Google said Wednesday it was “eager to help” Sony get its film "The Interview" online following the devastating attack on the company. Positioning itself as the last-minute savior of the movie studio when release options were so limited is ironic considering that for years, the internet giant has blocked numerous efforts by the studios to protect their films from online piracy.
David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president and chief legal officer, said in a blog post that Sony had contacted Google about making the film available online. “We'd had a similar thought and were eager to help—though given everything that’s happened, the security implications were very much at the front of our minds,” Drummond wrote.
“A similar thought”? The company has translated this thought into action for years when it allowed users to post content that didn’t belong to them through its YouTube subsidiary and when it established Google Books which helped set the zeitgeist where artistic creations are no longer viewed as belonging to their authors. Even though YouTube has established anti-piracy measures, it insists the onus is on rights holders to appeal for the removal of their own creations uploaded to YouTube without their permission.
This, as Google directs internet searchers to websites where they can find illegally uploaded films and music.
While all eyes have been focused on the possible role Kim Jong-un played in the Sony hacking scandal, there’s another Kim who, along with tens of millions of us, helped set the stage long ago for the drama we’re seeing play out today.
The media have drilled down on the juicy emails, the Obama-Sony catfight over not releasing "The Interview" and if North Korea was behind the breach, but a key element of the story – the theft of five new Sony movies including “Annie” and Brad Pitt’s “Fury” and posting them on pirate sites – has received the least media investigation.
Tens of millions of people worldwide get their music and movies every day by illegally downloading copyrighted files on peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing sites or clicking and watching on streaming sites.
“File-sharing” has such a positive ring. Didn’t your parents say it’s good to share?
Which brings us back to the other Kim, that is Kim Dotcom, aka Kim Schmitz, the founder of Megaupload, who is currently fighting extradition from New Zealand to the U.S. over copyright infringement charges related to his now defunct file-sharing website.
Some online pirates say they offer artistic content for altruism. Information should be shared democratically; we all have a First Amendment right to free speech; and movie tickets are overpriced, they contend. Google on Wednesday cited protecting free speech as the reason it worked with Sony to offer "The Interview" online to users for a price of $5.99.
Consumers complain that a night at the movies is expensive and that even when they buy or rent a film, they’re forced to watch it only via the service from which they bought it.
These common frustrations were voiced by Kim Dotcom who tweeted last week:
How to stop piracy: 1 Create great stuff 2 Make it easy to buy 3 Same day worldwide release 4 Works on any device 5 Fair price
— Kim Dotcom (@KimDotcom) December 18, 2014
The phrase "online piracy" evokes images of anonymous individuals working alone in their dark, alternative world, but their scheme is getting help from a surprising group. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that copyright infringing sites have included ads from blue chip companies like Kraft, Toyota, Target, Honda, and Lego.
According to a February report by the Digital Citizens Alliance, Good Money Gone Bad: Digital Thieves and the Hijacking of the Online Ad Business, file-sharing, streaming and simple linking sites promoting copyright infringing content earn more than $200 million a year from advertising.
Not a bad takeaway, considering they had no hand and invested not one dollar in creating the artistic content.
You may never have illegally downloaded a film or a song, but a staggering number of people do.
Last spring, just 12 hours after the Game of Thrones Season 4 finale, more than one million had downloaded a pirated copy of the episode.
When the most famous file-sharing site, the Pirate Bay, was taken offline by Swedish law-enforcement earlier this month, it made no dent in global piracy activity.
Variety, quoting the anti-piracy tracking firm Excipio, reported that following the takedown, the number of IP addresses engaged in peer-to-peer downloads dropped from 99.0 million on Dec. 9 to 95.0 million the next day. On Dec. 12, it bounced back to 100.2 million downloaders.
One hundred million people worldwide “pillaging” was the word Variety used.
Like in Spain, 84 percent of artistic content is obtained illegally, according to an April report by a group of music, film, publishing and videogame companies.
Like a Hollywood screenplay, the digital piracy phenomenon has included international intrigue and drama that has contributed to the atmosphere that intellectual property is free for the taking.
The Pirate Bay twice joked in the past that it planned to move its servers to North Korea to skirt local law enforcement. The usually reliable website Torrent Freak that covers the file-sharing world learned in February from the Swedish pirate site’s co-founder that ten years ago, the Pirate Bay contacted the North Korean embassy in Stockholm to try to establish a server at the diplomatically immune embassy to “piss off the U.S. government.” The plan never came to fruition, because their embassy contact was sent back to North Korea.
The same group in 2012 said it was planning on “sending out some small drones” miles high that would act as satellites to redirect traffic and point internet users toward torrents. Though the idea was later dismissed as unrealistic by technical writers, it showed how far pirates were willing to go to protect their copyright infringing enterprise.
To face the challenge, we as a society need to decide – do we believe intellectual content belongs to its creator? Should law enforcement protect artistic property like physical assets? Currently, U.S. law in the form of copyrights does seem to accept the premise that films, books, and songs are for a limited number of years the property of their creators.
The good news in all of this is that the Sony hack had a potentially very positive unintended consequence. We now see it’s pretty easy to legally release a film online, quickly, at one time, on all devices, for a modest price, on platforms sponsored not only by Google and Microsoft, but also using Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, Spotify and others. This new paradigm for film distribution might go a long way in combating the modern scourge of online piracy.