Long before peer-to-peer file-sharing networks were a twinkle in developers’ eyes, piracy of software and games flourished under the radar. Cassettes, floppy discs and CDs were the physical media of choice, while the BBS became the haunt of the need-it-now generation.
Sharing was the name of the game. When someone had game ‘X’ on tape, it was freely shared with friends and associates because when they got game ‘Y’, the favor had to be returned. The content itself became the currency and for most, the thought of asking for money didn’t figure into the equation.
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Even when P2P networks first took off, money wasn’t really a major part of the equation. Sure, the people running Kazaa and the like were generating money from advertising but for millions of users, sharing content between friends and associates was still the name of the game.
Even when the torrent site scene began to gain traction, money wasn’t the driving force. Everything was so new that developers were much more concerned with getting half written/half broken tracker scripts to work than anything else. Having people care enough to simply visit the sites and share something with others was the real payoff. Ironically, it was a reward that money couldn’t buy.
But as the scene began to develop, so did the influx of minor and even major businessmen. The ratio economy of the private tracker scene meant that bandwidth could essentially be converted to cash, something which gave site operators revenue streams that had never previously existed. That was both good and bad for the scene.
The fact is that running a torrent site costs money and if time is factored in too, that becomes lots of money. If site admins have to fund everything themselves, a tipping point is eventually reached. If the site becomes unaffordable, it closes, meaning that everyone loses. So, by taking in some donations or offering users other perks in exchange for financial assistance, the whole thing remains viable.
Counter-intuitively, the success of such a venture then becomes the problem, at least as far as maintaining the old “sharing is caring” philosophy goes. A well-run private site, with enthusiastic donors, has the potential to bring in quite a bit of cash. Initially, the excess can be saved away for that rainy day when things aren’t so good. Having a few thousand in the bank when chaos rains down is rarely a bad thing.
But what happens when a site does really well and is making money hand over fist? What happens when advertisers on public sites begin to queue up, offering lots of cash to get involved? Is a site operator really expected to turn down the donations and tell the advertisers to go away? Amazingly, some do. Less amazingly, most don’t.
Although there are some notable exceptions, particularly in the niche private tracker scene, these days most ‘pirate’ sites are in it for the money.
In the current legal climate, some probably consider this their well-earned ‘danger money’ yet others are so far away from the sharing ethos it hurts. Quite often, these sites are incapable of taking in a new member due to alleged capacity issues yet a sizeable ‘donation’ miraculously solves the problem and gets the user in. It’s like magic.
As it happens, two threads on Reddit this week sparked this little rant. Both discuss whether someone should consider paying $20 and 37 euros respectively to get invitations to a pair of torrent sites.
Ask a purist and the answer is always ‘NO’, whether that’s buying an invitation from the operator of a torrent site or from someone selling invites for profit.
Aside from the fact that no one on these sites has paid content owners a dime, sites that demand cash for entry are doing so for one reason and one reason only – profit. Ridiculous when it’s the users of those sites that are paying to distribute the content.
On the other hand, others see no wrong in it.
They argue that paying a relatively small amount to access huge libraries of content is preferable to spending hundreds of dollars on a legitimate service that doesn’t carry all the content they need. Others don’t bother making any excuses at all, spending sizable sums with pirate IPTV/VOD services that dispose of sharing morals by engaging in a different business model altogether.
But the bottom line, whether we like it or not, is that money and Internet piracy have become so intertwined, so enmeshed in each other’s existence, that it’s become virtually impossible to separate them.
Even those running the handful of non-profit sites still around today would be forced to reconsider if they had to start all over again in today’s climate. The risk model is entirely different and quite often, only money tips those scales.
The same holds true for the people putting together the next big streaming portals. These days it’s about getting as many eyeballs on content as possible, making the money, and getting out the other end unscathed.
This is not what most early pirates envisioned. This is certainly not what the early sharing masses wanted. Yet arguably, through the influx of business people and the desire to generate profit among the general population, the pirating masses have never had it so good.
As revealed in a recent study, volumes of piracy are on the up and it is now possible – still possible – to access almost any item of content on pirate sites, despite the so-called “follow the money” approach championed by the authorities.
While ‘Sharing is Caring’ still lives today, it’s slowly being drowned out and at this point, there’s probably no way back. The big question is whether anyone cares anymore and the answer to that is “probably not”.
So, if the driving force isn’t sharing or love, it’ll probably have to be money. And that works everywhere else, doesn’t it?