Posted by: havishm | February 8, 2008

Illegal File Sharing

This piece of writing is meant to be less as a piece of information but rather more of an outcry against the grave injustice being done against us ‘downloaders’ of these so called illegal files on the net. Now before you scorn at me let me justify by saying that this is not such a contemptible thing as it might seem.

No matter how tempting it seems to play the blame – game at illegal downloading of stuff and point fingers indiscriminately at people who indulge in this; lets be candid about this – at some point of time we all have downloaded illegal stuff and I ‘presume’ that all of us knew that it’s illegal. Now it’s still a pretty small problem in India (compared to the gigantic proportions it has grown to in say, the United States). And because India is not on the world map per se where the downloading of illegal stuff is concerned, for the time being its safe from the repercussions which the rest of the world is facing.

But (and here comes the interesting part), I have definite reasons why in a country like India at least, illegal downloading should be allowed.

Before we see that let us just understand how this whole concept of the P2P i.e Peer – to – Peer thing works. Now you go on the internet to read about this, and all you will find is technical gibberish – so let me make it short and sweet and understandable.

It all started with Napster. All my ‘downloader’ buddies would fondly remember of Napster – I am sure you all get nostalgic when we think about it!! For the uninitiated, not such a long time back, Napster was the file – sharing service which started it all – the one that paved the way for decentralized P2P file – sharing programs such as Kazaa, Limewire et al. It was eventually shut down on March 5, 2001 after the RIAA(Recording Industry Association of America) raised its ire against it and the court forced it to shut down its entire network.

But that’s enough with the details, lest I get too nostalgic. Lets get our focus back to whats happening TODAY in the illegal (and fascinating) world of downloading. We have all kinds of stuff available on the internet today – movies, games, music, porn, books, pictures et al. You name it, you will find it. Now, there are two mediums via which people are downloading all this stuff – one is through applications like ‘Kazaa’ and ‘Limewire’ (more popular in India). The other one is a slightly modified version called ‘Bittorrent’ (rapidly gaining popularity). BitTorrent is the brainchild of Bram Cohen and is a method of distributing large amounts of data widely without the original distributor incurring the entire costs of hardware, hosting and bandwidth resources. Now what this means for us are basically a. faster downloads b. free downloads and c. downloads and more downloads.

I, incidentally, came across the concept of ‘torrents’ purely accidentally. A few years back I had copied some music from a friend of mine – who incidentally had downloaded it via ‘torrents’. He, in fact, himself was unaware of the concept of torrents. So anyhow, I did some background research on it, and I slowly began to understand the whole concept.

To share a file or group of files, a peer first creates a “torrent.” This small file contains metadata about the files to be shared and about the tracker, the computer that coordinates the file distribution. Peers that want to download the file first obtain a torrent file for it, and connect to the specified tracker, which tells them from which other peers to download the pieces of the file. There are two entities in this: seeders – who have downloaded the whole file and are only uploading it (read: transferring it to others) and leechers – who are in the midst of their download. Leechers upload as well as download files. Now the mechanics of this application is interesting – websites have something known as ‘trackers’ which, as the name suggests are files that just track all the people who are downloading that particular file at that point of time. Then these trackers are opened via specific applications like ‘BitTorrent’, ‘Azureus’, ‘Morpheus’ etc. When you open these torrents using this application, you get connected to all the leechers and seeders around the world who are downloading the file. This is how this thing works.Now I began using this whole concept for downloading music, then moved over to movies, games etc. Within 5 – 6 months, I had something like 15 – 16 gb worth of stuff to entertain me, just no time to actually use them!! Now, the interesting point was to see when the MPAA(Motion Pictures Association of America) and RIAA(Recording Industry Association of America) would do something about this. Now this phenomenon started catching speed last two years and now, popular sites, like ‘demonoid.com’ have been shut down.Now an important question that obviously occurs here (it occurred to me a couple years back) was that if this is such a big menace and if it is costing the music and the movie industry so much money every year due to piracy and stuff, WHY DON’T THEY DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!! If all this is illegal (which it obviously seems), isn’t it a simple matter of suing them in court? Now this is where complications arise and technicalities occur!! The concept of file sharing in itself is not illegal, after all it’s only sharing of files right!! For all you know it’s only classroom notes and pictures (which obviously its not)!! But anyway, lets presume that the shared files are not classroom notes (read: its illegal stuff), what stops the MPAA and RIAA from suing them. There are several reasons:a. simply put – the concept in itself is not illegal. It is only when copyrighted material is transferred that it becomes illegal.

b. the sites having trackers argue that they are only databases/repositories of trackers – and what these trackers consist of is none of their concern.

c. dragging them to court again is a lengthy procedure – these things take years and things just get held up in court. And obviously it requires a lot of funding to represent yourself in court!!

