you! Do you even care about piracy or think that it has the power to cripple the Internet? If you do care about the topic of piracy, then what suggestions would you like to offer that you think would make a difference to those seeking to collect from its supposed damages? Get crazy in the comments below!
-Stephen Chapman SEO Whistleblower Related Content:
Stephen is a freelance writer and blogger based in Charlotte, NC. His contributions to ZDNet cover topics related to security, gaming, Microsoft, Apple, and other topics of interest with a tech/SMB skew.