Putting the Genie in the Bottle

I read this article in Wired today. What blew me away most about it had nothing to do with yet-another-round-of-legal-shenanigans that the article was about. Rather, it was the quoted 30 million unique users per month that ISOHunt.com enjoys.

Doing a little bit of morning research I was unable to find current numbers for the pirate bay, although from compete.com which only measures US client visits, it appears to be about twice as popular as ISOhunt. So by extrapolation one can deduce that it is in the order of about 60 million unique visitors per month.

What is more, is that The Pirate Bay has more than doubled its user base over the last year. Even ISOhunt which is gaining massive bad publicity from its American lawsuit has increased its numbers.

Finally, looking into BitTorrent clients it appears that uTorrent enjoys about 52 million unique downloads per month, and Limewire (which is probably the worlds most popular) has about 6 times this value. Even conservatively, that would be a couple hundred million downloads. This is all without even looking at web based file sharing sites such as RapidShare which have all become very popular lately.

So where am I going with all this? My point is this. From all of the above, there are obviously 10's of millions, perhaps a 100 million or more, people in the world who use BitTorrent to download what is most likely copyright infringing content. That is more than the entire population of this country. And that is not even the worst part for those who are trying to stop it. The worst aspect of this is the indifference people feel towards it. Ask anyone if they download illegal torrents. If they do, they will most likely openly, and without shame, admit it. That sould send shivers down the spine of any commercial copyright holder.

So what does this mean for those trying to fight online copyright infringement? Well, I think is is pretty obvious that there is precious little respect for copyright out there. It is also pretty obvious that the hard line taken by the United States against infringers does not work, as all the US figures quoted above are rising quickly year over year. In fact, I'd say it only makes it worse. A little like poking an animal with a stick, all they are doing is making people angry, which in turns makes them even less likely to respect copyright.

I think there are two options going forward from here. Either the governments and industry can crack down a whole lot harder to literally terrorize its citizens into compliance, or it can acknowledge that certain aspects of copyright are simply unworkable AND acknowledge that copyright as it currently exists does not serve anyone, other than a few large rights holders, very well.

Bill C-32 does not go nearly far enough in pursuit of the first strategy, and the second strategy would seriously require a complete renegotiation of Berne, so I don't really expect to see that one happen any time soon.

So what does Bill C-32 do for us? Well it's a pointer stick with which to poke the animal. Perhaps it is a step towards creating the crisis in copyright which will be necessary before it will be considered acceptable to consider the second option. At least that is my hope, because I really don't what to see us pick the first option.