April 1, 2011

How Concerned Should We Be about P2P File Sharing?

Presented at 2011 NAB "Content in the Cloud" conference
by Tom Mulally, Numagic Consulting

Despite the recording industry’s past success in beating-back early peer-to-peer (P2P) music file sharing site Napster, P2P file sharing continues to proliferate. But now the content being shared is feature films and television programs. Technology has matured to enable consumers to share large video files quickly and with minimal effort.
Enablers include:
• Increasing Internet bandwidth to the home
• Home PCs functioning as media servers
• Lower priced, higher capacity storage
• Free, easy to use torrent applications
• Technically proficient “seeders” of pirated content
• Improved video codecs

However there are additional factors that are perhaps more disconcerting. Younger consumers are increasingly ambivalent about respecting copyrights. Experts point to a growing disregard for intangible property by younger consumers. A “bits are free” mentality may now be the norm. Are younger consumers becoming acculturated to expecting paid content to be free?
According to a CBS News poll, nearly 70 percent of 18 to 29 year olds thought file sharing was acceptable in some circumstances and 58 percent of all Americans who followed the file sharing issue considered it acceptable in at least some circumstances.[1]
To study current P2P activity, torrents of the recently released feature film Limitless were documented. The first of over a dozen files of the film was posted within 48 hours of its opening day on Friday March 18, 2011. Though it is a “camera copy,” the image and sound quality of the 1.3GB file is acceptable for viewing on a desktop-sized display.
The graph below shows the amount of Limitless copies leeched (downloaded) between March 20 -30. The cumulative total of file shares by March 30 was: 223,375.

1. “Young Say File Sharing OK.” CBS News, Bootie Cosgrove-Mather, 2003-09-18