26 April, 2011

Fixing the root cause of file sharing

After the Government passed the controversial File Sharing bill I put forward the following questions to the Government about what they are doing to address the root cause of file sharing. The symptoms will not go away until you get to the root cause of the problem. The letter goes as follows, I haven't thus far received no response from the PM or the Minister of Commerce Simon Powers. I sent this on the 17th of April


You have just passed the Internet Copyright Bill, which covers the symptoms which is sharing of copyrighted material. I am wondering what your are working on to fix the root cause of the problem.

Want I am wondering is what plans do you have in place to start working on fixing the root cause of the problem? How I see it people download content because:
* The content isn't available in NZ in a timely manner. For instance a lot of shows aren't shown in NZ until 6 months to a couple of years later if at all, while they are available on the internet within 30 minutes of it first airing.
* The content needs to provided in forms that consumers want. For instance I want to watch one episode on my TV, the next one of my Linux desktop and the third episode on my Android phone. I also want to be able to watch it more than once and not be restricted in how long I can watch it for. With DVDs and CDs I can watch it unlimited times a lot of services overseas only allow one view and have a 24 hour expiry. This should also be via one service (all forms via one server but there should be multiple services so no one has a monopoly on the distribution of the content) and one download. One download is very important in NZ seeing we have very small and expensive data caps compared the rest of the world.
* It needs to be in the quality the user wants. With video content I want to watch it on my 1080p TV or Computer monitor (also capable of 1080p or higher) and I want it to look good. Currently TVNZ Ondemand is low quality and looks very blockly when viewed on a large screen. With audio it should be lossless so get the full CD Quality of the Audio not a compress lossey version on the audio in an AAC or MP3 format.

Timely is very important:
* Example one I will use Top Gear which is widely reported to be the most watched and the most downloaded TV show. Prime is getting better at showing this in a timely manner but is still twoish months behind. Top Gear is recorded weekly so a lot of jokes, comments and news is very timely and current to the current week, so when it is showed in NZ a lot this is out of date and lacks the effect it would have if it was shown in NZ 12 hours after airing in the UK (shown in NZ evening like it is shown in UK evening).
* Example two is the Hurt Locker movie:
** It was screened at some film festivals and got some good reviews
** Some more film festivals and more good reviews
** Gets nominated for some Oscars
** Wins some Oscars
** People now if not earlier go "hmm must be a good movie I should watch it". They have a look around and can't find it at the cinemas, they can't find it in DVD Rentals and they can't find it the DVD Store. So where do people go and find this great movie? Well they download it as there is no legal method to get it.
** The Hurt Locker decides to sue people for downloading it
** Finally gets a general wide scale cinema release
** Even later a DVD release
** What the entertainment industry needs to realise is that it is a global market these days. News through the media spreads throughout world nearly instantaneously. There is now only a global market place; countries aren't their own separated market places any longer, it is one world wide market and needs to be treated such. TV and Movies also have online fan communities and if you are not watching things at the same time as your peers in the communities you either can't be part of the community as you haven't it seen it or you risk having it spoilt by people discussing the plot.
* The NZ movie Boy was very similar. Lots of NZers discussed it with friends and families overseas and the only way to see it overseas was via download it wasn't going to be available to them in a timely manner if at all. So NZ needs to get international quickly but also the flipside if NZ content is doing well it needs to be release quickly overseas so the people hearing the good things about it have a legal way to get it.
* TV companies point of "Northern Hemisphere shows have a large break over their summer which is our winter which is the peak viewing time" some counter points:
** Well people are currently downloading and watching TV on a Northern Hemisphere schedule and and watching it heavily over the NZ Summer so people will keep watching
** Maybe the NZ content could be shown over the NZ Winter. If the NZ winter is highest TV watching time to get the best return on NZ on Air funding shouldn't the NZ TV shows be shown during peak viewing?
* Sport on the whole is not often illegally downloaded as it is normally available worldwide live (and replays at convenient times the next day for events during the NZ night for the people not awake to see it live), so people will watch it through legal avenues. So that is an example of showing how timely broadcast results in lower illegal download rates. I will say events like the Olympics are more downloaded but then not all events are shown live or at all in all countries.
* So how are you working with the Entertainment industry to provide the content to NZers within 24 hours of it screening overseas to help reduce the timely aspect of why people download?

Provided in a form that people want:
* These days with big screen TV, computers, tablets and smart phones people want to watch content on their terms when and where they want. From the one download people want to be able to consume the content on multiple devices time shift and watch more than once and not be limited to watching when have an internet connection and within the 24 hours or 2 weeks that is often imposed. For instance I may want to a whole series and sit down one weekend and what the whole season in one go.
* It needs to be in one download as seeing in NZ we have very small and expensive data caps multiple downloads for different devices or streaming to all the different devices is rather cost prohibitive given what ISPs currently charge for data.
* Need to loosen up the ecosystems somewhat.
** Services like Hulu, BBC iPlayer and Netflix aren't available in NZ unless you jump through hopes and get overseas proxies, overseas VPNs, overseas credit cards and overseas mailing addresses. It is order of magnitudes easier to get the content via P2P than via the legal means. The legal means needs to be as or even easier and convenient and needs suiting than the illegally method for people to switch.
** These systems are also locked to particular makes of TV, set top box, computer operating system. Running the Linux Computer Operating System means there is no legal way of purchasing or consuming this content. For instance iTunes only runs on Mac and Windows. This is really going to come to a head soon as Android based Smart Phone now commands the largest market share out of the Smart Phones and Andriod Phones (and tablets) run on top of Linux.

Quality is also very important:
* For music via iTunes and over online digital sellers they only provide the music in a lossy format (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Lossy_compression) such as MP3 or AAC. This means they audio will never sound as good as a CD. Online retailers of music need to release Music in a Lossless (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Lossless_compression) format such as FLAC (https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/FLAC). FLAC and other lossless audio codecs can provide the quality and fidelity of CD which a lossey codec such as MP3 or AACs can't.
* Video is similar. Most people these days have TVs and Computer Screens that are capable of 1080p yet there is very little content of that quality out there. When lower quality is scaled to a large display device it looks blockly and other compression artefacts are very apparent. TV On Demand is fairly low quality for instance its native size is the small box you see on your computer screen (computer screen can't get it on my TV of course) that takes a very small portion of the screen and if you scale it up it looks downright awful. The media provides need to provide the content in the same quality which is availability through file sharing networks which is either Blu-Ray, DVD or 1080p which the source is available in.

So I am very interested to hear how you are working with the entertainment industry to provide a legal way to get the content in the manner that consumers want. If you really want to work on reducing copyright infringement you need to go to the root of the problem and work your way up from there, not just slap a band aid on the symptoms of the root problem. The root of the problem is lack of legal access to the content in a timely manner, in a form people want in a quality that people want. Then and only then will you start to fix the problem of copyright infringement.

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