The Copyright Alliance (an organization committed to “upholding the contributions of copyright to the fiscal health of this nation and for the good of creators, owners and consumers around the world”) has a new post up for Valentines Day lamenting that some SOPA opponents, who at first seemed to agree on the need to battle “rogue sites”, are now raising some concerns about Industry estimates of the true cost of piracy to the economy and seeking a reevaluation of the real threat it poses. They state part of the problem, as they see it:
“Artists and creators can, and regularly do, choose to embrace new platforms and business models, but when the first page of hits in an internet search lead fans to foreign rogue sites instead of the artist’s site or a legitimate distributor, they might just as well not take the effort and expense to work with new technology platforms. This hurts the artist, and it hurts the entrepreneurs launching new legitimate platforms and services.”
Rogue sites in search results? Let’s consider the threat posed. Well, a search engine like, say, Google, does crawl the Web constantly and tries to return the content that a user would find most relevant to a specific search. Let’s check out an example of an artist embracing new platforms and business models to spread content. Here’s Louis C.K., somebody who is the poster boy for “doing it right” recently, as far as following Mike Masnick’s “Connect with Fans, and give them a Reason to Buy” philosophy (CwF, RtB). (Here’s Mike talking about Louis C.K. specifically.)
Here’s an example of what Google gives you when you’re doing it right like some SOPA opponents suggest:
The users who search for Louis C.K.’s recent self-released video “Live at the Beacon Theater” are treated right to two links to Louis’s site directly at the top, and in the first block of results, two videos come up that were uploaded by Louis as well. Intermixed, in red, are two potentially ROGUE SITES (but maybe even ones that still might comply with DMCA takedown requests on that user-uploaded content.) Here’s the problem the Copyright Alliance notices. On one hand, you can buy this video at Louis C.K.’s site. On the other, you can stream or download it for free. Google is sabotaging Louis’s chance to monetize his content!?
What I think is really interesting to note is the contents of the red circle. That’s the only link on the page that has been recommended on Google+… by thousands of users. It shows up as the number one hit for a reason. That’s the source of the content you’re searching for, and right where you can buy it for a reasonable price (DRM free, imagine that!). Thousands of people pointed their friends to Louis’s own page because they liked what they found there and want others to go to that page when searching for “Live at the Beacon Theater”.
The Copyright Alliance’s post also mentions another threat of rogue sites, besides offering free downloads: the chance that rogue sites may “monetize” that content themselves.
Artists and creators deserve a choice in the matter of how their work is distributed. They deserve the ability to monetize traffic to their own sites, and to earn a return from legitimate distributors. They deserve a say in when, how and if they give their work away for free, and they deserve to know that if they do so, the work won’t be immediately scooped up by a rogue site and monetized there instead.
I spent a good while searching on this Louis C.K. example, but I could not find one site other than louisck.com offering to sell me that file. Presumably some of the sites where users had uploaded the video for free streaming or the various BitTorrent sites offering the file (knowingly or unknowingly) made some revenue via advertising, but revenue is not necessarily profit when you’re running a bandwidth-intensive service like streaming video. The way I see it from tonight’s Googling is that not only would Louis’s price be hard to beat, finding the file to buy anywhere else would be difficult, given how well linked up the louisck.com domain is to the relevant search terms. Not only did his fans buy a lot of this video file despite it being quite easy to access freely, they helped spread the word, through their own blogs and social media profiles, but notably, because it has been thoroughly integrated with Google search, through the Google+ +1 button.
Now, when what you’re selling is a designer handbag that you want to charge a brand premium of hundreds of dollars for, there is room for counterfeiters’ rogue sites to compete on price, but when you’re selling a nonrivalrous good (and you match the DRM-free “feature” of the pirate site), and do it with such politeness, awesomeness, and humanity as Louis C.K., the pirates can only beat you on price by $5. Sometimes the good feeling you get from sending $5 directly toward an artist you care about is better than an hour of free media.
Note the bottom link in the screenshot above. Louis’s revenue from this experiment was enough in the first three weeks that he could give away $780,000 to charities. Despite the fact that the video was available within hours on the Pirate Bay.