Tech Talk 2 – There Be Dragons!

Things like the iTunes store and many other online purveyors of downloadable media are not authorized for use in India (as of late 2008 – could have changed by now). In my research, I discovered that the key issue was copyright protection. I cannot stress to you how much of a dumb and self-defeating policy this was/is. This is true beyond India. I would imagine that it is true in any area labeled as a “developing country” (or other euphemism for “not as advanced as we in the mighty first world countries”), but I can only speak on personal experience for India and the Mid East. Eastern Europe was like this in the early 90s, but I don’t have any more recent experience there. The illegal copies of software, music, TV, and movies are already there. You can get this stuff just about anywhere, decent to excellent quality, for very little money. Having a policy that prevents lawful access to content does not prevent or deter piracy nor does it curb interest and demand for content. It has the opposite effect. I wanted to continue lawfully purchasing shows, but that was no longer an option. I did investigate cable and satellite options, but was unsuccessful in finding any solution that would allow me to see all the shows I wanted to see.

Apple came up with rentals from the iTunes store and I thought that this might fix my problem. Nope. India not authorized for rentals. I did make more progress with this approach. I was allowed to actually pay $.99 to rent The Simpsons movie (they would not even take my money when I tired to purchase TV shows). But I was never able to actually download and view the content. They did credit my account, though I could not use that credit until I got back to the US years later.

Having exhausted a pursuit of legal means, I was curious and decided to see if it was possible to find alternative solutions. Not surprisingly, I found a multitude. Some of the tech podcasts I listen to had referenced groups that do this and I checked out a few of the well known pirate sites to see what was there and how they worked. After some review and exploration, I was truly surprised that these pirate sites had ever become popular. Maybe they were of better quality before they got famous, but things were not pretty when I went there. Most had loads of attempted pop-ups, many pop-ups that found a way to circumvent my pop-up blocking software, and other malware-like activity. I had zero faith that these were good places for anyone to try and download anything. I talked with a few local Indian guys who did download from these sites and they said that it took forever (probably just the S L O W internet experience in India – which has more to do with inconsistent power than the speed you get from your ISP) and the content was usually corrupted and frequently laced with viruses and other malware. (Normally I would include several links and leave a verifiable trail for you guys. But the point of this was not for me to become a pirate nor is it for me to teach you to become one. Read on.)

After a bit of surfing and a few tests, I found a few great sites of people largely like myself. This was not a group of hardened criminals and hackers. No one had a political agenda about free markets or anarchist tendencies. No one was trying to make a statement about the global marketplace, or the evils of capitalism. These were people who really really love TV. No one made any money. No one sold anything. There was nothing to buy. There were a few fantastic forums, very well organized and moderated, that were basically a collection of links to download high quality content from other sites. Every link was checked and re-checked to ensure that there was no phishing or malware of any kind. Everyone cared about quality and would post notes about each download – “great quality”, “actually episode 5 not 4”, or “audio out of sync – try the next link”. A few guys started converting material into HD quality files in less than half the standard HD file size. And they had everything. If they did not have it and you wanted it. You put in a request and in under one week, someone would have found you some good links.

If you wanted to follow the newest, hottest shows, that was tricky. I watched and saw that ‘the powers that be’ actively sought out fresh links for new-on-air content and killed them. But if you wanted to watch older shows, no one seemed to care. You had no trouble finding all the eps of older shows, cancelled shows, and shows already on DVD.

I learned quite a bit about how this works, but I am still doing some research on a few parts of the legal side of this puzzle. While I want to share everything with you because that is my nature, and I believe the details do give more meat to some other aspects of this story as well as providing useful data about the connection (or disconnect) between the law and piracy in the real world, I am hesitant to put out my research in a way that could be read as a “how-to” guide. I do not support or advocate piracy.

I think that specific examples of piracy in today’s world establish that a) the law is broken, b) the technology to not only improve and expand access to content is completely ready (and has been for years) but also, c) this technology can right now, today, short circuit a giant amount of global content piracy while making more money (at little to no cost) for the folks who made the content. Eternal Residual Income. That is one Golden Goose and these guys are not taking advantage of it.

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