Maybe free online content isn't really such a bad idea

The Motion Picture Association of America wants the FCC to allow it--or at least some part of the motion picture industry in general--to become content cops. It wants the FCC to allow it to develop its own solutions to fight copyright infringement, and it’s using the push for universal broadband and net neutrality as camouflage.

It wrote to the FCC: “Compelling content is an essential ingredient in the consumer Internet experience and a key driver of broadband adoption. Inadequate respect for creative rights online will impede the roll-out of creative new content offerings, undermining the Commission’s, Congress’ and the Administration’s goal of ubiquitous national broadband.”

The MPAA argues that U.S. ISPs should be allowed to act to curtail Internet piracy. They argue that allowing the MPAA to police piracy would even cut traffic on the Internet. It trotted out Star Trek as an example of movie piracy gone wild, noting that at one point in August just 35 million people had seen the movie in theaters, but that there were more than 5 million IP addresses scattered throughout the world that had the movie available for illegal download. (Perhaps, all those downloaders decided $12 for yet another so-so movie was just too much to pay?)

The MPAA has a multi-point plan for hunting down all those online content pirates and taking the wind out of their sails, although they’re remarkably vague:

  • It wants ISPs and the creative community to work on a “variety of measures to deter unlawful online conduct;”
  • It wants the government to be open-minded in its approach to combating online piracy (read: let the MPAA do anything it wants);
  • It wants Congress to encourage ISPs to work with--here it comes again--the creative community to prevent theft and online distribution of copyrighted works;
  • And, it wants the Commission to sanction “technological solutions to combat the transmission of unlawful content online”  including blocking IP addresses or capping their bandwidth.

Sound familiar? Sure it does, the music industry tried--and failed--to do that just a couple of years ago.

You remember all the stories about the college students, the housewives, the high school kids, who got nailed by the Recording Industry Association of America’s hired guns for downloading songs illegally? The RIAA eventually collected a fair amount of money but looked pretty silly doing it. And it didn’t do much to stop music piracy.

And, that may have been a good thing.

A new study from Forrester Research makes the case that music piracy may--in fact--help the music industry’s bottom line. The research shows that music pirates are likely the industry’s largest consumers--legal consumers--and that without them the industry would be even in more dire straits. Forrester says music pirates, in addition to their nefarious gathering of tunes, also spend an average of $126 on music every year. Law abiding music consumers, meanwhile, spend only about $54 a year.

Officials in Great Britain, meanwhile, are considering adopting a three strike policy against music pirates, cutting the Internet connection of anyone found to be downloading music illegally. Perhaps that’s not the best idea.

At least one expert says the likely reason many people illegally download music is that they feel the music is simply too expensive. Set a price point correctly, it’s argued, and those same music pirates will be happy to drop their coins in the slot.

If that’s the case for music, could it  also be the case for online content? Are consumers, even all of us goody two shoes consumers, simply getting fed up with the high cost of entertainment? Gasp! Could YouTube and Hulu actually have it right?-Jim

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