There are several more reasons why it is difficult to stop these activities. One important reason is that all such sites usually get themselves registered in places like say, Canada – where the laws are not so strict. But somewhere down the line, these illegal downloading sites were put under a lot of pressure to shut down. This was because big companies like Sony Pictures etc realized that they were losing out on a lot of revenue due to all this illegal downloading – and they started putting pressure on the websites.

DOWNLOADING OF COMICS

Now before all of you start wondering what ‘comics’ have to do with illegal downloading, let me explain how big a matter of concern this is. Comics are something I have always been fond of. Given the fact that big publishers like Marvel and DC do not publish in India, comic aficionados like me were always deprived of quality comics. I was obviously thrilled to find one fine day that comics are also available on the intenet for download.

Now comics are ‘big’ abroad, having negligible presence in India. And they cost a heap. DC/Marvel comics cost as much as US $ 3.99 a piece – that’s huge money – its understandable why people prefer to downloading them rather than buy them. This is how it works – comics come out every Wednesday or Thursday. There are groups known as DCP(Digital Comics Preservation) which have members (aliases of course) who buy these, scan the pages and upload them on the net the same day!! Now there are lots of things which are pretty striking:

a. comics cost big money. US $ 3.99 a piece, average 15 titles a week, means about 60 a month – which comes out to about US $ 3600!! And this is just one publisher!! There are at least 5 -6 big publishers coming out with titles each month.

b. These people have no commercial benefit coming out of it (none that I can think of at least)

c. They painstakingly scan each and every page and upload it the same day they are released – week after week – month after month !!

So lets see – no commercial benefit !! ; hell of a job !! ; huge costs !! Why the hell do these guys do this? Sure they are doing all us comic readers a huge favor and we sing them praises everyday, but well – there HAS to be some logical explanation for this – we just can’t presume that they are doing us a favor like this without any incentives.

One logical explanation for this is that small time publishers are actually getting this done, to lessen sales of big time publishers like Marvel and DC. This seems like a reasonable explanation save for the fact that all comics – big – time/small – time are available.

Then there is another interesting point – many people actually argue by saying that these downloads are made by people just to have an archive of their comics on their hard disks – and that they ARE buying the comics which they download. But publishers like DC and Marvel do not seem convinced – they feel they are losing out on sales.

The DCP group was in fact shut down somewhere around December 2007. But representatives said in forums that inspite of threats, they will make a comeback. And indeed they have – DCP is back on track – as strong as ever !!

So that is how all these things go. I hope I’ve got you all sentimental by now because NOW I am actually going to appeal to you why we should keep our fingers crossed and pray that these things don’t close under industry and government pressure some day.

People in India are deprived of many things, which are available in say, the West. Ex: comics for example are not available in India except for one or two exclusive shops in Mumbai and Delhi. Even if we are prepared to shell out money to buy them, the publishers won’t be interested in catering to a very small market like India – so rest assured we can say for sure that comics at least are not making a presence in India soon.

Another point I’d like to make, one that is vehemently debated upon, is that the industry might not be facing such big a problem as it is thinking it is. Many say that people who download comics, movies etc. download it only to try it out. They buy it if they like it. If you think of it, easy availability of such stuff are increasing the number of people who use them, which is surely benefiting the market.

I would like to conclude by saying that it’s not an evil, it is the beauty of technology that is helping us share ‘entertainment’ so conveniently. Educational books, for example are easily accessible to students and educationalists free of cost. Don’t you think it is actually beneficial. Sure, the whole concept is illegal, but it is useful AND practical. It just needs a few modifications – if music, movies etc. were available online easily and legally for a reasonable charge, I’m sure we won’t mind shelling out a little money. But for the time being let’s just be happy about this and enjoy it while it lasts. I’m sure it’s not gonna die.

AND DO GIVE IT A TRY!! BUT BE CAREFUL SOMEONE COULD BE WATCHING YOU 😀

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