War For Sharing : News from the front

The Copyright Justice League delude themselves a lot.
One of their most recent illusion is that Commercial Streaming will make Culture Sharing obsolete, while an old one is that enforcing copyright laws will stop or strongly curtail Culture Sharing (although Hadopi was a massive failure in France, the USA are about to start an analogue program).
In A&D manifesto, we said strenghtening copyright laws is absurd and inefficient, and that “when we’ll be able to store all the music ever recorded and all the books ever written in a hard disk as tiny as a fingernail, it will probably seem more and more strange to buy digital culture products one at a time.” We should have added “Why would we need streaming services when we’ll have such personal storage?”.
Here, Glyn Moody provides some data arguing that this kind of hard disk could materialize sooner than expected, and that even very harsh penalties do not stop Culture Sharing.


1 – Spotify in a box

Most people will be familiar with Moore’s Law, usually stated in the form that processing power doubles every two years (or 18 months in some versions.) But just as important are the equivalent compound gains for storage and connectivity speeds, sometimes known as Kryder’s Law and Nielsen’s Law respectively.

To see why, consider that the IBM PC XT had a 10 Mbyte hard drive when it was launched in 1983, which meant you couldn’t even fit a single song on it. Similarly, the first widely-used modem, the 1981 Hayes Smartmodem, had a maximum speed of 300 baud: to transfer a digitized song using a dial-up connection would have taken around 500 hours.

With those kind of figures, it’s easy to see why the recording industry underestimated the threat that file sharing would become once the Internet arrived: based on the past, it was almost inconceivable that people would ever swap music between computers. Of course, once that did start to happen, and the shape of the future became obvious to many, the industry nonetheless wilfully ignored the facts and the trends at every turn, when instead it should have taken the lead in re-inventing media for the Internet age.

That woeful history of refusing to accept the implications of rapidly-advancing technologies makes this prediction, found via Slashdot, even more fateful:

Technologies that will make it possible to expand disk density include heat-assisted magnetic recording (HAMR), which Seagate patented in 2006. Seagate has already said it will be able to produce a 60TB 3.5-in. hard drive by 2016.

Assuming Seagate or someone else delivers, that 60 terabyte hard disk could store around 10 million typical MP3 files. A year ago, Spotify was said to have 15 million tracks, which means that you could store most of today’s Spotify on that future Seagate drive. Spotify is likely to grow even larger by 2016, but it probably won’t grow as fast as the storage capacity of hard disks, so there will be some point in the not-too-distant future when you can place all of its holdings on a single hard disk: Spotify in a box.

Obviously, few people will choose to do that, but storing your favorite million songs will not only be realistic, it will be cheap — and even portable. Provided the transfer rate to and from such disks also keeps up with the growth in capacities — an indispensable technological requirement, otherwise they become impossible to use — this means that people will be able to move around huge collections of music, without ever touching an Internet connection. That makes all those three-strikes plans moot, since you won’t actually need your broadband line in order to swap files with friends. You’ll just plug in your portable hard drives to a common computer and exchange stuff directly (as it already happens with today’s terabyte-sized portable disks).

In an ideal world, we would also see a kind of constant scaling of the intelligence of the recording industry, such that by 2016 it would finally accept that trying to stop sharing — whether online or off — is simply pointless. Somehow, though, I think we’ll just have to make do with the other variants of Moore’s Law.

2 – North Korean Study Confirms It: People Will Share, Whatever The Risks

The previous lines are somewhat theoretical, based on general trends in technology; but here’s some supporting data from a rather unusual source: North Korea (aka the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” – DPRK).

It comes in the form of an extensive study entitled “A Quiet Opening: North Koreans in a Changing Media Environment” (pdf). It’s long but really worth reading for the insights it gives into a world that has been almost entirely hidden from the West for half a century. Rather surprisingly, it shows the impact that the physical sharing of pirated materials from South Korea and elsewhere is having on the once isolated nation. As TorrentFreak puts it:

With Internet unavailable to all but a tiny percentage of the elite, citizens of North Korea are obtaining their information through other means, notably file-sharing devices such as DVDs, MP3 and MP4 players, and USB drives.

The vast majority of those music and video players are owned by young people:

“About 70-80 percent of people that have MP3/4 players are young people,” a 44-year-old male who left DPRK in 2010 reports. “When you do a crackdown of MP3/4 players among high school and university students, you see that 100 percent of them have South Korean music.”

That’s significant because the penalties for anyone caught with forbidden music and videos are severe: depending on how the offense is viewed, punishments can range from 3 months unpaid labor to 5 years in a prison camp if the media originates from South Korea… TorrentFreak makes the obvious connection:

Despite the massive risks, young people in the DPRK are apparently prepared to defy the regime by consuming unauthorized media anyway, something they have in common with the US youth who share files in the face of $150,000 statutory damages.

That explains why the copyright industries’ current approach to enforcement isn’t working, and — more importantly — why it will never work, no matter how harsh the penalties become. Whatever the risks, people will carry on sharing.