A few days ago I discussed some of the actions taken by the hacker community and the impression that the MegaUpload arrests were related to SOPA. After some time we see that this arrest didn’t happen over night, you could argue the announcement and the timing was done poorly. However, I think that we should be paying attention to the ramifications of these arrests. Torrent Freak is reporting that there has been a massive response from the Cyberlocker companies. These cyberlockers were similar to MegaUpload in that a user would be able to upload a song and then anyone would be able to download it or stream the video. Now these companies are removing the search capabilities from their website and are restricting users to only their files.
While, what MegaUpload may have done may be illegal, the impact of the arrests is a foretelling of the impact of a law like SOPA. Internet companies argued that SOPA would be a job killing bill that it would kill innovation and break the internet. I think that this action clearly demonstrations that they are correct. For instance, Torrent Freak mentioned that several companies are shutting their doors and others are changing their services. Since it’s space based service, it is likely that each of these companies only has a few employees. However, they make a good chunk of change. MegaUpload was making several million and their competitors were likely making millions a month.
All of that money is going to be gone by next billing cycle. Not a single one of those companies where users were paying a premium will pay them another dime. Ad revenue will dry up, MegaUpload made almost a million alone since 2007 on ads. All of this money was getting put back into the economy through the purchase of servers, software and other equipment. It allows employees to buy stuff and was making a positive contribution to the economy.
From the different companies there was obviously innovation occurring. MegaUpload never allowed duplicates on its servers and when a duplicate was uploaded it would find another version of it and supply the link to the end user. Infringing content would just have the link removed, not the actual content. This would make searching for the real version difficult for copyright holders as it would be a game of wack the mole where the content would appear here, then with another link and so forth.
What other solutions could have been reached? I think there’s plenty of space here for further innovation for a business model. As users are using sites like this for personal storage and for video streaming, users are paying for content as well as clicking and viewing ads. Clearly there should be a way for the content owners to make money off of it as well. However, I have yet to read an article or a comment about the content industry approaching any of these companies, other than through DMCA, about working to pay some sort of royalty or set up a license agreement.
I think that a way to bring the balance back from the power being exclusively in the hands of the RIAA and MPAA (I’m just going to type RIAA from here on out), companies like Pandora.com, Spotify, Last.FM, MegaUpload (or any of its competitors), Google/YouTube, Vemeo and anyone else that uses licensed content should form their own consortium. Let’s just call it Content Users and Managers of America or CUMA for sure (I couldn’t think of anything really witty there (it doesn’t have to be just of America)). CUMA would provide a counter balance to the RIAA in that it provides equal footing and a way to combine the might of the end users. There are demands for these products, but the products simply do not demand the price premium they used to demand. Since these products aren’t able to demand the premium and the RIAA thinks that it should, they are overcharging as there are freely available alternatives which people flock to. Essentially, the RIAA needs to realize that for the websites allowing people to access the are getting paid pennies (if that) for a single view on a website. So for most sites, they can make more money if they don’t pay licensing fees. Lowering licensing fees is something that CUMA would be able to work for, to put it inline with expected ad revenue. This would allow for broader innovation in the market and reduced piracy.
It’s obvious from the amount of money that MegaUpload made that people are willing to pay to be able to watch as much content as they can when they want it. I feel like a broken record here (ha HA!), but people are willing to pay for content if it’s easily accessible.
I expect additional fall out from this. If SOPA or some similar style bill ever passes, expect this type of reaction to occur in other segments of the online industry. Online content is one of the places with a great deal of innovation and killing it would be a shame when there are possible solutions to this problem without resorting to industrial policy making and picking winners.
Update: I just saw this article Looks like MegaUpload has figured out a way to allow musicians to make money off of free downloads for original works through their site. This is some seriously awesome innovation.