Out-Competing "Free"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Today, I came across an interesting example of the impracticality of theft, in the form of news that the file streaming arm of Netflix may well be causing a popular type of theft to decline.

In May, the network management company Sandvine reported that Netflix had overtaken BitTorrent to become the main component of North American Internet traffic. Indeed, BitTorrent's share of traffic declined slightly from last year.
As to why this is the case, in a culture that pooh-poohs the very idea that it is wrong to take intellectual property, Slate's Farhad Manjoo -- an admitted illegal downloader -- is in a good position to comment.
I also disagree with [Bill] Wyman about the relative convenience of legal streaming versus illegal downloading. Sure, if you're looking for a specific movie or TV show, it can be tough to find it legally online. But if you're just looking to watch something, streaming services are much more convenient than file-sharing networks. I'm an expert torrenter, but I still find the process tedious. You have to search for a copy of whatever show you want to watch, wait for it to download, transfer it or convert it to a format that will play on your television, and then, as you watch, brace for the possibility that it will look or sound awful. I admit that sometimes I brave these waters; the other day I downloaded a recent episode of True Blood. But while it was downloading, my wife and I found My Cousin Vinny on Netflix and had a great time rewatching that. I still haven't touched the pilfered HBO show.

... When you sit down to watch TV, you don't want to do a lot of work. Piracy requires work. Netflix doesn't. [bold added]
In other words, Netflix is killing off piracy for the same reason that very few petty criminals ever go on to rob banks: it's too much trouble. The very thing that criminals evade -- that acquiring anything of value requires some kind of effort -- ends up explaining (at least in part) why Netflix is beginning to kill off piracy.

Set aside for a moment the cost of making a movie, and the right of the producers of a movie to make money for their effort. Just making the movie available to its audience also requires effort, and someone who is rewarded for this effort beyond the pleasure-of-the-moment of viewing the movie will do so more reliably and efficiently.

-- CAV

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