Embracing piracy

I had an idea yesterday and it seemed so good on the surface that I immediately assumed one or more of the following were true:

  • It was trivial and probably already done to death.
  • My reasoning on the subject is flawed, incomplete or unreasonable.

This happens very often to me as I think about new ideas a lot (it’s sort of my hobby), way beyond my area of expertise. It’s fun and I find the process interesting but by definition I’m looking for diamonds by digging randomly. So it’s important to not get overly enthusiastic about everything that seems to sparkle at first glance.

Anyway, I did some googling today and I did not quite find this exact idea, so here goes. Trigger warning: the idea includes the word ‘blockchain’, which is a buzzword so will make you want to groan. Stay with me for five minutes and see what you think, though. I’d appreciate it.

The industry seems to be trying to “solve” piracy with the blockchain. There are some ideas here, some more promising than others, but none of those seem to truly get it.

I believe we should be using the blockchain to embrace and improve piracy; not try to fight it.

Have you pirated a movie recently? I live in a country where piracy is essentially legal as long as you don’t seed, so I’m privileged in that way (that and many others). Here’s what it looks like for me: you look for a movie or a series in Pirate Bay, which is usually up even though it’s probably one of the most resourcefully hated sites on the internet (on the basis of dollars belonging to people that hate it), then click on its magnet link. You then wait a minute (with my internet connection) and have a copy of the movie in question. It has the following characteristics, most of them probabilistic:

  • It might or might not be good quality. But a lot of the recent stuff is essentially perfect quality; as good as Netflix, with no buffering ever once the download is over.
  • It might or might not have built-in subtitles, which are nice. I’d say about 50% of recent series and films come in a container that supports subtitles, like Matroska, and include at least English language subtitles, which are useful enough for English as a Second Language Speakers (and there’s a lot of them in the internet). Note that these subtitles are very often fan-made, at significant effort by random people around the internet. When something doesn’t have built-in subtitles, you can use a subtitle downloader that just finds the right subtitle for you in one click or command line — most of the time, anyway.

Honestly, I’d be fine just pirating everything with this procedure. It’s easy, and it can be made easier still (you can use something like Popcorn Time to make the whole process look even more like Netflix). The only issue is that it’s pirating. So the people that made an effort in producing first the movie, then the digital file, don’t get rewarded for it:

  • The producers don’t get money from me.
  • All the other people involved in the making of the actual movie probably don’t get that extra bit of money from the producers. This includes the most visible, like actors and authors and directors.
  • Piraters don’t get money from me. This includes the subtitlers and encoders whose work I also get to enjoy.

So here I am thinking: if I could watch a movie, determine how much I liked it, and then pay one to ten bucks for it, I’d do it. I swear I would — if the money went to all the parties that were involved in the making of the movie and the file that contains it, in a way I would find fair.

See where this is going? Matroska could somehow embed the wallet addresses of the people involved in making the movie. The wallets should probably be in a tree-based structure, containing also a set of rules for the distribution of funds from each node to their children. People could keep things easy by sending money to the root node, and accepting the distribution rules set in the file; or fine-tune and send the money directly to the nodes that they care about the most.

Of course the devil is usually in the details: how do we validate this tree and its addresses, allowing updates but not letting the system be taken over by scammers? Well, you know the semi-answer already. It’s the buzzword.

The participants should vote in some way and reach a consensus. Different groups of people could even converge on different solutions: lawful people would probably always compensate the studios, and go through the existing wealth distribution system, while other groups might want to mostly give their money to authors and performers.

Once this system is in place, I see no reason why it should be restricted to video files. Every digital file could be in scope here. I find a picture in GIS, find it useful for my purposes, download it an use it. I could send a buck or two to whoever bothered to claim ownership for it.

Once this system is in place, every person and company has an interest in being part of the system. Why not sign all your files and put your wallet address in them? It can’t hurt, and most modern files include metadata anyway. The process of embedding wallet information in every file you touch could be made quite straightforward.

So, there goes. It’s not a complex idea. Surely someone is building this.

Where are they?


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