Popcorn Time, Piracy and the New York Times
You may recall Popcorn Time. It was an internet streaming service that was around last week, for literally about a week. It offered just about every current movie you could want to see. For free and in high quality. There was just a small problem. All of the films were pirated. They were being shown illegally.
Today in a column in the New York Times Farhad Manjoo mourned Popcorn Time’s demise: Popcorn Time isn’t an achievable dream; it’s a cruel joke about a future we won’t realize any time soon. The problem as Manjoo describes it is not technical. We have the technology to stream quality video. The problem, according to Manjoo is business – specifically, it’s Hollywood. He goes into some detail describing how the entertainment business prevents us from accessing the movies we want, how and when we want to see them:
This sort of hassle and inefficiency sounds antithetical to the ethos of the Internet, where it seems to be your right to get everything cheap and fast. But for now, the Internet has met its match: Hollywood.
I was frankly surprised by the naiveté demonstrated by Manjoo’s column. He’s usually a fairly tech and business savvy guy. I wasn’t aware of a right to get everything cheap and fast, or in the case of Popcorn Time, for free. Just because we have the technology doesn’t mean that we have the right to access content the way we would like to. The content doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the people who made it and/or those who paid for it. Yes, Hollywood is in fact a business. And that is a good thing. It is, in fact, one of our nation’s leading industries. It’s business that enables people to buy houses, cars, food and to otherwise support their families.
Farhad Manjoo writes for a living. Where would he be if the New York Times gave away all of its content for free? We have the technology. But The New York Times is a business. They don’t give away content. To take Farhad Manjoo’s assertion to its absurd extreme… I would like to get a new Apple iPad. My old one is outdated. The technology exists and the costs of production are relatively cheap. So, I should be able to get one for free. OK, maybe that’s taking it too far. I should be able to get one for $375.10, that’s the cost of the parts and the manufacturing process. But I’ve never seen a new iPad selling for that price. Oh right, Apple is a business. They exist to make money.
I have to say, I find it unseemly to see media pundits (and others) whining about how long it takes to access “American Hustle.” Less than 75 years ago there were large swaths of the United States that had no access to electricity. All I’m saying is, “Just keep it in perspective.” All I’m saying is 1) You don’t have a right to demand anyone else’s property “fast and cheap” no matter how much you want it; and 2) Chill out. A little. Remember the arguments in support of piracy and Napster. Fast forward to now, we’re all downloading musically seamlessly and affordably via iTunes, Spotify and Rdio.