We recently tweeted that popular torrent site Torrentz was back in a new avatar. The tweet was celebratory in nature. Which prompted a question from our readers — do we support piracy?
Our newsroom has divergent views on piracy, torrents and file-sharing. As it should be, since they are all very complicated topics.
Here’s my take on it. When it comes to piracy, one can argue both ways. The evidence is not rich enough to talk in general terms about whether piracy harms creators or not. You can argue till the cows come home and still be back where you started.
One way of arguing is that internet piracy actually makes things popular, and in turn fetches the creators more money and fame. For instance, HBO’s president of programming Michael Lombardo told Entertainment Weekly in a 2013 interview about Game of Thrones being pirated:
I probably shouldn’t be saying this, but it is a compliment of sorts…The demand is there. And it certainly didn’t negatively impact the DVD sales. something that comes along with having a wildly successful show on a subscription network.
HBO’s official stance is anti-piracy but they didn’t send out ‘the Game of Thrones police,’ Lombardo said.
The other way to argue this is that piracy is similar to theft. Or that content creators are being ripped off. This can be painful for creators. For instance, YouTube creator Hank Green wrote about how many people are ripping off content from YouTube and uploading it to Facebook with minor edits or just a wrapper or credits one can barely notice. But, this is not piracy. It is plagiarism. In this case, the thief is appropriating someone else’s work and taking credit for it or making money from it.
Torrents don’t do that. They are mostly about sharing and not staking claim to someone else’s work.
Moreover, the idea of banning a torrent search engine (the case in point) is what I am against. It’s like banning BitCoin because it can be used to buy drugs. If you look at it from a technology perspective, torrenting is a very neat and efficient way of file-sharing. Anyone who has downloaded large files from the internet knows this. You can search for torrents on Google, and no one is crying to ban Google, right? Why ban a torrent search engine?
Legal regimes vary from country to country. BitTorrent metafiles do not store copyrighted data and are ordinarily unobjectionable. They can be technically viewed as hyperlinks.
Now coming to the question of creators and their rewards. People do like to reward artists and content they like. But that’s not always affordable or accessible or even possible. Filmmaker Anurag Kashyap has an interesting take on piracy:
Piracy happens because of lack of access and in a world of free internet, i do not have a problem with it. My problem is that this time it’s a case of vested interests trying to demoralise people from fighting for their rights. So all downloaders of Udta Punjab , i urge, wait till saturday till you decide to not pay for the film, don’t download and share , curb the curiosity for two more days.
With the availability of better internet and affordable streaming services, the demand for pirated content has gone down significantly (there’s evidence to suggest this). You can see this happening in Indian living rooms right now. Services like Netflix and Hotstar have made it possible for people from other geographies to access great quality content, and clearly it has made a dent in the piracy market.
It works the other way around as well. A Redditor asked Kashyap:
How do people who live in countries where most Bollywood films are not released get access to your films? Would an online distribution schemes for Bollywood films be feasible? Maybe a pay to stream (once) or something similar?
Torrents zindabad… other than that we are constantly trying to break into foreign markets, with last few films we have managed to do that in europe. we still need to crack US and UK.
It must also be said that there is a fine ethical line between torrenting for shows that are not accessible to you and torrenting stuff that you can very well pay for.
The internet has always been a place where traditional laws have failed because of its distributed nature. When governments try to enforce older laws, it’s coming in the way of technological progress. A blanket ban on websites is clearly not the solution to curbing piracy.
What do you think? Tell us in the comments.
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.