If you thought the world’s fat-cat corporate copyright holders had a problem with Napster and MP3’s, you can bet they are about to go into cardiac arrest.
A few years ago, some companies tried to foist a new video standard on a largely unsuspecting, but not entirely stupid, public. It was called DivX. The basic idea was this. Here were all these huge, fat, rich Hollywood companies and here were all these movies that they owned and here were all these consumers– that’s what we are, after all, “consumers”– buying copies of these videos and watching them over and over again after only paying for them once.
Now, if you’re not a lawyer, you probably don’t often think about that situation and think things like, gee, how can we get them to pay for it every time they see it? And why shouldn’t we? Again, you have to be a lawyer…
So these people got together and decided that when the next generation of high quality digital video came out, they would rectify that situation by providing disks to people that would only play once or twice. And then, pffftt! Unless you paid again.
Just what the consumer was demanding at that time, as I recall. Yes, yes, we want to give Viacom and Warner Brothers and Disney Corporation and Bruce Willis and Robin Williams even more of our money!
Anyway, the system was called DivX. And, of course, the hacker community looked upon DivX and just hated it. They hated it for both good and bad reasons. They hated it because like everyone in the world they hate to pay more than they need to to get what they want. But they also hated it for a good reason. The good reason is that these big Hollywood companies and actors already get way more money than they deserve for foisting their disgraceful products upon us. They already annoy us to death with product tie-ins, commercials, outrageous prices for food at the movie theatre, and deceptive advertising.
So the hackers set to work.
It’s not very clear to me (or anybody, apparently) where DivX 😉 (the “;)”, a winking emoticon, is part of the name) came from. It is rumoured to be a hacked Microsoft product. In any case, what DivX 😉 is is a “codec”, a computer process whereby video is compressed into small files so it can be downloaded and copied from computer to computer. It is a very good one, though not necessarily the best, nor the most readily available. But it is good enough to make it reasonable for people to copy movies off of DVD players and distribute them– illegally, of course– through the internet.
The lists of movies available tell you something about the kind of personality involved. You’ll find “The Matrix” and “The Cell” and “Terminator” and “Star Wars” on many sites. You won’t find many copies of “The Sound of Music”… yet.
The only missing piece right now is the equivalent of Napster to really take the whole thing mainstream. But it’s coming. Oh yes, you can bet it is coming.
One browse of the newsgroups devoted to topics like DivX;) and desktop video should be enough to convince anyone that a tidal wave of perverse ingenuity is at work out there and it is bent on completely destroying the entire system of copyright and distribution now in effect.
Is that a bad thing? I don’t know. The problem, as always, is how will artists get paid. On the other hand, the artists don’t get paid now. The lawyers and investors and accountants and manipulators and cheaters and liars get paid. They get paid enormous sums.
I do know a few things though.
In my opinion, all of this underground activity will not destroy either the music or film industries. Most people will continue to buy CD’s and DVD’s. Knowledgeable hackers and aficionados will use the technologies to access every form of recorded entertainment known to man, but most people still want to pop a video into the console and sit back and munch on popcorn and not give a thought to copyright law and fairness and justice for all.
The entertainment monoliths will have to be nimble and quick. They will have to keep coming up with improvements and enhancements that keep them a year or two ahead of the hackers. They will have to begin to offer CD’s and DVD’s at reasonable prices.
The only thing I’m sure they won’t do is take the high road or offer anything of value to anybody unless they really, really have to.